I’m not typically one for supplements; I tend to go with the philosophy that you can get everything you need from what you eat and drink. Yes, I take whey protein, but only usually on my training days in a post-workout smoothie as a pre-breakfast breakfast, or as a method of cooking healthier alternatives to my favourite snacks, like protein pancakes, protein waffles, or other sweet treats.
But one supplement I have been taking this year that I feel has made a big difference to my training is creatine. Whenever I’ve been asked about supplements, I’ve always expressed the opinion that the only one that really has solid research behind it is creatine, and now I’ve experienced the benefits of it first-hand I really can put my money where my mouth is.
So what exactly is creatine?
Creatine occurs naturally in the body as phosphocreatine (or creatine phosphate), and it is one of the molecules that creates immediate, usable energy for the cells of your muscles, in the form of adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP). This energy source is the one that gives the “spark” to your ignition – fuelling the first few seconds of a sprint, the power behind a heavy lift, or the drive in your high jump. It’s fast acting and short in duration, before your body moves on to using the next energy system in the chain.
Put simply, supplementing with creatine means the body has more capacity for creating ATP, enabling you to recruit more muscle fibres and work harder. And if you can work harder, you will get stronger, faster.Creatine supplementation can help you get stronger, faster. Find out more: Click To Tweet
Benefits of creatine supplementation
There are many, many suggested benefits of supplementing with creatine, but the few that are reliably backed by research (and, in my opinion the most important ones) are:
Increased muscle strength/power
One study found a 20% increase in muscle strength following creatine supplementation and a resistance training programme, compared to 12% with a resistance training programme accompanied by a placebo.
Another study found that the force output by a muscle following creatine supplementation was 33.4% higher (peak torque), with the time to reach peak torque 54.7% lower, when compared to a placebo. This resulted in a 8.9% increase in the speed of the electric signal causing the muscle to contract after supplementation. As you may already know, force x velocity (speed) = power.
Increased anaerobic performance
Several studies have found improvements in VO2 max tests (the maximum amount of oxygen your body can uptake), and anaerobic performance in sprinting, swimming, and Wingate (cycling) tests. Though some of these studies only found significant differences in men, and not women (while others demonstrated results in both genders).
Increased muscle mass
Many studies have found increases in lean body mass associated with creatine supplementation. At first, this is often attributable to water retention in the muscle (water also counts as lean body mass), but after continued use and training, muscle mass is also significantly increased).
Caution when using creatine
There have been concerns about kidney function with creatine use, but recent research has found that continued use of creatine as a supplement is perfectly safe for generally healthy individuals. Those who already have kidney troubles should check with their doctor before using creatine.
Another common concern with creatine is water retention. Creatine encourages your muscles to take up more water, which can give a pumped up effect (which some users like for the aesthetics of bigger-looking muscles!) and can come with increases in weight of over 2kg. As long as you drink plenty of water to help keep you hydrated, this is totally harmless. I find myself mega thirsty when I’m taking creatine, so drinking enough won’t be difficult!
Will creatine work for me?
Not every supplement has the same effect on everyone. I’ve personally found creatine to have a huge effect on my training and performance; I had the best 1RM testing week since first starting CrossFit after taking creatine for about 6 weeks, I also had immediate strength gains when testing my Olympic weightlifting moves after just 1 week of supplementation. But not everyone will reap the same benefits.
What appears to be the biggest influencer on creatine supplementation effect, is the amount that is actually taken up by the muscles – and this seems to vary from person to person, with some being identified as “responders” while others are not. All I can suggest is try it and see!
*Updated 24th May 2016*
In fact, in my recent fitness DNA test, I read that “around 1 in 3 people do not respond to the positive effects of creatine. Although it is not completely understood why, it may be that non-responders have high natural levels of creatine and that supplementation does not have a significant effect. Unfortunately, it is currently not possible to tell from your genes whether you are a ‘responder’ or ‘non-responder’. The only way to find out is to try it yourself.”
*End of update*
How should I take creatine?What's the best way to take creatine supplements? This post tells you all: Click To Tweet
The most commonly researched form of creatine supplement is creatine monohydrate, it’s also the best value for money as it’s fairly cheap but can give you fantastic results. I use MyProtein creatine monohydrate* unflavoured powder and just add it to my post-workout smoothie or, if I haven’t trained that day, to some orange juice.
There are two options for dosage method, cyclical or constant.
- 1 week load period 20-25g of creatine per day, spread out in even doses throughout the day
- X number of weeks at 2.5-5g per day, or 0.03-0.05g per kg of body weight
- 1-2 weeks break before starting the process again
The load period is associated with a huge stocking up of creatine in the muscles, which brings with it increased water retention and a bigger “pump”. There are arguments that significantly bigger boosts in strength and power can be identified in this period.
- 2.5-10g creatine per day (or 0.03 to 0.1g per kg of body weight)… indefinitely
This usually means less water retention, and a more consistent uptake of creatine into the working muscles.
Which method you choose, is entirely up to you. How much you take within these ranges is dependent on your body weight and activity level/intensity. I take around 5g per day (2 small scoops) every day, and I noticed a difference within the first week of taking it, even without a loading period.
The good news is, as well, that the effects don’t seem to drop off after you stop taking creatine, i.e. there is no reduction in strength after discontinuing supplementation.
Relevance for CrossFit
Because of the nature of CrossFit training, with heavy lifting, anaerobic/high intensity workouts, relatively frequent submaximal efforts, creatine has huge potential to improve performance. The strength and power benefits, anaerobic capacity improvements, and accelerated growth of lean muscle mass are all of great use to any CrossFitter. There are also arguments that creatine can help with recovery after exercise, which is also useful for those who train to the typical CrossFit programme of 3 days on, 1 off, 2 on, 1 off.
Have you ever taken creatine as a supplement? What do you think of it? Is there anything else you want to know about it? Comment below!
* Affiliate link. Affiliate links do not affect the price that you pay, but any commission earned helps me to pay the costs of running this site. To find out more about my policy on this and other matters, see my Disclosure page.