Athletes looking to increase muscle mass and power output may turn to supplements to enhance their training. One of the most popular of these supplements is creatine, which has not only been used for decades, but is one of the most heavily researched.
Creatine is produced within the body via the liver, kidneys, and to a lesser extent the pancreas. We also gain creatine from the foods we eat (primarily through meat, meaning that vegetarians may gain even more from supplementation). Three amino acids (glycine, arginine, and methionine) and three enzymes (L-arginine:glycine amidinotransferase, guanidinoacetate methyltransferase, and methionine adenosyltransferase) are required for creatine synthesis. When we exercise, energy is created through the adenosine triphosphate–creatine system. This helps support muscle contraction and force behind movements. This is a rapid energy production system within the muscle itself. Creatine ingested through diet helps fuel this process.
Research has repeatedly shown that creatine has the ability to:
- Amplify the effects of resistance training
- Improve quality of high-intensity intermittent speed training
- Increase a person’s fat-free mass
- Amplify favorable adaptations such as increased plasma volume and glycogen storage
Research on creatine supplementation has more recently been revisited to investigate improved performance in endurance athletes. This is exciting, since creatine has long been focused on for strength, power, and movements under 150 seconds.
Your Creatine Levels
What affects how much creatine you have in you?
- Gender: Men tend to have more muscle mass, which makes a large area where creatine lives. Some creatine is also stored in the testes, making for another reason men naturally have greater amounts available.
- Muscle mass and skeletal muscle fiber type: The more skeletal muscle we have and the more fast-twitch fibers we have, the more we can store excess creatine.
- Diet: Since we increase creatine available to the body via meat and fish, vegetarians, vegans, or those following a low-protein diet are likely taking in less creatine and may initially see the most improvement from supplementation.
How and When
A typical creatine supplementation protocol is the following:
- Loading phase of 20–25 grams per day or 0.3 grams per kilogram of body weight per day split between 2, 4, or 5 ingestions to saturate stores in the skeletal muscle.
- Follow this with a maintenance period of 3–5 grams per day or 0.03 grams per kilogram per day.
- Supplementing around the time of resistance training improves adaptations at a cellular and subcellular level.
- Since carbohydrates cause an uptake of energy into the cells, taking creatine with a protein and carbohydrate source may help absorption.
Yeah, but is it Worth it?
Studies on creatine have been numerous, making it perhaps the most researched supplement to this day. But despite this, the specific actions which make it effective are still not completely understood. The sport of obstacle course racing is unique in that it is a challenging combination of strength and power moves intertwined with endurance running at a high, often anaerobic, intensity. Your best course of action when taking any supplement is to monitor the gains in your own performance, not necessarily going by what general studies indicate. Start with these steps:
- Make sure your training plan is appropriate for your current status and goals.
- Clean up your diet and make sure you are eating enough of the right foods to fuel your performance.
- Gain a baseline of your current physical performance (one-mile time trial, five-minute burpee test, one-repetition maximum test) based on what is most important to you. After starting creatine, you can follow up by retesting yourself in four, six, and eight weeks.
Once these strategies are in play, then start with a creatine supplement. This way you know if you are seeing benefits from the supplement itself or not. If not, stop using it and reevaluate what will get you to your goals.
Cooper, Robert, et al. “Creatine Supplementation with Specific View to Exercise/Sports Performance: An Update.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 9, no. 1 (2012):33. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-9-33.
Kleiner, Susan. Power Eating. 4th ed. Human Kinetics, 2014.
Skolnik, Heidi, and Andrea Chernus. Nutrient Timing for Peak Performance. Human Kinetics, 2010.
5 weeks until you run a Spartan race? Download the 2018 Spartan Training Plan as your blueprint.