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What is Creatine. CrossFit Training Post: On Creatine Supplements

What is Creatine?

In terms of athletics, Creatine is a molecule needed for muscle function.  It helps keep you from running out of ATP during short, intense bursts of activity.  Energy in ATP (high school biology refresher) ultimately fuels most life processes.  Skeletal muscle uses a lot of ATP during intense exercise.  Creatine helps recycle used ATP so it continues to be available.  Creatine supplements increase muscle force and power.  At least in the short term.  And that’s the very short of it.  Creatine also interacts with other cellular processes.  It appears to increase production of insulin-like growth factor (IGF). IGF works with Growth Hormone and Insulin to increase cell division and growth.  Creatine supplements may cause this Creatine/Growth Hormone system to step up growth.

Will being on Creatine Supplements help me gain muscle mass?

Probably yes.   This may be especially the case for vegetarians.  In average Westerners your body produces half its own creatine.  Diet (meat) supplies the other half.  Vegetarians have lower levels of creatine than meat eaters. Masters Athletes may also benefit.  Creatine may help preserve muscle mass as well.

Can Creatine Supplements help me during CrossFit Competition?

CrossFit involves intense burst of energy from many different muscle groups.  So CrossFit might be the poster child for creatine supplements.

Can being on Creatine Supplements help me with endurance sports?

Creatine probably won’t help with endurance.  And it might slow you down if you have to carry more weight.  That can be muscle mass or it might simply be retained water.

What else can Creatine Supplements do?

Creatine supplements are being studied as treatments for people with muscle disorders.  They are also being studied for use in treating major depression.  Creatine seems to increase the effectiveness of anti-depressants.

What are side effects or dangers?

One potential problem with Creatine Supplements is the increased activity of the IGF/Growth Hormone axis.  While this might help with muscle growth, increased IGF and Growth Hormone can increase risk of cancer.  Most studies of creatine supplementation have involved small numbers of subjects.  And have been for short periods of time.  This means that the effects of taking creatine for a long time are not known.

Another possible problem with creatine supplements is that they can reduce flexibility.  This might be because of increased muscle mass.  Or it might be because of fluid build-up in muscle tissue.

Venus with her Kettlebells CrossFit Shirt.

Should I be on Creatine Supplements all the time?

There is concern that taking creatine for a long time or in great amounts can cause kidney damage.  “More” is often not “better.”  Another thing to keep in mind is that the body tends to seek balance.  If you give it more of something it may respond by producing less of it itself.  This happens, for example, with testosterone.  Testosterone will increase muscle growth, but the testes will figure out that there is enough testosterone in circulation.  And it will stop making so much.  Hence the shrinking testes and reduced fertility in men who take testosterone supplements.   It is possible that taking creatine supplements will eventually result in less creatine synthesis.  If you are going to take creatine you should take it for short periods of time.  And take breaks.  Until more research is done.

Safdar A, Yardley NJ, Snow R, Melov S, & Tarnopolsky MA (2008). Global and targeted gene expression and protein content in skeletal muscle of young men following short-term creatine monohydrate supplementation. Physiological genomics, 32 (2), 219-28 PMID: 17957000

Candow DG, Forbes SC, Little JP, Cornish SM, Pinkoski C, & Chilibeck PD (2012). Effect of nutritional interventions and resistance exercise on aging muscle mass and strength. Biogerontology, 13 (4), 345-58 PMID: 22684187

Lyoo IK, Yoon S, Kim TS, Hwang J, Kim JE, Won W, Bae S, & Renshaw PF (2012). A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial of oral creatine monohydrate augmentation for enhanced response to a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor in women with major depressive disorder. The American journal of psychiatry, 169 (9), 937-45 PMID: 22864465

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