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The word on Creatine

Creatine supplementation became popular with athletes following the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, when gold medal winners Linford Christie and Sally Gunnell revealed that creatine was a factor in their success.
Many athletes want a quick fix for the development of strength, power and muscle size. Strength and conditioning coaches are continually asking about creatine, and athletes hearing about creatine want to know more about the supplement and its effects.

Creatine is a natural nutrient found in foods like meat and is also found in our muscle cells, where it’s used to power high intensity muscle contractions. Creatine has been shown to be safe and effective in thousands of studies with athletes and gym users.

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a natural nutrient found in our bodies and the bodies of most animals. Approximately 95% of the body’s creatine supply is found in the skeletal muscles. The remaining 5% is scattered throughout the rest of the body. The human body gets most of the creatine it needs from food or dietary supplements, food like red meat, and fish.
In the body, creatine is synthesized from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine, primarily in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas, and it is transported from there to all the cells in the body via the bloodstream. Since creatine is involved in all processes that require energy, muscle, brain and nerve cells receive larger amounts of energy.

How Does Creatine Work?

Creatine is an essential player in the primary energy source used for muscle contraction. It exists in two different forms within the muscle fiber: creatine and as creatine phosphate. This later form of creatine makes up two-thirds of the total creatine supply.
When your muscles contract, the initial fuel for this movement is a compound called ATP. ATP provides its energy by releasing one of its phosphate molecules. It then becomes a different compound called ADP. Unfortunately, there is only enough ATP to provide energy for about 10 seconds, so for muscle contraction to continue, more ATP must be produced.
Creatine phosphate comes to the rescue by giving up its phosphate molecule to ADP, recreating ATP. This ATP can then be burned again as fuel for more muscle contraction.
The bottom line is that your ability to regenerate ATP depends on your supply of creatine. The more creatine, the more ATP remade, resulting in more ability to train your muscles to their maximum potential.
Creatine can also absorb intracellular water, thus resulting in a higher muscle volume. This could lead to the “pumped up” feeling and appearance. An additional way creatine increases muscle size is thought to be its fluid retention abilities within muscle tissue.

Who Can Benefit From Creatine?

The greatest benefits occur in those who wish to put on muscle mass. Athletes in bodybuilding, powerlifting, martial arts, and track and field events such as javelin and shot-put may benefit due to greater muscular strength.
It is still unclear whether athletes involved in endurance activities such as marathon running or long-distance bicycling will benefit from creatine supplementation. The difficulty in these situations appears to center on the increased muscle mass which creatine provides. While that’s great if you’re a bodybuilder or wrestler, it can have a negative effect if you have to carry all that weight around during a marathon or triathlon. It becomes a tradeoff between the increased strength you get from creatine and the increased muscle mass.

Loading and Dosages
The most common creatine intake programme involves an initial loading phase of 20 g/ day (four doses of 5g each) for 5–7 days, followed by a maintenance phase of 3–5 g/day for differing periods of time (1 week to 6 months).
Although lower dosages (2–3 g/day) for a greater length of time (1 month) as a loading phase can be as equally effective in raising creatine levels. All creatine supplementation should be consumed with water to aid the adsorption and hydration levels in the body and muscular tissue.

Creatine Supplementation and Performance
Studies have shown that oral supplementation of approximately 20 g per day for about 5 days increases intramuscular levels of creatine by 17–22% and phosphocreatine by 6-12%.
It is also notable that subjects who follow this supplementation regimen show increased body mass ranging from 1–3 kg. Although creatine may play a role in protein synthesis, the most likely explanation for the rapid increase in body mass is water retention.

Many studies have examined the effect of creatine supplementation on exercise performance in a laboratory setting; the following observations have being made from research conducted:
• Most studies that examined the effects of creatine supplementation on a single bout of intense exercise did not produce an ergogenic effect.
• Most studies that examined the effects of creatine supplementation on repeated bouts of intense exercise have shown an ergogenic effect and only a few have not.

Although creatine supplementation may be performance enhancing in a controlled laboratory setting or in the weight room, how this translates into sports performance on the field is largely unknown. As stated creatine supplementation can increase body mass, athletes involved in sports such as rugby union or weightlifting may benefit. However, this increase in body mass may hamper performance in sports such as soccer, basketball, or swimming, which may be adversely affected by the rapid weight gain associated with creatine.

Final Thought

Yes it has been proven that creatine supplementing can improve athletic performance, hundreds of research project claim this, but in the world of sport there is no replacement for natural talent and skill. Hard work and commitment to your training will take you places, at whatever level you compete at. Athletic development should not just be focused on physical characteristic but needs to be centered on the health and fitness of the athlete, and developing the person at a whole.

“The American College of Sports Medicine conducted a round-table discussion on creatine. The conclusion of this round-table was that creatine improves performance in exercise involving explosive, high energy requiring activities, especially of a repeated nature.”

Jason Slade

Jason is Co Owner of CrossFit North Devon, with CrossFit level 1 qualification. He is also a qualified Strength and Conditioning Coach, British Weight Lifting Course and CYQ Level 3 Personal Trainer Tutor.