When it comes to nutritional supplements, there are few, that through extensive research, can be shown to be safe and effective for health and performance benefits.
Omega 3 fish oil, protein powders (animal or non-animal based), and vitamin D are 3 that I have absolutely no issues in recommending to most people. Now there is another that I can add to the list.
Creatine has a massive amount of research behind it, It’s safe, cheap and effective. Here’s what you need to know.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a derivative of amino acids made in the body (pancreas, kidneys and liver) at around 2g per day. The rest you get from your diet. Red meat, eggs and fish all have creatine in small doses, so a balanced diet can top up your levels. Vegetarians and vegans have to rely on what their bodies can make, so supplementation makes sense, particularly for these groups.
What it does.
95% of your creatine is stored in the muscles for regeneration of the ATP that fuels muscle contractions. At higher intensities, for example sprinting/ explosive lifting etc lasting less than 10 seconds, ATP needs to be regenerated fast to keep muscle contractions happening via the phosphagen system. This uses the phosphocreatine stores to free up phosphate molecules to turn ADP back to ATP as outlined below.
Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is made from the breakdown of carbs, fats and ketones.
When energy is required for work, a phosphate splits off and the energy released is used.
This leaves ADP, Adenosine Diphosphate, and a phosphate molecule.
The phosphate attaches to creatine to form phosphocreatine, storing the phosphate for when it’s next needed.
Recharging the ATP stores for more work, a phosphate splits from phosphocreatine and is added to the ADP to make ATP.
Repeat, repeat, repeat. Since this system can only go for so long, other energy pathways need to kick in, but it does great things for the first 10 secs or so. Think heavy lifting, short sprints, explosive throwing.
Increasing how much creatine we have stored as either free creatine or as phosphocreatine, gives more potential for regenerating ATP using this system.
Benefits of supplementation
There is strong evidence of:
- Increased power output,
- Fatigue resistance, and,
- Muscle creatine content.
There is good evidence of:
- Increased lean mass,
- Improved cognition, (particularly in vegetarians), and,
- Reduction of depressive symptoms.
There is no evidence of negative effects on kidney function. There can be some weight gain through water retention.
How to take Creatine
A typical balanced diet will contain around 1-2g of creatine per day, with the above-mentioned benefits occurring with intake of around 5g per day. You usually see a loading phase of up to 25g per day for the first week, reducing to a maintenance load of 5g per day.
Creatine monohydrate is the standard form that supplements take. This works well in all situations and other options such as creatine nitrate (a more soluble version) show no improvements in effects over the monohydrate version.
In my opinion, this is a great addition to your daily supplements.