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Supplements ~ Creatine

creatineCreatine, discovered in the 1830's, has been around and about commercially since 1992 and is probably one of the most used and abused supplements in sport today.

Many talk about it as the panacea to victory.  Well it is, or it isn't or it might be!  It depends who you hear it from and in what context.  And to be honest, I'm not going to swing the debate one way or another in this short article. 

As ever, read the factsheet, do your own research and do what you think is best for you.

What is is it?
Creatine Monohydrate is an ergogenic aid.  It isn't on any sporting banned list and is considered a supplement rather than a drug.  It's been suggested that creatine has an anabolic affect as it has been shown in some research to have a positive affect on muscle cell growth.  I'll explain why later. 

is synthesised from the amino acids glycine, arginine and methionine in the kidneys, liver and pancreas.  It's predominantly found in skeletal muscle, where it exists as creatine in two forms. 

Approximately 40% is in the free creatine form, while the remaining 60% is the phosphorylated form, creatine phosphate.   

kidneysNormally less than a gram per day is supplied by our diet and another gram is synthesized by the kidneys. 

Kidney synthesis is the only creatine source for vegetarians and may indicate a clear role for creatine supplementation in veggie-cyclists. 

There was concern that high doses might potentially injure the kidneys, but at the recommended dosage, no adverse affects have yet been demonstrated.

What does it do?
Creatine Phosphate (CP) and Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) supply most of our energy for short-term, intense energy bursts like a sprint.  When the muscle cell's supply of creatine phosphate becomes depleted, the rate of energy production in the cell is decreased with obvious results. 

Creatine supplementation can prolong the rate of regeneration of the cell's energy in order to improve athletic performance during these intense bursts.  If you want further information on this process read the Anaerobic Capacity factsheet, if you want to see and more importantly feel it for yourself, take a Wingate Test.

How does it do it?
Supplementation provides an extra pool of creatine on which the body can draw when stocks become depleted by saturating the muscles and other storage areas.  Without supplementation you can still perform at a high level, it's just the repeats at which you can perform are potentially shorter due to relatively earlier creatine depletion.

Basically the human body is 80% water, the other 20% make up the bits that stop us drowning!  It is thought that creatine increases muscle cell growth by drawing some of this water in to the cells. 

Obviously the water has to come from somewhere, so when taking creatine you may need to drastically up your fluid intakes.  Especially during the first weeks loading phase.

Stronger muscle cells (due to their volume) that can perform for longer (due to their creatine concentrations) can increase the quality of your training and obviously lead to greater mass, strength and power gains.

What is the dosage required?
The maximum amount of creatine the body can store is about 0.3 gram per kilogram of body weight.  So for a 70 kilo rider that's 21 grams.

Research has shown that a loading dose of 20 - 25 grams of creatine monohydrate, in four or five doses of 5 grams each, for 5 to 7 days can produce a stored creatine increase of up to 20% in muscle cells. 

Once the cells are saturated with creatine a maintenance dose of 2 to 5 grams a day is sufficient to  maintain levels.  If you forego the loading dose, and just take the 2-5 grams a day, you will still reach saturation just a few days later. 

Long-term supplementation is not really beneficial from a sporting perspective and may lead to undiscovered problems later in life.  Take it during your intense training periods, get the benefit, then back off and eat a decent, balanced hi-carb diet to maintain your creatine requirements. 

 Don't be tempted to exceed the recommended dosage.  They're recommended for a reason!  Taking excess creatine, that can't be stored in the muscles or synthesised by the kidneys, is passed straight to your urine.  You will literally "pass" it down the drain!

Creatine is most beneficial when used during interval training in the following doses.

Load at 20g per day (4 x 5 g) for 5 days

Follow with 2g per day maintenance for 25 days.

One of these dosages should be taken 30-60 minutes before a workout to ensure Creatine availability during the workout for maximum power output.

Another dosage should be taken immediately after the work out as part of your post-exercise recovery strategy.

Either drink it down in one go and drink fluids during the day or mix it in a drink and sip it over an hour or two.

What contains creatine?
Creatine is produced naturally in the body. It is also found in red meat, poultry and fish.  Creatine monohydrate is the normally powder form of creatine found in supplements. 

How can I maximise my supplementation?
Taking more than the recommended dose will not increase concentration levels. 

grapeThe only place where creatine will become more concentrated is in your urine!  Your body will reject all creatine it can not store.  So don't waste your dosh by "doubling-up".

There is evidence that carbohydrate supplementation will improve the benefits of a creatine supplementation program. 

During a research study, muscle biopsy, urine, and plasma samples were obtained from 24 males before and after ingesting 5 grams of creatine (group A) or 5 grams of creatine followed, thirty minutes later by 93 grams of carbohydrate (group B), four times each day for 5 days.

Obviously, supplementation resulted in an increase in muscle phosphocreatine concentration in both group A and B.  However group B showed a 60% greater concentration of total creatine storage than their group A counterparts who never took the carbohydrate supplementation.

There was also a corresponding decrease in urinary creatine excretion in group B.  They wasted less of what they were taking in. 

These findings go someway to support the importance of adequate carbohydrates in creatine supplementation.

You can increase creatine absorption by taking it with fruit juice and a corresponding vitamin B supplement.

What should I be aware of?
Some research has shown that creatine supplementation increases body weight, but this may be due to either fluid retention or increased muscle mass.  Research using creatine supplements during endurance exercise such as cross-country running has shown no beneficial effects. So don't take it for the club runs.

Creatine supplementation has resulted in significant saturation increases for some individuals but not others, suggesting that there are 'responders' and 'nonresponders'. 

These increases in total concentration among responders is greatest in individuals who have the lowest initial creatine measurements to begin with, such as vegetarians.

Although creatine is a natural component of food, the amount of food required to supersaturate the muscle may not be feasible.  If creatine monohydrate can be proven to be a safe and effective ergogenic aid then supplementation could be the simplest way to increasing muscle stores. 

coffeeIt may be beneficial to avoid caffeine if taking creatine supplements. One study showed that caffeine diminished strength gains seen with creatine use. Swings and roundabouts I'm afraid.

When I've taken creatine (back in the day) I have felt an aching in the knuckles in my hands, probably due to fluid retention and I can honestly say I do become "aware" of my kidneys.  It's a strange feeling but not one that causes me any concern.  I don't think!

Take Note:
This article is neither an endorsement or a condemnation of the subject of this article or any other supplement use.  It is here to allow the reader to draw their own informed conclusion. 

Do your research and if any doubt consult a physician before undertaking any supplement regimen.  Never take more than the stated dose and never mix any drug or supplement with alcohol. 

Always check that you are not contravening any sporting code, ethics or permitted levels for your sport before undertaking any supplementation.

Where can I get some?
Creatine comes in a few different forms, capsules and powder are the most common and the best way to take it seems to be as a powder. 

However there are two types of powder!  Try and get the micro-sized granules as it mixes and disperses well in water.  Normal powder is similar in grain size to salt and doesn't always dissolve completely, which means you're still chewing it for half an hour after consumption.

Any good cycling shop will sell you some, as will body building stores.  But jsut get creatine, with nothing added, and remember, you are responsible for everything you take!

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