Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in large amounts in skeletal muscle. It can be obtained daily in small amounts (1-2 grams) by all those who include fish and meat in their diet, and some is synthesized by our own body.
Muscular stores of creatine (more specifically, creatine phosphate) are very useful during bouts of high intensity exercise (ex: 10 second sprint), because creatine promotes fast resynthesis of ATP – the chemical source of energy that we use to generate muscular work! The lower your muscular stores of creatine, the harder the ability to generate energy.
Fortunately for many athletes (including soccer players), sports scientists found around 20 years ago that muscle content of creatine can be increased by taking creatine supplements. Since then, creatine has become a sales phenomena in the sports supplements industry and, unlike many other substances, its popularity was based not only on testimonials and commercial ads, but also in a solid scientific support, with hundreds of investigations on creatine supplementation.
When can I benefit from creatine supplementation?
As I said, muscles use creatine to generate energy during short-lived high intensity exercises. In practical terms, supplementation with this compound may be useful in the following situations:
· Resistance training to increase lean body mass;
· Sports with intermittent work patterns, such as soccer, where there is a demand for bursts of physical activity (ex: sprints) with relatively short recovery.
Note: Your body’s individual response to creatine supplementation will depend on your initial (“natural”) levels of your muscle creatine stores. For example, athletes who have lower initial levels tend to respond better to supplementation, and vice-versa.
Due to the inverse situation, others (20-30%) fail to respond.
Which are the recommended supplementation protocols?
There are two types of protocols scientifically proven to augment creatine muscle stores, the “rapid loading protocol” and the “slow loading protocol” (both protocols assume the utilization of creatine monohydrate).
Rapid loading protocol:
- Initially: 20g daily, divided into 4 doses of 5g, during 3 to 5 days;
- Maintenance: 3g/day.
Note: you must expect an acute weight gain of 0,6 – 1kg with this protocol, due to some water retention in muscles.
Slow loading protocol:
- Initially: 3g daily, during 1 month;
- Maintenance: 3g/day.
Practical tip: Taking your creatine along with a meal with substantial carbohydrates (ex: homemade fruit smoothie or a “gainer” shake) will likely enhance creatine uptake.
Are there any side effects related to creatine intake?
If taken at the recommended amounts, the only clinically relevant effect that you can expect is possible weight gain. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN, 2010), prolonged ingestion of creatine by athletes is unlikely to cause any impairment in health outcomes (such as kidney damage) and may even lessen the incidence of injury during training.
Should young athletes try creatine?
Health professionals generally advise against the use of creatine in athletes who are not fully grown. If you are a young athlete I advise you to first acquire the best training methods, sound nutritional practices (ex: not skipping meals, avoiding too much processed food, ingesting the right kind of food before, during and after practice sessions/competitions) and good sleep patterns (6-8h of sleep). This should be enough to see great improvements in your performance.
When added to adequate training, good sleep and a rigorous sports diet, creatine is a well-tested ergogenic supplement that could possibly enhance your sprint performance on the field, as well as other fast moves and jumps. But no amount of creatine will compensate for a lousy diet and inadequate training program.
If you choose to experiment with creatine, don’t think about taking larger doses of creatine than recommended in guidelines, because an increased amount of intake won’t augment muscular creatine stores and may impair your health.
Recommended reading for more information:
- Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook (http://www.nancyclarkrd.com)
- Food Guide for Soccer: Tips & Recipes from the Pros (http://www.nancyclarkrd.com)
Don’t hesitate to ask your questions!
You may leave it in the form of a blog comment or you can contact me directly through my e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wishing you the best performance ever,
Diogo Ferreira, RD
Sports Nutritionist, Lisbon, Portugal
“Promoting best health and performance through nutrition”