Is Creatine Right For Me?
Although the human movement system (HMS) consists of three energy systems, which seek to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), for this discussion one is prominent. The phosphagen system may be defined as the primary source for short duration, high intensity power events. At the cost of producing energy very quickly, this metabolic pathway produces very little ATP. The muscle cell stores small amounts of this energy however; during intense activity ATP is depleted facilitating a reliance on the phosphocreatine reserve in order to produce more ATP. With the prevalence of the Olympic motto “citius, altius, forties” it is no surprise as to why our athletes go to great lengths in an attempt to seek that extra edge. Supplementing with creatine monohydrate may maximize ATP production for more available energy, strength and power output with respect to short anaerobic bouts of high intensity activities-giving the athlete that extra edge. Sports such as power lifting, sprinting, and the high jump rely heavily on immediate energy availability from the phosphagen system. With respect to this widely used ergogenic aid, many accusations such as increased muscle hypertrophy, power output, along with decreases in overall body fat levels have been made. A study conducted by Eric Rawson and Jeff Volek show these claims to be extremely valid resulting in substantial improvement during weight lifting performance in the bench press with a 43% increase. Inversely, with the HMS’s reliance on the oxidative system for low intensity long duration events, it is safe to say that creatine supplementation will produce minimal, if any, positive effects with respect to this aerobically dependent system.
Creatine may be ingested orally with some controversy as to the dosage. During Rawson and Volek’s study protocols ranged from 20 to 25g per day with a loading phase of 3 to 7 days, followed by a maintenance dose of 5g. There is also conflicting evidence as whether or not to include a loading phase (20g/day for 5 days w/ CHO). This loading phase is thought to saturate the muscle cell with creatine in order to facilitate a longer response. A five week study was conducted on elite swimmers assessing the performance response of bouts less than 60 seconds, loading creatine with and without a carbohydrate solution. Although there was a significant linear increase in performance velocity in both groups, the study showed no significant increases loading the supplement with a carbohydrate solution. With respect to this study, it is apparent that a loading phase is one of preference as individual differences may facilitate different outcomes.
It has often been said that muscle spasm and cramping may result from usage of creatine. Throughout my research, I was unable to locate any persuasive evidence as to these claims. One article by the NSCA states “athletes that train in hot and/ or humid conditions might have a greater incidence of severe muscle cramps and/ or injuries when taking creatine…” Cramping is associated with water and electrolyte imbalance. As we exercise in warm conditions the body’s need to dissipate heat is increased resulting in increased perspiration. It is possible that supplementing with creatine may accelerate this process by contributing to increased fluid loss, resulting in dehydration. Information such as the above should be taken into consideration when dealing with outdoor sports and/ or activities in warm weather conditions.
For healthy individuals that have been cleared by a physician, Creatine taken in adequate doses (5g/ day) most likely poses no negative effects, however, it serves no purpose for anyone other than an anaerobic athlete to participate in the use of this supplement. It is clear that creatine monohydrate garners appropriate and promising benefits when used in the appropriate physiological environment, undoubtedly showing increases in both strength and power.
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Cooke CB. Effects of acute creatine loading with or without carbohydrate on repeated
bouts of maximal swimming in high-performance swimmers. J Strength Cond Res. 2005;
3. Plisk SS, Kreider RB. Creatine controversy? J Strength Cond Res. 1999; 21(1): 14-23.