Understanding the Second Most Popular Sports Performance Supplement - Creatine.
Creatine is as common as whey protein in a bodybuilder’s supplement haven but what you may not know is just how it works or why you should even give it a go. Let me break it all down for you.
From The Top
Creatine monohydrate is an organic acid found naturally in foods, such as beef and fish. It is a nitrogen-containing compound made from a combination of 3 amino acids (glycine, methionine and arginine). 95% of creatine is stored in our skeletal muscle where it exists as creatine phosphate. This phosphate can be donated through an energy process known as ATP. We will explain this in further detail later.
Will It Work For You?
First you need to consider your fitness goals. Are you looking to maximise strength, muscle and performance gains? If getting bigger, stronger and faster is on your to-do list then creatine can help. If somehow, your fitness related goals don't include the above then... you should possibly come back another time when you're ready!
Creatine will help you reach these goals because it can be used as a source of energy for anaerobic (without oxygen) work, such as weight training or HIIT cardio. Supplementing creatine will at it's most basic level increase the saturation of creatine phosphate in our muscles.
During exercise our body breaks down ATP (Adenosine Tri Phosphate) for energy, we are left with ADP (Adenosine Di-Phosphate) due to a loss of one phosphate molecule. This bond breaking and loss of phosphate is what essentially creates the energy to power muscular contraction.
Remember when I mentioned creatine can donate it's phosphate earlier? As ATP stores dwindle during a short burst of exercise our performance suffers (fatigue sets in), however creatine phosphate can donate it's phosphate to ADP and thus reform ATP. This cyclical restoration can help improve performance and increase strength and power.
So What Next?
Creatine has also been shown to increase lean body mass through increasing fluid content of muscle cells. Although this sounds like an artificial gain, here is a three-step breakdown of how a hydrated muscle can be more anabolic:
1. Creatine pulls water from extracellular space into the muscle cell itself, causing it to swell like a water balloon. This is the reason you can gain several pounds of lean weight in as little as a couple of weeks supplementing creatine for the first time.
2. The increase in water content of the muscle cell puts a large strain on the muscle cell membrane.
3. This strain sends a message to the nuclei of the muscle cell, which then sends out a signal via mRNA to increase muscle protein synthesis, triggering the rate of repair and subsequent growth.
And How Much Do We Need?
Some advocate loading creatine at around 20g per day for the first 5 days to saturate your intramuscular creatine stores. This is the fastest method, however you are unlikely to assimilate all of this creatine and it could be considered wasteful. Instead we opt for taking 3-5g daily, which leads to saturation over a few weeks.
Timing Timing Timing...
A post-workout nutrition guru may advise you to consume your creatine directly after training, however without going into too much detail, this is at best splitting hairs. The consistent supplementation of daily creatine has been show to saturate muscle cells regardless of the time consumed. Therefore, consume it when convenient. If like me you consume a pre-workout, I find it best to mix in a teaspoon along with my other supps.
There's So Many Options!
I will keep this short and sweet. Creatine monohydrate is the most effective and value-laden option available. Opt for Creapure if you have the extra money. This is a German-made patented source of micronised and high quality monohydrate. Many supplement companies will re-sell this form of creatine if you check the labels closely - which you should be doing for all supplements you buy!
There Must Be A Downside!?
Introduced in the early 90s, many concerns were raised about kidney and liver issues, dehydration and cramping. Prevalent research both short and long-term has demonstrated no side effects of recommended creatine use on kidney, live and/or the heart. Also, evidence has not shown an increase in the incidence of cramping.
There is evidence to suggest users may experience gastrointestinal distress when loading creatine, which is why I don't recommend loading on your first time supplementing with creatine. Excess creatine puts undue stress on the GI tract's capacity to absorb it, which can lead to gas and cramping.
The Bottom Line
Creatine is one of the most effective and affordable supplements on the market today. I recommend it to anyone looking to improve muscle mass, strength and performance. Personally I use 'Controlled Labs Green Magnitude' because of it's blend of Taurine, Tyrosine, Betaine and 5g dose of Creatine per serving. it serves it's purpose in my pre-workout blend and with 80 servings per tub I get the usual pre-packaged 400g along with a host of performance goodies.
In future blogs I'll consider running over these and the effects of other popular supplements to debunk myths and make sure you get things right first time.
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