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Creatine – what is it and should I use it?

By Coach Rachael

 

A few years ago, it was common to see bulky body builder type athletes ingesting a syringe of clear liquid before his/her work out.  Maybe more recently you have seen someone adding a white powdery substance to their pre-workout, or when you have purchased your own pre-workout you were faced with the question…to add creatine or not to add creatine.

While creatine has been a controversial supplement throughout the years, it is also the most researched and one of the most widely used.  The biggest myth of creatine is that it is tantamount to a steroid.  That is simply not true.  Creatine is a supplement that is allowed in competitive athletics.  It does not mimic testosterone. Creatine is a compound that is naturally made in the body and found in all skeletal muscles, blood and the brain.  It is used by the muscles when an athlete first goes into the aerobic state of exercise (converting oxygen into energy).  Specifically, in the first 4 seconds of muscle contraction, creatine is called upon to provide energy when the muscle is not yet able to metabolize the longer-term energy substances such as glycogen and fatty acids.  Artificially adding creatine to your system helps the muscle prolong that four second burst.  Creatine helps ensure that muscles do not prematurely fatigue. Without creatine, energy production during high-intensity exercise would not be possible.  Adding creatine is popular with bodybuilders because it enhances the explosive muscle fibers, thereby increasing power, output and, ultimately, muscle size.

In one study, researchers demonstrated creatine’s loading over just three days significantly improved muscle volume and cycle sprint performance in elite power athletes (Robson, David).  The initial weight gain that many see when taking creatine is a result of the muscles pulling more water into the cells, which increases protein synthesis.  Gains are continued to be seen if the athlete hits the gym while taking creatine.  For best results, athletes perform high-intensity interval training.  Taking additional creatine is not recommended, or effective if you don’t workout.  Effective use of creatine helps grow muscle fibers, and therefore build mass and weight.  Recent studies have also shown that taking creatine reduces muscle cell damage and inflammation following exhaustive exercise.   Since creatine is attracted to water it, if taken regularly, may cause muscles look more soft than defined.  Body builders often take creatine to help them build muscle and strength, but stop taking a few weeks before competition so muscle gain will be shown in a more defined state.

To start taking creatine, it is suggested that an athlete go through a “loading phase”. For 5-7 days, the athlete should take 20g of creatine and then drop to 3-5g.  Initial weight gain in the loading phase is caused by the uptake of water into the muscles.  Once the loading phase is completed, the weight gain should be attributed to increased muscle mass.  A common question is whether creatine causes kidney problems.  The generally accepted easy answer is not for people that have healthy kidneys (examine.com).  For people with kidney problems, it is unlikely, however they are encouraged to discuss taking creatine with their physician before they deciding to add it to their workout regime.

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