Creatine: a sport enhancing supplement not a dangerous chemical

What is creatine?

Creatine, or methylguanidine-acetic acid, is an organic chemical compound which naturally exists in the body. It is found in most vertebrates and is a substance used to help the production of energy for movement. This exact ability to help manufacture energy is why it is the most widely studied sporting supplement on the market. From a diet viewpoint, you may ingest creatine from fish or red meat, but the concentrations in these substances are very minimal compared to a creatine supplement.

The discovery of creatine supplementation occurred in the late 20th century with researchers establishing that ingestion of the compound may aid muscle force production, recovery time and duration of exercise. Essentially, it helped athletes in high-intensity sports perform at a this greater intensity for longer. However, like most sporting supplements, research and findings have been mixed. But, what exactly does creatine do to the body and when is it suitable to take a supplement of creatine for sport enhancing effects? 

The effects of creatine on the body:

The main effect creatine has on the body is its ability to regenerate energy known as adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. Once ingested, creatine is stored in the muscle as creatine phosphate. During high intensity exercise, ATP (the currency of energy in the body) is broken down to create energy which lasts for around 3 seconds. This reaction forces ATP to split into adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and a free phosphate. This is when creatine plays a role. Creatine phosphate then donates its phosphate molecule to the ADP molecule to allow for the regeneration of ATP. This allows for the process of ATP being broken down to release energy to occur again. 

The general equation looks like this: 

Creatine phosphate (Cr) + Adenosine diphosphate (ADP) = Adenosine triphosphate (ATP)

As creatine is a naturally occurring compound, this process of regeneration of ATP occurs anyway regardless of whether the individual is supplementing creatine. However, research has shown that ingestion of creatine can increase muscular stores of phosphocreatine, which can prolong the body’s ability to regenerate ATP during high intensity exercise. Normal blood creatine concentration is ~50-100μm, but intake of creatine at the right dose can raise this to 600-800μm after some time. Without creatine supplementation, ATP can only regenerate energy for around 10 seconds, but with creatine supplementation, it can increase your ATP regeneration ability by a few seconds which can make all the difference in fast, high intensity sports like sprinting or swimming.

The sport enhancing effects of creatine:

The main effect creatine has on the body is to increase the creatine phosphate stores in the body, but it also has various different ergogenic effects. It is important to note that within the research of creatine, high-intensity, short duration sports are by far the most widely researched, and the uses of creatine are most suited to these sports such as sprinting, weightlifting and short duration swimming.

Creatine supplementation has been shown to increase muscle mass and thus, strength. A meta-analysis on strength performance on males provided evidence that creatine supplementation combined with strength training increased the maximal amount of weight that the men could lift. The mechanism behind this effect relates to the body ability to regenerate ATP, but it is clear that creatine supplementation may enhance performance. Another major sport enhancing effect of creatine is its ability to aid long-term muscle growth, a discovery found to be evident in both the trained and untrained athletic population. 

Although creatine supplementation is less researched within the endurance population, research has shown that creatine supplementation may provide aid during short sprint surges during the event, improving the sprinting capacity of endurance athletes. Another finding is that creatine may help improve muscle glycogen stores before an event. As recommended by the Australian institute of sport, a dose of creatine combined with a large amount of carbohydrates increases the storage of creatine and glycogen in the muscles, which is important for durability during endurance events. 


Creatine is NOT dangerous:

As one of the most researched sporting supplements, creatine has an extensive safety profile and is regarded as safe and effective by the Australian institute of sport. Common beliefs is that creatine supplementation can lead to side effects including cramps, nausea, kidney issues and dehydration. However, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that these side effects are caused by supplementation of creatine and there is extensive research which provides affirmation that creatine does not have dangerous or undesirable side effects. For an extensive literature review see here.

Correct intake and timing of creatine:

There are two ways to load creatine into the body known as the fast or slow loading phase. The fast loading phase requires 5g of creatine taken four times a day for the first two days, followed by return to a maintenance dose of 3-5g after this fast loading phase. This maintenance dose can be continued for as long as desired, but must be taken every day. 

The slow loading phase requires 3-5g of creatine taken every day, and continued to be taken once muscle creatine levels have reached the required level. Although the slow loading phase takes substantially longer to reach the maximum level of muscle creatine than the fast loading phase, for some individuals it is more convenient and more desirable. 

Whether you are following the fast or slow loading phase, creatine can be taken at any point during the day as research has found there is no point in the day that provides greater benefits than another.



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