High Performance Sport Nutrition.

Serving NZ since April 2000.

What is Creatine?

 
Creatine Monohydrate is probably the most popular sports supplement on the market today, being one of the most effective supplements available for increasing explosive power, strength and aiding lean muscle gains. It is most commonly sold in powdered form, and capsules, and is also available in a liquid form which has yet to be proven effective (One particular brand of Liquid Creatine Serum has been pulled from the New Zealand shelves and the importers fined $70,000 for false claims). Creatine is commonly available mixed with carbohydrates or “transport systems” designed to improve creatine utilisation/absorption. Creatine is also found naturally in wholefoods including fish and red meat (approx. 3-6 grams of creatine per kilo) and is also formed in the liver from the amino acids arginine, glycine and methionine.
Creatine supplementation works by increasing the amount of phosphocreatine, a high energy phosphate compound, in the body. Phosphocreatine is the second source of energy used for muscular contractions after ATP (adenosine-tri-phoshate) is used up. ATP is the primary energy source into which all other fuels are broken down and is what is used in the mitochondria in the muscle cell to produce energy. It is stored in the muscle and is available for instant energy. Only enough ATP for about 5 seconds of maximum contraction is stored in the muscle.

Once used for energy, the ATP molecule loses a phosphate molecule and converts to ADP (adenosine-di-phosphate) which is biologically inactive. Phosphocreatine regenerates the ADP back to ATP by providing its own phosphate molecule. Once the phosphocreatine is used up, ATP has to be regenerated through the metabolism of substrates such as glycogen, fatty acids and amino acids.

By loading and then using a maintenance dose of creatine you increase the amount of phosphocreatine available in the body to convert ADP to ATP. This results in a greater length of time over which the muscle can be exercised and a greater workload exerted upon the muscle. This then leads to greater muscle growth and strength.

Another effect creatine has is an increase in the amount of water bought into the muscle cell along with the creatine. This results in the increased pump users exhibit when loading on creatine and maximises the size of the muscle. This extra water is thought to increase the muscle cell volume, activating more muscle protein and glycogen synthesis, reducing muscle breakdown and increasing muscle mass. Due to this extra water being pushed into the muscle cell, extra water should be consumed whilst using creatine.

If you find yourself getting headaches or cramps when using creatine, it will be because you aren’t consuming enough water and hence are becoming dehydrated. While using creatine it is best to avoid drinking alcohol as, due to its diuretic action, this can cause you to excrete alot of the creatine from the body. Also it is best to avoid coffee and caffeinated beverages as these also act as diuretics, stripping water from the body, causing dehydration. Much of this diuretic effect can be avoided by increasing your water intake - drink an extra glass of water for each caffeinated beverage consumed.

Creatine may also act as a Lactic acid buffer. Lactic acid is a byproduct of the conversion of glycogen, glucose and fatty acids into ATP. By having ample stores of phosphoocreatine ready to convert ADP to ATP, the use of these alternative fuel sources is reduced, thus limiting the amount of lactic acid produced resulting in less muscle soreness and improved recovery.

HOW DO I USE CREATINE MONOHYDRATE?

CREATINE LOADING PHASE - DAYS 1 to 5:
It is recommended to load for five days and then go on a maintenance phase for 5 to 8 weeks. During the loading phase (5 days) it is suggested to use 4-6 serves daily, each serve being a heaped teaspoon - approx 5 grams, spread over the course of the day.

CREATINE MAINTENANCE PHASE - 5-8 weeks:
During the maintenance phase (up to 8 weeks) you can use 3 to 5 grams daily. After the maintenance phase it is recommended to have a break from creatine use for 1-2 weeks before beginning the "cycle" again if desired.

The most important time for the use of creatine, as with most other supplements, is within an hour of completing training when the body is most responsive and requires all the nutrients it can get for optimum recovery. During the maintenance phase you would therefore use one serve post workout and if required, another serve approximately 8-12 hours before or after training (depending on time of day trained).

