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The world of sports supplements can be a blur to many, with various products, huge claims, and only anecdotal evidence to support these claims for most of them.
One supplement that has had the research to support it deserves to be on the top of the list of best performing sports supplements.
With over 500 published studies showing its safety and effectiveness (Kreider, R. 2003), Creatine Monohydrate is the first tub that should be reached for when shopping for sports supplements, regardless of whether the goal is to lose fat, gain muscle, become stronger, or just train for general health.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is known as a tripeptide, made up by three amino acids known as, Arginine, Glycine, and Methionine and is manufactured by the body in the liver and kidneys, at the rate of 1g/day.
Total expenditure by the body to just maintain normal functions mirrors this amount, so the net storage in the body does not increase without supplementation or consumption of foods rich in Creatine.
Foods that are rich in Creatine are red meat, whole small fish, such as mackerel, kippers, and sardines. Organ meats are also a rich source, so vegetarians and vegans run the risk of not having adequate amounts to support optimal exercise performance, particularly as vegans generally have lower B12 stores and this can play a role in the synthesis of creatine, via reduced Methionine production (Kaviani, M. et al. 2020).
Creatine storage is mostly in muscle tissue, at about 90%, with small amounts in neural tissue, heart and liver, with it stored as either free creatine or phosphocreatine, the form used up readily by the cell’s mitochondria (the cell’s engine room).
The role of creatine is to provide the cells with energy by helping to produce ATP, the energy currency the body runs off and what the food we eat is converted into through our energy pathways.
As we exercise, particularly when performing high intensity, short duration exertion, the amounts of ATP rapidly decreases, and the cells require a fast top up of more ATP. This is where creatine comes into its own as a performance enhancer, rapidly supplying more ATP to fuel working muscles.
Creatine is also being investigated for its roles in bone density, memory, and cognition.
Is Creatine a banned substance and is it safe?
The large number of studies investigating Creatine supplementation have largely shown its use to be safe in healthy individuals, even with the heavy loading dose which many athletes have used (>20g/day) and is indicated for most individuals. The use of Creatine is contraindicated in those with pre-existing renal and hepatic disorders, as the kidneys and liver play a role in the excretion of the metabolites of Creatine (Kim, HJ. et al. 2011)
Studies have been conducted for up to 5 years showing no negative effects with its consistent use (Kim, HJ. et al. 2011).
The use of Creatine in professional sports is legal (Butts, J. et al. 2018), however those who are subject to drug testing should look for brands who are routinely sending off samples for analysis. The largely unregulated sports supplement industry may leave consumers at risk of testing positive for ingredients found in traces and not listed on the label.
What should I look for when purchasing a Creatine supplement?
As was mentioned earlier, Creatine has been the subject of well over 500 peer reviewed studies showing its safety and efficacy.
Most studies on Creatine have used Creatine Monohydrate. This form of Creatine is the most economical, one of the best absorbed (particularly now that modern technology has created a much finer and water-soluble powder) and the form most proven to be of benefit to us.
There are several other forms of Creatine available now, those which have been manufactured to try and improved the water solubility and absorption rate but have yet to be conclusively shown to be superior to what Creatine Monohydrate offers.
If there was another form which could potentially rival it as an effective supplement is Creatine Hydrochloride, which has the benefits of improved water solubility and high performance, the study by conducted by McDonough in 2017 shows this, but has not been researched enough to be a conclusive rival to Creatine Monohydrate.
So, the take home message is to look for a Creatine Monohydrate powder, particularly as it is largely odourless and tasteless, it is quite easy to hide in shakes, sports drinks, smoothies or even in plain water.
Look for one manufactured by large Creatine producers, such as the Creapure trademarked brand from Germany, sold under several other brands, including the Australian company ATP Science.
How should I take it?
The general suggestion is to take 5g (1 tsp) 4 times per day for 5 days, then back to 5g per day ongoing. This is known as loading and has been shown to be the quickest way to optimise Creatine storage in muscle cells (Kreider, B. et al. 2017).
For most people this may be too much, so using 5g per day will generally suffice, as it is more user friendly and will still offer the same benefits over time.
Mixing into a protein shake is easy and convenient and is my recommendation for optimal performance and recovery, as was shown in a study by Cribb et al in 2007 when combined with a Whey Protein Isolate powder.
The takeaway is that Creatine is very safe and effective and should be number 1 on the list of sports supplements to purchase.
Talk to one of our friendly staff who will happily answer any more questions you may have!
Kaviani, M. Shaw, K. Chilibeck, P. (2020) Benefits of Creatine Supplementation for Vegetarians Compared to Omnivorous Athletes : A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Kreider, B. Kalman, D. Antonio, J. Ziegenfuss, T. Wildman, R. Collins, R. Candow, D. Kleiner, S. Almada, A. Lopez, H. (2017) International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Cribb, P. Williams, A. Stathis, C. Carey, M. Hayes, A. (2007) Effects of whey isolate, creatine, and resistance training. Exercise Metabolism Unit, Centre for Ageing, Rehabilitation, Exercise and Sport and the School of Biomedical Sciences, Victoria University.