Creatine – The ‘Bulk’ of the story
Is it fortunate or unfortunate we are to have an array of supplements and training aids available to our fingertips, not under prescription form nutritionists and dieticians but just there with no need for displaying proof of age when purchasing and with a choice and variety so vast it then becomes confusing. Nutrition can be confusing; take protein for example! For a long time whey protein was the most used and sought after supplement (Ciocca, 2005). Now have protein broken down into amino acids available to purchase individually; alanine, leucine, isoleucine, taurine…the list goes on! And it will continue to do so but keeping oneself informed and knowing why you’re taking what you’re taking is important. With this article we target those who hopefully have exhausted themselves in trying to consume high portioned meals frequently along with engaging in a well structured resistance exercise programme but are struggling to gain some weight. When this happens, when goals are not being met, it is convenient to look to the likes of whey protein and creatine for some assistance.
How does it work?
Creatine is composed of three amino acids; arginine, glycine and methionine. It can be obtained from meat and fish but is more commonly known to be taken as a supplement. In muscle, creatine combines with phosphorus to form phosphocreatine (PC) which is an energy-rich compound that fuels the working muscles during high intensity training including weightlifting and sprinting. According to Hultman, (1996) where creatine supplementation is in practice, PC levels increase about 2% allowing for increased work-out intensity and faster recovery periods. Creatine has also been acknowledged for assisting in muscle protein synthesis and hypertrophy by drawing water into the muscle cells, increasing lean body mass and staving fatigue.
Increasing body mass has been shown with many studies where creatine supplementation is concerned. During the first week of creatine loading individuals can gain up to 1.5kg and after 6 weeks this can be 4.5kg. Lean body mass has typically been reported to increase between 1-3% (0.8-3kg) (Bean, 2013). Of course, not all studies have demonstrated positive results where sprint performance had not been improved (Mujika et al 1996).
Typically, creatine is taken by loading 4 x 5-7g a day across 5 days i.e. 20-25g daily. This is quite an inefficient way of getting creatine into your muscles as it is more likely to cause side effects such as water retention. About two-thirds of this creatine will become excreted with just one-third reaching the muscle cells. In order to increase the efficiency of taking creatine, promoting it uptake into muscle cells is to dose on small quantities. According to Burke et al. (2000), low doses of creatine can significantly improve weight training performance to the same extent as high doses. Participants who consumed 7.7g creatine daily for 21 days were capable of performing more repetitions on the bench press and maintain maximum power for longer than those who took a placebo. Harris (1998) recommends taking 6 daily doses of 0.5-1.0g and sprinkling on food to assist in its absorption. Over a 5-6 day period that leads to the equivalent of taking 20g a day. Following this a maintenance dose of 2g a day will maintain muscle creatine levels. Alternatively, loading with 3g a day across 30 days also results in saturation of your muscles with creatine and should produce the least water retention (Hultman et al, 1996).
Weight gain is the most frequently reported side effect, which is probably the goal if you are taking creatine. For sports where high intensity performance is desirable yet weight gain is not, then creatine should not be your supplement of choice. Besides this, where taken in low-doses and regimented, creatine does not appear harmful. However, keep in mind, the effect of taking creatine in the long term or in high doses remains yet to be understood. A recent study from Atashak and Jafari, (2011) have investigated the prevalence of cell damage caused by the consumption of creatine. However, where a conclusion reads that ‘creatine probably has significantly adverse effects on serum indirect markers of cellular damage’ makes it rather cloudy to make the judgement of whether or not creatine ingestion either increases the probability of this damage or the damage caused is significant; it is unclear. Much of the information on the side effects of creatine is anecdotal and therefore in the short term, the consumption of creatine appears to be safe.