Creatine is a highly popular supplement used by gym-goers and athletes across a wide range of disciplines, from weight lifting to Rugby. This is a beginner’s guide to creatine – including how creatine works, how it is used, and whether it is a suitable supplement for you.
Creatine is naturally found in some foods, such as meat and fish, although in lower quantities than people supplement with. It is also produced within the liver, although again, in relatively low quantities.
Creatine is stored within the muscle as creatine phosphate. The role of creatine phosphate is to replenish ADP to ATP, the short term energy source of choice for muscle contractions. ATP is vital for short bursts of intense activity, such as weight lifting, sprinting, jumping, throwing and swinging. This energy system is depleted very quickly, hence why a sprinter cannot maintain their top speed for more forty or so.
Creatine supplementation increases the amount of creatine stored within the muscle, hence an increased performance in activities involving the ATP energy system, including weight training.
Another favourable aspect of creatine supplementation for bodybuilders is its ability to draw water into the muscle. This causes the muscles to appear fuller whilst creatine is used.
Creatine is usually purchased as a white powder and is therefore best mixed with water or fruit juice. It is also available in capsules.
Typically you would take creatine for around six weeks before taking a week or two off. The creatine course is usually split into two phases, the loading phase and the maintenance phase. The loading phase entails taking a higher dosage of creatine so it can build up within the muscle. Once the loading phase is complete it is followed by a maintenance phase until the end of the course which is at a lower daily dose.
A creatine cycle would likely look as follows:
|Days 1-7||Loading phase. Duration dependant on intake. Intake usually in the range of 10-15g daily|
|Days 8-42||Maintenance phase. Creatine dosage is reduced to 3-5g daily|
|Days 43+||1-2 week break until creatine is resumed (loading phase would be required on next course to build up levels again)|
Always look on the label or web site of the product you are buying and follow its advice – the above is merely a guide to what may be followed by someone taking plain creatine monohydrate.
There are some side effects associated with creatine. They are relatively uncommon, but can include kidney problems, sickness, diarrhoea and muscle cramping. The most common out of these side effects being muscle cramping.
If you notice any of these side effects it would be a good idea to cease the course and consult with your GP if deemed necessary. As a pre-caution, we would also advise anyone with pre-existing kidney conditions to avoid creatine. Seek advice from your GP regarding any questions or queries you may have about the suitability of creatine.
Creatine supplementation is popular and it is rare to hear of any of these side effects from users. As mentioned, muscle cramping is probably the most common, and it tends to be from athletes who train hard and therefore require high levels of hydration. It is important to drink ample fluids whilst supplementing with creatine.
The results from creatine vary a lot. Some people simply do not respond to create and notice nothing in the way of increase muscle volume or strength. The majority will notice some level of increased muscle fullness and the ability to lift more weight or perform more reps within a week or so when following an initial loading phase.