ALL ABOUT CREATINE
When you’re exercising at max or near-max efforts for short, high intensity bursts like doing a 10-20 second sprint or lifting a heavy weight for 1-8 reps, your body is primarily fuelled by your Creatine Phosphate or 'PCr' energy system. The PCr system is perfectly designed to provide the energy for speed, strength, and power in short bursts. The bad news is that creatine (which is stored in your muscles) is quickly depleted and can usually only power you for up to around 30 seconds max! This is where taking in extra creatine can help!
Creatine is found naturally in the diet in things like fish and steak, but consuming creatine supplements allow you to store more creatine than can be found in diet alone, potentially giving you more available energy and improving performance. A review done by International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2017 found that supplementing creatine in the diet can increase your body’s stores by 30-40%!
Creatine has all sorts of awesome (and even some cool nerdy scientific) benefits, but it needs to be used correctly!
Current recommendations for athletes are to split creatine supplementation into two phases: ‘loading’ and ‘maintenance’.
The Loading Phase
This is where we STOCK UP on creatine!
Take approximately 0.3 grams per kilogram of bodyweight for between 4-7 days. This equates to around 20g per day for most people – if you find you have any gastrointestinal discomfort (bloated guts), try splitting the 20g into 2-4 separate doses over the course of the day. This loading phase will boost your muscle’s stores giving you about 25% more creatine!
The Maintenance Phase
This is where we PROTECT your levels of creatine!
Continue to take 3-5mg of creatine per day. The body breaks down 1-2 grams per day of creatine, so you need to keep it coming in if you want to maintain the benefits from supplementation. Studies have found that maintenance doses of 2 grams per day aren’t sufficient to maintain elevated creatine levels in your muscles even though we only breakdown around 2 grams per day… because… maths – so make sure you keep taking the 3-5 gram range.
Is there too much of a good thing?
Data shows that the positive effects of creatine supplementation may start to drop off after you’ve been taking it for a while. So, after 6-8 weeks using creatine, a ‘wash-out’ period of 2-4 weeks where you take no creatine is often recommended. This is most often referred to as 'de-loading'. So, aim to stop supplementing for a few weeks at least every 2 months. You can then kick things off again with your loading phase!
It is not critical to take creatine ‘just before’ a workout or training session. This supplement is more about saturating the muscles with it and maintaining those high levels. So if you’re following your maintenance dose to keep topping up your levels, it isn’t all that important when you take your creatine. That being said, some studies have shown that taking creatine prior to a training session can improve uptake into muscles. There is also evidence that taking creatine with 100 grams of carbs, or even with 50 grams of carbs and 50 grams of protein will also increase uptake.
As with most supplements, there is some variation in individual response to and ideal dosage of creatine – there are what we call ‘non-responders’ as well as ‘high-responders’, so it’s always best to trial creatine supplementation outside of an important competition situation to determine what dosage works best for you!
Other reasons for trialling creatine revolve around the rapid increase in body mass that you may experience (often around 1-2kg increase in the first 2 weeks)! Creatine can amplify gains in muscle force and power output, as well as increasing fat-free mass. So if you’re more of an endurance athlete, it is possible you may experience fatigue from having to move around more weight over the course of a workout. If this does affect your performance negatively, then you might have to rethink the timing of your creatine cycles to fit outside of important times of the season or if the supplement overall is right for your or not!
The highest creatine containing foods are steak and chicken. Steak contains about 5g of creatine per kilo and chicken 5g per 1.3kg… This means in your loading phase to get 20g of creatine you’d need to eat about 4kg of steak or 5.2kg of chicken every day - and then another kilo of steak a day for the next few months! Creatine supplements definitely make more sense than whole food sources in this case!