In a bid to train and perform better, harder and faster, clients have become increasingly interested in creatine supplements, so we wanted to answer some of the more frequent questions we get asked as dietitians. Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of creatine and best-practice for creatine supplementation.
So, what is creatine?
Creatine is a substance that’s found within muscle cells. Creatine helps to produce another substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP helps to create the energy required for our cells to perform various functions, one of which is muscle contraction. Whew…still with us?
Creatine is formed within the body but is also found in certain foods, particularly meat and fish. Creatine can also be formulated synthetically in laboratories. This synthetically formulated creatine has been used as an oral supplement for decades, particularly within the sporting community. Research shows creatine supplementation can improve athletic performance and increase muscle mass. The most popular and well-researched form of creatine for supplementation is creatine monohydrate, which can be purchased as either a powder or capsules.
How much creatine do you need?
It is recommended that when someone commences creatine supplementation, they begin by ‘loading’ their dosage. A common protocol is to start with 20 grams of creatine per day for seven days, spread over four to five-gram servings across the day. Loading allows the muscles to become ‘saturated’ with the creatine more effectively. Following this, a daily dosage of 2 to 10 grams is recommended to maintain that saturation. Some people require more than others to see results due to having more muscle mass or participating in increased physical activity.
When should you take creatine?
As already mentioned, creatine supplementation is most popular for its role in training optimisation, both during and after. Think increased strength, increased lean muscle mass and decreased recovery time. This is particularly the case for forms of exercise including high-intensity interval training, sprints, and strength training. We suggest taking your creatine supplement within a 60-minute window prior to exercise, or immediately afterwards.
Benefits of creatine
Creatine supplementation has also been highlighted for its benefits in injury management. Research and clinical experience have indicated that creatine may assist in reducing the loss of muscle mass and muscle strength that often occurs during periods of immobilisation due to injury, and can aid in regaining muscle more rapidly once mobilisation and training recommence. It’s important to note, however, that anyone recovering from an injury must not negate the crucial role of general diet (particularly protein and energy intake) during this recovery period. Creatine is a useful addition to a balanced diet, but it’s not the be all and end all!
Another exciting area being researched is the use of creatine supplementation in people with concussion. When someone experiences a concussion, it creates what is known as an ‘energy crisis’ within the brain. The brain is demanding increased energy supplies to help in the repair process, yet concussion causes decreased blood flow that would help to carry that energy to the brain cells. Creatine supplementation has been shown to be protective against the effects of energy crisis within the brain, and may help in reducing cognitive and physical symptoms.
Are there any side effects of creatine supplementation?
This is all sounding pretty fantastic, right? Yes. But let’s also take a look at some of the possible side effects to be aware of.
- Water retention
- Digestive symptoms
Additionally, it is important to consult your doctor if you wish to supplement with creatine should you have any kidney or liver conditions to monitor for any signs of exacerbation. To help with symptom management, speak with your dietitian for individualised advice.
Overall, creatine appears to be a safe and effective supplement with proven benefits and may be a useful addition to a balanced diet, particularly for active individuals seeking to boost their efforts.