Back on the supplement train! In previous posts I talked about protein powder and BCAAs so check them out if you haven’t already! I’m back talking about another supplement that is actually worth while. Creatine is often used as a performance enhancing supplement, especially in strength athletes.
So first, you might be wondering what even is creatine? To put it as simply as possible, creatine is a compound used in our energy systems (specifically the ATP-CP system) to create adenosine triphosphate (ATP) by donating a phosphate group to adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Some of this may or may not sound familiar from high school biology.
Creatine is naturally occurring and our bodies produce it everyday. Emphasis on NATURALLY occurring for anyone out there who is under the belief that creatine is some sort of bodybuilding drug. No. You need creatine in your body.
This naturally leads to the question: if my body makes creatine, then why would I take a supplement? The answer is: your body does not manufacture enough creatine in order for you to get the performance benefit that a higher dosage through supplementation can provide. This dosage is around 5g per day. Even though creatine is found in animal products, it is nearly impossible to eat enough meat to get in that 5g dosage. In order to do this, you would have to eat around 2.5lbs (1kg) of raw meat every day. Raw meat because cooking meat reduces its creatine content, and no one wants to eat that!
Now lets look at what creatine actually does. As stated before, its part of the ATP-CP energy cycle. This cycle delivers energy quickly but also runs out quickly (think about the effort it takes to sprint and how quickly you fatigue). Creatine supplementation loads up muscle fibers with phosphocreatine boosting our energy systems, meaning you can go a little bit harder for a little bit longer.
To put this in perspective, for a strength athlete, on average studies have shown an 8% increase in 1 Rep Max strength and a 14% increase in the number of reps performed for a given load while taking a creatine supplement. Keep in mind this increase is seen over a period of 2 to 6 months. Now that might not seem like all that much but when you want to be competitive in a strength sport, every little bit matters.
Other benefits of creatine include body composition. Creatine attracts water, so it pulls water into the cells, increasing the fiber diameter. This makes you look more swole. The increase in hydration also contributes to muscle growth. However, most likely you will see gain in lean mass is due to increased performance. When you can train for harder and longer, muscle growth will be more efficient. You may see an increase in scale weight, about 1-2kg (2-4lbs). Do not freak out, this is intracellular water that has been pulled into the muscle cells.
Now you might be thinking, I want to take creatine! I want to get stronger! Or maybe not, maybe you’re are just reading this to be better informed. But if you would like to try taking it, I recommend a 3-5g dose daily. It usually takes around 2-4 weeks for the benefits to kick in. Now, some sources recommend loading at the beginning and taking 20-30g per day for 5 days but there isn’t really much benefit in this other than you might see performance increases a little sooner. If you’re in a shop and overwhelmed by all the options, you want to look for one that is just creatine monohydrate. This is the only form a creatine with documented benefits, and all other forms are basically useless (e.g. creatine triphosphate).
Just a warning, if you do decide to creatine load (20-30g per day) make sure you drink plenty of water. As talked about before, creatine attracts water and will draw it into your intestine. This will cause bloating, cramping, and maybe diarrhea. You don’t want that so drink lots of water. Other than this creatine is completely safe to take. Remember, your body makes it naturally.
Lastly I would like to touch on the creatine/caffeine conundrum. There is conflicting evidence in that some studies have found that caffeine inhibits effects of creatine and others have shown the opposite. I don’t think its too much to worry about, just maybe don’t have 5 scoops of pre-workout with your creatine.