Creatine easily the most popular supplement aside from whey protein for grapplers, MMA fighters, athletes and bodybuilders. Despite its proven benefits and vast amount of freely available information available on it, it is still quite widely misunderstood. In it various forms, which over the years have become more and more advanced, this supplement has been recognized by the scientific community and the hard training athlete as a product that delivers on its promise of improved strength and enhanced muscle size.
Creatine has been viewed as a potentially harmful product by some authorities. It has since been shown that if used correctly, it is one of the safest supplements to take.
What we do know is that it works, and works well for the majority of people who use it as a regular part of their sporting/exercise program.
Creatine is a nitrogen-containing organic compound naturally produced in the human body, predominantly in the liver, but also in smaller amounts in the kidneys and pancreas. It’s produced in the body using the amino acids glycine, arginine and methionine at a rate of about 1-2g per day. Approximately 98% of it is stored within skeletal muscle, with the remaining 2% in the heart, brain and testes.
Creatine can also be obtained through diet, with the average person consuming around 1g per day through sources such as fish and meat. Increasing dietary availability of creatine serves to increase intramuscular storage of Creatine Phosphate (CP).
In the form of CP, it has an extremely important role in the production of energy for short-duration high-intensity exercise. Short of giving a science lesson; CP is used as a substrate for the formation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) by re-phosphorylating adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Basically. if ADP can be converted quicker and more efficiently into ATP either through the body’s natural sources of CP or by supplementing with creatine, more energy would become available for intense exercise!
Creatine enhances the body’s capacity to perform high intensity work (and assists greater muscle size and performance gains as a result). CP is used to supply the type 11b muscle fibers (fast-twitch high-glycolytic; the ones that get largest in size) with immediate energy, ensuring these muscles do not prematurely fatigue. This strengthens muscular contraction of these fibers, and helps the athlete to pump out more reps, sprint at a faster rate, or engage more forcefully in whatever sport or type of exercise they take part in.
In fact, without it, energy production during high-intensity bouts of exercise would not be possible. Supplemental creatine has been shown to further enhance this process, a fact not lost on the scores of athletes who depend on it to enhance their performance.
n 2004, Santos and colleagues studied the effects of creatine supplementation on muscle cell damage in experienced endurance athletes running a 30-kilometre race.
Closely monitoring several markers of cell damage (including creatine-kinase, lactate dehydrogenase, prostaglandin-E and tumor necrosis factor-alpha) in their sample of 18 male athletes (who used 20 grams of creatine monohydrate per day for five days, mixed with 60 grams of maltodextrine), the researchers found levels of these markers were reduced after the race, compared to 16 control subjects who took only the maltodextrine.
They concluded that supplementation somehow reduced muscle cell damage and inflammation following the exhaustive exercise. The researchers issued the following statement:”It seems creatine also helps to promote complete recovery from intense exercise. Another reason strength and endurance athletes may benefit from its use”.
Better aerobic capacity
In their impressive study, Ziegenfuss and fellow researchers demonstrated that creatine loading over just three days significantly improved muscle volume and cycle sprint performance in elite power athletes.
For this study, ten male and ten female athletes were assigned to creatine or placebo groups, where, before and after the three-day supplementation period, they were assessed on repeated sprint performance and thigh muscle volume – the creatine group was given 0.35 grams per kilogram of fat free mass, and all subjects completed six maximal ten second cycle sprints with 60 seconds of recovery in between.
It was found that over the three-day period, creatine subjects experienced increased total body mass of, on average, 0.9 kilograms, a 6.6% increase in thigh volume (in five of six participants), and increases in performance in all six sprints. Their anaerobic capacity clearly had improved with the addition of creatine, compared to the control subjects who took in only maltodextrin.
Enhanced brain function
Widely known for it muscle-building benefits, creatine, it appears, has much more to offer than its erogenic properties. Researchers Wyss and Schulze looked at the broader health implications of it as they tried to determine its value in treat[ing] several neurodegenerative, vascular and muscular disorders.
Their findings, published in the prestigious Neuroscience journal, showed the supplement to be an extremely important neuroprotectant (an agent that increases the survival of nerve cells to environmental insults).
Energy metabolism and the production of Reactive Oxygen Species (very small molecules that can result in significant damage to cell structures, of which include oxygen ions, free radicals and peroxides) are thought to underpin many nuerodegenerative disorders, and creatine is thought to enhance the brains ability to survive the metabolic and physical trauma associated with these conditions.
It was found by Wyss and colleagues that those with neurodegenerative disorders associated with creatine deficiencies (inborn errors in it’s production and storage) may require supplemental creatine, in order for it to be more effectively delivered to the central nervous system.
Essential for vegetarians
Traditionally a group with lower creatine levels compared to their meat-eating counterparts, vegetarians stand to miss out on its’ benefits , unless of course they supplement, it appears. It was also thought that given vegetarians’ initial low levels, they would be more sensitive to its erogenic effects.
