Creatine… Should You Take It?

Last week while presenting at the International Swim Coaches Association in Tampa Florida, I realized there was a large amount of coaches (and I’m presuming athletes) who are interested in knowing more about creatine. In addition, I promised my cousin long ago to write a blog about this. So I’m sorry it’s taken me a while Mike, but here it is. I have my own personal story with creatine that shows how much confusion can surround supplements. When I was a teenager, I was a pretty good swimmer, and swimming was a huge part of my life. Two a day workouts, year round swimming, strength training, etc. I was a sprinter, the 50 free and 100 fly were my specialties. Throughout our region of NY I had a few competitors with whom I’d go back and worth with. Sometimes I’d win, sometimes they’d win. Then one high school season someone I had never really swam against was making great strides and starting to get faster. She was very muscular and to my high school eyes, she looked like one of the German swimmers from the 1970’s who had taken steroids. Looking back I feel bad that I thought that about a fellow swimmer, however I was (and still am) competitive and I thought it unfair. We were told it was in fact creatine she was taking. Not understanding what that was, I still thought it was a form of cheating and vowed I wouldn’t cheat to get ahead. If only I or someone with greater sports nutrition knowledge had told me it really wasn’t cheating, and could explain how our body uses creatine, it might have been beneficial to my swimming career. Onto creatine.

What is Creatine:

Creatine was discovered in the 1800’s when a French scientist was examining the muscles of animals. From the 1930s-1960’s, it was mainly studied for it’s clinical impact. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the Soviet athletes started using it for an ergogenic aid. We Americans were late to the party and it wasn’t until the 80’s and 90’s that we started using it for the ergogenic effect.

So what is it? Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid, that is found naturally in our body, primarily in our skeletal muscles. It’s role  is supplying energy to our muscles by the production of creatine phosphate. Creatine phosphate helps to create ATP, which is what our body uses for energy. Think of the main energy systems that create ATP. There are:

  1. Creatine phosphate (or Phosphocreatine)- this energy system provides ATP for the first :10 seconds of activity. Think explosive lifts, jumps, sprints
  2. Anaerobic glycolysis/glycolytic- this system provides ATP from 10sec-2minutes, however production is highest for :30
  3. Aerobic/oxidative- this is the system that we use for every day activities, long distance endurance events, etc.

So when we look at it that way, creatine is stored as phosphocreatine in our muscles, and when the initial :10 burst of ATP is complete, we start fatiguing and producing lactic acid. (Side note, remember it’s not lactic acid that is making our muscles sore, and it isn’t stored in our muscles. Lactic acid is converted back into use as a substrate) So, if we can store more creatine in our muscles, we can help to prolong the depletion of phosphocreatine, thus prolonging our fatigue=greater strength and power.

Where is it Found?

Creatine is found in the foods that we eat, primarily beef, pork and fish. 95% of creatine is stored in the skeletal muscle, while 5% is stored in the brain, eye, kidneys and testes. The liver, kidney and pancreas are the primary sites of its endogenous synthesis. The amino acids glycine, arginine and methionine are the precursors in its production. Vegetarians and vegans can have significantly reduced creatine stores, relative to those that consume animal products. (1)

Types of Creatine:

Creatine Monohydrate

Ethyl Ester

PEG (Polyethylene Glycosylated Creatine)

Creatine Monohydrate is currently the best of the creatine supplements as it has the most science based research behind it. Supplement companies are starting to push newer forms, however it has still stood the test. Some athletes have been deemed “non responders.” These athletes might want to try alternative forms. Creatine ingested as a solution or from food has been shown to be highly bio available. Creatine ingested as a lozenge or capsule must disperse in solution, and seems to be limited in doing so. So, stick with food, or as a solution (like a protein/creatine shake).

Benefits of Creatine:

Creatine is arguably the most research validated supplement with over 500 studies showing performance enhancing effects. 70% of those studies have shown statistically significant improvements with none showing detrimental side effects.

  • 5-15% increase in work performance
  • Physique benefits-increases in fat-free mass
  • Hypertrophy-due to increases in satellite cell activity within the skeletal muscle
  • Diminishing fatigue
  • New research focus: cognition-the focus on new research is within the brain (creatine is stored there) and how it can athletic performance with skill based sports, fine motor control or memory recall. In addition, populations clinically deficient like the elderly or vegetarians and the impact on cognitive enhancement potential in athletes with  traumatic brain injuries.

