Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Can Creatine Supplementation Increase Athletic Performance?

Creatine supplmentation has been in the public eye since Linford Christie won the 100m gold medal at the 1992 Olympics games and I still keep hearing conflicting reports as to the effectiveness of its use in sports performance. In the following article I will try to summarize the research literature on creatine to hopefully clear up some of the issues surrounding its use.

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a naturally occuring nitrogenous organic acid in the human body and is essential for anaerobic muscular contractions. Simply put, creatine is stored in your muscles and is necessary for fast and powerful muscular contractions of short duration. Your body can naturaly regenerate creatine that gets used during anaerobic (short bursts) of exercise. The body can regenerate over half of the used creatine stores within 30 seconds after exercise and over 90% of used creatine after 5 minutes. However, when you use these creatine stores for repetitive exercise (such as lifting weights, sprinting, jumping) the body cannot regenerate all of the creatine in time and you start to get fatigued and are forced to stop. This is why you cannot sprint at the same intensity in the 100m as you would in the 400m or 800m! This is where creatine supplementation was designed to work.

How Does Creatine Supplementation Work?

By orally ingesting creatine, you can increase the amount of creatine stored in your body. It has been found that some people respond better to creatine supplementation then others and it is related to the amount already stored in the body. Think of it like a gas tank in your car, if the tank is full you can't add more fuel, however if the tank is only half full, you can top it up. Creatine is naturally found in red meats and those who eat a lot of red meat usually have higher levels of stored creatine and therefore do not always have as dramatic results by taking creatine supplements.

By topping off the creatine stores in your muscles, it has been found that you have a higher power output and it takes a longer time to fully fatigue the muscles. This can be beneficial during training for all power athletes (football, track and field, speed skating, weight-lifting...) who use this power system regularly.

Are There Different Kinds of Creatine Supplementation?

There are several different types of creatine available on the market. The most common are creatine monohydrate, creatine citrate, creatine phosphate and many brands include creatine in a sports drink powder. Of all of the above mentioned types of creatine, one type has been shown to help prolong fatigue better then others during high-intensity, short duration activity. Creatine Phosphate has been shown to help buffer the blood against the hydrogen ions (a waste product from anaerobic exercise that increase the blood acidity and gives you that muscle burning sensation). This increased buffering capacity allows for a longer time until total fatigue during continuous, maximum physical exertion. However, creatine phosphate was not compared to other forms of creatine to examine time to exhaustion with repetitive bursts of exercise, and may not show any increased benefits with that type of activity.

What to Expect?

  • Most manufacturers of creatine suggest adding pure creatine powder to some form of sports drink to help with its absorption into the body.
  • Many companies also suggest that you go on a 'loading phase' where you ingest 5g of creatine 3-6 times a day for the first 4-7 days. This helps increase the muscles' creatine stores more rapidly.
  • Expect an initial weight gain when you start creatine supplementation because to store creatine in the muscle, it needs to be stored with water molecules. This will result in more water being stored in your body and thereby increases your body weight.
  • With more water being stored in your body, you may become dehydrated, and it is important to ingest more water then usual thoughout the day.
  • Finally, remember that not everyone has the same results after creatine supplementation. It depends largely on the amount already stored in your muscles and the type of exercise you do.

In Summary:

  1. The oral ingestion of creatine supplementation can increase the amount of creatine stored in your muscles.
  2. Mixing creatine powders with a sports drink helps increase the absorption rate into the body.
  3. Dehydration is a common complaint so drink lots of water
  4. Creatine supplmentation can improve anaerobic (short bursts at maximal capacity) performance.
  5. Not all athletes respond the same to creatine supplementation


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