What is Creatine?
Creatine Monohydrate is a naturally occurring acid found primarily in red meat, particularly beef, and fish. However although we can obtain it from our natural food sources, to see performance enhancing benefits we must consume it in larger dosages which is why Creatine is such a popular and effective supplement amongst athletes, bodybuilders and other sports men and women. Creatine is made from a combination of three amino acids: arginine, glycine and methionine and is therefore nitrogenous. It’s important to maintain a positive nitrogen balance to promote muscle growth and development through regular protein sources which can then be broken down into the essential amino acids needed for repair, recovery and growth.
How does Creatine work?
Using Creatine Monohydrate as a supplement source has been shown to significantly increase the concentration of creatine in skeletal muscle where it is stored as creatine phosphate. In the skeletal muscle it releases the phosphate to drive anaerobic activity (short bursts of powerful movement such as sprinting), where the molecule Adenosine Tri Phosphate (ATP) uses that phosphate to power certain cellular and metabolic functions.
ATP is broken down to Adenosine Di-Phosphate (ADP), where it loses one of its phosphate molecules, thus providing energy to power your cells as we workout. When ATP stores become depleted, performance levels and the intensity of our workouts will drop. Creatine phosphate helps to restore ATP which is why Creatine boosts performance, strength and power. Athletes and gym users looking to increase strength will benefit most from Creatine. Athletes such as Linford Christie, Sally Gunnell and Colin Jackson back in the early 1990s were the first athletes to see real results from using Creatine and since then more and more athletes have used it as a safe, legal (it is considered 100% legal by the World Anti Doping Agency) way of getting stronger and boosting their performance.
Research from Becque et al. (2000) showed that an increase of 20% in bicep strength was achieved following 6 weeks of Creatine supplementation compared to a 10% increase in those who didn’t take Creatine so effectively, double the gain.
There is plenty of science behind Creatine which I have not gone into here because I’ve tried to keep it as concise and easy to understand as possible. All you really need to know is yes, Creatine does work!
- Creatine increases fluid content of muscle cells and well hydrated muscle cells are more anabolic.
- It can take glucose out of the blood stream and into cells boosting energy and promoting an improvement in body composition.
- Significant gains in mass are often reported in the first week of use as research has shown that Creatine increases the activity of satellite cells which promotes muscle building.
- Muscle growth occurs because the cross sectional area of your muscle fibres increase in size thus shortening the levers and as a result making you stronger.
- Creatine may enable you to push out an extra rep of a specific weight during your set and/or enable you to add on an extra exercise to the end of your session before your muscles become too fatigued to continue.
- Creatine has even been shown to boost cognitive function, slow the ageing process of your skin and prevent muscle wasting.
There are some anecdotal reports of digestive problems from Creatine but these are extremely rare occurrences. I have actually used Creatine for the last 10 years and have never experienced any issues with it other than increasing in size and strength!
Creatine has been studied for negative side effects but no significant changes in serum metabolic markers, serum electrolytes, blood lipid profiles, red and white whole blood cell haematology, muscle and liver enzyme efflux, or quantitative and qualitative urinary markers of renal function were discovered. Nonetheless, if you do suffer from renal issues it is advised not to take Creatine.
How to take Creatine
Creatine must be taken with patience, it isn’t a steroid so will not produce massive muscle gains quickly however used in small doses (e.g. 5g or 1 teaspoon before your workout and the same afterwards), and in parallel with a healthy diet, plenty of sleep and the right form of exercise, it is one of the supplements you can take which will give you that extra percentage to aid your performance, the way your body looks, and recovery in time.
Research has shown that Dextrose and Alpha Lipoic Acid can improve Creatine uptake and, recently, Fenugreek Extract has also shown to do this. Dextrose improves absorption so it makes sense to take Creatine after your workouts when this carbohydrate spikes insulin levels aiding glycogen replenishment.
Contrary to the popular belief that Creatine needs to be cycled, it actually doesn’t. Typically, Creatine supplementation involves a loading phase, 20g per day split between 4 servings, for 5-7 days then followed by a maintenance phase (5g a day) for a particular phase of training such as 6 weeks. Recent research has suggested that the loading phase just is not necessary although this hasn’t fully been proved so whilst some nutritionists will now say not to use a loading phase, others are still firmly in support of it. The key is just to be patient and do what you feel works best for you. During a loading phase, many athletes will take Creatine four times a day with a carbohydrate such as Dextrose due to the enhanced uptake into the skeletal muscles.
When taking Creatine, I like to use it before and after my workouts by taking 5g in the post workout protein shake. If you use a pre workout formula such as PhD V-MAX Pump, you may automatically get your Creatine from it as it already contains Creatine alongside BCAA and Beta Alanine to promote strngth and muscle gains. If you don’t, you can use another 3-5g with water. On days when I’m not working out, I will just take 5g in the morning with a protein shake. You need at least 75ml of water for every gram of Creatine you consume and about 3ml of water for every gram of Carbohydrate so it can be stored as glycogen in your muscles.