creatine head pic

Creatine

When you think of creatine, you may think of the big burly rugby playing type at the gym with veins popping out here, there and everywhere. But creatine use is getting more and more popular amongst the average Joe aged 16-30. So what does it do? Something to make you stronger and look more built right?




+   What is it?

Creatine is a compound that occurs naturally in your body. It is produced in your liver and kidneys and moved around in your blood to get used in muscles and elsewhere. Creatine’s main role in the body is to help supply energy to cells, mostly your muscles. In fact, 95% of your body’s creatine is stored in your muscles.

Creatine’s role in energy production is to increase the regeneration of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Muscle’s produce energy by breaking down ATP: in this process ATP loses one of its phosphate molecules releasing a burst of energy and forming adenosine diphospahte (ADP). Creatine steps in and helps to regenerate ATP from ADP by increasing the amount of phosphocreatine in your muscles cells that can be used to replace the lost phosphate molecule.

The thought is that creatine will help provide your muscles with more energy in anaerobic activity allowing you to work harder. Creatine is also being used in research working on neuromuscular disorders such as Huntington’s in hopes of finding a way to reduce symptoms of such diseases.

+   Creatine Supplements

Creatine is not an essential nutrient. It is produced by the body and it is available from your food. There are particularly high quantities in meat and fish and studies show vegans and vegetarians have significantly lower levels then meat eaters on average.

Creatine supplements provide the body with two to three times the amount of creatine than can be obtained from a high protein diet and is used by those wishing to gain muscle mass. Creatine supplements have been shown to sometimes help increase athlete’s performance in certain areas:

  • Increase in performance when undertaking resistance exercise
  • Increase in max. force production by muscles
  • Improve performance by 5-15% in high intensity anaerobic activity with repetitive work

eg: Sprints, cycling sprints, multiple sets of weights

  • Single effort work improves by 1-5%
    • Eg: Dead lifts, single sprint etc
  • Increase in muscle mass (some research is skeptical of creatine’s ability to improve muscle mass, claiming increased weight gain to be due to water retention)
  • None of the research done demonstrates any improvement of aerobic endurance on a creatine supplement regime

+   Safety

There have been some speculations surrounding the safety of creatine supplements and some research has suggested liver and kidney damage. However, an oral creatine supplement regime of 5-20g a day appears to be safe. In 2004 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) ruled long term oral intake of 3g of pure creatine a day to be risk free.  Creatine should be avoided however, if you have previous history of kidney or liver problems.

Creatine is not considered a banned substance by most sporting bodies. However, the US college sport regulators (NCAA) have just put into effect a rule that prevents colleges from directly giving their athletes creatine. The players are still however, allowed to obtain creatine supplements individually.  In some cases however, creatine may be contaminated with other banned substances and lead athletes to test positive for performance enhancing drugs.

+   Types

There are two main types of creatine supplements:

  • Creatine Monohydrate
    • This is a combination of creatine with a molecule of water
  • Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE)

Neither seems to be much more effective than the other. They are mostly sold in either powder mix for drinks or tablets. It has been shown that creatine is more effective when taken with a high glycemic index carbohydrate or with a 50-50 carbohydrate-protein mix.

It is important to note that not everyone's body will react the same to creatine supplements and some may find they don't see much improvement.

+   Side effects

Side effects to creatine supplements are pretty rare but possible and some people may suffer an allergic reaction when taking them:

  • Weight gain
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Kidney Problems
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Rash
  • Upset stomach

Medical interactions are also possible and can be incredibly dangerous. You shouldn't take creatine if you are taking:

  • Diabetes medication
  • Paracetemol
  • Diuretics

Linked stories

See also in the Clinic