Hey guys! Navigating the world of nutrition can be really confusing. What I consider even more confusing is trying to figure out supplementation. If any of you guys have heard the word "broscience" before, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
Most of the claims out there for supplements aren't actually proven to be beneficial, but instead are promoted by companies to get you to spend money with the promise of getting bigger, leaner, or stronger quickly. Some work, some don't, and some are downright dangerous.
If you're an athlete, you have to be especially careful to make sure you're not accidentally consuming something that is banned from your sport.
This week I'm going to extensively review creatine for you guys so you have an idea of how it works and who would benefit from it. Let me know if you have any questions!
Supplement Review: Creatine
Creatine claims to increase:
Lean body mass
Muscle and power strength
Maximal effort muscle contractions
What is creatine?
In order to talk about what creatine does for the body, we need a basic understanding of our energy systems.
Creatine is a compound derived from the amino acids arginine, glycine, and methionine. It is one of the three major energy systems in the body that form ATP-- Adenosine Triphosphate, which is a fuel source for our muscles and brain.
Creatine is naturally found in:
Meat or fish: There is an estimated 5 grams of creatine per kilogram of meat or fish consumed; this works out to 5 grams for a little over 2 pounds. We also happen to excrete roughly 5 grams of creatine per day. So our body balances itself out pretty well in this regard.
How does it work:
When we train at a high intensity, our body is under anaerobic conditions and creatine is our major source of energy at this time.
Creatine in muscle does it's job by donating a phosphate molecule to Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP) to rapidly regenerate ATP which will fuel our muscle contractions once more.
Creatine stores can be increased up to ~20% with supplementation, which is pretty significant.
With supplemental creatine, we are increasing the amount stored in muscle which will improve the bodies ability to regenerate ATP from ADP and allow us to perform better.
Creatine has been shown in numerous studies to be beneficial for high intensity exercises involving short bursts of power. It allows greater availability of phosphocreatine in activated muscles due to higher rates of re-synthesis during recovery periods. In lay terms, this means it may improve performance in power and strength training.
Creatine also may decrease dependence on anaerobic glycolysis for re-synthesis of ATP. An end product of glycolysis is lactic acid so this could reduce lactic acid accumulation (the 'burn' you feel when training).
Who should take supplemental creatine?:
Otherwise healthy individuals. If you have a medical condition, I would recommend consulting your doctor before you consume a supplement. For those that are healthy, there may be benefits for:
Power lifters as they rely on short, intense bursts of energy.
Any individual engaging in a weight training (resistance training) program
Athletes whose goal is to increase lean body mass during their off-season or training phase.
Vegetarians; since creatine is found in the diet from meat and fish products, vegetarians may have lower levels in the body. Again though, this is likely not necessary unless you are engaging in strength training of some kind.
Who doesn't benefit from creatine:
Individuals not engaged in resistance (weight lifting) training or power lifting.
Endurance athletes; creatine is not the main fuel system for endurance exercise.
Possible adverse effects:
Creatine has been reported in some individuals to cause stiffness, decreased range of motion, and muscle cramping due to additional water retention around the muscle.
How we get rid of excess creatine:
Our kidney does a great job of processing and excreting excess creatine in the body. If you have healthy kidney function, there will likely be no issue getting rid of any extra.
20 grams a day for 5 days.
Daily recommendation after loading phase:
5 grams a day for 5-6 weeks.
There are numerous studies to show the benefit of doing a loading phase of creatine. The current recommendations for a loading phase are to consume 20g/day for the first 5 days to build up your creatine stores.
Typically, one scoop of creatine provides 5g, so you would need to have four scoops of creatine throughout the day which although beneficial, might not be realistic for individuals depending on their schedule. If you don't do a loading phase, there are still benefits from cycling creatine without it.
As always, there is no one-fits-all approach that works for everyone. If you're interested in incorporating creatine as a supplement, I recommend trying it during training in advance of any kind of sporting event you may have if you're an athlete. Trying new supplements out right before a competition of any type is a bad idea in case you do experience adverse side effects.
*Most individuals will see an increase in lean body mass in about 8 weeks with supplementation and training.
What form of creatine to take:
There are quite a few forms of creatine floating around the market these days, but the most researched form is creatine monohydrate. It absorbs well and is fairly cheap to purchase so this would be a good route to go.
More research is needed on:
Benefits of long-term creatine supplementation.
Supplementation in females; the majority of studies are male dominated.
Be aware when purchasing supplements:
Supplement companies like to toss in every fancy sounding supplement, vitamin, or chemical compound known to man into a "blend" to sell people. These products usually have lots of ingredients that are:
a) Not beneficial; either no benefits have been shown in human studies or the results were seen in a very specific population that are not generalizable to athletes or fitness enthusiasts.
b) If they are beneficial, there's a good chance they're not in the right doses shown to be effective. Most companies throw minimal amounts of things into products to make the back label look enticing to consumers.
c) Possibly dangerous-- for example, many vitamins have whats called an 'Upper Limit'. This is the maximum you should be consuming a day or else you could experience symptoms of toxicity which could be anything from increased fatigue to permanent nerve damage or worse.
Hopefully this overview helps! My goal is to debunk any myths or "broscience" floating around the internet so that people can really get a grasp on proper nutrition and supplementation. As always, if you're looking for help on how to incorporate this knowledge and be successful in your nutrition goals, a registered dietitian nutritionist can help. Having the details is just one piece of the puzzle. If you're an athlete, make sure you're working with someone who specializes in sports nutrition and always ask what their credentials are.
Comment below and let me know what supplements you guys are interesting in knowing more about next!