The age old debate of creatine usage can be found in almost every gym locker-room and amongst the supplement aisles at your local pharmacy. Many a time you would find a group of newbie gymers attentively listening to every word said by one of the gym bunnies as if it were the next training prophecy. If you’re one of the newbies then this one is for you (if you old to the game then still read on you may learn something new).
More often than not you will hear questions like “Does creatine work? What does it do? Is it safe?” and the ever popular “Does it cause kidney damage?” If you had to ask those that train around you these questions you’re most likely to get an interesting array of answers and stories. Here are some of the facts to set the record straight (and to lay some of the myths to rest).
Creatine, or methyl guanidine-acetic acid, was first discovered in 1832 by a French scientist. However its claim-to-fame was in the 1990s, due to an increase in elite athlete’s performance being attributed to creatine use and widespread media coverage of this. Today it is one of the most popular supplements used.
What is creatine?
It is a nonessential dietary compound that is found in food sources such as meat and fish. It can also be produced within the body by the liver. Research studies indicate that creatine supplementation causes an increase in performance of high intensity exercises performed for short periods, especially if the activity is separated by short rests (30-60seconds). Activities such as resistance training (aka weight training), 100-200m sprinting, repeated jumping, 400-800m running, swimming, kayaking and rowing may benefit from creatine usage.
How does it work?
During bouts of high intensity activities, the energy used to perform the activity is primarily generated through the ATP-PCr energy system. Phosphocreatine or creatine-phosphate (PCr) is crucial as it donates its high energy phosphate (the P in PCr) to ADP to generate ATP (in simple terms… to generate energy). Therefore it is easy to understand that if there is a higher concentration of creatine and PCr in the muscles, there will be more high-energy phosphate available to generate ATP from ADP, thus more energy (light bulb moment…). Higher concentrations of muscle creatine have also shown to assist the re-synthesis of PCr from Cr and P during rest periods between sets (so after your set, when you’re walking to the water cooler the creatine is assisting in recovery so you can pound out the next set). Another added benefit (I sound like a salesman…) is due to the chemical structure of creatine phosphate it has a buffering effect on acidity, “soaking” up any increase in acidity which helps to improve performance.
Seems too good to be true, right? But what about the dreaded side effects?? Studies have shown that with the correct dosages there are no side effects. Yes, you read correctly. There are no adverse effects on kidney and liver function nor does it cause cramping (yes, you’ve been lied to.. it was all a myth). In many users a short-term weight gain occurs during the loading phase, this is attributed to an increased hydration within muscle cell (aka water retention) due to elevated osmotic load from the increased creatine concentration.( this is how certain creatine supplements like Creakic claim to give you ‘7 pounds in 7 days’..But let’s not play the name game). One should note that there isn’t enough research done on long term creatine usage.
So how much should be used?
There are two phases ie. The loading phase and the Maintenance phase. During the loading phase, the first five to seven days, a dosage of 20grams a day is usually consumed. This dosage is divided into four 5gram servings. An extended loading phase of a high dosage beyond a week is pointless as the extra creatine is excreted in the urine ( it’s not a case of the more the merrier). The maintenance phase follows and the dosage is decreased to 2grams per day just to maintain creatine levels( hence the ingenious name maintenance phase). Combining creatine with carbohydrate intake, in the form of fruit juices or carb-loading drinks, has shown to enhance creatine retention. (creatine with grape juice works well)
Creatine usage isn’t as ‘bad ‘ as it is made out to be. I hope the above reading is of use to you and will help you the next time you’re shopping for supps. Not forgetting clearing up some of the myths that some believe are carved in stone….
Till the next article, keep it Anabolic….
Written by Mo Ebrahim
References: Creatine Supplementation and Enhanced Sport and Exercise Performance (Dr Andrew McKune), Creatine: cutting through the myths (Peak Performance)