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Nutrition & Supplements: Basics of Creatine Supplementation

Jordan Yohn

According to Burke (2007), “Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in large amounts in skeletal muscle as a result of dietary intake and endogenous synthesis from amino acids.”It is very important to note that the human body can synthesize creatine naturally.The body synthesizes creatine primarily in the liver, but also small amounts are synthesized in the kidneys and pancreas (Hoffman, 2010).It is stored mostly in muscle cells, but can also be stored in heart, brain and testes.Once creatine is stored, it is either in its “free” form or phosphorylated form.The body benefits when the creatine is phosphorylated (phosphocreatine) because muscle cells use it to provide energy to fuel high intensity exercises (Hoffman, 2010).Phosphate groups combine with creatine to act as a substrate in the formation of ATP (adenosine triphosphate).ATP is one of the most important aspects that allow muscles to perform by providing them energy during short and long term intensity activities.

Creatine is one on the most widely used supplements on the market today.According to Hoffman (2007), “for the past 20 years the most popular supplement among strength and power athletes has been creatine.”This supplement is used by a wide range of people, no matter if they are athletes, non athletes, amateurs, or professionals.Iconic sports teams that have been known to use creatine are the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos.At one point, up to seventy-five percent of the San Francisco 49ers’ players were using creatine supplementation (Poortmans and Francaux, 2000).In 1992, creatine supplementation increased dramatically because of the Summer Olympics gold medal winners, Linford Christie and Sally Gunnell.When they revealed that creatine was a factor in their success, creatine supplementation “took off” (Rawson and Clarkson, 2000).Mark McGwire, one of Major League Baseball’s best home run hitters has claimed that he has also taken a creatine supplements (Rawson and Clarkson, 2000).Also, according to a survey by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, eighty-six percent of their athletes took creatine (Rawson and Clarkson, 2000).This goes to show just how popular creatine supplementation is, not only in the United States, but in the entire world.

Creatine can be introduced into the body through diet.The foods with the most abundances of creatine are meat and fish (Hoffman, 2010).This creates a problem with vegetarians because they do not ingest much creatine in their diet.Although vegetarians do not consume much creatine in their daily diets, the human body synthesizes amino acids which allow the body to function.

Creatine comes in different forms.The first form is creatine monohydrate.Creatine monohydrate has demonstrated the best results in consumers because “laboratories have shown that the intestinal absorption of creatine when it is supplied in the monohydrate form is nearly 100%”, according to Hoffman (2010).Although creatine monohydrate is this efficient, sport nutrition companies use various other forms of creatine to sell in their products as well by exaggerating claims of greater efficacy.Two of these forms are called tri-creatine and creatine pyruvate.When these forms of creatine were studied to find out how much of an effect they have on a body, some interesting information was discovered.

“Their results indicated that these different forms of creatine can result in slightly altered kinetics of plasma creatine absorption with the highest plasma concentrations seen from the ingestion of creatine pyruvate,” says Hoffman (2010).The last form of creatine is creatine ethyl ester.Many sport nutrition and supplementation companies promote this form of creatine because they claim it can enhance creatine absorption.Although they claim it can enhance creatine absorption, it is almost impossible to believe this because creatine monohydrate absorption is already close to one hundred percent (Hoffman, 2010).Users of creatine supplements should be aware of this so they are not wasting their money on supplements that will not give them the best opportunity to benefit and perform at their highest levels.

One of the most talked about aspects of creatine supplementation is the loading and its phases.According to Maughan, Depiesse, and Geyer (2007),“the recommended creatine loading regimen typically involves an initial loading phase of about 20 g per day, in four divided doses if taken for 4-6 days; this is followed by a maintenance dose of 2-5 g per day” (p. 108).Creatine loading is connected with enhanced response to resistance training programs.This is because there is direct evidence of protein synthesis occurring when creatine loading occurs.Creatine loading has an effect on a person’s achievement because of a result in increased training capacity. According to Burke (2007), increased training capacity means “to enhance the ability to undertake repeated high intensity bouts with short recovery intervals” (p.276). When creatine loading occurs, the uptake seems to be improved by consuming carbohydrate-rich meals or snacks (Burke, 2007 p. 276).A few examples of carbohydrate-rich meals or snacks include breakfast cereals, baked potatoes, spaghetti and creamed rice (Burke, 2007 p. 15).Loading phases are incorporated to rapidly increase muscle creatine levels by as much as twenty percent.“The maintenance phase allows for these increased muscle creatine levels to remain for the duration of supplementation,” says Rosene, Matthews, Ryan, Belmore, Bergsten, Blaisdell, Gaylord, Love, Marrone, Ward, and Wilson (2009).

Researchers have completed many studies on creatine supplementation and have found results to show that creatine benefits the user.In one study, the test group consumed five grams of creatine monohydrate four times a day for seven days.This was the considered the “loading phase.”Creatine was ingested with breakfast, lunch, dinner and before the person went to sleep.The results of this study indicated that the group using creatine supplementation gained significantly more body mass and fat free mass compared to the group that took the placebo.Rahimi, Faraji, Vatani and Qaderi (2010) say that “creatine supplementation, as a nutritional supplement, positively affects strength development.Creatine has also been found to increase lean muscle mass, total work performed and muscular power (Rahimi et al., 2010).

