What is Creatine (C4H9N3O2)

Creatine is an organic compound that is made in the body from three amino acids: arginine, glycine and methionine. It provides energy to muscle cells for short-burst exercises such as weight lifting and other types of resistance training. Creatine supplementation has been well-documented; with several hundred peer-reviewed papers, it is perhaps the most researched supplement to date.

Furthermore, since a massive 70 per cent of these showed positive results (most of the rest show no significant benefits), creatine is also one of the more used and trusted supplements by athletes today, especially those concerned with strength and muscle mass.

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There are many benefits, associated with creatine supplementation, which include improvements in high-intensity capacity (including high-intensity intensive training), repeated sprints, lean muscle mass and a reduction in fatigue. Its supplementation has also shown to help maintain BM in endurance athletes without negatively affecting performance; in general, athletes gain about one or two kg in the first week of loading, with lower (and slower) gains thereafter.

Creatine effects

Creatine has shown to be effective in men and women, and the benefits between vegetarians and non-vegetarians seem to be the same. What is more, creatine has also been well tested on elderly athletes; a recent study showed significant improvements in strength and fatigue in a group of men and women aged between 64 and 86 years.

Supplementation with creatine generally increases the amount of creatine in the muscles by 10-40 per cent; those with a high muscle mass seem to have a lower (but still significant) increase of about 10-20 per cent, and those with a low muscle mass, or those who eat little or no meat or fish, seem to have a higher increase of about 20-40 per cent.

Such high increases are often reflected in the results; strength tends to increase by 5-15 percent (though some research has shown far higher gains), and in timed events such as sprints, the finish times are faster by 1-5 per cent.

Creatine monohydrate is the purest and most widely available form of creatine, but there are also many so-called new forms, including those combined with other nutrients. Although there are some that appear to be showing some promise, for the most part there is little or no evidence to suggest that they are more effective or safer.

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How to use Creatine

Commercially available creatine monohydrate is usually sold in tubs of 5g servings, so it is difficult to ingest a specific dose, especially if the servings are in tablet form. A common method for creatine supplementation is to split the intakes into a loading period, followed by a maintenance period.

The loading period consists of higher daily doses taken several times in the same day for up to a week, with the aim of saturating the muscles with creatine. The maintenance period consists of lower doses that are normally taken once or twice a day for the remainder of the overall time, with the aim of maintaining the elevated levels of creatine caused by loading.

During the loading period, commercial products often suggest intakes of about 20-30g a day in two to six servings for perhaps four to seven days, followed by a maintenance period that consists of 5-15g a day taken in one, two or three servings for the remaining time – perhaps several weeks or months.

The intakes suggested among researchers do vary, but their loading intake figures are not usually that dissimilar from the suggested commercial intakes; however, the maintenance intakes seems to be a bit high among the manufacturers. In this text the suggested intakes, taken from a recent and extensive review, are as follows:

– Loading period: 0.3g/kg/BM/day in four equal servings for three to five days,
– Maintenance period: 3-5g/day in two equal servings
– Cyclic procedure: restart a loading period every three to four weeks of your maintenance period     

The suggested loading intake above means that a 60-kg athlete would be supplementing with 18g of creatine a day, whereas a 100-kg athlete would be loading with 30g a day; these figure compare well with those of the commercial products. As for the cyclic period, this is for those that intend taking creatine supplements for a long time and who might need to give their muscles another creatine saturation-boost. Most research does not exceed 12 weeks, but many athletes use creatine indefinitely, with several creatine-free periods throughout the year. It really depends on what you want.

If you reach your desired muscle mass and body mass, and you are happy with your strength gains, then you do not need to continually take creatine; many only retake it, for whatever reason, if they have lost a substantial amount of their previous gains.

If there is anything lacking in research regarding creatine supplementation, then it is suggestions for optimal doses and timings for long-term users. As it is, there are many different suggestions, such as: three months on with one month off, four to six weeks on with three to five weeks off, and eight to twelve weeks on with four to six weeks off.

However, such suggestions are normally anecdotal, so you will have to decide what it is that you want from creatine supplementation and then experiment to find the doses and timings that suit you best. For those interested in a simple and short-term method, there is another way that you might prefer; to make the distinction it is referred to as the non-loading method. Many researchers have used the following with good results:

– Non-loading method: 3-6g/day taken in three to six equal servings over four to twelve weeks 

However much you decide to ingest, keep in mind that the maximum storage capacity of creatine in the body is about 0.3g per kg of body mass, the same as the suggested loading intake above; any more creatine than this will end up in your urine.

When you begin taking creatine your body’s synthesis of it will be suppressed, but when you stop, your normal stores will be resumed in about four weeks. After supplement cessation, some athletes experience a small reduction in some of the gains made during the supplementation period, but they are unlikely to return to pre-supplementation levels.

 Creatine side effects

Creatine has been associated with many detrimental side-effects, including weight gain solely through water retention (not muscle mass), cramps, dehydration and altered electrolyte status. Yet none of these claims are supported by scientific evidence, although it has been suggested that any side-effects are probably owing to the impurity of some commercial products.

Nonetheless, it is recommended that athletes who previously had, or currently have, renal diseases, diabetes or hypertension, should not exceed 3g of creatine in one day unless under suitably qualified supervision.

Dietary intake might be between one and two grammes a day for those that eat meat and fish; it is considerably less for vegetarians. Some high dietary sources of creatine are beef, pork, salmon, tuna, cod and herring.

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