The Low Down On Creatine

This is the one sport that that has never made it into mainstream media and probably never will. Simply put, bodybuilding is a sub-culture. That alone makes being a bodybuilder all than much harder.
Creatine is one of the greatest find in the world of sports nutrition. It has been found to be a performance-enhancing agent in nearly every type of sport. Whether it be short intense bouts, long aerobic bouts or overall boy appearance, creatine has made its mark. The bottom line is, this stuff works. It is a staple in any bodybuilder's arsenal of muscle building supplements. However, the PhDs of the scientific world still aren't convinced.


A Breakdown Of Creatine

In the last decade there have been over 600 studies conducted on creatine and the great majority show that it does, in fact, work for more purpose than just building big muscles. Yet, these so called experts feel that there isn't enough evidence to support its usefulness. The latest research felt that there wasn't enough evidence on creatine's effectiveness in well-trained national level athletes who participate in a periodized program for ten weeks.

The results of this study concluded that there were no significant effects of creatine supplemtation on well-trained athletes who participated in a well-designed program. BEWARE! I suspect that in the near future this will hit the fan and you will begin to hear trainers and strength coaches preach that creatine is a waste of money.

Based just on the conclusion of the researchers, I would have to agree. However, when we take a closer look at what really went on in this study, I think more than a few eyebrows will be raised.

THE SUBJECTS

The subjects were what the researchers called "well-trained" national level, colligate, division I football players. Right off the bat this sounds great. This would lead you to believe that they are college brick house seniors like Latimer from the great movie, "The Program". However, these football players were 18 years of age, averaging 6' tall and 200lbs with 13%BF.

If you ask me, these are your typical pimply-faced high school grads fresh out of the water. They didn't specify if they were starters or walk-ons, or if they had a shred of athletic ability at all. But we will have to live with what they gave us.

THE SUPPLEMENTATION

The creatine they used came in chewable 2.4g tablets, which contained 1g of creatine and 1.4g of dextrose. Groups were assigned to take 5 tablets a day. The high dose group took 5 creatine tablets, the low dose group took 3 and 2 placebo tablets and the control group took all placebos. What concerns me here is that water intake was not assessed or monitored.

It is very possible that the subjects just drank enough water to wash the tablets down and went on their merry way. And there was no mention of dietary control or analysis. So we can assume that they were your typical college football players' off-season diet (pizza & beer). The only control they instilled was to exclude vegetarians.

THE TRAINING

Periodization, from a strictly academic perspective is very effective. All periodization really is, is a fancy way of saying, "Planned variation". Most often it is a change in volume and intensity, however, it doesn't not need to be done is such a manner to be considered Periodization. This is where I think the study went south. In a "well designed" program, subjects are tested for a 1RM and are assigned loads based on a percentage of that.

1 Rep Max Calculator

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In this study, that was in fact done. But out have to realize, that the subjects are not allowed to increase weights or strive for more reps. Program guidelines are adhered to rigidly. You will do X number of sets for X number of repetitions and X amount of weight. I was trained in my high school days in the same way and I'll tell you I heard the phrase, "Follow the program! NOTHING LESS, NOTHING MORE!" so many times it became burned into my brain.

Creatine allows a person to lift more weight, recover faster and crank out more reps. In a program designed like this, a supplement like that becomes all but a waste. And even worse, the 1RM testing was done pre-supplementation, so the creatine users were working with loads that in all likelihood aren't what they could really do if they were allowed to.

The training regiment was a rather hefty workload. Four days a week they would first do 1 hour of athletic conditioning drills at 6 A.M. And if you have ever played football, conditioning is no walk in the park. This in it self could have a direct impact on overall intramuscular creatine stores and subsequently on strength performance. In the afternoons they would hit the weights and hit them they did. Front & back squats, hang and power cleans, bench, 1 are DB shoulder presses, stiff legged deadlifts, chin ups, power shrugs, dips, and the list goes on.

After the initial week, creatine was only used once a day after workouts and on off days. Now in my opinion, with a workload like that, it should be used after any strenuous activity. So to me, at least twice a day would have been a wise choice.

THE RESULTS

Well, here is the nitty-gritty. The high dose subjects saw the greatest and fastest gains in lean body mass, and lowest gains in fat mass. Both creatine groups saw an almost identical progression in 1RM for the back squat, which was more than the placebo. Strength literally jumped in creatine users. 10lbs in 5 weeks and the non-creatine users saw 9lbs in 10weeks.

This is typical of creatine use and let's remember that they were not allowed to deviate from prescribed loading. However, these numbers didn't not reach what the researchers felt was a significant level for this study and concluded that there was no difference. And this is where we all have to beware of what the "Experts" will be saying. Many of them will skim the abstract and look for the end result.

So, although this was a very good attempt to validate the effectiveness of creatine with an already effective program, it seems to me that there were a lot of variables that were not taken into account for this study to truly be grounds of proof. When looked at more closely, the data does show that creatine users have a marked increase in strength. However, based on the data, I would suggest that the typical dosages of loading (5g 4 times a day for 5 days) and maintenance (5g 1-2 times a day) for 8 to 10 weeks followed by a 3-week lay off be followed.

Now you know the whole story and are armed with the knowledge to put the "experts" in their place when they tell you creatine doesn't work in so called "well-trained" individuals.

SOURCES

Wilder, N., R. Gilders, F. Hagerman, and R.G. Deivert. Thee effects of a 10-week, periodized off-season resistance-training program and creatine supplementation among collegiate football players. J. Strength Cond. Res. 16(3):343-352. 2002.