So what is creatine? Well it's an organic substance that occurs naturally in the body and helps to supply energy to all cells in the body, particularly muscle. Prepare for a little bit of science. The body uses phosphocreatine (PCr) in the production of ATP, a substance which supplies the muscles with energy and in particular powers the short bursts of energy required for high intensity activities such as running. The body usually has a limited supply of PCr but increasing the amount of creatine in the body by taking a supplement increases the stores of amount available to combine with phosphorous in the muscle cells to produce PCr. This is then is broken down into ATP during the first few seconds of exercise. So... more creatine means potentially more PCr which can make more ATP and therefore increase the amount of energy available to use. So far so good? OK.
This increase in available energy can improve performance in sports and exercise that require muscular strength and short burst of power such as:
- strength training
- long distance running
- long distance swimming
But does it actually work? Studies have shown that taking creatine as a supplement can improve performance and recovery and could help to build muscle directly by increasing protein synthesis or indirectly by increasing capacity for exercise.
So if you want to try it for yourself, how do you take it? There are two generally recognised "creatine loading strategies". The first is known as rapid loading. Start by taking 20-25g of creatine daily for 5-7 days then 2-5g creatine daily for up to 28 days. Alternatively a steady intake of 3g per day over 28 days will yield the same benefits. There seems to be no significant benefit to using one method over the other.
A few points of note... There's no benefit to consuming more than 20-25g of creatine per day as higher doses are just flushed from the body in your urine. Taking creatine with a carbohydrate drink helps to stimulate the release of insulin, which increases absorption by the muscle cells. However caffeine cancels out the effect of creatine and so should be avoided when taking this supplement, in order to gain the most benefit. You should also be aware that long-term use could affect kidney function.
If you want to try using this supplement then it's readily available from most stockists of protein supplements. I'd be very interested to know if you already use it and whether it's made a difference.