🔥 Upside Guest Writers: The Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Muscle Growth & Performance, By Daniel Hayes, Performance Coach, LA Dodgers (MiLB)

This week, we have the honor to have Daniel Hayes, Performance Coach for the LA Dodgers (MilB), write an article for The Upside entitled “Creatine Supplementation and its Effects on Performance”. This is his first article.

Title: The Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Muscle Growth & Performance

By Daniel Hayes

Have you ever heard you need to be careful with Creatine supplementation because it “damages your kidneys”? Or, that it really has no effect on muscle growth and is clinically unsafe? These are some of the common misconceptions in the field of exercise science. 

Creatine is one of the most widely studied supplements, dating back to the 1990’s. It’s efficacy and importance to muscle growth and performance is well known and has been backed by a plethora of scientific studies. 

In this article, we will review how Creatine is used by your cells, it’ relation to power/force production, why it is important for health, in addition to how it indirectly feeds your skeletal muscle to grow! 

Where does creatine currently stand?

The International Society of Sports Nutrition states, “Creatine monohydrate is the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplement currently available to athletes in terms of increasing high-intensity exercise capacity and lean body mass during training” [1]. 

Naturally – this seems to be a bold statement, but the amount of research conducted on the effects of Creatine supplementation and muscle growth all seem to reach the same end point, as well as debunking all of the current myths:

  • All weight gain is ONLY from water retention 

  • Creatine damages your kidneys 

  • Creatine causes excessive cramping and dehydration 

  • We are not aware of the long-term effects 

Previous research has confirmed that Creatine supplementation has no negative side effects on the kidneys and that weight gain is not just from water retention alone [2,3]. 

What is creatine?

Creatine is an amino acid that can be found in meats and fish. However, these foods must be consumed in incredibly large portions in order to obtain a generous amount of Creatine. For this reason, Creatine supplementation is much easier, less costly, and more efficient to get you to your muscle-building and/or performance goals [1].

Creatine, which is naturally produced by the human body in the liver and pancreas, aids in replenishing our cells with ATP: the primary source of energy and life’s energy currency, before it turns to burning glucose; especially when it relates to force production. As our natural phosphocreatine stores are depleted through high-intensity exercise, the ability to maintain this high-intensity output decreases significantly [1]. In short, more creatine helps your muscles perform better under intense physical pressure. 

In theory, by simply adding Creatine supplementation into your training regimen, our cells will have more phosphocreatine readily available in the blood stream so that it can be used for energy. In brief, phosphocreatine (PCr) donates an inorganic phosphate group to ADP to generate an ATP molecule. If our cells have more energy supplied to them, then wouldn’t we be able to sustain this high-intensity work for a prolonged amount of time? The answer is yes! [1].

About 95% of the body’s Creatine is stored within skeletal muscle as phosphocreatine. However, our body can only store about 1.7 g/kg of bodyweight, but has the ability to store up to 160 grams [1].

How about creatine supplementation?

The most common form of Creatine that is taken as a supplement is Creatine Monohydrate (CM), although there are a handful of other Creatine supplements out on the market [1].

It is important to take a dose of Creatine based on a proportion of body weight (g/kg). In a study done on female collegiate swimmers, taking 2g of Creatine a day did not show any performance or body composition benefits over a 6-week period [4].

As stated previously, our body can only store so much Creatine. If you’re someone who has low stores to begin with, you can see around a 20-40% increase in skeletal muscle Creatine stores with supplementation! [1]

Creatine supplementation may be confusing because of the different phases of ingestion, and there are a few out there who define the loading phase differently. Simply, the “loading” phase involves the ingestion of 0.3g/kg/day of Creatine Monohydrate for 5-7 days and 3-5 g/day once that is completed. For example, if you weigh 160 pounds (72.7kg), you would be taking 21.8g/day. This specific suggestion has shown to increase muscle Creatine stores by 10-40% [1].

If you supplement Creatine with protein and carbohydrates, you may see even better results. Research suggests that loading (0.3g/kg/day) with the ingestion or protein and carbohydrates, the loading phase may only need to be 2-3 days [1]. 

The “cycling” phase of Creatine supplementation involves the steady buildup of muscle Creatine stores, or consuming “loading” doses for 3-5 days every 3-4 weeks. Some research supported the cycling phase without any loading, and that you could see an increase in muscle size and strength when taking 6g/day for 12 weeks [1].

Pairing creatine monohydrate (CM) with other supplements has also shown to have additional effects, and the best pair seems to be CM and beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) at improving lean body mass and strength [1]. However, as previously mentioned, adding CM with carbohydrates and/or protein can create synergistic effects on muscle Creatine retention, muscle growth, and muscle strength [1]! 

Did you say “muscle growth?”

Previous research supports that Creatine supplementation, in unison with a sound resistance training program, can increase fat-free mass and strength in both men and women [1]. 

Even when muscle mass is low or damaged, Creatine supplementation has shown to increase muscle mass in patients with broken bones [1]. 

Dr. Jeff Volek and others conducted an experiment looking at the effects of Creatine supplementation on muscle growth and strength. In this study, subjects were given either Creatine or a placebo pill for the duration of a 12-week resistance training program. The researchers found that the Creatine group saw double the amount of fat-free mass gained in comparison to the placebo group (6.3% and 3.1%, respectively) [6].

Not only did the Creatine participants see an increase in just fat-free mass, they saw an increase in muscle fiber cross-sectional area! This is a very important adaptation as it relates to muscle growth and strength. 

While the total amount of muscle Creatine was elevated in the Creatine group, these individuals were also able to perform a higher amount of volume and maintain their power output in each set of the jump squat in the training sessions. More volume = more growth! 

