What is Creatine?
Creatine or methyl-guanido-acetic acid as it is now scientifically known is used for short, explosive bursts of energy, likely during anaerobic exercise. Creatine is the fuel source for the energy system ATP (Adenosine Tri-Phosphate). Creatine is naturally occurring and is found in many foods within the diet.
When taking Creatine, it increases the muscular stores of Phosphocreatine (PCr). Phosphocreatine or Creatine Phosphate is a Creatine molecule which is found within skeletal muscle within the body and is important during muscular contractions and the energy which provides the muscular contractions.
Creatine helps to delay the onset of lactic acid during high intensity or anaerobic exercise.
Who may benefit from Creatine?
Certain trainers may benefit from Creatine if they tend to have a diet which is sparse in meat products. Meats such as beef and steaks contain natural Creatine which is obviously the natural version of Creatine and Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE).
Creatine may lead to extra strength benefits within trainers, however, it is often seen as a product which people may look to gain a lot of benefit from. It may help with an extra rep or an increase in 1kilo of weight for instance, but large increases in weights aren't really going to be derived from Creatine.
Can Creatine be sourced within the diet?
Yes, of course, Creatine is present in a lot of meat products, most abundantly in steaks, beef, as well as fish sources such as tuna, herrings, and salmon. A bodybuilder's diet which is rich in the above foods, will provide a higher level of Creatine within the skeletal muscle of that individual, than a bodybuilder that has a vegetarian style diet.
The net amount of Creatine which is synthesised during the day within the body is thought to be around 2 grams of Creatine. This amount will obviously fluctuate depending upon the types of protein based foods within that diet. The 2 grams shows that although Creatine is sourced within the body, it is still an inferior total to that which can be obtained through Creatine supplementation.
How exactly does Creatine become effective?
Creatine has been linked to potentially possessing the ability to increase protein synthesis within the body. Creatine Monohydrate draws water into the muscles which can lead to a fascia-stretching adaptation. Some muscles may appear to be more 'full', when an individual is taking Creatine, simply because of the increase in water uptake into the muscle cell.
Theoretically Creatine can increase strength and intensity during high intensity exercise such as weight training. When the body is involved in high intensity exercise, the stores of ATP (Adenosine Tri Phosphate) within the body tend to be reduced reasonably quickly, which means that the body is going to have to have another source of energy for muscular contraction.
What type of exercise will benefit from Creatine supplementation?
Creatine increases physical performance in succesive bursts in short term, high intensity exercise.
Creatine supplementation within the diet can benefit athletes who train at high intensities, for short periods of time. Creatine has often been supplemented by athletes and individuals who train for endurance, i.e. marathon runners; however, their feedback on the product has deemed that Creatine may not be a worthwhile product to help with endurance, if that is your ultimate goal.
As mentioned above, Creatine aids exercise which is of high intensity and of short duration. Creatine can aid individuals whose activities are 20 seconds or less in duration and need explosive power and intensity during this time scale.
Creatine studies have been conducted in the past and have been concluded with positive results in relation to Creatine supplementation with weight or resistance training. Various studies have proven that Creatine supplementation can help with 1 repetition maximums (1RM) during weight training and also with larger numbers of repetitions too.
The influence of Creatine supplementation on substrate utilization during rest was investigated using a double-blind crossover design. Ten active men participated in 12 wks of weight training and were given Creatine and a placebo (20 g/day for 4 days, then 2 g/day for 17 days) in two trials separated by a 4-wk washout. Body composition, substrate utilization, and strength were assessed after weeks 2, 5, 9, and 12. Maximal isometric contraction [1 repetition maximum (RM)] leg press increased significantly (P < 0.05) after both treatments, but 1-RM bench press was increased (33 / 8 kg, P < 0.05) only after Creatine.
http://jap.physiology.org/cgi/content/abstract/93/6/2018 (Vol. 93, Issue 6, 2018-2022, December 2002)
Creatine supplementation can also show signs of improvements during anaerobic exercise amongst other sports besides weight or resistance training. Activities which require high intensity such as Rowing, Sprinting, Cycling and Swimming, all utilising the anaerobic energy system, can benefit from Creatine supplementation within the diet. However, as these activities also rely upon the aerobic energy system during their durations, then Creatine supplementation may not produce the same results as it would during more anaerobic based sports, i.e. resistance training.
Can Creatine Aid Muscular Hypertrophy?
As fore-mentioned, the increase in Creatine within the muscle cell can result in increased protein synthesis within a human being. This can then result in Creatine supplementation leading to muscular hypertrophy. Creatine increases amino acid density within the muscle cell filaments, actin and myosin. It is believed that if the contractile filaments, actin and myosin have a greater density, then muscular hypertrophy can occur at a greater rate.
Studies (International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism) have been conducted which show that over a 12 week period of Creatine supplementation, lean mass has occurred within a relatively short period of time. This study also proved that Creatine supplementation over the 12-week period increased the muscle fibre diameter within human beings, for both fast and slow twitch muscle fibres.
Is Creatine supplementation going to aid a reduction in body fat?
