px-r-F5cPQX9ZxUrwgORsMGDGwU Kuhnesiology: June 2012

Friday, June 29, 2012

Supplements for the Power Athlete: Creatine Part 2

My 6th article for justflysports.com was posted last night.  Check it out...

Supplements for the Power Athlete: Creatine Part 2


you can read it here.

Supplements for the Power Athlete: Creatine Part 2

Now that the theory of supplementation is out of the way, we can dive into some specific questions.  The Why, What, When, and How of creatine
supplementation are rarely, if at all, addressed correctly and appropriately on a supplement label.  Luckily for those of us who care about what we put
into our pie-holes, research has answers to these questions. 
The "Why" of supplementation:
So what are the benefits?

Well...even though brand new research shows that maximal effort activity may not be limited by how fast the body can resynthesize ATP, but by fatigue due to other neuromuscular mechanisms, creatine supplementation still improves performance.  Did you catch that?  We still don't know exactly what causes maximal effort fatigue...but we do know creatine improves performance.

But it doesn't just improve performance.  It statistically and significantly improves performance.  In fact, reviews of literature on creatine studies that measure exercise performance show the average gain in performance from supplementation to be around 10% to 15%.  To break that down just a little, single effort sprint performance has been shown to improve by 1% to 5% and repeated sprint performance has been shown to improve by 5% to 15%. That could be the difference between a million dollar contract...and well, no contract.  I'm just saying...

Back to reality.           

We know the body only stores a limited amount of Creatine Phosphate and free creatine, which make up the creatine pool.  A 150 lb. person stores about
120 grams in the creatine pool, two-thirds being CP and one-third being free creatine.  To replenish used or depleted creatine and maintain the creatine pool, the body can do two things:
  1)  Utilize creatine that is found in the diet 
  2)  Synthesize its own creatine from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine.

We also know that a normal diet typically provides enough creatine and/or amino acids from protein to maintain the creatine pool.

If you could increase the total creatine pool, and thus the CP stored in muscle, would you? 
Lets say, for example, that you are a vegetarian.  Research has shown that individuals maintaining a vegetarian diet have lower than normal levels of stored CP. Now lets say that you have a creatine synthesis deficiency and you can't maintain a normal creatine pool.  Or, maybe you just want to increase your creatine pool above normal levels to maximize athletic performance.  Whatever the case may be, all are great reasons to supplement with creatine.

Study after study on creatine monohydrate supplementation have shown that the total creatine pool (about 120 grams) can be increased up to 160 grams, though even slight increases in the creatine pool have been correlated to improved performance measures.

So the potential benefits, summarized by the ISSN (International Society of Sports Nutrition) are:
 "increased muscle mass and strength"
 "increased single and repetitive sprint performance"
 "enhanced glycogen synthesis"
 "possible enhancement of aerobic capacity via greater shuttling of ATP from mitochondria and buffering of acidity"
 "increased work capacity"
 "enhanced recovery"
 "greater training tolerance"

If you are not interested by any of these potential benefits...you can stop reading this now.

To sum this portion up.  Creatine supplementation improves performance.  Bottom line. 
Trying to be like Dwight? Aren’t using creatine? You should be.
The "What" of supplementation:

The "what" in this context deals with the specific type of creatine.

When it is all said and done, good old Creatine Monohydrate is still the best stuff out there.  Though many, many, many supplement companies disagree with this statement (especially those selling creatine serum or creatine ethyl ester), no data to date has shown any other type of creatine to be any more effective
at increasing creatine uptake than creatine monohydrate powder.  
In fact, some studies have even shown creatine serum to have no effect at all on muscle creatine uptake.  Though many supplement companies have made claims that their type of creatine allows for greater muscle uptake, better absorption
in the gut and blood stream, and less breakdown in the stomach, (when compared to creatine monohydrate) research has yet to show any of these to be true.  So if you walk into GNC and pull all the creatine supplements off the shelves...the one that costs the cheapest (but is still pharmaceutical grade) is probably the one that works the best.  Along those lines, the three main producers of creatine are labs in Germany,
United States, and China.  TheUnited States International Trade Commission has collected data from independent lab testing, and places German andAmerican creatine at the top of the list since more contaminants have been found in Chinese sources.  If the product says it is pharmaceutical grade creatine monohydrate and is manufactured in a lab facility that is both continually inspected by a 3rd party and maintains either FDA or the respecting countries' governmental guidelines, you probably have a solid product.   
The "When" of supplementation:

Though many creatine product labels have a specific "time" for when you should take your creatine (immediately before training, 30 minutes before training,
immediately upon waking, immediately after training, etc.), research shows that muscle uptake of creatine is directly related to insulin levels.  For this
reason, many protocols suggest ingestion of creatine with a meal.  The increase in insulin levels due to ingestion of carbohydrates and protein or amino acids post training has been shown to increase protein synthesis and muscle glycogen "refueling."  So to get the most bang for your buck the ISSN explains: "Because insulin levels enhance creatine uptake, ingestion of creatine after exercise with a carbohydrate and/or protein supplement may be an effective way to increase and/or maintain muscle creatine stores."  So holding off to supplement until immediately after you train seems to be the best option.
Creatine Supplementation: Best done immediately post-workout to help harness the power of insulin!
The "How" of supplementation:

As far as the "how" part of supplementation goes, there are 3 main protocols.

The most commonly used protocol (Loading/Maintenance) in supplementation studies involves a "loading" phase (usually 5-7 days) in which creatine is ingested at .3g/kg/day.  The total is usually spread out in smaller chunks throughout the day in 5-ishgram increments.  So for a 150 lb. person:

.3 x (150/2.2) = about 20 grams/day or 5 grams of creatine monohydrate taken 4 times throughout the day.

