I recently wrote this information on Creatine for my new client, Four-El magazine, and thought I would also share it with you all. The issue is on stands now in San Diego, along with my 'NFL Workout'. Creatine as a performance enhancing supplement has been around since the early nineties but since it is one of my favorites and one of the most effective & safe supplements on the market I wanted to take an in depth look at it. Creatine is proven to increase strength, power, and prolong maximum-intensity-effort endurance by rapidly replenishing muscle-ATP supply: It is a tried and true supplement that is considered safe by all standards. Before I go any further, I just want to take a moment to speak about supplements in general and their role as healthy lifestyle component along with diet, exercise, sleep and other factors.
The Case for Supplementing
Supplements, whether traditional vitamins or complex, performance-enhancing powders, are controversial to say the least, and can be costly. I happen to be a big believer in supplementing my diet. For one because I rarely am able to eat ‘perfectly’, two because they’re convenient since I travel a lot as a pilot, and reason three, because as a fitness professional I push myself hard physically, am often sleep deprived and I’m expected to maintain a top-notch physique as well. And even if one could hypothetically eat ‘perfectly’ (whatever that means), there are cases where there are specific, powerful micro-nutrients that only become effective when they are extracted and encapsulated in an ideal amount and/or synergistic ratio with another nutrient. Mother Nature makes it but it often takes smart scientists to discover, harvest, and concentrate it. Think Resveratrol or Glucosamine & Chondroitin for example. The last thing you’ll ever get from me is propaganda driven info to promote or sell you any brand! Therefore, I typically always refer to generic names of vitamins and supplements since I am not brand-biased and desire to let you make your own brand choice. I also want to remind you that the supplement industry is totally unregulated the FDA (Food & Drug Administration.) While this sounds risky, this is actually a good thing, because it allows us to make our own choices about what we want to consume, allows many more supplements to be on the market, keeps costs down, and allows vitamin companies to bring new, cutting edge supplements to the consumer quicker. Can you imagine if your favorite supplement had to survive the FDA regulation process? Most would be banned only to be later re-marketed by the big drug industry for 10 times the price and by prescription-only! However, no doubt the supplement market is a scary, unregulated place. It’s surprising what we can buy off the shelves and put into our bodies, and many times the ingredients you see on the label aren’t even in the actual bottle, and if they are, they’re not in the stated amounts. All this means that you need to do your own research, both on the generic ingredients and the companies. You need to know exactly what you want, understand the label, and know what companies you can trust. Just while writing this in the USA Today headlines was another sketchy pre-workout powder cited as containing illegal Amphetamines and pulled from the market, and the maker is still not going to jail even though this is his 3rd company and violation. Talk about a snake-oil salesman! Other randomly tested supplements have been discovered to contain, black-market, livestock steroids, or various, inert placebo-powders. Unless you’re willing to risk heart or liver failure, or get ripped off, do your own research and rarely buy online.
Back to Creatine…
Creatine is naturally occurring in our muscle tissue and in all forms of meat we eat. Creatine is not a hormone, but rather an ATP-precursor manufactured in our body from 3 amino acids. Creatine in its natural form exists inside the muscle cells as Creatine-Phosphate and serves to immediately replenish ATP (Adenosine Tri-Phosphate) for energy, by donating the phosphate molecule. There is not much ATP inside a cell – only enough to supply about 5 seconds of energy so it needs to constantly be replenished/recycled during exercise. During all-out bouts of 100 % effort, the Creatine-Phosphate energy system is the only pathway available to replenish ATP quickly enough. Think maximum intensity efforts that last no more than 15 seconds, like a 100 meter sprint or a set of heavy power-lifting. For exercise that is less intense, or that lasts longer, glycogen (stored muscle-sugar) is able to be accessed and broken down to replenish ATP, with lactic-acid as a byproduct. So a football player, pretty much exists in the Creatine-Phosphate energy production zone between whistle blows. By supplementing with Creatine, one will be able to ‘load’ the muscle cells with even more creatine-phosphate reserves, and thereby be able to rapidly produce ATP for longer periods, extending their ability to maintain a maximum, 100% effort, and also be able recover in-between sets, or plays quicker. What’s more, when creatine is loaded within the muscles cells, it also volumizes the cells by pulling in water and glycogen, thereby creating a more anabolic environment - a catalyst for enhanced muscle recovery and growth. Within 5 days of beginning using Creatine there is typically a 10% strength gain and your muscles will feel fuller.
Creatine was discovered over a century ago, but wasn’t brought to the supplement market as a performance-enhancer until 1993 by then EAS scientist Ed Byrd, originally marketed under the brand name ‘Phosphagen’. This first form of generic Creatine supplement was known as Creatine-Monohydrate and it was quickly established that micronized was better absorbed because the granules were smaller, and that insulin was required to shuttle the Creatine into the muscle cells, so sugar was also necessary to trigger insulin secretion. The protocol then and still is, to begin with a loading phase, where approximately 5 grams is taken pre-workout followed by another 5 grams post-workout for 5 to 7 days, after which a maintenance dose of only 5 grams taken ideally during the 30 minute post-workout nutrient-replenishment window. Although there are no known negative side-effects (after 20 years of being on the market), additional daily water uptake is encouraged to assist with byproduct Creatinine removal by the kidneys and to maximize the anabolic, cell-volumizing effects. Cycling on and off creatine every 4 to 6 weeks is not necessary but could save you some money and reset the efficacy. The volumizing/muscle-fullness effects will be immediately lost, but you will still be fitter and leaner over-all as a result of 6 weeks of being able to train more intensely.
Today there are MANY forms of Creatine and I’m not going to get into all of them. Some work and some are nothing but gimmicks to sell more products to bodybuilders. Some may help alleviate any gastro-intestinal discomfort, though micronizing also does this for less cost. I can tell you that based on all the current research, that the original form of Creatine-Monohydrate has not only withstood the test of time, but is still the most affordable. If you want the most value, then simply buy pure, micronized or ‘pharmaceutical-grade’ Creatine-Monohydrate and mix it with your own pre & post workout shakes or meals. This is still what I use today.