Creatine, the supplement that is often synonymous with huge gym-bros that lift massive amounts of weight while make massive amounts of noise. However, you might be surprised to learn that creatine benefits much more than just your average meat head and it could be beneficial to your training programme too.
Did you know that our bodies naturally create creatine? When you eat meat your liver and kidneys take in the amino acids to make creatine, which is then transferred to your muscles as a form of cellular energy called creatine monohydrate.
The creatine supplements you're likely to have seen work in a similar manner as your body converts the supplement into creatine phosphate, feeding your muscles during explosive exercise. However, your capacity for the fuel that's provided by creatine phosphate runs out quickly during this type of training, meaning that added creatine can give you more power for higher reps.
But what is creatine? After all, it may sound great so far, but no one wants to try supplements that they don’t fully understand.
Creatine in the muscles helps you recover between sets. Which means creatine is a valuable tool for boosting recovery speed, which in turn enables you to do more work during a single workout. Over time, this then leads to faster gains from your training.
Creatine has long been known to be one of the most effective supplements for improving performance. During the 1970s, Soviet scientists knew that creatine supplements improved performance, and it contributed to the USSR’s Olympic dominance through the 70s and 80s.
What else can creatine do?
Results vary in different people but generally when combined with weight training, creatine slows the loss of bone mass as you age and could ease the effects of osteoarthritis, where joints become stiff and painful.
Studies have found that muscle fibres grow faster after creatine supplementation and your training volume and strength also increase.
However, with that said, it is not a magic pill as you still have to be lifting the weights and bigger muscles do not always equal increased strength. But if you’re prepared to put in the work and maybe get some expert input into your programming, creatine can help give you that extra little boost to the next level.
Creatine also has some other benefits you might not be aware of. As anyone who’s ever pulled an all-nighter not getting enough sleep has a negative effect on mental performance as well as your mood and subsequent motivations towards training. What you might not be aware of is that this is partially due to a drop-in creatine levels in the brain.
A University study suggest that supplementing creatine supplement can help to offset the decline in mental performance that normally happens when you’re short on sleep. In another study on a group of top rugby players, researchers from the UK Sport Council found that creatine worked just as well as caffeine at wiping out the effects of sleep deprivation on performance during a skill test. So, you might be better reaching for a shaker than your morning Starbucks. The creatine will certainly have less sugar and junk additives in!
Whether creatine improves performance in all sports depends on what aspect of performance you’re trying to improve. But if a lack of muscle mass is a limiting factor, creatine is the best option to help you perform better. In many sports, though, there is an “optimum” muscle size, beyond which adding additional mass may be counterproductive. In this way creatine is also beneficial for those who exert short, repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise like the sprint bursts you do when playing court and field sports.
However, most people are wary of supplements because of the possible side effects. When it comes to creatine, supplementation can lead to 2-4lbs of weight gain in a week. This is because your muscles retain water in order to heighten protein synthesis. This, however, is nothing to worry about, especially for everyday athletes. In addition, the added weight will help your muscles feel bigger, fuller and stronger. As creatine contains zero calories, it has zero impact on your fat metabolism so you can take it on a non-exercise day if your muscles need the extra recovery help too!
There are also a few reports of kidney problems linked with the use of creatine. But these are mainly isolated case studies where someone with a pre-existing medical condition developed further health problems while using creatine. So, we would recommend avoiding creatine if you already have an existing health problem.
One of the most important aspect of supplements is knowing when to take them. As with everything health and fitness there are multiple ideas and reasons behind them when it comes to taking creatine: before, during, after a workout and whenever you fancy it!
Creatine before and during a workout is generally good for building ATP. ATP is an organic chemical that contributes to cellular energy and muscle contractions. When supplementing with creatine, you'll be taking on more ATP around your muscle cells. More ATP equates to more efficient muscle fibre activation and, obviously, better gains.
The reason behind supplementing creatine after a workout is because your muscles are depleted and are in desperate need for a payload of nutrients to start repairing and building more muscle.
When it comes to taking creatine whenever you want it can be seen to be much like a healthy amount of protein, there's no real downside for taking a healthy supplement like creatine that encourages muscle growth and won't derail your nutrition plan. As long as you’re not aiming for a specific goal weight or are an athlete who’s sport depends on them being a certain weight, you’re safe to take it whenever you fancy!
When it comes to how much to take and when to take it studies show that a dose of 3-5 grams per day of creatine supplement for 30 days will raise creatine levels in the muscle just as well as a 5-day loading phase where you take 20 grams per day. But if you’re new to creatine and new to supplements you can probably go ahead and skip the loading phase. Start with the smaller daily portion and see how you get on. Not every supplement is for everyone. Just remember it doesn't matter too much when you use it or what you mix it with. In short, creatine is a multi-purpose supplement that has a number of benefits for both physical and mental performance. It’s cheap, it’s safe and it works.