What do you know about creatine?
Creatine is one of my favourite sports supplements and one that I personally use everyday. There have been hundreds of studies done on the effects that creatine monohydrate has on athletic performance, and recently researchers are looking into non-exercise related benefits as well.
So what exactly is creatine and what does it do in the body?
Creatine is created in our liver and pancreas, but 95% of it is stored in our skeletal muscle as phosphocreatine (1). The phosphocreatine (PCr) that is stored in our muscles is important in the synthesis of ATP during and after exercise(1). If you aren’t familiar with ATP it is the primary carrier of energy in our bodies. When our cells need energy, ATP is broken down and the resulting energy release is used at a cellular level. Since we need PCr to create ATP, when the stores of PCr in our working muscles are depleted, our body can no longer synthesize ATP fast enough to sustain high intensity exercise (1). This means that if we can increase the amount of PCr stored in our bodies, we can likely increase our capacity for high intensity exercise by increasing the rate of ATP synthesis during exercise(1).
What Benefits might I see with creatine supplementation?
Some of the short-term benefits that have been shown with creatine supplementation include:
- Improved high intensity exercise capacity (1)
- Improved sports performance in sports such as sprinting, swimming and soccer (1)
Long term adaptations include:
- Increased PCr stores in muscle (1)
- Increased lean body mass, in long term studies subjects will often gain about twice as much lean muscle vs. placebo (1).
- Increases in strength and muscle diameter (1)
There is also evidence for the use of creatine supplementation in traumatic brain injury. With fatigue being reduced by 70% and dizziness reduced by 50%. Some studies have shown that creatine can not only alleviate some of the secondary damage associated with concussions but can also be preventative against injury in the first place (2) .
What about the horrible side effects that I have heard are caused by creatine?
Despite anecdotal claims that creatine is unsafe and may cause kidney or liver failure, creatine supplementation is quite safe. In the many publications that studied the effects that creatine has in the body, there has not been any reported detrimental effects in healthy people who supplement with creatine short or long-term (1). There is actually evidence in the scientific literature that shows that athletes who supplement with creatine are less likely to experience dehydration, cramping or gastrointestinal upset than those who do not supplement (1).
The one side effect that you will likely see with creatine supplementation is weight gain. Although this is partially due to the water retention that creatine causes by driving water into your cells, it is also partially due to an increase in lean mass (1).
What is the best way to get creatine into my body?
You can get creatine from fish and meat, but it is hard to obtain adequate amounts from these sources without overeating. Supplementing with a creatine monohydrate supplement can be more efficient and cost effective. There are newer forms of creatine that have been introduced to the market, but according to research these do not appear to be any more effective than the common and less expensive creatine monohydrate (1).
Taking creatine with a carbohydrate and protein has been shown to increase the retention of creatine in our muscles, but this did not translate to an increase in performance when compared to taking creatine alone (1). So as long as you get your daily dose of creatine, you can expect to see the performance benefits.
As always, for any athlete it is important to stay well hydrated and drink plenty of water throughout the day. Just like we discussed in an early post, even just a small amount of dehydration can cause a huge detriment to athletic performance. I personally have noticed that creatine makes me feel thirstier which encourages me to drink an adequate amount of water everyday.
Remember that it is always important to discuss any supplement with a trusted healthcare provider prior to starting anything new. I am always happy to answer questions or to discuss if creatine would be right for you!
1. Buford, T. W., Kreider, R. B., Stout, J. R., Greenwood, M., Campbell, B., Spano, M., . . . Antonio, J. (2007). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Creatine supplementation and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 4(1), 6. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-4-6
2. Dean, P. J., Arikan, G., Opitz, B., & Sterr, A. (2017). Potential for use of creatine supplementation following mild traumatic brain injury. Concussion, 2(2). doi:10.2217/cnc-2016-0016