A relatively well mentioned side effect of Creatine supplementation is that people believe it can aid fat loss. Studies have been conducted which show that Creatine supplementation does not inhibit fat loss, however, conversely also finds that Creatine supplementation does not directly cause fat loss in individuals.
Creatine can aid with cell volumization within muscles and, thus, could consequently lead to an increased fat burning rate, somewhat indirectly. Creatine aids the intake of water in the muscle cells, which can allow for more macronutrients such as proteins and carbohydrates to be stored within the tissue. This could in-directly cause an increase in fat burning efficiency as muscular hypertrophy results in a larger proportion of lean mass of that individual, which can lead to a greater Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which can then lead to greater fat burning ability at rest and also during exercise.
Some individuals will find that with Creatine supplementation during fat loss periodization, they hold more water, which may distort their appearance. This can result in body image problems for that individual, where they may be losing body fat, yet their appearance is deceived slightly by their supplementation of Creatine within their diet. This is more common with Creatine Monohydrate as opposed to Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE).
How and when do I need to supplement with Creatine?
Within Creatine Monohydrate supplementation, it is often beneficial to include a 'loading phase' when you commence with the supplementation. During the loading phase, dosages of between 10-20 grams have been utilised in order to rapidly increase the density of Creatine within the muscle cells. Loading with 10-20 grams each day has showed that Creatine stores can be maximised within 2-3 days after prior supplementation.
After the initial loading phase, which can last between 3-7 days, the next phase is introduced. The next phase is known as the maintenance phase, where the dosage of Creatine is actually reduced and the supplementation is continued at this dosage for a prolonged period of time. Generally, a maintenance phase of Creatine Monohydrate is continued for around 6-8 weeks, before a 1 week break from the product, the cycle then continues in the above manner.
An example of a Creatine cycle would look like the following -
Days 1-7 - Loading phase, duration dependent upon intake. Intake between 10-20 grams to saturate muscle.
Days 7-42 - Maintenance phase, intake is between 5-10 grams daily to ensure adequate Creatine density.
Days 42-49 - 1 week break from the product, before cycle continues in the above manner.
Only so much Creatine can be stored within the muscle tissue. This results in the consensus that during the maintenance phase of the Creatine cycle, an uptake, greater than 10 grams per day, is generally a waste of both Creatine and your money.
When loading with Creatine, spreading the intake during the day can be beneficial to ensure that the Creatine stores are being increased. Typically, this results in a dose being taken AM, Mid-day, and PM as well as before bed. Creatine Monohydrate is characteristically reliant upon a transport system to aid its route to the muscle cells, this transport system is maximised when carbohydrate intake is present.
When on the maintenance phase of the Creatine cycle, 2 doses can be consumed AM and PM on a non-workout day. If the individual is training with resistance training, then it can be beneficial to split the dose between pre workout and post workout. Pre workout, Creatine can be taken with pre workout carbohydrate intake for energy during the forthcoming activity, around 30-45 minutes before exercise commences. A post workout (PWO) dose of Creatine Monohydrate will also be beneficial along with carbohydrate intake, as this will provide the perfect transport system for the passage of Creatine into the muscle cells PWO.
When supplementing with Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE), then no loading phase is necessary. An intake of 3-5 grams of CEE is generally considered to be an efficient dosage to supplement with. Additionally, CEE does not require the same transport system of that of Creatine Monohydrate. CEE does not need the presence of carbohydrates in order to be transported to the muscle cell.
Are there any side effects to Creatine supplementation?
Creatine supplementation within individuals has often reported certain side effects which have been linked with the timing of their Creatine supplementation. Side effects have included kidney problems, sickness, diarrhoea, muscular cramping and muscular strains. However, the fore-mentioned side effects have only been linked with Creatine supplementation, and have not been proven to have been caused by an intake of Creatine within their diets.
The biggest and most well known side effect of Creatine supplementation, especially Creatine Monohydrate, is the water bloat and storage which comes with it, due to the cell volumization aspect of Creatine. With Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE), the water holding aspect is decreased and often nullified, which can lead to CEE being a better choice for someone wishing to lose fat and not have their appearance to be distorted by Creatine Monohydrate.
Muscular cramping can be caused by Creatine supplementation, yet has not been proven and has only been linked as a side effect of Creatine supplementation. It is possible that Creatine supplementation can cause de-hydration in the individual if their water intake is not adequate. This can resultantly lead to muscular cramping. However, conversely, when muscular contraction is impaired and cramping occurs, it can be often down to fatigue of that muscle group. Creatine is believed to help delay the onset of lactic acid, so this side effect could actually be nullified by Creatine supplementation.
Creatine studies have been conducted following the link with kidney problems in relation to Creatine supplementation for a prolonged period of time. These studies have often dispelled the fact that Creatine is linked to kidney problems following a Creatine cycle, when Creatine has been taken in a smaller dose, i.e. 5-10 grams per day. Some particular studies have shown that when Creatineis supplemented by 20 grams per day over a pro-longed period of time, a serious condition of the kidneys known as interstitial nephritis developed in a particular individual. It is possible that for people with existing kidney problems, Creatine supplementation may not be worthwhile as it can lead to further kidney complications.