Afternoon, folks! Having just restarted creatine use after many years off, I’ve been reengaging with the mess of conflicting content online and decided it would be a great honour to demystify creatine supplementation for the masses… we’re going to talk benefits, dosing regimens, side effects, and most importantly, how it can help you unleash your inner beast! So, grab a wee shake, don your finest reading monocle, and let’s get started!
What is creatine?
Creatine is a naturally occurring substance that is found in your muscles. It’s involved in energy production (ATP, aka the body’s ‘energy currency’) and helps to fuel your muscles during high-intensity exercise. In other words, creatine is like the little engine that could, powering you through those tough workouts and helping you reach peak performance.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “But Chris, if creatine is already in my muscles, why do I need to supplement with it?” Great question! It’s true that your liver, pancreas, and kidneys naturally produce about 1-2g creatine per day (out of the amino acids glycine and arginine), and we get plenty more from our diet through animal tissue, mostly red meat, and seafood (take note vegans, you have the most to gain from supplementation).
Supplementing can dramatically increase the amount of creatine in your muscles. More creatine in your muscles means more energy, more power, and more endurance.
But wait, there’s more! Creatine has also been shown to have cognitive benefits, like improving memory and brain function. So, not only will you be a beast in the gym, but you’ll also be a genius. Okay, maybe not a genius, but you get the idea.
Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. How exactly does creatine work, and why is it so beneficial for fighters? Well, when you perform high-intensity exercise, your body uses something called ATP (adenosine triphosphate) for energy. However, your muscles only store a limited amount of ATP, which means that your energy supply can quickly run out.
Enter creatine. When you supplement with creatine, it gets stored in your muscles as phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine helps to replenish ATP, which means that you have more energy to power through those tough workouts. And, as I mentioned earlier, more energy means more power and more endurance. And who doesn’t want that?
But that’s not all. Creatine also helps to increase muscle mass and strength. And for fighters, lifters, power athletes (and more or less everyone in-between) this can be a game-changer. More muscle mass and strength equates to deadlifting cars, grappling with silverbacks, throwing punches like rocky, and low kicks like a nuclear powered freight train…or something. Plus, it can also help with recovery time, which means that you can up your training frequency and intensity to boot.
Now, I know some of you may be thinking, “But Chris, isn’t creatine only for bodybuilders?” Absolutely not! Creatine is often associated with bodybuilding, but it’s widely beneficial for anyone who performs high-intensity (think anaerobic) exercise. And if you’re a fighter, lifter, sprinter, jumper, or swimmer of any variety or persuasion, you’re definitely performing high-intensity exercise.
Plus, creatine has been shown to have benefits for non-athletes as well. For example, it may help to improve glucose metabolism (Gualano et al., 2008), which means that it can be beneficial for weight management and/or people with diabetes mellitus . It has also been shown to have neuroprotective effects (ref), which means that it may be helpful in the prevention of neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease.
Finally, lb-for-lb, it is the cheapest supplement on the market that is indisputably effective as proven in the literature (reference). This stuff is literally cheaper than a bag of dirt. *Post authoring fact checking showed that to be a lie by a factor of about x40 but the point remains.
Numerous studies have demonstrated the excellent safety profile of creatine supplementation, both short and long-term, in low and high doses.
That said, creatine supplementation can sometimes cause some interesting side effects, namely bloating and water retention. I know what you’re thinking, “Water retention? Yuck. I already do body double for Jabba the Hutt after a heavy weekend.” Fear not, water weight is generally limited to about 1-2% of body mass, and will subside within a few weeks provided that you stay up your water intake and limit sodium. Once you stop supplementing with creatine, any remaining retention will fully subside in no more than 3-4 weeks. So, fighters, (and anyone else needing to ‘make weight’) the key is in the timing.
Further, while rare, some people also report gastrointestinal issues – nausea, vomiting, bloating and diarrhoea are possibilities although highly unlikely in healthy individuals. Start low and slow and adjust your dosing as necessary if you encounter digestive problems.
Before you run out and buy a sandbag full of creatine, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First, if you have any known health issues, consider talking to a medical professional before starting any new supplement regimen – I can’t be held liable if your statins stop working. While creatine is generally a highly safe supplement, with minimal side effects even at very high doses, it’s always a good idea to check with your healthcare provider.
To load or not to load?
Most would-be-beasts have to contend with the decision as to whether to ‘load’ creatine. Bro-science dictates that creatine supplementation should begin with a ‘loading phase’ followed by a ‘maintenance phase’.
- Loading: Typically done for the first 5-7 days, dosing around 20g per day (you read that right, that’s 20 grams in a day), spread out across the day (e.g., 4x 5g doses) .This is done to ‘quickly saturate’ your muscles, allowing you to reap the full benefits sooner, or so the legend goes…
- Maintenance: After the loading phase (or if you skip the loading phase), you then take a dose of around 3-5g per day, or 0.3g per kg bodyweight is a more accurate way to determine a good dose, especially if you are hulk or hobbit-like.
As you may have gleaned from my descriptions, I’m not sold on ‘loading’ – personally, I don’t think it is necessary, and you will likely just make your urine more expensive for the sake of achieving full creatine saturation a few weeks sooner at best. Further, plenty of literature (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1186/s12970-019-0291-x) out there suggests that strength and power outputs are broadly unchanged when comparing loading vs no-loading supplementation.
And finally, remember that creatine is just one piece of the puzzle. While it can be beneficial for fighters and anyone else who performs high-intensity exercise, it’s not a magic pill. You still need to put in the hard work and dedication to see results.
So, there you have it folks, everything you need to know about creatine supplementation for power, strength, speed, and hypertrophic training. It’s a safe and effective way to increase energy, power, and endurance, and can even have cognitive and health benefits as well. And if you happen to look a little bloated, just remember, you’re retaining water like a champ – up your water, lower your sodium, do some cardio to get a sweat on – problem solved. Thanks for reading, and happy training!