The Mythology: Charges your muscle batteries with the food they need to grow big and perform long after their natural stores have been exhausted.
The Truth: Improves strength and endurance. Enviable evidence base. However a lot of body builders will underdose or take it too inconsistently for it to work. Individual variability to response.
Research: Creatine is one of those precious few supplements that actually has scientific research to back the frenzied hype of elite bodybuilder endorsements and supplement industry pamphleteers. Its widespread acceptance by bodybuilders and sportsmen went literally arm in arm with, research studies proving its efficacy.
Rawsen and Volek (2003) combed through over 20 studies of creatine in weight training. They found that the average increase in muscle strength in terms of 1 rep max, following creatine supplementation plus resistance training is 8% greater than the average increase in muscle strength following a placebo. They also found that the number of repetitions of a given weight that could be performed following creatine supplementation plus resistance training was 14% greater placebo and training.
One thing to note however is that there is a significant amount of variability in response to creatine. If you are lucky you maybe among the population that responds very well to it. Unfortunately your response could also be less than spectacular due to no fault of your own.
There is consistent evidence that creatine supplementation improves the recovery between repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise. Creatine seems to work best in improving performance of short, high-intensity workouts with short rest periods (e.g. weight training, resistance training, and racquet sports). Creatine does not appear to enhance the performance of aerobic or endurance sports. In fact, one study of cross-country runners showed performance impairment following creatine supplementation, which was attributed to the weight gain.
Research supports higher loading and maintenance dosages – 12 – 20 gms loading for 5 days followed by – 3 – 8 gms maintenance. I think a loading dose of 15 gms for 5 days followed by 5 gms daily should be aimed for in a 70- 80kg man.
1) Rawson E, Volek JS, J Strength Cond Res. 2003 Nov;17(4):822-31.Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance.
2) Hesselink MKC et al. Clin Sci (Lond). 2003 Feb;104(2):153-62. Effects of creatine loading and prolonged creatine supplementation on body composition, fuel selection, sprint and endurance performance in humans.
How it works: Multiple pathways are involved. Increases in muscle fiber hypertrophy and myosin heavy chain expression have been observed with creatine supplementation. Creatine supplementation may also induce a cellular swelling in muscle cells, which in turn may affect carbohydrate and protein metabolism. Elevated intramuscular creatine can enhance glycogen levels.
Adverse effects: Appears to be very well tolerated and safe. No definite evidence of adverse effects with short or long term use yet. Anecdotal reports of muscle cramping and nausea.