Creatine is perhaps the most researched sports and exercise supplement in the history of mankind. Creatine is a naturally occurring substance found within the body made up of the amino acids arginine, glycine and methionine. The liver and kidneys produce between one to two and a half grams of creatine per day for use throughout the body. Creatine can also come from the diet. Those who regularly eat either red meat or fish ingest a small amount of creatine per day.
The number of proven and purported benefits of creatine definitely makes it a must have, with few exceptions, for any semi-serious lifter or athlete. Creatine’s primary and most direct benefit is being able to re-synthesize adenosine triphosphate, or ATP for short, during short and explosive bouts of exercise such as weight lifting and sprinting. ATP is the single energy currency found within all biological systems. Put simply there is more energy available to assist athletes during quick bouts of exercise. You’ll be able to lift a little bit more for another repetition or sprint just that much faster for a little bit longer. Over time and through more training bouts, you’ll be stronger than you otherwise would have been. The little things do add up.
A second proven benefit to creatine usage is its ability to act as a buffer changes in muscle acidosis and spare glycogen during short bouts of exercise. This will allow muscles to endure just a little more pain before fatigue sets in. Beta-alanine, sometimes referred to as Carnosine, has been proven to demonstrate this same benefit. Although, why supplement BA if you’re already using creatine? Something to think about.
A third benefit that is still under investigation is that creatine supplementation in conjunction with regular weight lifting appears to increase the amount of satellite cells around the muscles. Satellite cells, essentially nothing more than a single nucleus, are cells that lie dormant around muscle tissues and spring into action when stress is affecting the muscle. When called upon by stimuli from weight-lifting they wake up, grow and become apart of the muscle tissue. The mechanism by which this is thought to occur is that creatine increases the amount of water into the muscles which send anabolic signalling throughout the body. This signalling is what causes the body to create more satellite cells. Of course, those cells are worthless if they are just sitting there. Driving the point home, you need to wake those cells up by lifting weights. As more and more satellite cells are woken up, the muscle becomes stronger and stronger.
Outside of weight-lifting and sprinting, creatine has a large number of benefits for mixed sports for reasons which should be obvious. Basketball players will have more explosive sprints and will be able to sprint more often with less fatigue. Same with football players. Linemen will be able to explode off the ball quicker and with more power. Those who spar MMA know all too well that during each sparring bout, say for five minutes, could always use just a little more intensity. The one area where creatine supplementation seems to be inappropriate is for endurance sports. The primary reason is that creatine increases water weight by anywhere from 2.5 to 5 pounds. The extra weight is thought to slow down any long-distance runners or swimmers. Although there is one study suggesting that creatine reduced the amount of soreness and inflammation after a 30km run. Quicker recovery times from creatine supplementation may positively influence performance for long-distance aerobic activities over the long-term.
There are some concerns and controversies with creatine as with anything else. The first concern is with creatine non-responders. These people for whatever reason are unable to derive any benefit from creatine supplementation. You’ll know if you’re a non-responder if you don’t gain any weight from the initial loading discussed briefly below. If after the initial load, you don’t see a gain of about 2 to five pounds, then you should stop using it as the stuff is worthless to you. A second concern is that of renal damage. As the kidneys produce a lot of the creatine metabolites, it is thought that creatine may cause undue stress on the kidneys. To this day, no toxicity has been observed. In fact, one study on college football players showed absolutely no damage to the kidneys with long-term creatine usage for periods lasting up to 5.6 years. A final concern is during the loading period. Creatine loading has been shown to induce both muscle cramps and upset stomach in some people. The solution is a simple one. Just slow down the loading phase.
Creatine Application, Loading and Maintance
Before laying out the instructions on creatine application, there are some things to be understood with who you purchase creatine with. First, there are stores which claim that their version of creatine won’t add weight. Unfortunately, the mechanism with which creatine functions requires added water. So anyone telling you that their version of creatine works without the added water gain is either lying or they have no clue what they are talking about. Second, in just about every case, it is always better to buy supplements, including protein powder, from an online warehouse, as they typically offer superior products at better prices. Other than that, I’ll trust that the reader knows the best places to shop for their creatine.
The application of creatine requires a loading phase followed by maintenance phase. The loading phase is complete once you’ve ingested 100g, roughly 12.5 tablespoons, and the maintenance phase requires a daily supplement of 3 to 5g, or 1.5 to 2 teaspoons per day. Most people like to spend the first five days loading up with creatine by taking 20g, or 2.5 tablespoons, per day. Although, if upset stomach or muscle cramps are a concern you may wish to slow down the loading phase to 10g, or 1.25 tablespoons per day. You may also just skip the loading phase completely and start off at maintenance taking 3 to 5g per day. Just know that it will take anywhere from twenty to thirty days to fully load on creatine going that route. Lastly, it is best to consume creatine with protein and carbohydrate as the insulin spike will help shuttle the creatine into the muscles. In my experience, taking creatine with milk works best. Milk has a unique blend of fast acting and slow digesting protein as well as carbohydrates to ensure proper delivery. The nice blend of electrolytes in milk will help to relieve any relieve any cramping concerns as well.
Creatine has been shown to demonstrate a wide range of benefits for just about all athletes. The limiting concern are those that don’t respond to creatine supplementation. There have been a few concerns of toxicity through continued usage. Those concerns just don’t seem to be borne out by the literature, however. If there is a study demonstrating any type of toxicity related to creatine supplementation, I haven’t seen it. Creatine is a naturally occuring substance produced by the body and can come in through the diet. Although in order to match the levels required by supplementation you would have to eat twenty pounds of steak each day just to reach maintenance levels. For that reason, supplementing with creatine should be considered by those who wish to improve performance.