Let's break down what is creatine, why it is safe for you to use, and how it will help to your performance!
Creatine is the most studied sports supplement out there. It is a naturally occurring compound in the human body that is used for energy production during physical activity. About 95% of your body’s creatine is stored in muscles in the form of phosphocreatine. The other 5% is found in your brain, kidneys and liver.
Creatine can be found in some foods and is most prevalent in meat and fish. Athletes commonly take it as a powder or in capsules.
How does it work?
Within this system, ATP that is stored in our muscle cells is used for the first few seconds of intense exercise. Our muscle cells can only hold so much ATP, so when we run out of ATP our cells try and produce more. In order to make more ATP, our cells need creatine. The ATP that is created with additional creatine can provide fuel for a total of up to 10 seconds of intense exercise. Essentially, more creatine means more ATP, which can improve performance for those short duration, high-intensity activities like heavy lifts or short sprints. Longer duration, lower intensity activities rely on the glycolytic system and the beta oxidative system and thus are not affected by creatine intake.
In other words: creatine will help a sprint, but not a marathon.
In addition to helping muscle cells produce more energy, creatine also contributes to increases in strength, muscle recovery and muscle growth. It does so by triggering various cellular processes that lead to muscle growth.
What exactly does creatine?
Creatine helps us build muscle and get stronger more efficiently in the following ways:
Creatine enables more volume in a single training session which leads to muscle growth. This is because the more energy our cells have, the more weight we are able to lift which provides more stimulus on our muscle cells and helps them grow faster.
Creatine can improve the activation of muscle cells, which aids muscle growth.
Creatine can increase the total volume of the cell by drawing water into it, increasing strength over time. Research shows that increased muscle volume provides a favourable environment for muscle growth.
Creatine can reduce protein breakdown (i.e. using our own muscle cells as energy) which can help preserve muscle mass.
How to take creatine?
Short-term creatine supplementation (i.e. 20g per day for up to a week) can increase total creatine stores by 10-30% and can improve strength by 5-15%.
Supplementation with 3g/day and greater is associated with muscle growth and improved performance in high-intensity exercise. So this is the optimal dosage to start with creatine supplementation.
Taking a consistent daily supplementation of 3g/day and greater has shown to have the greatest effects of overloading phases or creatine cycling. During a loading phase, you would supplement with a large amount of creatine for a short period of time to fill up your muscles, and then reduce the dose to maintain your creatine stores. For example, this would typically look like taking 20g of creatine per day for up to a week, and then reducing that to 3-10g per day.
Higher doses (up to 10 g/day) may be beneficial for people with a high amount of muscle mass and high activity levels or for those who are non-responders to a lower dose.
When to take creatine?
Timing of creatine supplementation has also been a subject of many pieces of research. And results? Timing in creatine supplementation is important as creatine ingested before and after resistance training sessions appears to be an effective strategy to increase muscle mass and strength, with slightly greater benefits if creatine is consumed post-exercise compared to pre-exercise. Especially, after your workout as anabolic hormones (muscle-building hormones) such as insulin are elevated.
Research has also shown that ingesting creatine with protein and carbohydrates may be the best way to get creatine into muscle cells. Combining these three in a post-workout shake can be a great strategy to optimise recovery and training adaptations.
Creatine in combination with exercise has many benefits for your performance, body composition, and strength both for male and female. It is the most famous supplement across many studies and results prove that creatine is one of the best, well known, and cheapest fitness supplements.