Creatine: Enhancing Performance in Sport, Weightlifting, and Cognitive Function

How to take creatine

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in small quantities in certain foods and produced in the human body. It plays a critical role in energy production, especially during high-intensity, short-duration activities like sprinting and weightlifting. Creatine monohydrate has garnered a reputation for being one of the most effective and well-researched options for enhancing athletic performance, muscle mass, and even cognitive function.

Boosting Sport and Weightlifting Performance

Creatine increases the body’s store of phosphocreatine, which is used to produce new ATP during high-intensity exercise. (ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, is a molecule that serves as the primary energy currency in the body.)

This means athletes and weightlifters can perform better, with improvements in strength, power, and muscle endurance. By enabling quicker regeneration of ATP, creatine allows for more sustained high-intensity activity before fatigue sets in, leading to performance enhancements across a range of sports, particularly in activities that require explosive movements or intense bursts of energy.

Creatine supplementation has also been linked to increased muscle volume. This is partly because creatine draws water into the muscle cells, expanding them and potentially stimulating muscle protein synthesis (muscle growth). For weightlifters and bodybuilders, this can translate into gains in muscle mass and strength over time.

Cognitive Enhancements

Interestingly, creatine’s benefits are not limited to physical performance. Research suggests that it also has a positive impact on cognitive function, particularly in situations of sleep deprivation or mentally demanding tasks. Creatine supplementation has been shown to improve memory, reaction speed, and mental fatigue, making it a potential nootropic (a nootropic is a type of supplement, drug, or other substance that is designed to improve cognitive function) for those looking to boost their brainpower as well as their physical capabilities.

To Load or Not to Load?

When starting creatine supplementation, there are generally two approaches: a loading phase or a non-loading phase.

A loading phase involves taking a higher dose of creatine — typically around 20 grams per day, divided into four 5-gram servings — for 5-7 days. This method aims to rapidly saturate the muscles with creatine, leading to quicker observable benefits. After the loading phase, a lower maintenance single daily dose of about 3-5 grams is recommended to keep the creatine levels up.

Alternatively, skipping the loading phase and simply taking a single daily dose of 3-5 grams from the start will also increase muscle creatine stores, albeit at a slower rate. This approach may take 3-4 weeks to maximise creatine levels in the muscles but is equally effective in the long run and may reduce the risk of minor side effects, such as bloating, experienced by some during the loading phase.

Daily Quantities and Health Considerations

Regardless of whether you choose to load or not, the consensus on daily intake is clear: a dose of 3-5 grams per day is sufficient for maintaining elevated levels of creatine in the muscle over time. It’s also recommended to take creatine with a meal or drink that contains carbohydrates or protein to enhance its absorption.

While creatine is considered safe and beneficial for most people, some individuals may experience weight gain due to water retention in the muscles. Other potential issues include digestive discomfort, such as bloating and diarrhoea, particularly when high doses are consumed. In rare cases, creatine has been linked to kidney stress and increased risk of kidney damage, especially in those with pre-existing renal conditions.

Hydration is paramount, as creatine increases water retention in the muscles. Ensuring adequate water intake can prevent dehydration and optimise muscle function.

Lastly, as with any supplement, it’s wise to consult with a healthcare professional or other suitable professional, before starting creatine, especially for those with pre-existing health conditions or those taking medication.

How Long Can I Take Creatine For?

Creatine is often used as a supplement over extended periods, and its usage can vary widely depending on individual goals and responses. Typically, it’s considered safe to use creatine continuously for up to several years. Research suggests that long-term creatine use does not appear to have detrimental health effects in healthy individuals.

Again, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare provider or other suitable professional to tailor the duration and dosage to your personal health profile and fitness objectives, ensuring the regimen remains safe and effective.

My Own Experience With Creatine

I do feel like I have more power on the bike and when lifting weights with taking Creatine, but the biggest benefit I have found from Creatine is on the cognitive side. I definitely feel like I have more clarity and focus when taking it.

I don’t get on well with a loading phase, and get some digestive discomfort. I don’t take it all the time.

Everyone is different of course, and my experience is quite likely to be different from yours.

Relevant Studies

Studies Showing Long-term Safety of Creatine

  1. Kreider, R. B. (2003). “Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations.” Published in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. The study concludes that long-term creatine supplementation (up to 5 years) is safe and beneficial for muscle mass and strength in athletes.
  2. Poortmans, J. R., & Francaux, M. (1999). “Long-term oral creatine supplementation does not impair renal function in healthy athletes.” Published in The American Journal of Medicine. This study showed that creatine supplementation for up to five years did not adversely affect the renal function of healthy athletes.
  3. Schilling, B. K., Stone, M. H., Utter, A., Kearney, J. T., Johnson, M., Coglianese, R., Smith, L., O’Bryant, H. S., Fry, A. C., Starks, M., Keith, R., & Stone, M. E. (2001). “Creatine supplementation and health variables: a retrospective study.” Published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. This retrospective study found no negative effects on metabolic and muscle enzyme efflux, indicating safety in long-term usage.

Studies Showing Improvement in Muscle Mass and Power

  1. Volek, J. S., Duncan, N. D., Mazzetti, S. A., Staron, R. S., Putukian, M., Gomez, A. L., Pearson, D. R., Fink, W. J., & Kraemer, W. J. (1999). “Performance and muscle fibre adaptations to creatine supplementation and heavy resistance training.” Published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. The study illustrates significant increases in muscle mass and strength among athletes who supplemented with creatine alongside resistance training.
  2. Branch, J. D. (2003). “Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis.” Published in International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. The meta-analysis reports consistent improvements in muscle mass and power output in response to creatine supplementation.
  3. Rawson, E. S., & Volek, J. S. (2003). “Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance.” Published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. This study confirms that creatine supplementation, when combined with weight training, enhances physical performance, muscle mass, and overall strength.

Studies Showing Support for Cognitive Function

  1. Rae, C., Digney, A. L., McEwan, S. R., & Bates, T. C. (2003). “Oral creatine monohydrate supplementation improves brain performance: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial.” Published in Psychopharmacology. This study demonstrates that creatine supplementation significantly improves mental performance in tasks requiring speed of processing.
  2. Avgerinos, K. I., Spyrou, N., Bougioukas, K. I., & Kapogiannis, D. (2018). “Effects of creatine supplementation on cognitive function of healthy individuals: A systematic review of randomised controlled trials.” Published in Experimental Gerontology. The review indicates that creatine has a positive impact on cognitive processing in healthy individuals.
  3. McMorris, T., Mielcarz, G., Harris, R. C., Swain, J. P., & Howard, A. (2007). “Creatine supplementation and cognitive performance in elderly individuals.” Published in Neuropsychology, Development, and Cognition. Section B, Ageing, Neuropsychology and Cognition. This study found that creatine supplementation led to significant improvements in cognitive function in the elderly, particularly in tasks requiring random access memory and intellectual speed.

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