What is Creatine?
Creatine is probably the most widely researched and publicised supplement available on the market today. You can buy it in health food shops, gyms and from most online sites that sell supplements. It is usually sold in the form of creatine monohydrate. People often ask ‘what is creatine” and if its a supplement worth taking and what the effects of creatine are, so I thought I’d write a short blog about it, which will hopefully help some of you!
So what is creatine? Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid that is found in meats and fish. It is also produced naturally in our bodies primarily in our livers. From here it is released into the blood and stored in the muscle cells. When any of our muscles start to contract it is creatine phosphate that provides the initial energy source. When a muscle starts to work its limited energy store (ATP) immediately starts to drop. ATP contains 3 phosphates and when it is used for energy it loses a phosphate becoming ADP. The creatine phosphate in the muscles then split giving their phosphate to the ADP so that it can become ATP again and then be used for energy. This way of producing ATP is very quick as it is done in a fraction of a second but the stores of creatine phosphate become depleted quickly themselves. That’s why the creatine phosphate energy system only really supports short energy bursts like one rep maxing with weights or sprinting. However if you can boost the creatine stores in your muscles, it has been shown that you can delay the onset of fatigue in the short explosive exercises as your creatine phosphate store will be larger.
There has been much research done on the subject of supplementing with creatine monohydrate and some studies show no benefit to exercise performance, however many do. The main benefit the studies seem to show is that it can increase high intensity repetitive performance. So if you was to do a set of say 10, 50 meter sprints. Generally your time would drop off gradually more and more as you get closer to your 10th rep. When supplementing with creatine your times would decrease less as you get to your 10th rep as your creatine phosphate stores are larger. There is a great deal of research into this subject, I don’t want to go into too much detail but there is lots that can be found on the internet (google scholar is great!).
It comes down to personal preference, some people I speak to find they don’t feel any benefit from it but others do. I personally have taken it many times over the years and have definitely felt a difference when I am taking it to when I am not. One example I can think of where I have felt a benefit is when I am doing pull ups. When not taking creatine I find when I am trying to do 3 sets to failure, I will do say 20 reps on my first set then 17 then 14 maybe. However when taking creatine I find I will do say 20 then 20 then 18. This is significant as it allows my muscles to work harder and make better gains in strength. As I have already said not everyone feels these benefits and not every piece of research on the subject has shown an increase in exercise performance. Some people will respond better to taking creatine supplements, if their muscle creatine levels are low to begin with. Vegetarians for example will have a lower store of creatine levels. Where as someone who eats meat and fish every day (a good source of creatine) will not notice so much difference in performance as their stores are already higher.
- The delay of the onset of fatigue in short term high energy activities. (sprints, weight lifting)
- It will most likely benefit those involved in sports that involve repeated high energy burst such as weight training, football or sprinting.
- Some research has shown it may also benefit endurance athletes by helping to buffer against the build up of lactic acid.
- Can possibly increase muscular strength.
- If you do choose to supplement with Creatine then try mixing with a carb drink like a fruit juice as this will help the body absorb the creatine better.
- Can cause water retention.
- Some people can become dehydrated so its very important to increase your water intake.
- Some people have said they have suffered with cramp whilst taking it and playing sport. Again another reason to up your water intake just in case!
- Most studies have only been conducted over a few weeks so long term side affects are not available.There is no scientific evidence though to suggest that the short term use of creatine monohydrate has any detrimental effect on healthy individuals.
So the decision is yours, these are some of the facts and possible advantages and disadvantages of taking creatine as a supplement. Any questions then don’t hesitate to ask and hopefully I can help or point you in the direction of help!