For me personally, creatine supplementation has been a topic of debate for much of my playing career. What does it do? Can it give me an athletic advantage? Are there side effects? These are common questions for those who are contemplating creatine supplementation. In this blog, I am discussing these questions along with adding my thoughts at the end.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a completely organic substance that is made primarily in the liver of the body. It helps supply energy to tissues in the body, and the majority of it is stored in the body (Haff & Triplett, 2016). Activities lasting 10 seconds or less, with maximum effort, rely on the phosphagen system for energy. For those who don’t now, ATP is what the body uses for energy. This reaction entails ADP + creatine phosphate → ATP + creatine, and produces the ATP at a fast rate (Haff & Triplett, 2016). Why is this important? The ability to produce ATP at a fast rate depends on the availability of the creatine phosphate in the muscles. As the creatine phosphate stores empty, the ability to perform max-effort exercise declines (Haff & Triplett, 2016). Therefore, if you want to sustain max-effort exercise for a longer period of time, your creatine stores in the muscle need to be maintained. Creatine supplementation is simply filling these stores in the muscle (by about 20% to be specific), so we do not fatigue as quickly during max-effort exercises (Haff & Triplett, 2016).
What Are The Benefits?
In short, the majority of the research on creatine supplementation has been shown to increase maximal strength, power, and muscle mass (Haff & Triplett, 2016). The supplementation has not been shown to immediately enhance performance, however it does enhance the quality of workouts by taking longer to fatigue and improving recovery, which will expose the body to greater stimulus and elicit greater adaptations (Haff & Triplett, 2016). For example, if you were to take creatine before a 100m race you will most likely not gain a competitive advantage. However, if you were to take creatine before a weight-lifting session, you may be able to perform exercises for a couple of extra reps compared to not supplementing creatine beforehand (remember, creatine supplementation fills your creatine stores in the muscle to produce max-effort exercise for longer periods of time). Those extra reps elicit greater damage to the muscles being worked, which will cause those muscles to build up stronger than if you did not supplement creatine. That is why greater improvements are seen in strength, power, etc in people who supplement creatine.
How Should You Supplement?
A typical creatine supplementation loading dose should involve 20-25 grams divided in doses four times a day for 2-7 days followed by a maintenance dose of 2-5 g/day for several weeks to months (Haff & Triplett, 2016; Campbell & Spano, 2011). If you were not to take the loading dose for 2-5 days, you would reach the same creatine store levels as if you did take the loading dose, except it would take much longer (roughly a month) (Haff & Triplett, 2016). The creatine levels in the muscles will be maintained as long as the maintenance dose is maintained (2-5 g/day for several weeks to months). If you were to stop supplementing creatine, the muscle stores for creatine would return to pre-supplementation levels in about four weeks (Haff & Triplett, 2016).
Are There Side Effects To Creatine Supplementation?
There have been reports of stomach, cardiovascular, and muscle problems (cramps) associated with creatine supplementation (Haff & Triplett, 2016). However, controlled studies that looked specifically into the adverse effects of creatine supplementation have been unable to show any side effects of it (Haff & Triplett, 2016). The theories on the side effects of creatine supplementation, are most likely not from the supplement itself, but from other factors. With any supplementation, you want to know if there are any long-term effects. There was a study done on 26 former or current athletes who had used creatine for four years. The only side effect they experienced was mild diarrhea during the loading phases (Haff & Triplett, 2016). Another theory is excessive strain on the kidneys because of the high nitrogen content of creatine. The research has not shown such side effects in short and long term creatine supplementation (Haff & Triplett, 2016).
I am going to be honest. You can’t refute what the evidence has to say about creatine supplementation. It has been proven to be advantageous, specifically for those participating in max-effort activities. It has also been shown to be very safe, with minimal, if any, side effects. Here are my thoughts…if you are a high school athlete or younger, proper nutrition and training will be more than enough to improve athletically. Will creatine supplementation help you? Yes. Will it put you at a disadvantage if you do not take it? No. I believe creatine supplementation is ESSENTIAL if you are an elite athlete competing at the highest levels, and already have a great training regimen and diet. If you are in high school, and want to take creatine, but don’t workout consistently and have a horrible diet, I would strongly recommend fixing the diet and habits before taking creatine. My second thought is that creatine is a supplement. Many think that supplements are automatically good for you, but what many don’t know is that supplements are not controlled by the FDA. What does this mean? Whoever is making the product can put whatever they want in it, and does not need to be screened by the FDA. Have you ever heard of baseball players that tested positive for steroid use and claimed they never took them? Well this is most likely the reason why. They may have been taking a supplement for a specific purpose, but unknowingly had steroids in the supplement. So my advice is read the nutritional label. The fewer ingredients the better, and the more words you can’t pronounce on the ingredients list the worse it is. Personally, I have NEVER taken creatine (maybe that’s why I was always one of the least athletic), but the information is in front of you. Do your research on the product and make the choice that works best for you.
If you want to dive deeper into the topic I recommend you check out the attached article on Creatine Supplementation in Athletes. It is my favorite on the topic!
- Haff, G., & Triplett, N. T. (2016). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Fourth edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- National Strength & Conditioning Association (U.S.)., Campbell, B. I., & Spano, M. A. (2011). NSCA’s guide to sport and exercise nutrition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
This site has content that is subject to my thoughts and opinion. Implement the content at your own caution as the author is not responsible for your actions. If you have pain, discomfort, or symptoms of any kind you should seek formal medical care from a medical professional.
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