With such a saturated supplement market right now, it can be extremely difficult to identify which ones actually work. The way in which they are marketed can sometimes be misleading and have the consumer feeling disappointed and let down when they don't get the results they expected. It's important to remember that supplements do exactly what the name would suggest – SUPPLEMENT your nutrition and training, they should not be your number 1 priority.
However, there are some supplements that have been scientifically proven to be beneficial. A personal favourite of mine being creatine, and in this article I’m going to discuss why.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid that occurs naturally in body. It is predominately produced in the liver and kidneys (approximately 1-2g a day), and mostly stored in the skeletal muscle. For meat eaters, creatine can be consumed through the diet, particularly from fish and red meat. The other method is of course through supplementation. By consuming creatine, we increase our intramuscular creatine phosphate levels. In doing so, we allow for a faster regeneration of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) between high intensity exercises. Simply put, by supplementing with creatine and improving our recovery, we are able to enhance our ability to perform which leads to greater training adaptations.
What does the research show?
As creatine is one of the most widely researched supplements in the market, there is a whole host of evidence supporting the positive effect it has on exercise performance.
Volek et al. conducted a study to examine the effect of creatine supplementation in conjunction with resistance training on physiological adaptions, including muscle fibre hypertrophy. They had 2 groups complete a 12-week periodised heavy resistance training programme. One group supplemented with creatine, the other a placebo. Following the 12-week training programme, they found that those consuming creatine saw a significantly higher increase in lean body mass in addition to a greater increase in strength on their squat and bench press. No negative side effects were reported. The researchers concluded that:
“Creatine supplementation enhanced fat-free mass, physical performance, and muscle morphology in response to heavy resistance training, presumably mediated via higher quality training sessions.”
How much should you take?
I would always recommend you follow the product label recommendations when deciding how much to consume. However, these are 2 commonly practised methods:
Loading Phase – 0.3g per KG of bodyweight a day for the 1st week
Maintenance Phase – 0.03g per KG of bodyweight a day for the next 4-6 weeks
Loading Phase – 25g a day for the 1st week
Maintenance Phase – 5g a day for the next 4-6 weeks
What creatine should you use?
On the MyProtein website alone there are 16 results when searching for creatine, so how do you know which one to take? Well, creatine monohydrate is used in almost every piece of research that has been done and has been scientifically proven to be effective, is it also the cheapest. However, it has been showed to have a poor absorption rate of around 1%, and some have reported stomach discomfort following ingestion.
Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE) on the other hand is creatine monohydrate but with an ester attached, which effectively increases the absorption rate to around 99%, meaning no loading phase is actually required. There is currently no evidence to suggest that consuming CEE will lead to greater physiological adaptations than monohydrate, and it is more expensive. Despite this, I personally feel I respond better to CEE so it's always my preferred choice.
By supplementing with creatine you improve your bodies ability to recover between high intensity exercises, allowing for greater training adaptations to occur. Always read the label recommendations when deciding how much to consume, and I'd suggest using either creatine monohydrate or CEE as they have been scientifically proven to be effective. Remember to ensure your nutrition and training is well managed before using supplementation if you wish to optimise your results.
VOLEK, J., DUNCAN, N., MAZZETTI, S., STARON, R., PUTUKIAN, M., G??MEZ, A., PEARSON, D., FINK, W. and KRAEMER, W. (1999). Performance and muscle fiber adaptations to creatine supplementation and heavy resistance training. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 31(8), pp.1147-1156.