There are now studies showing that the loading phase may not be required and that users will be able to get similar results on just a maintenance dosage only. Typically these studies showed that after a month or so of regular low doses (i.e. 5 to 10g per day) bloodlevels of creatine were found to be the same as after one week of loading. The benefit of loading is that you reach this level sooner and start getting the full benefits of creatine supplementation. This is down to the individual and so it may be a case of experimenting with the dosage level and finding the one most suited to your body and training requirements.

CREATINE AND CARBOHYDRATES

Many users find that they get better results from creatine when combined with high glycemic (High GI) carbohydrates. High GI carbs result in an insulin spike within the body. This helps with the uptake of creatine as the creatine is pushed through the muscle cell membrane by the insulin. This can be acheived either by consuming 5 grams of creatine with grape juice (approx 250-300ml provides 30 grams carbs), some other form of simple carbs (white bread),Waxy Maize Starch, Maltodextrin or dextrose monohydrate. Dextrose monohydrate, also known as glucose, is sold as “Brewing Sugar” in home brew stores and supermarkets (around $5 per kg) and is a very cost effective solution for increasing the insulin response.

NOT ALL CREATINE IS PURE CREATINE

All good Sport Nutrition brands these days use Creatine that is certified to be free from impurities and heavy metals. The two biggest manufacturers of certified creatine are Pfanstiehl (USA) and Creapure (manufactured by AlzChem Trostberg GmbH in Germany). Creapure would now be recognised as the biggest producer of creatine and highest quality and purity, having produced creatine from the mid 1990's.
Most reputable manufacturers source creatine from these producers and are then licenced to carry a logo on their product label to let consumers know that the creatine is tested and free from any impurities.

Sadly there are still companies out there willing to make a fast buck at the expense of quality and a disregard for the safety of consumers who use cheaper creatine manufactured in China with questionable quality control, so always look for either the Pfanstiehl logo or Creapure logo on the product. If you are using a brand without either of these two logos, then it is possible that the creatine contains dangerous levels of impurities and will do you more harm than good. Even if you think it is a reputable Sports Nutrition brand, if they aren't willing to state where the creatine is manufactured, avoid it. Cheap creatine can contain a lot of impurities and so you may not get the results you should, as well as potentially poisoning yourself whilst using it.

CREATINE MYTHS

There are many myths surrounding creatine use, the most significant being that creatine use can cause kidney or renal problems. This is totally unfounded and based on a study conducted on humans with pre-existing kidney problems. No studies on healthy individuals has shown any longterm negative side effects. In a 1999 study, no detrimental kidney effects were noticed in long term users (10 months to 5 years) compared to a control group [1].

Other popular myths are that it can cause dehydration, cramping, nausea and water retention. True, most users will experience increased muscle cell hydration as creatine draws fluid into muscle. This accounts for the initial weight increase that most users experience. Any cramping is due to the user not drinking enough fluids to counter this, so it is always suggested to increase water intake whilst using creatine.

Creatine is possibly the most studied performance enhancing sports supplement available. No other creatine alternative or creatine based supplement has been shown to be as effective in peer reviewed clinical studies as creatine monohydrate powder. Current studies indicate that short-term creatine supplementation in healthy individuals is safe. [2]

There has been much controversy over the incidence of muscle cramping with the use of creatine, mainly pushed by manufacturers of so called “buffered creatine formula’s”. However a study conducted at the University of Memphis showed no reports of muscle cramping in subjects taking creatine-containing supplements during various exercise training conditions in trained and untrained endurance athletes. [4].

And in a 2003 study, no detrimental overall health effects were noted in a 69-item panel of serum, whole blood, and urinary markers of clinical health status in athletes. All groups, including those in the longest range of 12–21 months, (mean 19.3 ± 2.4 months, n = 17) were not seen to have any significant differences between the control group. [3]

Pure Creatine Monohydrate powder should be the first supplement of choice for anyone serious about increasing muscle size and strength in the gym. There are many new creatine formulas all promising great things, however Creatine Monohydrate is still the only creatine product to have been studied extensively and proven to work.

REFERENCES:
1. (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 31(8):1108-1110, August 1999. Poortmans and Francaux
2. (Robinson et al., 2000)
3. (Kreider R. et al, Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry).
4. (Kreider R. et al, 1998).