Creatine is one of the most popular and talked about supplements in all disciplines of sports but there is still a lack of understanding in a large amount of the general population. Due to its ability to improve performance many people are unsure about the safety of supplementing with it and have listened to uninformed opinions on the supplement. This article aims at explaining exactly how creatine works, how safe it is to take and how to take it if you are thinking about supplementing with it.
Creatine is an ergogenic compound meaning it has the ability to enhance performance for physical exercise and it can be found naturally in food such as meat and fish. In order to understand how this actually happens you must understand where your muscles get their energy from.
In order for your muscles to contract and do work they must get energy from somewhere, just like your car cannot move unless it has fuel in it. This source of energy that your muscles use is called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). However, once your muscles are put to work your stores of ATP will be used up in a matter of seconds so in order for you to keep exercising and performing your body needs to produce more of it. This is where creatine phosphate comes in to play. When ATP is used you are left with Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP) behind which cannot be used by the muscles as energy but can be rephosphorylated into ATP when it reacts with creatine phosphate (creatine monohydrate broken down into creatine phosphate when it reaches the muscles). So, the more ADP that you can continuously turn back into ATP the more energy your muscles will have. However, just like ATP, creatine phosphate stores will drop by as much as 57% after 30 seconds of high intensity exercise. Therefore, by supplementing with creatine you can increase the amount of ADP you are able to convert into ATP to keep providing your muscles with energy.
An important thing to note is that taking more creatine does not relate to more and more energy. Your muscles will reach a point of saturation and for this reason the dosage part of this articles is also very important.
Creatine is one of the most scrutinised supplements in the last number of years as its benefits were thought to be similar to that of illegal performance enhancing drugs. However, the more and more studies carried out on the supplement the more and more we learn that it is perfectly safe. There have been no accounts of dangerous side effects to supplementing with creatine but as with any supplement, the recommended dosage and instructions should always be followed.
One known side effect with creatine supplementation is bloating or stomach discomfort but this appears to only affect about 5% of people.
Many people will be familiar with the term “loading” when it comes to creatine supplementation. A loading phase is basically where you saturate your muscles with creatine by taking an increased dosage for a few days prior to sustained supplementation of it.
Some people will argue that you don’t need to use a loading phase and technically they will be correct but practically they will be wrong. If you use a loading phase your muscles will reach a saturated level of creatine within approximately the 5 day loading phase. However, if you go straight into your maintenance dosage of creatine it could take you approximately 30 days to reach the same level of creatine in your muscles.
The recommended loading phase lasts 5 days where you take 20-25g of creatine per day. Ideally you would space this throughout the day with 4 different servings for the loading phase.
After your 5 days of loading you only need to supplement with 2-5g per day.
I also recommend taking a break from creatine supplementation after about 12 weeks for about 4 weeks.
Due to the bioavailability of creatine being very high it is not really necessary to worry about how to take it but my favourite way to take it for convenience and effectiveness is to combine it with my post-workout shake. By taking it along with your post-workout protein shake the insulin spike caused by the whey will increase the absorption rate.
So you now you now exactly how creatine supplementation works to enhance performance by increasing the energy available to the muscles but how exactly does this translate to your performance in exercise?
Well the following are some of the expected benefits you would see from creatine supplementation:
- Strength increase on bench press, squat, deadlifts etc.
- Reduces fatigue so allows for better quality of training
- Enhances recovery
- Improvements in jump and explosiveness
It is important to note that these benefits can be seen as a result of supplementation over a period of time and not by taking creatine prior to a training etc. You should not expect an immediate improvement in strength and performance but over your course of supplementation and training.
There are a number of different types of creatine available at the moment and many claim to have great benefits and also a hike in price compared to the last so what is the difference between them?
Some of the other types of creatine are creatine ethyl ester and micronised creatine (there are a few others). So what’s the difference between these types? Basically all of these newer types of creatine are trying to increase the absorption rate of creatine in order to make it more effective. This sounds great and you’d be thinking well I’ll obviously go for the one with the highest absorbance! However, creatine naturally has a very high bioavailability which means that most of it will be absorbed when taken in the form of creatine monohydrate so trying to increase the absorbance of it will make a negligible difference to its benefits. The other important point about these other forms of creatine is that they will be a hell of a lot more expensive than the monohydrate form.
Also, another important note to make is that all of the research into creatine to test how safe it is is almost all carried out using creatine monohydrate and we know this is safe so it might be best to stick to what’s tried and tested.
Creatine supplementation helps to increase the level of creatine phosphate in the muscles allowing for the rephosphorylating of ADP to ATP, therefore increasing the energy available for use by the muscles.
I recommend a loading phase of 5 days where you consume 20-25 g of creatine monohydrate and then a maintenance dosage of 2-5g per day thereafter.
There are a number of different forms of creatine and many sound appealing when their benefits are recited but in actually fact the most affordable and most sensible one to take in my opinion is Creatine Monohydrate.
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