Another benefit of creatine supplementation is that it enhances the quality of workouts.Through improving the quality of each training session, muscles will yield greater physiological adaptations resulting in improved performance (Hoffman, 2010).Another benefit of creatine supplementation is that it increases lean body mass.According to Hoffman (2010), “increases in lean body mass are likely related to the enhanced stimulus to the muscle from a higher quality workout resulting in an increased synthesis of muscle contractile proteins.Creatine supplementation can also be beneficial because it provides increased availability of phosphocreatine for ATP synthesis.It also increases availability of free creatine for phosphocreatine resynthesis during recovery and an improved muscle buffering capacity. This allows for significantly greater number of repetitions performed and a better training volume.With a greater number of repetitions performed and a better training volume, creatine supplementation appears to provide an effective stimulus in improving acute resistance exercise performances (Rahimi et al, 2010).

Even though there are many benefits associated with creatine supplementation, there are also disadvantages that go along with it as well.Epidemiological studies on creatine usage show gastrointestinal (GI) effects were the most frequently reported adverse effect.The reason for this to occur comes from an upper limit to intestinal absorption of creatine, and the excess creatine ingested may cause gas and diarrhea (Ostojic and Ahmetovic, 2008).GI discomfort resulting from creatine supplementation can be eliminated by consumption of carbohydrates with the supplement.In a study that was conducted, a man ingested one serving of Gatorade thirty minutes following ingestion of the supplement, which provided the carbohydrates that protected him from GI distress (Rawson, E.S., Persky, A.P., Price, T.B., & Clarkson, P.M.).

Another side effect of creatine supplementation is muscle cramps (Rawson and Clarkson, 2000).Muscle cramping may occur with creatine supplementation because psychological stimulation could cause an individual to exercise over his or her optimal intensity.In order to prevent this from occurring, staying well hydrated is the key (Poortmans and Francaux, 2000).Weight gain is another disadvantage creatine supplementation has on the user.According to Hoffman (2010), “as creatine content within skeletal muscles increases the intracellular osmotic gradient that results causes water to fill the cell.”Increase in total body water is likely the reasoning behind weight gain of users who supplement creatine.This increase in body mass may impede performance in sports such as basketball, soccer and swimming (Rawson and Clarkson, 2000).

Another study focused on the effect of creatine supplementation on sprint exercise performance.The study consisted of eight untrained men who were at least twenty -three years old.It was a double blind study so for five days, four men consumed five grams of dextrose (placebo) six times a day, while the other four consumed five grams of creatine monohydrate six times a day.The study then had the participants do twenty second sprint exercise tests on an air braked cycle ergometer to find effect of creatine supplementation on short, high intensity exercises.Results from this study showed that although body weight increased by about one kilogram, creatine supplementation had no affect on peak power, mean power, or the power decrement in the twenty second sprint test.It also concluded that creatine supplementation resulted in an increase of about ten percent in the total creatine content vastus lateralis muscle.The increase did not improve the sprint performance of the participants.This goes to show that creatine supplementation does not enhance sprint performance during brief maximal exercises (Snow, McKenna, Selig, Kemp, Stathis, Zhao, 1998).According to Hoffman (2010), “using a low dose, short duration supplementation regimen in active, college aged men, changes in fatigue rate may be seen, although no improvements were demonstrated in maximal power performance.”Research suggests maximal power performance in short, high intensity bouts, are not affected by creatine supplementation.

Creatine supplements are some of the most popular supplements on the market today.Users strive to get the “upper hand” on their competition everyday and using creatine supplements might give them that opportunity.Users also need to be aware of side effects and disadvantages of using creatine.It is important to remember that not everyone benefits from creatine supplementation.The rise in phosphocreatine and substrate levels do not ultimately determine if the athlete is going to have success in whatever activity he or she is doing.“Numerous factors including skill, teamwork, coordination, and luck can make the difference between winning and losing,” claim Rawson and Clarkson (2000).Creatine supplementation is becoming more popular everyday and users need to be aware of every aspect before usage.

Reference List

Burke, L. (2007).Practical Sports Nutrition. Louise Burke.

Hoffman, J.R. (2010).Creatine and b-alanine supplementation in strength/power athletes.Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research, 8(1), 19-32.

Maughan, R.J., Depiesse, F., & Geyer, H (2007).The use of dietary supplements by athletes.Journal of Sports Sciences, 25(1).

Ostojic, S.M., & Ahmetovic, Z. (2008).Gastrointestinal distress after creatine supplementation in athletes:Are side effects dose dependent? Research in Sports Medicine, 16(1), 15-22.

Poortmans, J.R., & Francaux, M. (2000).Adverse effects of creatine supplementation:Fact or fiction? Sports Med, 30(3), 155-170.

Rahimi, R., Faraji, H., Vatani, S., & Qaderi, M. (2010).Creatine supplementation alters the hormonal response to resistance exercise.Kinesiology, 42(1), 28-35.

Rawson, E.S., & Clarkson, P.M. (2000).Creatine supplementation: The athlete’s friend or foe?International SportMed Journal, 1(1).

Rawson, E.S., Persky, A.M., Price, T.B., & Clarkson, P.M. (2004).Effects of repeated creatine supplementation on muscle, plasma, and urine creatine levels.Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 18(1), 162-167.

Rosene, J., Matthews, T., Ryan, C., Belmore, K., Bergsten, A., Blaisdell, J., . . . . Wilson, E. (2009).Short and longer-term effects of creatine supplementation on exercise induced muscle damage.Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 8(1), 89-96.

Snow, R.J., McKenna, M.J., Selig, S.E., Kemp, J., Stathis, C.G., & Zhao, S. (1998).Effect of creatine supplementation on sprint exercise performance and muscle metabolism.Journal of Applied Physiology, 84(1), 1667-1673.

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