What is creatine and how does it work ?
Creatine is an organic compound which is predominantly obtained in the diet from meat and fish but it is also synthesised in the body. We store between 120 and 140 grams of creatine and approximately 95% of the body’s total creatine is deposited in the skeletal muscles as phosphocreatine and free creatine. Phosphocreatine breakdown provides the primary source of energy during high-intensity exercise such as weight training or tabata circuits. An increased level of phosphocreatine enables performers to tolerate more muscular work because resulting in greater training effects including augmented muscle protein synthesis, improved tolerance to lactic acid and a reduction in muscle protein breakdown. Research has shown that creatine supplementation concurrent with well planned training can augment strength and power by up to 40%.
How much should I take ?
A number of creatine loading protocols have been recommended but usually people pursue what has been termed a 5 day loading phase followed by an 8 to 12 week maintenance phase. During the loading phase one ingests 4, 5 gram servings per day for 5 consecutive days before the dosage is reduced to a 2 gram maintenance dose for the remainder of the cycle. During creatine supplementation the body’s endogenous creatine synthesis is supressed and one should discontinue supplementation for 4-6 weeks between every cycle.
Numerous forms of creatine are available, which one is best ?
There are numerous forms of creatine and it can be bought as powders, capsules, tablets and stabilised liquids but the cheapest and also the most extensively researched form is creatine monohydrate powder. A single serving can be dissolved in water and is virtually tasteless. It is however noteworthy that using a sugar-containing drink (such as Powerade or Lucozade) augments intramuscular creatine accumulation due to the upregulation of creatine transport via insulin. During creatine supplementation it is important to drink enough because creatine ingestion may cause fluid shifts from the blood in to the muscle cells.
Sounds great but are there any side effects ?
Supplementing with creatine in accordance with the guidelines outlined above is not associated with any health risks although stomach distress and muscle cramping may occur in rare cases. The main side effect of creatine supplementation appears to be body weight gain through both increases in muscle mass. Whilst many users pursue increases in muscle mass, the typical 3 kilogram increases in body mass could be considered a disadvantage in some sports.
In sum, creatine is one of the most extensively researched food supplements. It increases performance in activities such as weight lifting which leads to greater gains in muscular strength and size. Creatine is best taken with sports drinks in cycles of 2-5 months and users should increase fluid intake during creatine loading. There are no adverse health effects associated with creatine supplementation and it is not banned by any sports governing bodies.