How to Take Creatine for Muscle Building

Supplements aren’t necessary, but the right ones can help you reach your fitness goals.In this article, I discuss how to take creatine for muscle building.

Creatine for Muscle Building

 CREATINE AND STRENGTH IMPROVEMENTS

Creatine supplementation is widely regarded as having a major impact on high intensity exercise performance. Many studies have shown the positive effects of creatine on high intensity, short duration activities.

Further, creatine is advertised as the safe, legal, ergogenic aid that can make us stronger, faster and bigger, and while creatine can’t make one stronger and faster in and of itself, it does serve to facilitate athletes in various areas of their training, by allowing them to sustain their ability to produce an output of contractile force, for longer [Williams & Branch, 2008].

As commonly understood in strength training circles, the more repetitions an athlete can complete the more the amount of micro tears in the muscle are observed, this in turn stimulates protein synthesis up-regulation which may allow the muscle to build back with more fibre density than the amount which would have occurred without the aid of creatine [Antonio & Ciccone, 2013; Lemon, 2002].

THE RESEARCH

Further, research suggests that creatine increases levels of maximal force in athletes if used correctly. To understand this on a chemical level, the body has a fuel source which is required by every cell in the body to carry out all cell functions called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. Creatine aids rapid re-phosphorylation (adding back a phosphate) of adenosine diphosphate (ADP) into adenosine triphosphate (ATP) via the creatine kinase reaction [Demant & Rhodes, 1999]. In this way, creatine serves as a buffer to restore levels of ATP to the working muscles thereby allowing myosin cross-bridging to maintain high levels of function [Bemben & Lamont, 2005; Brosnan & Brosnan, 2007]. 

Put another way, the higher stores of creatine in muscle fibers (primarily type II, fast twitch fibers) allows for an extended ability for the body to produce powerful contractions in the muscles before ATP (the body’s fuel source) runs out [Demant & Rhodes, 1999]. When the phosphocreatine energy system is exhausted, the body moves into the secondary energy system, the anaerobic system. This secondary anaerobic energy system is also positively affected by the supplementation of creatine due to the regeneration of ATP via a phosphocreatine buffering system. Here’s the best part: an athlete’s increased ability to resynthesize ATP via creatine stores is beneficial and may help achieve a better overall performance, possibly delaying fatigue and enhancing the rates of recovery within the muscles [Williams & Branch, 1998; Claudino et al, 2014].

In a 2008 study titled, “Effect of Creatine Supplementation and Resistance-Exercise Training on Muscle Insulin-Like Growth Factor in Young Adults”, Darren G. Burke (Dept. of Human Kinetics, NS Canada) et. al, sought to determine the effects of creatine supplementation and resistance-exercise training on muscle insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) in young adults. Results of the study revealed that muscle IGF-I content was significantly increased after high-intensity resistance-exercise training, with greater overall gains in performance observed from creatine supplementation than from placebo.

PERFORMANCE

In regards to the strength and performance athlete, creatine may be of huge benefit as it is easy to use and has very few side effects if taken correctly. As supplementing creatine may increase available stores beyond those already existing from exogenous sources (diet) or endogenous sources (already stored in the liver, kidneys and pancreas) there is evidence that this could help benefit strength training programs by encouraging an increased muscle building (hypertrophy) effect [Williams & Branch 1998; Antonio & Ciccone 2013]. Of course, this has a positive effect on strength levels; the more muscle fibres an athlete possesses, (particularly type II) the more active contractile units they also possess [Chilibeck, Magnus & Anderson 2007; Chilibeck, Stride, Farthing & Burke 2004].

DOSAGE

Dosing can be done in a number of ways. Often there is a preliminary ‘loading’ phase, which is done in order to significantly increase the current levels of creatine residing within the muscle [Burke, 2000]. Creatine monohydrate is the form most commonly recommended, and the initial loading phase (which usually includes 10-20g being consumed for 5-7 days)  is then followed by a maintenance phase of 3-5g a day for the days following. However, supplementing can also be done via a less extreme method of adding 3g a day for 30 days and continuing to supplement with creatine for as long as one chooses to do so [Brosnan & Brosnan, 2007]. An initial weight gain of 1-2 kgs is often seen when an athlete begins to take creatine, this is due to the osmotic nature of the supplement as it encourages water retention into the muscles [Bemben & Lamont, 2005]. Although this weight gain is just water weight, creatine has a wash out period of 4 weeks, so if weight is an issue with an athlete, it is advised to cycle it out of the system by the time competitive matches come around [Williams & Branch, 1998; Poortmans & Francaux, 2000].

“SHOULD I USE CREATINE?”

Whether an athlete chooses to use creatine or not is an individual choice, although it could be argued that the positive benefits and the reported lack of negative side effects means there is no harm in adding it into an athlete’s supplementation regime, especially towards elite level where training intensity and volume is especially high. As mentioned above, creatine is perhaps the single most well-studied sports supplement in the history of the industry and would appear to be one of the few supplement must-haves especially for strength/power athletes; it may also have some benefit for endurance athletes. Personally speaking, I take 5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day with noticeable effect on performance.

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REFERENCES:

Antonio, J., & Ciccone, V. (2013). The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10, 36-36. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-36

Bemben, M. G., & Lamont, H. S. (2005). Creatine supplementation and exercise performance: Recent findings. Sports Medicine, 35(2), 107-107. doi:10.2165/00007256-200535020-00002

Brosnan, J. T., & Brosnan, M. E. (2007). Creatine: endogenous metabolite, dietary, and therapeutic supplement. Annu. Rev. Nutr., 27, 241-261..

Burke, D. G., Silver, S., Holt, L. E., Smith-Palmer, T., Culligan, C. J., & Chilibeck, P. D. (2000). The effect of continuous low dose creatine supplementation on force, power, and total work. International Journal of Sport Nutrition, 10(3), 235-244.

Chilibeck, P. D., Stride, D. A. V. I. D., Farthing, J. P., & Burke, D. G. (2004). Effect of creatine ingestion after exercise on muscle thickness in males and females. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 36, 1781-1788.

Claudino, J. G., Mezêncio, B., Amaral, S., Zanetti, V., Benatti, F., Roschel, H., … & Serrão, J. C. (2014). Creatine monohydrate supplementation on lower-limb muscle power in Brazilian elite soccer players. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 32.

Chilibeck, P. D., Magnus, C., & Anderson, M. (2007). Effect of in-season creatine supplementation on body composition and performance in rugby union football players. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 32(6), 1052-1057.

Demant, T. W., & Rhodes, E. C. (1999). Effects of creatine supplementation on exercise performance. Sports Medicine, 28(1), 49-60.

Lemon, P. W. R. (2002). Dietary creatine supplementation and exercise performance: Why inconsistent results? Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 27(6), 663-680. doi:10.1139/h02-039

Magnus, C., Chilibeck, P. D., & Anderson, M. (2007). Effect of in-season creatine supplementation on body composition and performance in rugby union football players. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 32(6), 1052-1057. doi:10.1139/H07-072

Poortmans., J.R, & Francaux., M (2000). Adverse effects of creatine supplementation: Fact or fiction? Sports Medicine, 30(3), 155-155. doi:10.2165/00007256-200030030-00002

Williams, M. H., & Branch, J. D. (1998). Creatine supplementation and exercise performance: an update. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 17(3), 216-234.

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