By Alexander Perkins (Nutritionist & Food Scientist)
I have never shied away from recommending creatine to almost everyone engaged in physical activity. The caveat here is only for those with pre-existing kidney conditions; although that does not mean creatine intake at recommended levels is harmful to the kidneys.
Given the amount of attention it has garnered, I am surprised when regular exercisers either dose it wrong or forgo its use all together; which is usually due to ill-purported myths. Thus, this piece is for those still unsure about what creatine does, dosing protocols, and if it is safe to use. By the end you should either be informed about creatine’s efficacy and safety, or convinced that I am a charlatan of some creatine worshipping cult.
What Is It?
Extended chemistry lesson aside, phosphocreatine is a molecule that is crucial to the production of explosive exercise in humans lasting around 0-12 seconds. As the name suggests, creatine is essential to the production of phosphocreatine. However it appears that our creatine intake from food, combined with our biological production, does not maximise muscle creatine stores. This is where supplementation comes in.
Why Should You Take It?
Creatine supplementation has been shown to increase muscular creatine stores in both trained and untrained individuals . The effect is even more pronounced in vegetarians, who do not consume as much creatine in their diet .
This increase in storage isn’t for no other benefit. Increased stores mean more creatine available for explosive energy production. Further research has shown that creatine supplementation increases power output, increases lean body mass, and boosts anaerobic running capacity [3-5].
If you’re involved in any sport from swimming to football, or you’re simply trying to alter your body composition, then creatine supplementation seems beyond prudent. Its safety has been well documented, and it appears that only those with pre-existing kidney conditions need to be cautious [6-8].
Which Type of Creatine?
Creatine monohydrate has been studied the most extensively and is great value for money. Until a reasonable amount of evidence suggests other forms may be more superior, stick to the tried and tested.
How Should You Take It?
Loading vs Regular Dosing
There are typically two ways people supplement with creatine: loading and regular dosing. The idea of loading creatine is to sharply increase your storage levels. Dosage for loading usually involves approximately 20g/day for 5-7 days, followed by a maintenance dose of around 5g/day. The maintenance dose is often followed for around 3 weeks if the individual is cycling, or in some cases continues indefinitely.
Loading is only really needed if an individual needs to sharply increase their storage levels of creatine. For example, if they have a weight-lifting competition in a month and have not been using creatine to date, then loading may be beneficial to maximise stores prior to the comp.
If sharp increases in creatine stores are not needed, an individual may simply want to start off with a daily dose of around 5g/day and continue for as long as they see fit.
The Take Home Message
As far as bang for your buck is concerned, creatine is king. A 1kg tub of creatine monohydrate will set you back around $30-60 and its impact on lean mass and performance is well established; as is its safety. If you’re involved in physical activity and any of these previously discussed benefits are high on your priority list, then creatine should probably be the first supplement you stick in your cupboard.
- Brault, J.J., et al., Parallel increases in phosphocreatine and total creatine in human vastus lateralis muscle during creatine supplementation. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 2007. 17(6): p. 624-34.
- Burke, D.G., et al., Effect of creatine and weight training on muscle creatine and performance in vegetarians. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2003. 35(11): p. 1946-55.
- Lamontagne-Lacasse, M., R. Nadon, and E.D. Goulet, Effect of creatine supplementation on jumping performance in elite volleyball players. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2011. 6(4): p. 525-33.
- Spillane, M., et al., The effects of creatine ethyl ester supplementation combined with heavy resistance training on body composition, muscle performance, and serum and muscle creatine levels. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2009. 6: p. 6.
- Branch, J.D., Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 2003. 13(2): p. 198-226.
- Hersch, S.M., et al., Creatine in Huntington disease is safe, tolerable, bioavailable in brain and reduces serum 8OH2'dG. Neurology, 2006. 66(2): p. 250-2.
- Joy, J.M., et al., 28 days of creatine nitrate supplementation is apparently safe in healthy individuals. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2014. 11(1): p. 60.
- Kendall, K.L., et al., Ingesting a preworkout supplement containing caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, amino acids, and B vitamins for 28 days is both safe and efficacious in recreationally active men. Nutr Res, 2014. 34(5): p. 442-9.