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Is Creatine The Best Ever Supplement For Explosive Results?

Posted on April 10, 2014

Is Creatine The Best Ever Supplement For Explosive Results?Dividerimage

Anyone who's had anything at all to do with sports nutrition over the past few years will have heard of creatine. It first hit the media in the 1990s, when Olympic gold medallists Linford Christie and Sally Gunnel reported that they'd taken it in the lead-up to competing. So, what is all the fuss about? What, exactly, is creatine and how does it work? Why are so many nutritionists and athletes talking about it? How can it help an athlete's performance?

What is creatine?

Let's start off with the basics. Creatine is an organic acid that occurs naturally in all human bodies. It is usually produced in the liver and kidneys, when three amino acids combine. These are l-arginine, glycine and l-methionine. The blood transports the creatine to the cells, where it provides a powerful source of energy. It is particularly important for the cells in the muscles. In fact, about 95% of the body's creatine is found in the skeletal muscle (Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, University of Texas).

Fifty percent of the creatine stored in the human body is derived from food - primarily, meat. Studies have demonstrated that vegetarians carry much lower levels of creatine than meat-eaters, unless supplements are taken (Deans 2012).

How does creatine provide energy?

Creatine delivers energy because it boosts the formation of ATP (a short-hand term for adenosine triphosphate). This happens when creatine phosphate comes into contact with adenosine diphosphate. As Robert DiMaggio explains (2004), the creatine relinquishes its phosphate molecule, leading to the development of ATP. It provides the energy necessary to sudden, explosive actions, such as jumping, sprinting, kicking and punching. Most skeletal muscle naturally contains a creatine concentrate of about 2-5 mM, which can provide about ten seconds worth of energy. So, the obvious question is, what if this isn't enough?

Why take a creatine supplement?

As identified, an individual's creatine supply isn't infinite. A high-protein diet might provide enough energy for ten-second power bursts, but it's limited. Once dietitians and sports nutrition scientists figured this out, they realised that a concentrated supplement could play an important role in increasing an athlete's capacity at the muscular level. Taking an extra hit of creatine enables the body to supply ATP at a faster and more sustained rate. 

When creatine is consumed, it moves from the stomach into the blood without breaking down. So, it's able to enter the cells that make up the muscles and remain efficacious, transforming into the active element creatine phosphate. 

How does taking creatine help physical performance?

Creatine isn't a magical potion. It doesn't promise to mystically turn you into a better, stronger or more muscular athlete. But what it can do is help you to perform much, much better. In other words, prolonged use can lead to longer, more effective training sessions, which, in turn, lead to superior physical performance. As you're probably well aware, one of the barriers to workout satisfaction is exhaustion - not only of the mind, but of the body and the muscles, too. That's where creatine steps in. Instead of running out of the energy necessary to intense training, your muscles can work much harder for much longer. 

How much creatine should I take?

Most research suggests that, when first taking creatine, an athlete should undergo a 'loading period' (Hultman, Soderlund, Cederblad and Greenhaff 1996, cited in Kiefer 2013). This means taking 20 grams every day for five days before reverting to a calculated daily serving, to be taken regularly. Physician-turned-nutrition and performance scientist John Kiefer (2013) suggests that daily intake should be determined according to body weight. On average, an athlete needs to consume two grams, topped up with 0.4 grams for every half-kilogram of muscle. 

When should creatine be taken?

The optimum time to take creatine is directly after a workout. Some athletes consume their entire hit in one go. However, it's also possible to spread a serving out over the course of one day, split into four. This means taking it pre-workout (approximately half-an-hour before hitting the gym or field), post-workout and on two other occasions. It's important to note that consuming carbohydrates at the same time can help to replenish and boost energy sources.

References

Deans, Emily, 'Your brain on creatine', Psychology Today, 10 February 2012, <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201202/your-brain-creatine> accessed 5 April 2014.

Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, 'Creatine supplementation and augmentation into skeletal muscle and its response to high intensity exercise', University of Texas at Austin, <http://www.edb.utexas.edu/ssn/SN%20PDF/Creatine-Skeletal%20Muscle.PDF> 

DiMaggio, Robert, 'Learn all about Creatine', Bodybuilding.com, 20 April 2004 <http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/dimaggio2.htm> accessed 5 April 2014.

Kiefer, John, ‘Creatine: How much should you be taking?’ Schwarzenegger.com, 6 March 2013, accessed 5 April 2014.