Supplements Corner: Creatine
The supplements industry can be confusing! So many products, so many outrageous claims…
Worst of all, many supplements are nothing more than expensive junk foods! So are any worth taking? And if so, which ones do you take?
There are only a handful of supplements recommended by the leading sports nutritionists and researchers. The top are creatine, quality protein powder (ie whey isolate), L-glutamine, and BCAA (branch chain amino acids) as well as vitamin/mineral supplementation. Other supplements showing promising research include beta-analanine and citrulline malate.
Amongst these, if an athlete could only afford one supplement and is involved in a sport requiring strength and/or power, I would recommend creatine.
Use of Creatine is Supported by Leading Sports Nutritionists
Creatine has become one of the most extensively studied and scientifically validated nutritional ergogenic aids for athletes . It is one of the few supplements highly recommended by the top sports nutritionists in the United States, such as Dr. Joan Eckerson, who stated at a sports nutrition lecture I attended “if your athletes are not taking creatine, they are at a disadvantage.”
The International Society of Sports Nutrition states :
“It is the position of the International Society of Sports Nutrition that the use of creatine as a nutritional supplement within established guidelines is safe, effective, and ethical. Despite lingering myths concerning creatine supplementation in conjunction with exercise, Creatine Monohydrate (CM) remains one of the most extensively studied, as well as effective, nutritional aids available to athletes. Hundreds of studies have shown the effectiveness of CM supplementation in improving anaerobic capacity, strength, and lean body mass in conjunction with training. In addition, CM has repeatedly been reported to be safe, as well as possibly beneficial in preventing injury. Finally, the future of creatine research looks bright in regard to the areas of transport mechanisms, improved muscle retention, as well as treatment of numerous clinical maladies via supplementation.”
What is Creatine?
Ok, so the sports nutrition gurus like it. But what is creatine? Why does it work? The following is a bit on the scientific side, but hopefully it makes sense as to what creatine is and why it works…
Creatine is used in energy production. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the only source of energy that can be used directly for muscle contraction. ATP is generated through 3 energy systems: ATP-PCr (ATP-Phosphocreatine), glycolytic, and Oxidative energy systems.
ATP-PCr Energy System
ATP-PCr is the energy system that sustains the muscle`s energy needs for 3-15sec. The phosphocreatine in muscle is immediately available at the onset of exercise and can be used to resynthesize ATP at a very high rate. This high rate of energy transfer corresponds to the ability to produce a high power output. The major disadvantage of this system is its limited capacity; the total amount of energy available is small so fatigue occurs rapidly.
ATP – Phosphocreatine System
This energy supplied, during and following intense exercise, is largely dependent on the amount of phosphocreatine (PCr) stored in the muscle [2,3]. As PCr stores become depleted during intense exercise, energy availability diminishes due to the inability to resynthesize ATP at the rate required to sustained high-intensity exercise [2,3]. At exhaustion, both ATP and PCr concentrations are low. During very intense exercise the phosphocreatine store can be almost completely depleted. Consequently, the ability to maintain maximal-effort exercise declines.
With creatine supplementation, an accelerated rate of resynthesis of ATP during and following high-intensity, short-duration exercise [2-5]. This means the ability to maintain maximal intensity is greater, the ability to perform more work per bout/set is greater, and recovery time is quicker.
Position Statement of the International Society of Sports Nutrition .
The following points related to the use of creatine as a nutritional supplement constitute the Position Statement of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. They have been approved by the Research Committee of the Society.
1. Creatine monohydrate is the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplement currently available to athletes in terms of increasing high-intensity exercise capacity and lean body mass during training.
2. Creatine monohydrate supplementation is not only safe, but possibly beneficial in regard to preventing injury and/or management of select medical conditions when taken within recommended guidelines.
3. There is no scientific evidence that the short- or long-term use of creatine monohydrate has any detrimental effects on otherwise healthy individuals.
4. If proper precautions and supervision are provided, supplementation in young athletes is acceptable and may provide a nutritional alternative to potentially dangerous anabolic drugs.
5. At present, creatine monohydrate is the most extensively studied and clinically effective form of creatine for use in nutritional supplements in terms of muscle uptake and ability to increase high-intensity exercise capacity.
6. The addition of carbohydrate or carbohydrate and protein to a creatine supplement appears to increase muscular retention of creatine, although the effect on performance measures may not be greater than using creatine monohydrate alone.
7. The quickest method of increasing muscle creatine stores appears to be to consume ~0.3 grams/kg/day of creatine monohydrate for at least 3 days followed by 3–5 g/d thereafter to maintain elevated stores. Ingesting smaller amounts of creatine monohydrate (e.g., 2–5 g/d) will increase muscle creatine stores over a 3–4 week period.
As with any supplements, brand quality is key! Crappy brands, with ‘fillers,’ are what produce the side effects of bloating etc, not creatine itself. It is worth researching a brand before buying it. Also, watch for any creatine ‘blends’ like effervescent creatine, buffered creatine etc. Those are marketing gimmicks. Numerous studies show there are no differences between the types: Pure creatine monohydrate is all you need. If you need recommendations or have any questions, I would love to hear from you! To make life easier, I carry creatine from Athlete Illuminati. Athlete Illuminati are one of those rare companies that put athletes first, rather than dollars. They make trusted, pure high grade products and are at lower price than the other brands.
- Buford, T. W., Kreider, R. B., Stout, J. R., Greenwood, M., Campbell, B., Spano, M., Ziegenfuss, T., Lopez, H., Landis, J., and Antiono, J. (2007). International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Creatine Supplementation and Exercise. Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, 4(6).
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- Hultman E, Bergstrom J, Spreit L, Soderlund K. Energy metabolism and fatigue. In: Taylor A, Gollnick PD, Green H, editor. Biochemistry of Exercise VII. Human Kinetics: Champaign, IL; 1990. pp. 73–92.
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- Harris RC, Soderlund K, Hultman E. Elevation of creatine in resting and exercised muscle of normal subjects by creatine supplementation. Clin Sci (Colch) 1992;83:367–374.
- Greenhaff P. The nutritional biochemistry of creatine. J Nutrit Biochem. 1997;11:610–618. doi: 10.1016/S0955-2863(97)00116-2.
- Brunzel NA. Renal function: Nonprotein nitrogen compounds, function tests, and renal disease. In: Scardiglia J, Brown M, McCullough K, Davis K, editor. Clinical Chemistry. McGraw-Hill: New York, NY; 2003. pp. 373–399.
- Paddon-Jones D, Borsheim E, Wolfe RR. Potential ergogenic effects of arginine and creatine supplementation. J Nutr. 2004;134:2888S–2894S.
- Kreider RB. Creatine in Sports. In: Antonio J, Kalman D, Stout J, et al, editor. Essentials of Sport Nutrition & Supplements. Humana Press Inc., Totowa, NJ; 2007.