Creatine. Most people recognize the word. Virtually none of them know how it actually works.
For a large number of people, Creatine is only known due to media vilification, most recently in ABC’s account of a group of hospitalized football players. If you’re interested, you can read about the ABC story HERE, an analysis of the ABC story HERE, and a review of evidence by a creatine expert HERE. Other articles about creatine can be found here: Creatine Explained from the NSCA, and HERE is an overview by the University of Maryland Medical Center. The odds that you’ve clicked on those links is low, but I’d heavily suggest reading the Wikipedia page on it which covers a good deal of the physiology of creatine, and checking out the Creatine Information Center which covers everything you need to know about creatine.
If you STILL haven’t followed any of those links, here is the lateset position statement by the International Society of Sports Nutrition regarding creatine:
Position Statement: The following nine points related to the use of creatine as a nutritional supplement constitute the Position Statement of the Society. 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., 2–3 g/d) will increase muscle creatine stores over a 3–4 week period, however, the performance effects of this method of supplementation are less supported.
8. Creatine products are readily available as a dietary supplement and are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Specifically, in 1994, U.S. President Bill Clinton signed into law the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). DSHEA allows manufacturers/companies/brands to make structure-function claims; however, the law strictly prohibits disease claims for dietary supplements.
9. Creatine monohydrate has been reported to have a number of potentially beneficial uses in several clinical populations, and further research is warranted in these areas.
In fact, you can click HERE to see the same information on the ISSN website, as well as reading the supporting research.
Now, you can probably tell by now that the main suggestion of this article is going to be, “Take Creatine!” However, it’s not that simple. Because of the function of creatine in the body, supplementation will only help certain athletes. Creatine is crucial in the production of Adenosine Triposphate, during the very fast but inefficient phosphagen system. A picture is worth a thousand words, and I leave you with the following diagram of this cycle:
This version of ATP production occurs during high intensity or speed movements; examples would be sprinting a 100 yard dash, or a 3 repetition maximum on a chin-up or squat. Supplementing with creatine increases free creatine stores in skeletal muscle, and therefore increases the rate of ATP production. It’s simple magic!
While the bioenergetics may seem complicated, this is actually the simplest method of energy production the body uses. However, because it’s so quick, it’s also the least efficient, and lasts for a very short time. Due to the poor efficiency of the phosphagen cycle, we know what creatine supplementation can assist those who perform high speed or high intensity exercises. IF you’re a marathon runner, don’t expect creatine to make you faster. If you’re a swimmer, creatine is not going to help your time for a 400m race. If you’re a soccer player, it won’t help you in the 85th minute. However, it will help the sprinter run that much quicker, and the soccer player when they strike the ball, and the lifter pull heavier. If these are the activities in which you are participating, (and you should be!) then you’ll benefit from creatine supplementation. I leave you with the simplest metaphor that I’ve found is this:
Drinking a product such as Gatorade during endurance workouts helps you go longer; taking creatine during strength and power workouts makes you stronger.
If you’d like to be stronger and more powerful, creatine monohydate is a great supplement that’ll help you reach your goals. It’s inexpensive and extremely effective. Why aren’t you using it?!