After the "loading" phase of 5-7 days, muscle creatine levels are maintained by taking 3-5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day.  This protocol is used
most often since muscle creatine stores may reach full capacity (an increase of 10%-40%) after 2-3 days of supplementing.   
Another protocol (Low-dose) involves supplementing 3 to 6 grams of creatine monohydrate per day.  Though 3 grams per day for 28 days has been shown to fully "saturate" muscle creatine stores, it increases these stores in a slower and steady manner.

The third most common protocol (High-dose) involves supplementing .3g/kg/day during training.  This is used least often since muscle creatine stores are maxed out within a few days and only a fraction of the dose is needed to keep muscle creatine levels at maximum.  Save your money.
Some protocols also take advantage of cycling periods of creatine supplementation.  Since it takes about 4 to 6 weeks for the elevated creatine store level to return the pre supplementation level, you don't really have to take creatine everyday of training.  This type of cycling is theorized to increase the naturally occurring level of muscle creatine over time, or at least maintain them.  In contrast to cycling, some researchers are now suggesting treating creatine supplementation they way we treat nutrients (carbs, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, etc.).  In other words, taking a low dose (3-5 grams) every day (regardless of training status or periodization cycle) to maintain elevated muscle creatine stores…all the time.  I have a strong feeling that this will be the “protocol” that most will follow in the near future.    

These aren't the only relevant questions...

 You probably have a few other questions floating through your mind right now...so I'll try to address those, too.

Does it work right away?  Since you can max out your creatine stores within a few days (Loading protocols), research shows performance benefits even for short term supplementation.

 What about long term supplementation?  Research shows that supplementing with creatine over extended periods of time (12 weeks or more) leads to greater
strength and performance gains.  Research also shows that long term supplementation is safe when used within the proper guidelines.

Side effects?  The only significant side effect reported in the clinical studies is weight gain.  All the anecdotally reported side effects (i.e., dehydration, cramping, muscle pulls/tears, etc.) have been refuted by research reviews and other studies looking into the medical safety of this supplement. Interesting thing to note is that creatine supplementation may actually help reduce the risk of heat related injuries due to the increase in muscle "water-weight" associated with supplementation.

One more thing to consider...

 Before you decide whether or not creatine supplementation is for you, I have one more piece of information to share.

When it comes to training for power, muscle size is a pretty big deal.  Increases in muscle size (hypertrophy) occur concurrently with increases in myonuclei.  So what does that mean?  Muscle fibers (cells) have one (but not the only) specific characteristic that differentiates them from most other cells in the body.  They have more than one nucleus.  The greater the number of nuclei within a cell means the greater potential for muscle protein synthesis, and thus more potential for training adaptation. 

So how do you increase the number of nuclei in muscle?  Let me introduce you, if you have not already been acquainted, to satellite cells.
Satellite cells are basically muscle "stem cells" that exist on the outer edges of skeletal muscle fibers.  When a muscle fiber is damaged, especially the type of damage that occurs due to training, satellite cells are activated and then go through one or more of the stages of mitosis to form "daughter cells" in order to help repair the damaged muscle.  These daughter cells can go through further stages of mitosis and become a myotube.  A myotube can then "donate" its nucleus to existing muscle fibers, thus increasing the total number of nuclei within a muscle fiber...and thus increasing potential for muscle protein synthesis and advanced training adaptation.  Pretty cool stuff.  The coolest part, however, is this:  Creatine supplementation in combination with resistance training has been shown to increase the number and activity of satellite cells as well as increase the number of myonuclei within muscle fibers more than resistance training alone.

So there you have it.  Creatine supplementation is safe, effective, and cheap.  Those three words are very hard to get in the same sentence when talking about a specific supplement, by the way.        
*  Creatine has a variety of proven benefits for speed/power athletes.

*  Creatine is best taken directly after a workout with your post-workout supplement.

*  American and German creatine monohydrate powders are the way to go; steer clear of the fancy liquid creatine supplements. 

*  It does not take long in the supplementation process to start noticing the effects of creatine.

*  There are a variety of ways to take creatine, you don’t have to take it every single day, and cycling is a good idea when supplementing with it.

*  Creatine works with satellite cells during supplementation and resistance training to pack greater amounts of myonuclei into muscle fibers. 


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Burke, D.G., Chilibeck, P.D., Parise G., Candow, C.D., Mahoney, D., and Tarnopolsky, M.  (2003).  Effect of Creatine and Weight Training on Muscle
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Hultman, E., Soderlund, K., Timmorns, J.A., Cederblad, G., and Greenhaff, P.L.  (1996).  Muscle Creatine Loading in Men.  Journal of Applied Physiology.  81: 232-237.

Bundle, M.W. & Weyand, P.G.  (2012).  Sprint Exercise Performance: Does Metabolic Power Matter?  Exercise & Sport Sciences Reviews.  40:3  174-182.

Krieder, R.B.  (2008).  Sports Applications of Creatine.  In J. Antonio, D. Kalman, J.R. Stout,M. Greenwood, D.S. Willoughby, and G.G. Haff (Eds.), Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements (pp. 417-439). Totowa, New Jersey:  Humana Press

Chromiak, J.A. & Antonio, J.  (2008).  Skeletal Muscle Plasticity.  In J. Antonio, D. Kalman, J.R. Stout,M. Greenwood, D.S. Willoughby, and G.G. Haff (Eds.), Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements (pp. 21-52). Totowa, New  Jersey:  Humana Press

Olsen, S., Aagaard, P., Kadi, Fawzi, Tufekovic, G., Verney, J., Olesen, J.L., Suetta, C., and Kjaer, M. (2006).  Creatine Supplementation Augements the Increase
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