Today’s short post will look at the performance enhancing effects of supplemental creatine. I’ll detail how it improves your performances and in what specific sporting contexts it’s best placed. I’ll detail a dosing strategy and lastly, touch on considerations for weight making athletes and lastly, how creatine can even support your brain health.
When I refer to creatine in this post I am referring specifically to creatine monohydrate. Although you will find other brand alternatives, all the research indicates creatine monohydrate will meet all your performance goals adequately. Of particular importance, it is also the most cost effective of the creatine products on the market.
Performance enhancing is a fairly generic term, so let’s define in what context creatine can actually help you perform better. Creatine can acutely enhance performance of sports that require repeated high intensity exercise. Such examples include football and other team sports, power lifting, short & middle distance running and many combat sports.
Creatine improves recovery in short recovery periods between repeated bouts of maximal exercise. It is speculated it can also act as a buffer within the muscle (from muscle acidity), therefore delaying fatigue. Research also indicates creatine leads to improvements in muscular strength, force production, (or torque) and can lead to greater gains in lean muscle mass.
Although there is some differing papers, generally research does not suggest an improvement for endurance performance from creatine supplementation.
Non meat eaters
In its natural form, creatine is found in meat, fish and poultry products. Therefore supplementing with it can be especially important for vegetarian and vegan athletes.
In fact the biggest performance benefit will be seen by those who don’t consume much creatine containing foods such meat and fish. Vegetable sources are low in comparison. Herring is highest at 0.65-1.10g per 100g with salmon & beef next highest at 0.45g per 100g.
There is some discussion around when to best take your creatine, especially from gym bros! It seems that post workout though is the optimal timing. However, in reality creatine works only when muscle is saturated by it, therefore consistency is far more important than timing in order to get a training effect.
Here is a best practice strategy when starting creatine supplementation;
– Creatine loading phase of 20g a day split into 4 doses of 5g throughout the day, for 5 days.
– Maintenance dose of 2g daily.
– Maintenance does can increase from 3-5g but watch weight gain.
The research does not support concerns regarding long term use, so don’t feel a need to cycle off. It could also support maintaining your lean mass during off season or times of reduced training such as when injured.
As noted, post workout seems the optimal time to consume creatine. Total muscle creatine can be increased when consumed in a solution with simple carbohydrate. Protein and carbohydrate solution also seen to enhance muscle take up via insulin stimulation.
I have a particular interest in combat sports where reaching a predetermined competition weight is often essential for competing athletes. This though is relevant for a number weight category sports.
When consuming creatine, changes in body composition can result from an increases in intracellular water, stimulation of protein synthesis or decrease in protein breakdown. Although these ultimately have positive benefits, they bring an added layer to consider when ‘cutting weight’.
If the athlete has a minimum of six to seven weeks before competition, and a high amount of weight to loose, they can reduce their daily dosing from 5 to 2.5 g, two to three weeks out. This will ensure optimal benefit for the initial stage of camp and some additional water weight may be lost whilst a continued ,(all be it sub optimal), benefit can continued to be obtained.
If there is shorter notice and the athlete is really struggling with weight loss, stop creatine one to three weeks before the weigh in. It will take four weeks to get to base line levels but a sharp drop in creatine stores happen after just one week.
Regarding loosing weight however, the question is how much weight will cutting creatine actually result in? Potentially this could be around 1% though, which may be crucial for those with a lot to cut. One week cutting (creatine), is probably optimal in regards to cutting some excess fluid retention but not loosing performance enhancing effects.
Lastly, a consideration is using creatine post weigh in, especially when weighing in 24 hours plus, prior to competition. Such instances usually see the competing athlete loosing greater amounts of weight due to the additional time to recover.
Due to its water retention quantities, creatine should be used in the post weigh in phase if the athlete has been using it already. A combat athlete especially needs to consider the importance of fluid retention post weigh in. Try adding between 5 and 10g post weigh in in your hydration protocol. This can help cellular hydration.
Lastly, and of significant interest to both combat athletes and those with historical family neuro disorders, there is research that champions creatine for its neurological benefits.
Creatine stores decline with age, but supplements can restore these levels and might even boost memory and intelligence in older people. Some research suggests supplemental creatine may boost memory and reasoning skills in those at risk of low creatine levels due to their diet. It also has potential to help heal from a concussion. When taken at the onset of head injury creatine can reduce the effects of the concussion.
Please let me know your thoughts with a comment! If there’s anything else you’d see to read or see, let me know.