If you’re training at a high intensity for consistent, short bursts of exercise, taking a creatine supplement will work to increase the body’s stores of phosphocreatine and help you to work harder, for longer, and perform at your peak. In this article, we’ll explain why creatine use in athletes is so popular and effective, and the many creatine performance benefits. What is creatine? Creatine is naturally produced by the liver and kidneys from amino acids and is stored in muscle, but it can also be found in natural whole foods such as meat and fish. As a safe and effective ergogenic aid, many athletes use creatine to improve their level of high-intensity exercise performance and increase training adaptations across a variety of sports(1). Taking Creatine may also be of particular benefit for vegetarian or vegan individuals, as their reported muscle creatine concentration is typically much lower than those who consume meat(2). When and why should you take creatine? While creatine can be obtained naturally as part of a balanced diet, it is more effective to consume creatine as a supplement, particularly when trying to intake large quantities of creatine, known as creatine loading. This is because the quantity of red meat or fish necessary to consume in order to do this would be unrealistic for most individuals. To produce any of the reported creatine performance benefits, the body’s muscle creatine content must first be increased. This is called a ‘creatine loading strategy’(3). There are two commonly used strategies found to effectively maximise the content of muscle creatine(4). The first strategy is to consume a ‘loading’ dose of 20 grams per day for 5 days (four 5 gram doses throughout the day), followed by a ‘maintenance’ dose of 2-3 grams per day thereafter for 30 days. The second strategy is to consume only the ‘maintenance’ dose of 2-3 grams per day for 30 days. It can take 5-8 weeks for muscle creatine stores to return to basal levels(5). Therefore, it is common for athletes to ‘cycle’ the supplementation of creatine after this 30-day period and begin the supplementing again. How does creatine benefit performance? Increasing muscle creatine content is shown to increase performance of repeated high intensity efforts, such as interval training. For this reason, accelerating creatine consumption is a common focus of many fitness nutrition plans. Creatine is commonly featured in triathlon nutrition guides or by professional footballers and athletes. Creatine improves fatigue resistance in exercise lasting 30 seconds or less, meaning activity can continue at a higher intensity for longer(6). Increased muscle creatine content also enhances strength and muscle mass gains when combined with resistance exercise, more so than resistance exercise alone(6). With increased muscle creatine content, athletes may experience the following benefits: Improved performance and body composition Molecular adaptation Reduced muscle damage Metabolic enhancement(7) Metabolic enhancement refers to an increase in pre-exercise phosphocreatine (PCr) concentration and muscle glycogen concentration, which are both used to produce energy within the muscles. This increases the availability of these energy sources during exercise and enhances the muscle’s ability to make ATP, which is the energy currency of a cell, thus allowing for more energy production and hence increased resistance to fatigue. During recovery time between high intensity interval efforts, there is improved PCr resynthesis, meaning more PCr is available for the next bout of exercise. This results in an enhanced capability to produce energy, improving performance in the second exercise bout. These molecular adaptations that occur with increased muscle creatine content is an increased expression of proteins, related to muscle hypertrophy, resulting in significantly increased muscle growth when combined with resistance exercise, in comparison to resistance exercise alone. References Kreider, R. B. (2003). Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations. Molecular and cellular biochemistry, 244(1-2), 89-94 Delanghe, J., De Slypere, J. P., De Buyzere, M., Robbrecht, J., Wieme, R., & Vermulen, A. (1989). Normal reference values for creatine, creatinine, and carnitine are lower in vegetarians. Clinical Chemistry, 35(8), 1802-1803 Harris, R. C., Söderlund, K., & Hultman, (1992). Elevation of creatine in resting and exercised muscle of normal subjects by creatine supplementation. Clinical Science, 83(3), 367-374 Kreider, R. B., Kalman, D. S., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Wildman, R., Collins, R., & Lopez, H. L. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1), 18. Morton, J. P. (2014). Supplements for consideration in football. Sports Science Exchange, 27(130), 1-8. Branch, J. D. (2003). Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis. International Journal of Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 13(2), 198-226 Rawson, E. S., & Persky, A. M. (2007). Mechanisms of muscular adaptations to creatine supplementation. International SportsMed Journal , 8(2), 43-53 Written By Ted Munson (Performance Nutritionist) Ted is a Performance Nutritionist here at Science in Sport.