Nutritional supplementation has always generated strong interest in its promise to enhance athletic performance. No natural supplementation has generated as great an interest and commotion as creatine. Strangely enough, creatine supplementation is not new. Past research has shown it is possible to increase one's storage capacity of creatine by simply ingesting it orally. This information then led to a plethora of investigations to determine such things as creatine’s influence on performance, muscular size, recovery and muscle soreness. Today, the question is no longer "Does creatine work?" but instead, "What is the best way to take creatine for my goals?" This article will outline recent information regarding the optimal creatine supplementation methods to improve performance and size.
Creatine Study 1
- Noonan D, Berg K, Latin RW, Wagner JC, Reimers K.
- Effects of varying dosages of oral creatine relative to fat-free body mass on strength and body composition.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 12(2); 104-108, 1998.
The purpose of this study was to compare different dosages of creatine monohydrate on body weight, fat-free mass (underwater weighing), muscular strength (bench press), speed (40-yard dash) and explosive power (vertical jumps). Thirty-nine male college football players, age 18-25, performed eight weeks of training; all were split into three groups. Group 1 received a placebo (sugar) drink, Group 2 received 100mg/kg/FFM (» 9 grams/day), Group 3 drank 300 mg/kg/FFM (» 26 g/day) in a sugar drink. Creatine has little taste to it and cannot be detected in a sugar drink, so subjects could not tell if they received just a sugar drink or the creatine.
Groups 2 and 3 improved their bench press by 5.78 percent and 5.8 percent respectively, while Group 1 did not show significant improvements (only a 1.29 percent increase). All three groups showed improvements in speed (40 yard dash). No changes were observed for all 3 groups regarding body weight, fat-free mass and vertical jump. Although changes, were not statistically significant, there were greater increases in body weight and FFM in Groups 2 & 3 compared to Group 1, suggesting that creatine supplementation does have some affect on these variables.
Creatine Study 2
- Vincent GK, Jenkins DG.
- Effect of Oral Creatine Supplementation on Near-Maximal Strength and Repeated sets of high-intensity Bench press exercise.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 12(2); 109-10115, 1998.
Researchers compared the effects of creatine on body weight, body fat, bench press in eighteen male power-lifters, (average 27 years of age). All were preparing for a competition eight weeks away. The study was done for 26 days during the hypertrophy phase of the lifters periodized training. The experimental group consisted of nine subjects who were given a creatine/sugar drink combination, while the placebo group consisted of nine subjects that received only the sugar drink. The subjects initially ingested 20 gms/day for five days (five gram dose, four times per day) and then went to a maintenance dose of five gms/day for the last 21 days. The three RM bench press and Most-Reps-Performed (over five sets) were the methods used to assess strength changes; skinfolds and the Lifesize computer software (Nolds Sports Scientific, Sydney, Australia) were used to estimate Lean Body Mass changes.
Both groups improved their bench press. The creatine group improved strength performance by 8.9 kg (+/-) 3.3 kg and the placebo group increased by 2.5kg (+/-) 0 kg. This suggested that the resistance training program alone was effective in improving performance, however, the group who ingested the creatine had a better lifting performance. In addition, the creatine group was able to perform more repetitions (40 percent more) over the course of 5 sets than the placebo group (only seven percent more). This result alone suggested that creatine may have a strong influence on the bodies ability to recover more quickly during a workout and therefore allow the athlete to perform more work during the exercise session. Body mass (as measured by weight) did increase more in the creatine group, however, since no intra-muscular measurements (biopsies), cross-sectional area or body composition itself were done, the researchers believe that most of the body weight increase was likely to be fluid retention within the cells (cell swelling).
Creatine supplementation appears to work on improving activities that involve anaerobic short-term, high-intensity training, and have no influence on aerobic performance. It would appear that creatine is also a safe, effective aid in helping athletes recover sooner and therefore train harder per session. This form of supplementation may prove useful for those individuals wishing to improve strength and body mass. Presently, creatine does not appear to increase muscle mass in the early stages of training, however, long-term lean tissue increases may result from the increased intensity and volume of training.
Caution should be used when interpreting these or any other similar experimental results. There are many variables that need to be controlled for when performing studies involving supplementation. Variables such as training volume, training experience, initial creatine levels and absorption rates/quantities can all affect results. Experiments are difficult to perform and have many potentially hidden negative influences that can’t be controlled for and can change the end results. For example, half the subjects of the Noonan study had the flu during the post-testing week. No urinary creatine was measured, which would have offered insight regarding absorption quantities (i.e. how much of what is ingested is absorbed or lost). Also, many earlier studies that have shown little creatine influence used low (2-3g/dl) dosages without an initial high-dose loading week. Most studies (pro/against creatine) used small subject sample sizes (e.g. 6 -12/group); in research, sample sizes that are over 100-1000 per group tend to be considered more statistically powerful.
The only time that we can confidently say that a supplement is truly effective or ineffective is when it goes through years of experimental research by many different researchers using a variety of approaches that then shows a trend of similar results. Until then, it would be wise to view all experimental results involving supplementation with cautious optimism. Don’t just go out a buy a product because one study says it works. In terms of safety, there appear to be no adverse side effects with creatine supplementation, other than intestinal upset (usually for those who have taken more than is generally recommended).
That said, here is a brief synopsis of the most recent creatine supplementation recommendations:
- use creatine monohydrate supplementation along with a sugar drink to facilitate loading (one needs to take almost twice as much creatine citrate to match the effects of monohydrate)
- adjust the dose according to your body weight (maintenance approx.100mg/kg)
- load for no more than one week (300mg/kg/day) and then go on to a maintenance cycle (100mg/kg/day)
- stop every month or so, to stimulate the body’s own homeostatic production of creatine
- take your full day of creatine intake in smaller amounts over the course of the day
- always ensure that you ingest your creatine immediately after your workout