To date, approximately 1,000 articles have been published on creatine supplementation, with 70% of studies typifying an improvement in exercise capacity and performance. No study has shown that it hinders exercise performance.
Creatine is a naturally producing compound in the body mainly stored in muscle (95%), with some creatine stored in other tissues such as the brain. The body can store 160g of creatine. Approximately 2g of creatine is broken down from muscle and excreted in urine as waste. From a foot point of view, you should include beef and fish within your diet as both are rich sources of creatine.
The most widely known benefit of creatine supplementation stems from its ability to increase resting creatine stores, which essentially increases the body’s ability to repeat and sustain high-intensity bouts of exercise. By increasing creatine stores in the muscle, the body will be able to increase ATP synthesis (i.e. energy) which will ultimately improve exercise performance by having more energy to complete a given exercise. More specifically, creatine will provide the energy needed for exercise bouts lasting anywhere between 0-15 seconds (i.e. weight-lifting).
As creatine helps you do more work and increase high-intensity efforts, you’ll gain more strength and muscle. Think about it, if creatine helps you do more work during weight-lifting, you’ll be able to perform more exercises, sets and reps within a given workout. It can also help you recover in between sets, allowing you to perform better in subsequent sets. These are other benefits of creatine supplementation.
So, there are two ways to supplement with creatine:
1. Loading Protocol
The Loading protocol entails supplementing with 20g/creatine/day. This can be divided into 4 x 5g of creatine spread throughout the day. The benefit of the loading protocol is that it saturates the muscle with creatine within a week. In fact, it can increase muscle creatine stores by 10-40%. So, you may start experiencing the benefits of creatine within a week through this protocol.
2. Maintenance Protocol
The Maintenance protocol calls for supplementing with 2-3g/creatine/day. The main difference here is that it will take longer for the muscle to saturate with creatine (28 days). However, the benefits experienced will be exactly the same as that experienced with the Loading protocol – it just takes more time!
To be honest, there is no right or wrong when choosing which protocol to follow. It all comes down to how hard you’ve been training, and how fast you want to experience the benefits. If you are going through periods of heavy training, supplement using the Loading protocol. Otherwise, you can stick with the Maintenance protocol. And actually, recent evidence is recommending just driving straight through to the Maintenance protocol.
Interestingly enough, individuals with low creatine stores respond more significantly to creatine supplementation. Those with low initial creatine stores may increase creatine muscle saturation by 20-40%, while those who already have high creatine stores may increase creatine muscle stores by 10-20%.
It takes 4-6 weeks for creatine to be completely washed out of the body. Also, there is no evidence to show that creatine stores will be dropped below baseline creatine stores after the cessation of supplementation. So once you stop using creatine, you’ll still remain with the same level of creatine stores that you had prior to supplementation.
Creatine Monohydrate has been shown in the literature to be the best type of creatine to supplement with. So opt for this type of creatine when buying the supplement. In terms of the timing of creatine intake, it is best to supplement after your workout.
Lastly, creatine is absolutely safe to use. The only known side effect is an increase in body weight. While this is partly due to water retention, it is mainly down to an increase in muscle mass due to an improvement exercise capacity (doing more work which will lead to an increase in muscle mass and strength).
Given the many benefits of creatine, I’d highly suggest supplementing with it especially if you partake in heavy weight-lifting, and high-intensity training (i.e. hiit, cross fit) and/or sports. The benefits are known and the science is there to back it up. So if you are looking to take your exercise to another level, why not try supplementing with creatine!