Properly used, creatine monohydrate improves performance – every time. In a comprehensive research review in 2010, the International Society of Sports Nutrition, composed mostly of university sports scientists and top trainers, gave creatine a strong thumbs up.(1)
If you have used creatine monohydrate and not had good results, you are using the wrong form of creatine, or oxidized creatine, or using it wrongly. There is a lot of inferior creatine for sale out there, and a lot of bad advice on how to use it. Here I will briefly explain creatine, and give you a creatine supplementation program that will certainly improve your sports performance.
How Creatine Works
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is our energy molecule. It is composed of one molecule of adenosine and three molecules of phosphate. Muscle can store pre-formed ATP for enough energy for only 4-5-seconds of sprinting at maximum speed. . This energy is instant. You can use it as fast as your brain can react to move your legs.
Creatine phosphate is the second string of your energy cycle. When ATP releases energy to power muscular contraction, it discards one of its phosphates to become adenosine diphosphate (ADP), ADP then has to be regenerated back into ATP by creatine phosphate in the muscle.
After all the stored ATP is gone, muscle stores enough creatine phosphate to continue sprinting for another 5-6 seconds. But only the first five seconds of sprinting is at maximum speed. The 5-6 seconds after that is at a slower speed because creatine phosphate is not instant. It takes time to regenerate ADP to ATP.
Creatine phosphate in muscle donates its phosphate molecule, which turns ADP back into ATP to fire again. Most of the newly empty creatine molecules from the creatine phosphate then catch the phosphates discarded from ATP to regenerate muscle creatine phosphate again. The creatine that escapes this cycle is excreted as creatinine through your kidneys in urine.(4)
So we get 5 seconds of maximum speed, then 5-6 seconds of near maximum speed. That`s why the sprint is 100 meters. And, as every sprinter will tell you, the second half of the race is all about fighting the slow down. .After 100 meters, we have to rely on glycogen and fat to make ATP, a much slower process, which is why the 200 and 400 meters are a lot slower.
Scientists have known this basic biochemistry for a century. But no one worked out how improve it chemically until Paul Greenhaff and Roger Harris at the world famous Karolinska Institute in Sweden in the late 1980s. They knew the research showing that muscle creatine levels in wild animals are much higher than in domestic animals. This difference was explained by the higher level of exercise required in the wild.
Greenhaff and Harris reasoned that athletes might also benefit from increasing their creatine levels. In very smart experiments, they showed that creatine monohydrate supplements, combined with strenuous exercise, could increase an athlete’s muscle creatine by up to 50%. They found that the creatine supplementation also increased maximum muscle contraction by 5%, (3)
After examining the research, a number of trainers, including me, started to use creatine monohydrate with athletes training for the 1992 World Track and Field Championships and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Top British coaches used it also. The London Times reported on August 7 1992 that Sally Gunnell trained with creatine. when she won the 400 meter hurdles Gold Medal. In 1993, she broke the World Record.
Linford Christie also trained with creatine for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and won the 100-meter Gold Medal in 9.96 seconds, at age 32, the oldest sprinter to do it.
Since then we have used creatine as part of our program at the Colgan Institute. The latest research not only confirms the early work at the Karolinska Institute, but extends it handsomely. After more than 1000 controlled studies, of both recreational and elite athletes, creatine is still coming up trumps. In a review of 500 of these studies, eminent sports scientist Richard Kreider, of Texas A&M University, found the rare result that not a single one of the studies showed a negative effect of creatine on performance.(6)
Overall, together with daily training, creatine monohydrate increases muscle creatine phosphate stores by 10-40%. Done correctly, creatine supplementation improves maximum power by 5-15%, and maximum muscle contraction by 5-15%. In running, it improves single-effort sprint performance by up to 5%, and sprint repeats by up to15%.(6) There is no other nutrient supplement that gets even close to such results.
Creatine Also Works for Endurance
The fastest you can go in an endurance event is your anaerobic threshold, (similar to but not the same as VO2max, or lactic acid threshold). When doing so you are constantly tapping into the edge of the creatine system, to provide a little extra energy. So It makes sense to load the creatine system to give you a bit more reserve at the anaerobic threshold. Then you can run just that bit harder, without emptying your stored ATP and going completely anaerobic and dying within a couple hundred meters.
