Performance, endurance and muscle strength is of great importance for athletes. Creatine supplementation is one among a variety of ergogenic aids that have been studied extensively regarding athletic performance.

What is creatine? 

  Creatine is a nitrogenous amino acid which is naturally found in animal food and fish. Creatine is produced endogenously in liver and pancreas from 3 amino acids, arginine, glycine and methionine in a rate of approximately 1 gr/day. In body creatine is found mainly in skeletal muscles (95%), while lower concentrations in brain and heart.

Actions of creatine

 Creatine is a key component of phosphocreatine (PCr), a compound that can be used as an energy substrate during the first seconds of intensive anaerobic exercise. The PCr substantially contributes to the regeneration of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is the source of energy in cells. Reduction of phosphocreatine concentration in muscles, results in activation of other energy production systems, which engage substrates as carbohydrates and fats. Creatine intake results in increased production of ATP and thereby athletic performance and endurance, particularly in short time activities with high intensity and repeated intervals of attempts (Circuit training).

Which are the benefits from creatine supplementation?

   Creatine supplementation leads to increase of lean body mass and anaerobic capacity. Studies indicate that supplementation improves strength and performance of athletes in cycling, bench press and squats while also in sprinting and swimming. Creatine leads to an increase in muscle mass, in muscle strength as well muscle mass synthesis rate. Creatine can also be used in rehabilitation programs of muscular injuries, which are not necessarily linked to sport.

What types of creatine exist in market? 

  In market there are many types of creatine either in pure form or formulation such as creatine phosphate, creatine monohydrate or creatine with beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) etc.. Despite the plethora of supplements, there is not satisfying evidence which support that creatine supplements are better from simple monohydrate creatine.

Creatine supplementation protocol

  Ιn literature there are several creatine loading protocols. The most commonly used protocol defines a loading dose of 0.3 gr/kg/day of pure creatine monohydrate for 5 to 7 days, in 3-4 shots in a day and then continue with a maintenance dose of 3-5 gr/day. The result is an increase of phosphocreatine in the muscles by 10-40%.

Contraindications

  There are no contraindications regarding creatine supplementation even is has to do with young athletes. Creatine is excreted by the kidneys, but when daily intake is less than <25 gr/day there is not any problem. The only unpleasant consequence of taking creatine is the small increase of body weight (1-1,5kg), which is reasonable considering the increase of muscle mass and body water content.

Key points

1) Creatine is the most safe and effective ergogenic supplement for increasing lean body mass and athletic performance in high-intensity exercise
2) Additionally to athletic performance, it seems to be beneficial to muscle injuries.
3) Creatine monohydrate is safe even from young athletes.
4) Balanced diet, adequate intake of carbohydrates and protein appears to increase the retention of creatine levels in muscles.

   Creatine is not a panacea, but supplementation can offer benefits to optimize the performance as it has to do with high intensity endurance exercise and anaerobic sports.