Researcher Burke and his co-workers studied this proposal when they compared the changes in muscle creatine, muscle fiber morphology, body composition, hydration status, and exercise performance between vegetarians and non-vegetarians over an eight-week resistance-training program, in which, in double blind fashion, ten vegetarians took creatine and eight took a placebo.
Additionally, 12 non-vegetarians took the supplement, with the other 12 taking the placebo. The creatine-taking subjects initially loaded with 0.25 grams per kilogram of lean body mass for seven days, before 0.0625 grams over the subsequent 49-day period.
It was revealed that vegetarian subjects who took the supplement experienced a greater increase in total creatine, phosphocreatine, lean tissue, and total work performance compared to the non-vegetarians who also supplemented, indicating vegetarians are more responsive to supplementation.
Creatine monohydrate is the most common form of this supplement – the one most scientific studies and research use. It is bound with water to provide 88% pure creatine per molecule. In other words, one gram will supply 4.40 grams of active product to the body.
Micronized Creatine is essentially monohydrate, but with much smaller molecules (it has been micronized, which means its molecules have been cut up or divided). This dividing or cutting reduced the surface area, making it easier to absorb and lessening any potential stomach discomfort. It also reduces the unwanted bloating effect – one of monohydrates drawbacks.
Widely touted as the future of creatine supplementation, Creatine ethyl ester is thought to have absorption rates up to ten times higher than the regular due to its solubility. This solubility improves its transport over biological membranes such as muscle. Basically, it is monohydrate with an ester attached (an ester is made when an alcohol molecule is combined with an acid). Normal molecules have one positive and one negative end. However, the ester attached to this molecule counteracts its charges, therefore making for greater absorption. Thus far no scientific studies have been done on CEE, but anecdotal reports suggest it is superior to monohydrate in several ways.
Kre-Alkalyn, a buffered from that is processed at higher PH levels than regular monohydrate, is believed to have one of the fastest absorption rates of all. Regular creatine is broken down into a waste product called creatinine before the active compound is absorbed – this lowers the absorption rate. With Kre-Alkalyn, this conversion to creatinine is halted and the absorption rate is enhanced as a result. Reported benefits include, faster absorption rate, no loading phase, no bloat, and immediate results.
Creatine has, in some circle-numbers, gained an undeserving reputation as a harmful product. Some significant studies have helped to discredit these allegations to show that it is indeed a safe substance (more negative effects debunked).
In a 2003 study, Dr. Kreider and his colleagues found that long-term use (over a 21 month period) did not pose any problems for football athletes who took five grams a day compared to their non-using counterparts. Indeed, the athletes who did take creatine experienced fewer episodes of cramping muscle tightness, muscle pulls, dehydration, illnesses and contact injuries.
A more recent study found 200 subjects taking 10 grams of creatine a day experienced no significant health differences compared to those who took a placebo. In this – a double blind, placebo controlled trial – subjects took the ten grams for 310 days, during which they were periodically questioned about their health while their plasma urea and urinary creatine and albumin concentrations were measured.
Both these landmark studies help to underscore the fact that if used correctly, creatine will benefit, rather than harm ones health.
There are two scientifically proven ways to supplement with it. The first is through a loading phase, in which 20 grams (usually split into 5g servings) is taken every day for 5 days, followed by a maintenance phase of 3-5 grams a day for periods of 2–3 months at a time. The second consists of taking 3-10 grams per day for a period of 2–3 months with no loading phase. It is generally recommended to take at least 1–2 weeks off from supplementation in order to maintain a proper response mechanism in the body. People with low dietary creatine tend to super respond to supplementation (vegetarians fro example).
Obviously if you’re involved in MMA or grappling, the improvement to high-intensity anaerobic work of 5-15% provided by creatine supplementation, could make a huge difference. In a study of Judo athletes (Radovanovic et al, 2008) results showed that the two-week monohydrate supplementation and specially designed training program, have a significant effect on anaerobic power and body composition (a difference of 90W power output).
There is another study: “Effects of creatine supplementation during recovery from rapid body mass reduction on metabolism and muscle performance capacity in well-trained wrestlers.” The purpose of this study conducted by Oopik et al, was to determine if creatine monohydrate supplementation with carbohydrate ingestion during recovery period after rapid body mass reduction would accelerate the restoration of body mass and physical performance in well-trained wrestlers.
The results of this study indicated that creatine supplementation with glucose ingestion during the 17 hour recovery period from rapid body mass loss did not accelerate the restoration of body mass. However, the creatine supplementation did stimulate the regain of physical performance in maximal intensity efforts in well-trained wrestlers in this one day test period.
So for fighters who have had to cut alot of weight for competitio,n creatine taken with glucose post weigh-in can help keep max efforts high in the upcoming fight; some fighters complain that their power leaves them after a drastic weight cut. Selective creatine use could mitigate that.
Creatine has been suggested as the gold standard for which other supplements should be weighed against, both for its effects on exercise performance and body composition. If optimising your time spent training is in your list of to-dos, and you are looking to maximise your results then creatine use is highly research-proven and recommended!
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