In a recent study representative of the evidence, researchers measured the endurance performance of elite rowers. Eight elite rowers received 20 grams of creatine monohydrate daily for five days. Equivalent controls received a placebo. The creatine subjects raised their lactic acid threshold significantly, and showed a significant improvement in endurance performance.(7)
A recent study is particularly relevant to the track sessions (Chapter 5) and the strength exercise sessions (Chapter 6) of the Colgan Institute Running Speed Program. Forty-two male recreational athletes were tested for maximum oxygen consumption (VO2max) on a cycle ergometer. They were then randomized into a group given four weeks of high intensity interval training ( 5 x 2-minute sets with 1-minute rests), plus 10 grams of creatine per day, or a placebo group given only the training. The creatine group significantly increased their power at sub-maximal loads, to almost double the improvement of the control group without creatine.(9)
Creatine plus Carb Loading
For the last seven years, we have used creatine loading immediately prior to carb loading for marathon training, because each strategy pulls a lot of water into the muscle cells and enhances the other. In a representative study, sports scientist Arnold Nelson and colleagues, at Louisiana State University, tested 12 young, active men on two glycogen loading schedules, one of which was preceded by five days of creatine loading of 20 grams per day. The creatine loading significantly enhanced the glycogen loading by 16%.(10)
Creatine and Kidney function
Creatine loading greatly increases kidney creatinine excretion. At the Karolinska Institute, Roger Harris showed that 80 kg athletes given 30 grams of creatine monohydrate per day excreted 40% on the first day, rising to 68% on the third day.(11) Because of these findings, some medical folk have warned athletes that such elevated creatinine clearance could damage the kidneys.
After numerous studies, normal subjects given repeated cycles of creatine loading, do not show evidence of kidney damage. In a well-controlled study representative of the evidence, healthy men aged 18-35 were given a moderate intensity aerobic training program, plus 10 grams of creatine per day, for three months, and compared with controls given only the training. Serum creatinine remained high in the creatine group throughout the training. Other indices of kidney function showed no damage.(12)
The best test of creatine and kidney function has just been completed. Creatine supplementation is known to improve insulin function. But it was thought to be risky as a medical intervention in diabetes, because diabetics are likely to have compromised kidneys already. In a study to examine whether creatine has therapeutic value, researchers at the University of Sao Paulo, School of Medicine, gave patients with Type-2 diabetes 5 grams of creatine per day for 12 weeks, plus an exercise program, and compared them with controls.
The creatine improved glycemic control in the patients, and lowered their hemoglobin-A1c (HBA1c) an accurate measure of blood sugar stability. The creatine showed zero adverse effects on kidney function.(13)
In agreement with numerous sports scientists, and after 20 years of use with athletes without adverse reports, we are confident that creatine loading, properly done, is a safe and very effective strategy to improve performance in athletes in normal health. Here is how to do it.
Form of Creatine
Use only pure creatine monohydrate, the form used in almost 100% of the successful research. There is a lot of poor quality creatine out there with ludicrous advertising claims trying to sell it. All other forms of creatine are simply marketing hype, with no controlled studies to support them.
Do not buy big tubs of creatine. Keep your creatine in tightly closed air-proof, light-proof containers. Use small containers, and use them quickly to minimize oxidation. Best is single-serve airtight packets of creatine.
For maximum effect load creatine in divided doses, one dose before your workout and another dose within 30 minutes after each training period together with your protein shake. A
Amount of Creatine
Bodyweight, 50 kg (110 lbs), 4 x 3 grams per day. Bodyweight, 65 kg (143 lbs), 4 x 4 grams per day. Bodyweight, 80 kg (176 lbs), 4 x 5 grams per day.
We have measured case studies of continuous and intermittent use of creatine in athletes for up to four years. Other variables, such as injury or cessation of training aside, the plotted slope of improvement in performance continues to rise as long as the creatine is used properly, in combination with training. In athletes who cease or change the routine of creatine supplementation, but continue training, the slope of improvement declines. Used properly, creatine works every time to enhance athletic training and performance.
We are now using the new AMPED Power supplement that the Isagenix Science team, which includes Dr. Colgan, has just created. It combines creatine monohydrate with citrulline and nitrosigine (a new form of l-arginine), making this supplement the best for athletes before and after your workout. To learn more about this supplement go to the Colgan Institute website.
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9. Kendall KL, e al. Effects of four weeks of high-intensity interval training and creatine supplementation on critical power and anaerobic working capacity in college-aged men. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(6):1663–1669.
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12. Gualano B, et al. Effects of creatine supplementation on renal function: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Eur J Appl Physiol, 2008;103(1):33-40.
13. Gualano B, et al. Creatine in type 2 diabetes: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2010 Sep 24. [Epub ahead of print]
14. Watson G, et al. Creatine Use and Exercise Heat Tolerance in Dehydrated Men J Athl Train, 2006;41(1):18–29.