10 things you should know about creatine. In non baffling terminology
There are certain details nutrition professionals need to know about supplements. But as time has progressed I have come to learn that athletes just want to know the facts.
Will eating this work or won’t it? When should I take it? And how much should I take?
Now don’t get me wrong. I rarely prescribe supplements. But I do think it is important for the active individual to know the truths. Especially before they start guzzling down the latest chemical formula hailed as the best thing this side of doping.
So this article and the next few to follow are designed to give you the bare minimum. The evidence based, need to know, raw materials. This time around it is 10 things you should know about creatine.
So here goes.
1. Creatine is supported by scientific evidence. All be it most evidence has been obtained in a sterile laboratory environment. Meaning translation to competition situations is often hypothetical.
Few supplements have been shown to have true performance benefits. Creatine is one of the “proven” few. There is a caveat here however and that is that performance benefits have only been shown at particular doses and during specific types of sporting situation (keep reading).
2. Creatine is an important source of energy for maximal exercise, lasting between 5-10 seconds. This is the stuff the body turns to as fuel for that muscle burning resistance training or leg jellifying track interval session.
3. The primary benefit of taking creatine is increased performance in repeated 6-30 second bouts of maximal output exercise (with 20 second to 5minute rests). It may achieve this by increasing the rate at which the body replenishes its muscle stores of creatine between bouts of high intensity.
Essentially creatine attenuates the reductions in muscle force and power that occur over the course of an interval or resistance session. Meaning the athlete can train harder for longer.
Sadly creatine has little evidence supporting its performance enhancing effects for endurance athletes. Although there is some research suggesting it may enhance glycogen (energy) storage. In other words, by taking creatine you may store additional carbohydrates for that prolonged session (theoretically speaking).
4. The body does obtain creatine through the diet. Roughly 1/2g per day is replaced in the average omnivorous diet (pretty useful as the body generally turns over 1/2g per day also). Great sources include meat and eggs. Additionally the body can make creatine from amino acids (science speak for the building blocks of protein).
Unfortunately the quantities obtained from the diet are not high enough to produce this, all important, performance enhancing effect. And vegetarians who don’t eat rich sources may be at risk of reduced creatine levels.
5. The safety risks of long term supplementation with creatine are unconfirmed. Because nobody has done a long enough study! There have been reports (anecdotal) of nausea, gastrointestinal upset, headaches and cramping muscles. These remain un-proven.
What has been proven is that you may suffer from a slight increase in body mass (aka weight). This is usually around 1kg and is due to water retention and a decrease in urination.
In the industry creatine is generally assumed safe. To avoid any risks always consult a nutrition professional and don’t consume creatine in dosages higher than those researched and advised.
6. Dosages can either be taken using a “rapid” loading approach or a “slow” loading approach. For creatine to be effective, plasma (blood) levels must reach a threshold. When this threshold is achieved, maximum creatine transport into the cells occurs. Essentially what you are doing when you dose up on creatine is providing your muscles with extra immediate energy (remember, this is simplified!).
7. To rapid load, studies suggest aiming for 5-7 consecutive days of 20-25g creatine split across the day. E.g. four separate 5g portions every day for 5 days.
8. To slow load, studies recommend 3g/day for 28days. Once the loading phases have been done (either rapid or slow), 2/3g per day will ensure maintenance of muscle creatine levels.
9. Sadly 30% of people in trials fail to respond to creatine supplementation. This (nearly a third) group of people are referred to as non-responders. You may be one of these people.
10. For the body to return to normal levels of creatine it takes around 4 to 5 weeks. Obviously this is without creatine supplementation.
I am not suggesting you rush out and buy creatine. It’s expensive for starters. However it may give some added benefit if you regularly do high intensity interval or resistance sessions as part of your training.
But Remember: Please consult a trained nutrition professional before you start taking performance enhancing supplements. They do have a physiological effect and we are still learning about the side-effects. Here at RGActive Nutrition we work with clients to help them establish a healthy diet before considering any nutritional sports aids. There is no point in adding performance enhancers if the basic fuel is not right!