Although we know the amount of dosage is needed for a positive muscular response, the timing of Creatine intake has not been discussed. Consuming half of a Creatine supplement before and after a resistance training session showed to have greater whole-body muscular hypertrophy [2].

Interestingly, it is still unclear if Creatine is directly involved with protein synthesis, as this is the basis for muscle growth [3,5,6]. However, we believe that Creatine’s ergogenic effect does have something to do with delaying the protein degradation process as well as inducing a cellular swelling response in muscle cells [5,6].

What if I’m an athlete?

As discussed above, from a physiological standpoint, we know that ATP is the first line of offense for energy in anything we do. When it comes to rapid force production, ATP is the quintessential marine of our physiological military. In sports where success is predicated upon consistent production of repeated bouts of explosiveness, the ability for the body to regenerate ATP in order to keep up with the demands of said sport, is vital. 

In a study by Rawson and Volek, it was discovered that adding creatine to a sound resistance training program increased strength by 8% and weightlifting performance by 14%, compared to the control group – training alone [7].

Generally speaking, ATP is depleted after 8-10 seconds of high-intensity activity. However, when supplementing with creatine, your stores allow you to produce more ATP so you can maintain optimal performance for a few seconds longer [8].

In sum, in sports where power is necessary, creatine supplementation can help you produce that same power more often and more consistently when compared to those who do not supplement with creatine

Can Creatine “cramp” my style?

As noted above, a common misconception that is anecdotally reported among create users and even some coaches, creatine is often believe to cause cramps. 

When exogenous creatine is absorbed, it pulls water with it, causing cells to swell. This cell swelling is known to promote an anabolic state at the cellular level, which means there is less protein degradation and an increase in DNA synthesis [9]. In other words, the cells grow due to increased water absorption.

In a double-blind study where the dosage of CM intake was 11.4 grams/day for 7 days alongside 1 g/kg bodyweight of glycerol, cellular hyperhydration was noted and there was a test-subject-noted reduction in “perceived effort” during exercise [10]. 

In all of these studies, no dehydration or cramps were noted. What we consistently see objectively, and reported via test subjects subjectively, is an increase in performance, hydration and decrease of perceived exertion – meaning training simply felt easier and less physically straining. 

The take-away is that labs have not been able to recreate this notion that creatine causes cramps. While anecdotal reports can’t be ignored, it may be a simple cause of correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation. There could be a variety of other factors at play causing these cramps: higher workloads due to user being motivated to improve performance; increased sweating due to higher workloads; increased water intake without increased electrolyte consumption in conjunction. 

Is Creatine the right supplement for me?

Not only does Creatine supplementation seems to have little to no negative side effects on the body, but it has many positive effects on muscle strength, muscle growth and so much more not covered in this article [1,2,4,5,6]. Our body naturally synthesizes creatine, but additional supplementation can help you reach your goals a lot quicker.

If you’re a steady gym-goer, athlete or even someone just starting to get back into the gym/weight room, Creatine can be beneficial for each population, and even anyone in-between. The current recommendation for the loading phase is taking 0.3g/kg of bodyweight for 5-7 days, and consuming a loading dose for 3-5 days every 3-4 weeks [1]. 

Although not directly related to protein synthesis, it seems that Creatine’s main ergogenic effect is that it supplies our cells with more energy in order to perform high-intensity activities for a longer period of time. By supplying our cells with this added energy, we give our muscles a greater ability to perform work, get stronger, grow and produce force.

By pairing your Creatine supplementation with carbohydrates and protein, as well as splitting up your doses before/after your training session, you can see even greater increase in muscle growth and strength [1,2]. 

Lastly, pairing your Creatine supplementation with a good resistance training program will only give you greater results; from adolescents to adults.

References

  1. Buford, T. W., Kreider, R. B., Stout, J. R., Greenwood, M., Campbell, B., Spano, M., ... & Antonio, J. (2007). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 4(1), 6.

  2. Candow, D. G., Chilibeck, P. D., Burke, D. G., Mueller, K. D., & Lewis, J. D. (2011). Effect of different frequencies of creatine supplementation on muscle size and strength in young adults. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(7), 1831-1838.

  3. Fry, D. M., & Morales, M. F. (1980). A reexamination of the effects of creatine on muscle protein synthesis in tissue culture. J Cell Biol, 84(2), 294-297.

  4. Thompson, C. H., Kemp, G. J., Sanderson, A. L., Dixon, R. M., Styles, P., Taylor, D. J., & Radda, G. K. (1996). Effect of creatine on aerobic and anaerobic metabolism in skeletal muscle in swimmers. British journal of sports medicine, 30(3), 222-225.

  5. Volek, J. S., & Rawson, E. S. (2004). Scientific basis and practical aspects of creatine supplementation for athletes. Nutrition, 20(7), 609-614.

  6. Volek, J. S., Duncan, N. D., Mazzetti, S. A., Staron, R. S., Putukian, M. A. R. G. O. T., GÓmez, A. L., ... & Kraemer, W. J. (1999). Performance and muscle fiber adaptations to creatine supplementation and heavy resistance training. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 31, 1147-1156.

  7. JS;, R. (n.d.). Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14636102/

  8. E;, G. (n.d.). Effect of oral creatine supplementation on skeletal muscle phosphocreatine resynthesis. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8203511/

  9. E;, G. (n.d.). Effect of oral creatine supplementation on skeletal muscle phosphocreatine resynthesis. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8203511/

  10. E;, G. (n.d.). Effect of oral creatine supplementation on skeletal muscle phosphocreatine resynthesis. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8203511/

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