This is one of the most popular supplements on the market, and yet a surprising number of users do not understand the role it plays in their body, the amount their body requires, or whether it is of benefit to them. I am hoping this article will help clear up some confusion and answer some questions you may have regarding Creatine.
What is it?
Our bodies run on different energy systems, depending on the intensity and duration of the activity we are participating in. For high intensity, short duration activities such as sprinting or powerlifting, our bodies rely on the ATP-CP Phosphagen system. ATP stands for Adenosine triphosphate which is our main energy source for muscle contraction, and CP stands for Creatine phosphate. Creatine phosphate is a molecule that is synthesized by our liver, kidneys, and pancreas and is stored in our muscle cells in large quantities. It is essential in the rapid reproduction of ATP when our muscle stores become low. Because we only store enough ATP in our muscle cells for 10-15 seconds of intense exercise, we need a constant supply of Creatine in order to perform at this exercise intensity for longer periods of time.
ATP Stores = Muscle Contraction 15 secs at high intensity = depletion of ATP = Creatine synthesized into more ATP = 15 secs at high intensity….
Eventually as our muscle stores are depleted of both ATP and CP, our bodies will have to slow down, and we will be unable to maintain the same level of exercise intensity.
Natural Sources and Supplementation
I can remember when creatine first hit the market and the uproar it caused in the world of sports. There continues to be an ongoing debate about whether supplementing with Creatine is necessary for improved performance and whether it is good for our bodies. Some people still feel it is a form of cheating and that it should be banned from competitive sports. I’ll provide you with the pros and cons of creatine supplementation along with a brief outline of my own personal experience. From there you can decide on how you feel about its use.
We require approximately 2 grams/day through our diet to replenish the creatine we lose in our urine. When supplementing with Creatine, the recommended daily dose is 2-5 grams/day. Vegetarians and Vegans need to ensure they are getting enough creatine due to the lack of meat and or dairy in their diets, especially if they participate in high intensity activities.
There are some people that prefer to do a “loading phase” when beginning their use of Creatine. This involves saturating their system with 15-20 grams of creatine a day. Studies have shown that this “loading phase” has very little benefit if any on overall performance.
Creatine supplementation decreases our bodies natural ability to synthesis this molecule on its own, and it remains unknown as to whether our bodies recover this ability following its use. Because Creatine draws water from the rest of the body, dehydration and muscle cramping are often side effects of supplementation. It can lead to kidney dysfunction when used for prolonged periods and is not recommended for people with kidney issues or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
The best time to take Creatine is a matter of opinion. Some people like to take it before they work out, so their muscles have extra to draw from during their workout. Some prefer to mix it with an electrolyte drink and consume it while working out, and some like to consume it post workout to help speed up their recovery time. I have tried all three ways and have found there is no difference on my level of performance or recovery time whether I take it before, during or after my workouts.
There are many reputable brands of this product out there for you to choose from but try to stick to one that does not contain any harmful additives such as artificial coloring and sweeteners. Make sure that you are drinking plenty of water to prevent dehydration and to help your kidneys flush out the excess creatine.
My Personal Experience
When I first began competing Creatine was just beginning to hit the market, and it was at the height of controversy. I received a creatine supplement in a prize basket after my first Fitness competition. At that point the only supplement I had ever used was Protein powder. After a lengthy moral debate and much research, I decided to try it. Now keep in mind, this supplement was not as perfected as it is now, and because of that I had some interesting and not so pleasant side effects. I gained 12 pounds in two weeks and felt bloated and gross. I had stomach cramps despite drinking 4 liters of water a day and sticking to the recommended daily serving. I did not notice a difference in muscle growth, workout intensity level, or recovery time so I stopped taking it.
It was not until years later, that I decided to give it another try, and the difference in quality was evident. My workouts were more intense, my muscle gains increased, and my recovery time was reduced. I still felt “heavy” but did not experience the dramatic weight gain I did when I first tried creatine.
I don’t like to take any workout supplement for a prolonged period (a month at most) and I have used Creatine three times in 20 years. During those periods, I took it for a week on, week off, and I only used it on days I was training. Some would say that had I used this supplement more often, I would have had “better” results. To me my results have been exactly what I have wanted them to be and I stand by my decision on my use of this supplement. I prefer to use PVL Creatine because it has no artificial flavoring, coloring, or sweeteners added to it, but there are many great brands available on the market.
Creatine supplementation is meant for those trying to increase their level of performance in the activities previously mentioned or for those trying to increase their muscle gains. It does provide some benefit in these areas; however, it is not recommended for long term use. It does have some side effects, and these will vary in each individual. I always recommend spending some time researching any supplement you are considering taking in order to make the best decision for your body.
Feel free to share your experience in the comment section below!