What is creatine?

Creatine is a non-essential nutrient that helps supply energy to cells throughout the body. Creatine provides energy to support brief, intense exercise less than 30 seconds duration. The body naturally produces creatine in the liver, pancreas and kidneys and is stored in high concentrations in muscle, with a small amount also present in the brain.

Creatine is also highly concentrated in animal muscle (e.g. meat) so those who consume a diet including animal proteins tend to have higher concentrations of creatine in the body, whereas creatine concentrations are lower in those following a vegetarian/vegan eating pattern. A diet containing animal products can account for 50% of creatine concentrations; with the other 50% produced in the body, however the storage capacity of creatine is actually quite low.

Creatine supplementation is an effective strategy for increasing creatine levels and has good absorption of ~99%. Like creatine in food, creatine supplements act as a readily available anaerobic (no oxygen) energy source fuelling the production of ATP (energy) in high-intensity exercise. Creatine monohydrate is the supplement form that has been most widely researched and should therefore be the form that individuals choose if purchasing a creatine supplement.

Should you be taking it?

Creatine supplementation has shown most benefits for:

  • Athletes involved in resistance training aiming to increase lean muscle mass
  • Athletes involved in sports with brief, high-intensity efforts e.g. rowers, sprinters
  • Athletes involved in sports with intermittent high-intensity exercise bouts e.g. team and racquet sports
  • Individuals consuming a vegetarian/vegan diet

There is less evidence for:

  • Endurance athletes
  • Events that are mainly aerobic based (lower intensity)

What are the proposed performance benefits?

  • Increased maximal effort
  • Increased muscle strength and power
  • Increased lean muscle mass, when paired with resistance training
  • Reduced fatigue during exercise
  • Emerging evidence also suggests creatine may be beneficial for brain health, specifically cognitive processing and mild traumatic brain injury including concussion

Note: the performance benefits are only achieved if dosage and consistency is correct.

How much should you be taking?

There are evidence-based protocols available which suggest two approaches to creatine supplementation:

  1. Complete a loading phase followed by a maintenance period.
  2. Bypass the loading phase and commence with the maintenance phase for 4 weeks to reach saturation.

Are there any side effects?

Creatine is listed in Group A of the AIS supplement framework, meaning it has strong evidence for its safety and effectiveness. However, like any supplement, there are potential side effects:

  • Gastrointestinal upset has been anecdotally reported however is not consistent in the literature
  • Weight gain, as fluid gain, of approx. 1-2kg

If you’re interested in trialling creatine supplementation and want to follow an evidence-based protocol, reach out to make an appointment with one of our Sports Dietitians who can set you up with your protocol and monitoring program.

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