Creatine: A Supplement worth Considering By: Diane Mack

This last year, having been Crossfitting since 2013, I set a goal of getting stronger with my weightlifting. I did not have a clear picture of how I wanted to achieve this goal so I turned to a trusted coach and colleague to point me in the right direction. He suggested a strength program and also asked me if I was taking creatine. No was the answer I gave, but in my head I was thinking, “Creatine. Isn’t that for the guys that are trying to get huge?” And, ”If I’m consistent with my training, can’t I achieve the results I’m after without getting crazy with supplements?” My coach provided a thorough scientific explanation, but I was biased against using supplements. I was not sure I wanted to be an athlete that used a supplement to achieve my results.

 

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I began my strength program and was happy with the results that I was seeing, but I began to wonder if there was something else I could be doing to maximize my improvement in the gym. Then I remembered my coach’s suggestion of creatine. So one day I casually walked over and asked how I should be taking creatine, and decided to add this white powder to my day without any real idea why I was taking it or what it was doing for me as an athlete to achieve my strength training goals. About four months into taking creatine I started thinking that, as an athlete and coach, I might want to be able to answer someone who asked me what supplements that I take and why. I should also be able to give an educated answer to an athlete who approached me with a question about whether they should be supplementing with creatine. Or to say it another way, I work so hard on my health and fitness, why shouldn’t I fully understand what I am putting into my body? So, I would like to share with you the basics of the information I learned in order to answer some questions about creatine and supplementation.

What is creatine and what does it do?

Creatine is produced naturally in our bodies by the kidneys and liver and is found in our muscle cells. It is used by our bodies to replenish ATP as it is depleted due to high intensity training. So why should this information be of interest to us?
ATP(adenosine tri-phosphate) is the fuel our muscles use for short bursts of energy, such as weightlifting and high intensity exercise. With each repetition that we do ATP is expended and once ATP is gone our muscles fatigue and we can no longer maintain the intensity of our workouts. This is where creatine comes in to play. The body uses creatine to replenish the ATP in our muscles so that we can continue to do work. If we had endless supplies of ATP to create intense muscle contractions and the creatine to continually resupply our ATP we’d be golden, but the ATP that is used for high intensity exercise is used up in 8-10 seconds and if our creatine levels are low we can not replenish our ATP to maintain intensity.

Why supplement creatine?

Creatine produced naturally in our bodies is limited by a number of factors, our diet, hormones, exercise, and muscle mass. We can replenish our stores by consuming red meat
and fish, but the amount that we would have to consume to get our creatine stores to their maximum levels is prohibitive and probably not too healthy. That leaves us with supplementation to bridge the gap of what we can consume and the maximum amount of creatine that can be stored by our cells. The more creatine we have in our cells, the more ATP we can replenish, which can lead to more reps being done in our workouts.

What creatine can and can not do.

Supplementing will allow your muscle cells to have access to a ready supply of creatine to replenish your ATP which will allow you to get a few more reps, recover a little quicker between sets, and maintain your intensity just a little longer, but you are gong to have to put in the work into each and every repetition. The benefits of supplementation in regards to muscle growth, increased strength, and extra calorie expenditure only occur if you are strength training or engaging in high intensity training. That being said, if you are training and supplementing with creatine, you are not going to put on large amounts of muscle mass if you are not following a training and eating plan for those specific goals. So to be clear, simply taking creatine will not make you “bulky”.

Is creatine safe?

Creatine monohydrate is one of the most researched supplements on the market. A quick search on the internet will turn up study after study with the same conclusion that creatine supplementation is safe.

How much, which one, and how often?

Taking creatine consistently so that the levels in your muscles is maintained is going to be the most beneficial. This can be done by taking 3-5 grams on a daily basis, even on days when you are not training. Creatine monohydrate is the most common and studied formulation. You can take creatine at any time, but my reading supported the idea that after training would be the most effective.
So what should you take away from this basic introduction to creatine supplementation?

* If you lift weights, want to gain strength, build lean muscle, do high intensity exercise, are looking to reduce body fat, you would benefit from taking a creatine supplement.
* If you are a masters athlete that is looking to slow down the effects of aging by maintaining or gaining strength and muscle mass, creatine is for you.
*If you would like a cost effective supplement that has been proven effective by scientific research for enhanced gym performance, you should try creatine.
* If you are a vegetarian or do not consume large quantities of red meat and fish, then creatine is a good supplement for you.
* Creatine is not a magic powder. It will help to provide your muscles the fuel to do a
few more reps, lift a bit heavier, or maintain your intensity a few seconds longer. All
of which will help you you achieve your fitness goals if you put in the work.

***If you were intrigued by this basic introduction to creatine supplementation here is a list of the articles that I read for this blog. They go more in depth to the science and reference or provide links to the studies behind the information that I shared with you. Cassandra Forsythe,PHD,RD,”Should Women Take Creatine?” 10Dec, girlsgonestrong.com, 28Jan2019

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