*references (2-3)

Supplementation Protocols:

#1. Traditional:

  • Creatine load for one week, using 5g doses spread evenly over 4x a day. After one week, a maintenance dose of 3-5g/day.
  • The benefit is this protocol produces the most rapid elevations in intramuscular creatine content and may benefit someone on a short time frame who needs fast saturation.

#2. New Protocol:

  • Take 3-5g for the first 3 days. Then, take .3g/kg/bw as the maintenance phase.
  • This is cheaper than the traditional phase, it may decrease GI side effects and weight gain. So athletes concerned with putting on extra weight can try to new protocol. Research shows that creatine stores can be saturated after 28 days of .3g/kg/bw/day.

*reference(4)

Safety:

The long-term safety of creatine remains a debated topic. The safety concerns are for the potential negative effect on the kidneys, increased risk of dehydration and muscle cramps.

  • To date, these concerns have not been validated in literature.
  • The only proven side effect (other than strength gains, etc) is weight gain. And if you use the new protocol, the likelihood is much less.

Conclusion:

If you’re in a sport where high intensity efforts are key, if you’d like to build muscle mass or your physique, trying creatine is a good option. Right now if you are in good health, there aren’t really any safety concerns with taking it. If  you’re worried about weight gain, try the .3g/kg/bw protocol.

 

References:

  1. Burke Dg, Chilibeck PD, Parise G, Candow DG, Mahoney D, Tarnopolsky M. Effect of Creatine and Weight Training on Muscle Creatine and Performance in Vegetarians. Medicine in Science in Sports and Exercise. 2003; 35 (11): 1946-1955.
  2. Kreider R. Sports Applications of Creatine. In: Douglas Kalman JA, Jeffrey Stout, Mike Greenwood, Darryn Willoughby, Gregg Haff, ed. Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements. Totowa, NJ:Humana Press;2008.
  3. Yarrow K, Brown P, Krakauer JW. Inside the brain of an elite athlete: the neural processes that support high achievement sports. Nat Rev Neurosci. 20009; 10 (8): 585-596.
  4. Hultman E, Soderlund K, Timmons JA, Cederblad G, Greenhaff Pl. Muscle creatine loading in men. Journal of Applied physiology. July 1 1996;81 (1): 232-237.

A Whirlwind Month

August has been a sort of whirlwind for me. From Brett graduating and applying to jobs, to me leaving PowerBar, moving from Baltimore to Rochester (short stay with the family), house hunting in Dallas, Brett getting a job in Dallas, being asked to speak at the International Swim Coaches Association in Tampa and me working on my new Fueled and Focused career, it’s been a bit crazy. So I wanted to apologize for not being the best at posting here, but to also tell you that the next few months will bring even more changes, and with that will come new and greater things at Fueled and Focused. Also, I have been asked to speak to groups before on nutrition, but this conference was the first conference I presented at. Here are some pics of me presenting and with Garrett Weber Gale (2 time Olympic Gold Medal Swimmer) founder of Athletic Foodie.

IMG_5048 IMG_5049

September will definitely be a month of change. And funny enough this was predicted. I’m going to let you in on a secret that I probably shouldn’t say as you all might think me a bit crazy. A few months ago, someone read tarot cards for me, and that is exactly what she said. September will be a month of great changes (and I didn’t say anything about leaving PowerBar, moving, Brett applying for a job, etc). I am both scientific and spiritual, however I do sometimes think it fun to look at things like tarot (like once every 5 years). To me it’s a bit of a harmless way to see what they will say about you. I definitely believe that God is in charge, and I don’t make decisions based them, but none the less, I thought it would be fun.

So here we are. Brett starts his new job in Dallas on Sept 8th, I’ll be flying down again to go house hunting, I’ve been asked to be a nutrition consultant with Athletic Foodie and I’ll be launching a new Fueled and Focused website that I’m extremely excited about. I’m not ready to share just yet about the new website, but I can tell you it’s been over a year in the making, and I’m very excited to bring it to athletes everywhere. I think it will really help athletes bring their racing and training to a whole new level. Which reminds me, I’m under a deadline with it (self imposed of course) and it’s time to get back to work.

At the ISCA conference a few days ago I had a lot of questions on creatine. So tomorrow I’ll be posting a blog on creatine, benefits, ways of taking it, etc.

