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What is creatine and how can it help improve your sporting performance?

15 Feb, 2024
A container of creatine powder, suggesting the use of creatine for exercise and fitness purposes, particularly for middle-aged individuals

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in the body that plays a vital role in energy production. It’s primarily stored in the muscles and provides energy during high-intensity activities such as weightlifting, sprinting and jumping.

Creatine supplementation has become increasingly popular among athletes and fitness enthusiasts due to its ability to enhance sporting performance. 

In this blog post, we will provide an overview of what creatine is, how it works in the body and how it can help improve sporting performance. We’ll also discuss the benefits and risks of creatine supplementation and provide recommendations for safe use. 

Whether you’re an athlete looking to improve your performance or simply interested in learning more about creatine, this article will provide you with the information you need. Let’s jump in. 

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound produced in the liver, kidneys and pancreas. Creatine is primarily stored in the muscles and brain, where it provides energy for high-intensity activities such as exercise and cognitive tasks. Creatine is made up of three amino acids – Arginine, Glycine and Methionine – which combine in a process called biosynthesis and is transported to the muscles, where it’s stored as Phosphocreatine.(1)

Phosphocreatine helps to regenerate Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), the primary source of energy for muscle contractions. In addition to being produced in the body, creatine is also obtained from dietary sources such as meat and fish. While it’s possible to obtain creatine from plant-based sources, most primary sources of creatine are synthetic.

Creatine supplementation is most commonly used for improving muscle mass and strength in athletic individuals seeking to increase their performance. It can also be used as a bodybuilding supplement, but it’s not clear if use beyond short term – known as single loading – will result in greater gains. 

How does Creatine work?

Creatine plays a crucial role in energy metabolism by helping to regenerate ATP.(2) During high-intensity activities, such as weightlifting or sprinting, ATP is rapidly depleted. When ATP levels decrease, the body relies on other energy systems to continue working.(3)

However, these systems are less efficient and can produce only short bursts of energy. Creatine supplementation is believed to increase the amount of creatine stored in the muscles, which may enhance this energy-regenerating process, leading to improved performance.(4)

Supplementation typically involves a loading phase, where a high dose of creatine is taken, followed by a maintenance phase, where a lower dose is taken to maintain elevated creatine levels. 

The loading phase typically lasts five to seven days and involves taking 20-25 grams of creatine per day. The maintenance phase involves taking between two and five grams per day.(5)

Creatine supplementation offers a variety of benefits for athletes and active individuals. In addition to improving energy production, it has been shown to increase muscle size and strength, improve exercise performance and enhance recovery following intense exercise.(1)

Creatine is also thought to have cognitive benefits, as it’s stored in the brain and may help to improve mental function, particularly in tasks that require short-term memory and processing.(1)

While creatine supplementation is generally safe and well-tolerated, it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplements, particularly if you have a history of kidney or liver disease. 

Additionally, it’s essential to follow dosing guidelines carefully to avoid potential side effects such as gastrointestinal distress or dehydration.(6)

 An image depicting different sporting activities such as running, weight training and rugby where Creatine may be useful.

Benefits of creatine supplementation for sporting performance?

Creatine supplementation has been shown to have a variety of benefits for athletes and active individuals, particularly when it comes to improving physical performance. Some of the most significant benefits include:

  • Increased strength and power
    Creatine supplementation may increase muscle strength and power, particularly in exercises that require short bursts of high-intensity effort, such as weightlifting or sprinting. By enhancing the body’s ability to resynthesize ATP, creatine may help to improve performance in these types of activities(7)
  • Enhanced endurance
    While creatine is often associated with improving strength and power, it may also have benefits for endurance athletes. Research shows that creatine may help delay fatigue and improve endurance capacity, particularly in activities that require repeated bouts of high-intensity effort, such as interval training or team sports.(8)
  • Improved muscle recovery
    Creatine supplementation has been shown to enhance muscle recovery following intense exercise. According to various studies, by promoting the regeneration of ATP, creatine may reduce muscle damage and inflammation, which may lead to faster recovery times and improved overall performance(9)
  • Efficacy for different types of sports
    While creatine may be beneficial for a wide range of athletes, its efficacy may vary depending on the type of sport or activity. For example, creatine supplementation may be particularly beneficial for power-based sports such as weightlifting, sprinting or jumping, where short bursts of high-intensity effort are required.(7)

However, research results are mixed on its effectiveness for sports that require more endurance-based activities such as long-distance running or cycling.(8) That being said, creatine supplementation may still provide benefits for endurance athletes by improving recovery and delaying fatigue.

Overall, creatine supplementation can be a valuable tool if you’re looking to improve your physical performance. However, it’s essential to be aware of its potential risks and side effects.

When considering using creatine for sporting performance enhancement, it’s crucial to weigh the potential benefits against the risks. Additionally, it’s essential to follow dosing guidelines carefully and use high-quality, reputable creatine products to minimise the risk of adverse effects.

While creatine supplementation may not be appropriate or effective for everyone, it can be a valuable tool for athletes and active individuals wanting to improve their performance levels and achieve their fitness goals.

Disclaimer:
Information and other content provided in Lily & Loaf blogs should not be construed as medical advice and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical expertise. If you have any medical concerns, you should consult with your health care provider.
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FACT CHECKED

Brittany Lubeck, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Expertise - Clinical Nutrition

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References

  1. Kreider RB, Stout JR. Creatine in Health and Disease. Nutrients. 2021;13(2):447. doi:10.3390/nu13020447

  2. Guimarães-Ferreira L. Role of the phosphocreatine system on energetic homeostasis in skeletal and cardiac muscles. Einstein (Sao Paulo). 2014;12(1):126-131. doi:10.1590/s1679-45082014rb2741

  3. Hargreaves M, Spriet LL. Skeletal muscle energy metabolism during exercise [published correction appears in Nat Metab. 2020 Sep 10;:]. Nat Metab. 2020;2(9):817-828. doi:10.1038/s42255-020-0251-4

  4. Hummer E, Suprak DN, Buddhadev HH, Brilla L, San Juan JG. Creatine electrolyte supplement improves anaerobic power and strength: a randomized double-blind control study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2019;16(1):24. doi:10.1186/s12970-019-0291-x

  5. Naderi A, de Oliveira EP, Ziegenfuss TN, Willems MT. Timing, Optimal Dose and Intake Duration of Dietary Supplements with Evidence-Based Use in Sports Nutrition. J Exerc Nutrition Biochem. 2016;20(4):1-12. doi:10.20463/jenb.2016.0031

  6. MedlinePlus. Creatine.

  7. Wu SH, Chen KL, Hsu C, et al. Creatine Supplementation for Muscle Growth: A Scoping Review of Randomized Clinical Trials from 2012 to 2021. Nutrients. 2022;14(6):1255. doi:10.3390/nu14061255

  8. Forbes SC, Candow DG, Neto JHF, et al. Creatine supplementation and endurance performance: surges and sprints to win the race. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2023;20(1):2204071. doi:10.1080/15502783.2023.2204071

  9. Wax B, Kerksick CM, Jagim AR, Mayo JJ, Lyons BC, Kreider RB. Creatine for Exercise and Sports Performance, with Recovery Considerations for Healthy Populations. Nutrients. 2021;13(6):1915. doi:10.3390/nu13061915