Primary purpose: Explosive strength
Optimal dose: 5 g in pre-workout (hardly any pre-workout formulas have a high enough dose)
Benefits: Creatine is the ingredient that is going to help most with pure power and strength. Simply put, it helps saturate your muscles with the energy source needed to produce the fast and explosive muscle contractions required for those really big lifts.
If you’ve been working out for a while or have been in the sporting industry for a long time, you would’ve most likely heard of creatine. Many of you would have probably also heard that it’s one of the best supplements around to be taking. But do you know why exactly it’s so good? Well, if you didn’t or you’re just hearing about creatine for the first time, then read on and find out why it’s a must have supplement if you’re going to take your training and health seriously.
Creatine Summary Points
- Creatine is a naturally occuring compound in the body, but is also one of the best, most validated supplements on the market
- Creatine supplementation helps to boost energy, lean muscle mass and exercise performance
- Creatine can also help benefit other health conditions such as muscle disorders and bone disorders to name a few
- Many types of creatine supplements exist, but the most validated is creatine monohydrate
- Creatine is better absorbed with carbohydrates
My Experience With Creatine
I first started taking Creatine Monohydrate as part of a double blind trial performed in 1996 while I was training for my second World Junior Championships. The trial used members of the University Powerlifting club to test Creatine’s ability to boost the performance of trained strength athletes. At the time I was already the number 1 ranked junior lifter, across all weight divisions, in the country and had broken the National Squat, Deadlift and Total records in my weight division. So it’s fair to say I was already highly trained and not a newbie.
The trial was double blind, so half of us were on Creatine and half were on a placebo, and we didn’t know who was on what. The trial lasted a number of weeks, but I could tell by my relatively rapid strength gains in the first few weeks, that I was one of the athletes given Creatine to take. This experience was universal amongst the other athletes in the trial and it convinced me that I had been introduced to the best legal supplement for strength and power athletes.
Based on this personal experience, I continued to supplement with Creatine Monohydrate leading up to the World Junior Championships.
As well as the significant strength gains, I also experienced a rapid increase in muscle mass during the trial. Most people would be delighted with that result, but I had qualified for a specific weight division and had to stop taking Creatine to make my weight division for the World Championships.
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is a naturally occurring chemical compound in our body made up of three amino acids; L-arginine, glycine and L-methionine. It is normally found in skeletal muscle and acts as a substrate or fuel to provide a quick source of energy in the form of phosphocreatine.
More Creatine = More Muscle Energy
Ingesting more creatine through diet or through supplementation can potentially improve the ability of your body to produce muscle energy by increasing creatine phosphate stores in the muscles. These stores are critical in the production of anaerobic (without breathing) energy in the adenosine triphosphate and creatine phosphate energy system.
What Can Creatine Do For You?
Creatine is seen by the sports science community as being one of the most effective ergogenic (enhancing physical performance) supplements due to years of research showing beneficial and reproducible effects. In terms of exercise performance, creatine supplementation and a general increase in creatine levels in the body can help by3:
- Increasing pre-exercise phosphocreatine levels
- Promoting glycogen storage
- Increased resynthesis of phosphocreatine from creatine stores
- Increased expression of anabolic growth factors
- Improved buffering capacity due to the use of hydrogen ions in the phosphagen system
- Improved training volume as a result
In the simplest of terms increased creatine means more energy at a sustained rate with the ability to promote lean muscle mass and training gains and reduction of fatigue. In terms of resistance training4, studies have shown that creatine has been shown to improve strength and endurance and as such has been able to affect training volumes to an extent to induce positive muscular adaptations. Furthermore, creatine supplementation along with resistance training has also been shown to increase muscle fibre size more so than resistance training alone.
Creatine & Sports
The use of creatine can also benefit those in sports4. For example, in cycling, creatine supplementation has been shown to be beneficial with multiple sprint performances of under 30 seconds in duration. Similarly running sprints performance has also been benefitted with creatine supplementation. While runners tended to gain mass with creatine, they were also able to make improvements in stride frequency and running speed. Results with swimming also coincide with that of cycling and running with improvements in sprints lasting under 30s. Still other swimming studies have been able to show a 1.8s decrease in two successive 100m sprints. Remember that the difference between first and second and even tenth only differ by mere milliseconds.
There haven’t been many studies looking at sports which involve a variety of movements and factors rather than a straight sprint action. However, there have been some studies that have shown improvements in soccer dribbling test times, and it would stand to reason that athletes playing hockey, soccer, rugby and other football codes where sprinting is often required, would benefit from creatine supplementation.
Creatine & Health
Aside from sports and exercise, creatine has also been used to benefit people living with a variety of health issues4 including muscle disorders, bone and cartilage disorders, brain disorders and even in the diabetic management or COPD.
Needless to say, a whole other article could be written examining the clinical applications of creatine supplementation on a variety of disease and disorders.
Creatine - A Foundation Supplement
The sports supplement universe is continually evolving and at an extremely fast pace, faster than the studies showing its effectiveness. However, in this same universe, there are a range of supplements that have stood the test of time and are now considered foundation supplements for anyone new to supplementing. Creatine is one of those supplements. So if you are looking to gain an edge in the gym or on the sporting arena, the addition of creatine to your supplementation regime is by far one of the superior options and one of the smartest choices you can make if you’re interested in seeing results.
Types of Creatine
Creatine supplements have been around for awhile now and over the years have evolved to take on several different formulations, each purporting to be better absorbed than their predecessor. Detailed below is a short summary of the main types of creatine available today11,12,13,14:
- Creatine Monohydrate (CM) – By far the most common and well known type of creatine on the market today. Creatine monohydrate is basically creatine attached to water. Creatine Monohydrate is generally 88% creatine with 12% water. That is, for every gram of creatine monohydrate powder taken, 880 mg is creatine. The majority of the studies showing the ergogenic benefits of creatine have used creatine monohydrate as the source.
- Creatine Phosphate (CPh) – In order to use creatine as a fast form of energy, it needs to be bound onto phosphate, hence the appeal of selling creatine in phosphate form. However, no current studies have shown it to be superior to the monohydrate form. Creatine phosphate consists of 62.3% creatine and 37.7% phosphate.
- Creatine Pyruvate (CPy) – Creatine pyruvate consists of 60% creatine and 40% pyruvate. This form of creatine has been shown to help reduce fatigue. There has been at least one study showing increased bioavailability of creatine pyruvate, however, more studies are required before any further recommendations can be made.
- Creatine Citrate (CC) – Creatine citrate was initially made popular due to its superior dissolvability and its ability to positively counter fatigue. Creatine citrate has been said to contain anywhere between 40-65% creatine. Again, no studies have shown it to be more effective than creatine monohydrate.
- Creatine Esters (CE) – Creatine esters are creatine supplements in which the creatine has been attached to either a methanol or ethanol. Pharmaceutical companies often attach certain drugs to alcohols in order to increase bioavailability, especially for hydrophilic (water loving) substances such as creatine. A recent study compared creatine monohydrate to creatine ethyl ester and found that both resulted in similar improvements. Creatine ethyl ester is 82.4% creatine, while creatine methyl esters are usually 72.2%
- Creatine Hydrochloride (HCl) – Creatine hydrochloride was recently created in 2009 and has been shown in an industry funded study to be more soluble in water than creatine monohydrate. Despite this, it has not been shown to be more effective than creatine monohydrate.
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12 Spillane M, Schoch R, Cooke M, Harvey T, Greenwood M, Kreider R, Willoughby DS. ‘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 Feb 19;6:6.
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