Strengthening Our Ligaments and Tendons Through Nutrition

Back in April of this year, I took part in a CPSDA sport dietician’s conference. My role was with PowerBar, and educating the dieticians on our products, what’s new, how their athletes can use them, etc. While there I was able to listen to some of the presenters speak on various topics. The one of most interest to me was by Dr. Keith Baar from UC Davis. He presentation was about ligament health, but specifically how we can use nutrition to strengthen our ligaments post surgery. It was quite fascinating and my goal here is to summarize his talk so that others can hear this pretty cool topic.

What is a ligament?

Ligaments attach bone to bone. Or from wikipedia: a short band of tough, flexible, fibrous connective tissue that connects two bones or cartilages or holds together a joint.

Ligaments attach two stiff tissues (bone is pretty stiff). The stiffer the ligament, the stronger the attachment.

What is a tendon?

Tendons connect muscle to bone. Or from wikipedia: a flexible but inelastic cord of strong fibrous collagen tissue attaching a muscle to a bone.

Tendons attach a compliant (stretchy) tissue to a stiff tissue. They protect muscle from injury, so a stiff tendon is not always a good thing.

How they help with exercise:

1. The greater the passive stiffness in a muscle tendon, the greater your strength, power, speed and economy/efficiency.
2. However, the greater the passive stiffness the greater the rate of muscle injury from exercise. We can increase the stiffness from exercises like plyometrics and strides.
So you have a negative and a positive, all in the same thing. It’s all about balance. And sometimes, that balance is skewed in one direction and you tear that tendon or ligament. Typical tears include ACL, LCL, MCL. Sometimes, surgery is the only option.
Dr. Baar and the other researchers in his lab set out to look at the effect of loading on ligaments, the stretch cycle, etc. They even engineered their own ligaments to test different tensile strengths and see the reaction. Pretty cool. They also looked at female hormones specifically, and how that related to the stretch cycle, and injury prevention or causation. I’m not going to go into that now, however he did find that women have great laxity (flexibility) in their knees at ovulation, due to estrogen being high, thus leading to more ACL ruptures. Estrogen appears to decrease ligament stiffness.
So I’m sure you’re asking where the nutrition part comes in…here it is:
Collagen: the most abundant protein in the body and is the major component of our connective tissue (skin, tendons, muscles, etc.). Collagen is also called Gelatine/Jello. We’ve all had jello, which is collagen. Those that are vegans will not and do not consume collagen or Gelatine since it is derived from animal products. Unfortunately they can stop reading as what I’m going to go into is only about collagen.
Collagen is found in protein rich foods like beef. The collagen that is found in foods must be broken down by the digestive system, and then absorbed into the small intestine-then it’s reassembled to create our connective tissues. As we age, collagen decreases, our muscles and skin sag, our cartilage becomes thinner and weaker and we have hair loss.
What Dr. Baar and his team discovered was, when you add collegen (with Vit. C) into your daily diet at very specific times, it improved collagen synthesis. The reason why vitamin C is added, is that it is  needed for collagen synthesis. You might remember hearing about sailors getting scurvy. Scurvy is a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C, characterized by swollen bleeding gums and the opening of previously healed wounds, which particularly affected poorly nourished sailors until the end of the 18th century (wiki). Yikes. It’s one reason they carried lemons and limes on their ships.
They tested this out with numerous athletes. Each time giving them a combination of collagen and vitamin C before their post surgery rehab sessions. It turns out, it worked. It made their tendons and ligaments stronger, allowed the body to recover post surgery, and prevented any re-tearing in the future. The recipe for collegan squares, is just orange juice jello squares.
Here is their recipe:
Gelatin Recipe
Gelatin can be just added to a shake (2-5g) or made into Jello
For the Jello recipe, take
-5 packets (4g each) of Knox®
Gelatine
-2 Cups of juice (orange)
-1,000 mg of vitamin C
  • Boil 1.5 cups of the juice while you dissolve the gelatin and vitamin C in the remaining 1/2 cup.
  • Mix the hot juice, put in the fridge and let cool.
  • Cut into 10 pieces.
  • Eat one piece 30-60 before training or physical therapy.

I made this just to see how it tasted. It tasted just like orange jello. If you are post surgery, or even in rehab for a tendon/ligament tear, this is worth a shot.

If you give this a shot, let me know how it turns out. I hope it helps!