Creatine is one of the most researched sport supplements around. Creatine has been shown in studies to improve power, maximal strength, muscle growth and sprint time. For some it sounds almost too good to be a true, a safe and legal supplement that can help you get bigger, faster, and stronger. Find out how creatine can benefit you as an athlete, what sources you can obtain it from, and how to dose it.
How It Works: We have three main energy systems: 1) the ATP-PCr System – this is a fast acting energy system that we use initially to fuel all movements but it’s also the most rapidly depleted. In this system creatine is used to synthesize ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) ATP is the only source of energy used directly for muscle contraction. This system can sustain energy for 3-15 seconds which is ideal for short explosive movements. 2) Glycolytic Energy System – this energy system relies on the breakdown of glucose and is used for moderate power/short duration exercises. 3) Oxidative Energy System – fats/glucose are the energy substrates and this system is used for slow/long duration exercises. Returning back to creatine, creatine helps fuel our fast acting ATP-PCr energy system which fuels the explosive movements required for most feats of athleticism.
Power: As mentioned above the ATP-PCr system provides energy for muscle contraction for explosive movements in the 3-15 second range. This would include things like throwing, jumping, swinging, tackling, and sprinting. In a study on 36 male and female track and field athletes, predominately sprinters, jumpers and throwers. The athletes were divided into groups supplemented with creatine and groups supplemented with a placebo. After 6 weeks the studies revealed significant improvements in the vertical jump height, average cycle power, and peak power of the athletes that were in the creatine supplemented group. These findings are impressive because these particular athletes already trained for peak power in their traditional training routines and they were still able to attain improvements from creatine.
Strength: Creatine supplementation has produced impressive results in athletes when administered concurrently with a resistance training program. Strength based exercises are dependent on the ATP-PCr energy system, this system becomes more efficient with creatine supplementation. In addition to this, creatine elicits changes on a cellular level that plays a role in increasing strength. In a 9 week study on Division 1 NCAA Football players divided into 3 groups (creatine group, glucose group, placebo group), the creatine group had significant improvements in peak strength levels. This group saw improvements in their 1 RM numbers for their bench press, power clean, and squat that averaged out to 5.9% improvements on the three lifts. To put this in perspective, for an athlete with a 1 RM squat of 305 lbs, a 5.9% improvement would be like adding 18 lbs to their squat in 9 weeks.
Speed: When dosed appropriately, creatine has been shown in several studies to raise sprint performance. Particularly when sufficient creatine is stored in our type 2 (fast twitch) muscle fibers. The main energy substrate for high intensity speed work like sprints is the ATP-PCr system. This energy system is fast acting but depletes rapidly. Because creatine loading increases muscle creatine stores it’s believed that it increases the availability of this energy source for ATP resynthesis. Think of this as a nitro boost for your body that allows you to maintain a high speed for a brief amount of time.
Muscle Hypertrophy: muscle hypertrophy is the increase in size of a skeletal muscle. This is typically associated with bodybuilding style training but it serves a benefit for most athletes. Larger muscle fibers are associated with the ability to produce larger and more forceful muscle contractions which results in greater force production. Creatine has been shown in muscle biopsies to increase the fiber size of both our type 1 & type 2 muscle fibers. Creatine also promotes cell volumanization which is the increase of water content in a cell, leading to larger muscle cells.
Creatine Sources: typical food sources abundant in creatine include animal proteins like beef, chicken, fish, pork, and wild game meats. Creatine can also be obtained in a variety of supplement forms, traditionally most studies that have been performed using creatine have used creatine monohydrate.
Creatine Dosing: athletes can choose to initially load creatine to elevate levels. The typical loading method involves taking 0.3 grams per kg bodyweight for a total of 4x a day for 5-7 days.
For a 200 lb athlete using the loading method initially they would take 2.7g x 4 for 5-7 days.
200lbs/2.2 kg = 90.9 kg x .03g = 2.7 g
Alternatively, many athletes just opt to aim for the 3-5 g per day dosage range which is the dosage range needed to maintain elevated creatine stores