Creatine and sports performance

imageCreatine supplementation has been around for 20 years and is one of the most widely used and studied sports supplements around. It has caught the attention of many athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and skeptics alike. However a quick glance down the creatine aisle at the health store can be quite overwhelming. Dozens of creatine products are all offering the same thing: more strength, more performance, and more promises. What is it about creatine that makes it so popular?

What is Creatine and how can it help me?

Creatine is a chemical that is found normally in the body. It is made primarily by the liver but can also be found in the kidneys, pancreas and brain. About 95% of creatine stores are found in muscle.  It can also be obtained in the diet from sources like meat and fish. About 60% of the creatine in your body is creatine phosphate, which plays a critical role in energy metabolism.

Creatine has been shown to increase muscle strength, size, and lean body mass when combined with exercise, mainly resistance training.  A meta-analyses of 22 studies showed an 8% increase in muscle strength with creatine use compared to the placebo group, and a 14% increase in weightlifting performance.  It can be taken before or after workouts, with some studies suggesting that after might have the same, if not better, results when looking at 5 grams of creatine supplementation pre-workout vs. post-workout.

What are the different types of creatine?

Creatine can come in many types and each one has a different proposed reaction, and a different price tag to go along with it. Here are a few of the most popular ones, all of which you will encounter at any health and fitness store:

  • Creatine Monohydrate is the most popular, most studied, and generally the most inexpensive form of creatine. This form of creatine has the best results when studied.
  • Creatine salts are another form of creatine, with creatine citrate being the most popular one. An advantage of creatine salts could be the increased bioavailability (the amount your body can absorb) and increased water solubility, which could potentially reduce any gastrointestinal side effects. A disadvantage is that it is less stable than creatine monohydrate, with the possibility of less available creatine for use by the body.
  • Creatine ethyl ester is a form with an ester attached to it. Esterification is commonly used by pharmaceutical companies to increase bioavailability. Creatine is very hydrophilic (loves water) which limits how bioavailable it is. The manufactures of creatine ethyl ester claim that this type of creatine will make it more available for the body. However the studies show that it is no more available for the body than creatine monohydrate, not to mention that creatine ethyl ester is more easily broken down by stomach acid.

Are there any negative effects from taking creatine?

One potential negative effect of creatine supplementation is that it impairs hydration status and exercise heat tolerance. A recent review of 10 studies that examined body temperature regulation, percentage of dehydration, urinary hydration measures, plasma volume, or sweat losses and showed no negative effects for hydration status or exercise heat tolerance with creatine supplementation.

Another criticism is that some people will experience muscle cramps when supplementing with creatine. Creatine does hold water, so it is important to stay properly hydrated when supplementing with creatine. Around 64 oz. of water a day is recommended. . Creatine can be stored into different organs and cells or cleared out by the kidneys, so it has been suggested that supplementation is safe.  However, there are no long term studies of creatine use, so the potential safety of long term supplementation cannot be guaranteed.  Also, studies are done on adults, so effects on teens or children are unknown.  Creatine supplementation can be harmful for certain diseases, conditions or when combined with certain medications, so consult a physician before supplementing.

Supplements

When supplementing with creatine there is a suggested loading phase (a higher amount to begin with) and a maintenance phase (usually lower amounts to simply maintain creatine levels).  A typical loading phase is around 5 days.  The following amounts are recommended:

  • Loading phase of 20 g creatine/day or .3g of creatine/kg/day- all split into 4 daily intakes of around 5g each.
  • Maintenance phase of 3-5g of creatine/day or .03g creatine/kg/day usually in one single daily dose.

The following are some common doses in supplements and in food:

  • GNC brand– 3.5 grams creatine monohydrate (5 capsule serving size)
  • GNC AMP creatine-5 grams (2 tablets)
  • Beef– 2 grams of creatine for every 16 ounces
  • Fish– one pound of raw fish provides 5 grams of creatine.

Note: Listed items are for raw meat. Cooked meat has reduced creatine. 

Creatine has gathered much attention and continues to be a hot topic in research.  Future studies are looking more into the timing of creatine with the workout, pairing it with carbohydrates for better absorption, and even for the use in various pathologies or disorders. Whether you choose to supplement with creatine or not, its use within exercise is well documented with plenty to learn about.

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