How does creatine work and how does it help us perform?
Many of us are aware that the two primary sources of energy in the body are glycogen (typically stored in the muscles and liver) and fats (stored as fat), these are converted through a complex pathway (called the Krebs cycle for those who are interested) into glucose for conversion into our energy producing units, ATP. What you may or may not realise (depending on your interest in nutrition or how well you paid attention in biology at school) is that a third option is available and is used in activities that are explosive in nature called the ATP-PCR system. This is where Creatine fits nicely into the equation.
The PCR component of this system is phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine is stored in the muscles. The body, when requiring energy, splits the Creatine from phosphate to produce energy as ATP. The phosphate is then recombined with Creatine and the process starts all over again. In theory the more Creatine we have stored in our muscles the quicker the phosphocreatine can reconstitute itself and therefore we can increase our maximal output for a longer period and also recover quicker and maintain performance between bouts of intense, maximal exercise. This has been supported by several short and long term studies showing improvements in strength and power in both individual and repeated bouts of exercise. More recent research suggest that it may also improve endurance performance at sub-maximal intensities by helping increase efficiency at which energy is used in the power plants of our muscles cells, the mitochondria.
How long should the loading phase be?
The length of loading phase alters according to the individual and their dietary intakes, however to guarantee muscle saturation, studies using Creatine (Monohydrate) have typically dosed at a loading phase of between 15 to 20 g/day (in 3 or 4 doses) for 3 to 4 days with a maintenance dose of between 5 and 10g immediately post training, this is also what is recommended by most manufacturers of Creatine Monohydrate. Water retention is a potential negative of using Creatine Monohydrate, although this may also be a benefit as transportation of water into muscle tissue may increase nutrient flow that is important for muscle growth.
What other forms of creatine is there?
Creatine also comes in other numerous forms including, Nitrate, HCL, Ethyl Ester, Conjugated Creatine (CON-CRET), Malate, Kre-Alkalyn and Creatine Citrate. From the above list we would recommend Creatine Kre-Alkalyn designed to preserve the quality of the creatine from conversion into less useful creatinine in water, Creatine Malate, which was designed to be more soluble in water and have greater benefits for use in ATP production and Creatine Nitrate and Con-Cret, would be highly recommended for those concerned with digestion issues as these are highly water soluble.
The above variations perform with similar results as creatine monohydrate, however, if you have concerns with excessive water retention or problems with digestion, these above forms of Creatine may provide a suitable replacement for Creatine Monohydrate.
Alongside this these formats tend to require a less rigorous dosing schedule and are therefore advantageous to those who may not have the time (or indeed memory!!) to maintain Creatine levels using Creatine monohydrate, as the absorption rates mean these can be effective from the first session without the need for a loading and continued maintenance phase.
What creatine would CSN reccommend?
At CSN one of our most highly rated Creatine product is by the manufacturer Adapt. This is a top quality supplement that requires no loading phase and consists of Creatine HCL and Creatine MagnaPower, which has been shown to also aid absorption. In conclusion, if you are not using this supplement, and you do a sport that requires strength and power, you should be and it should be a weapon you keep year round in your supplement armoury.