Above all supplements I have taken creatine seems to be the most controversial. I believe this stems from an insufficient knowledge base about the supplement and its effects on the body. This post will tackle creatine and try to answer a simple question: should you take it?
I can say with 100% confidence this is the best article you will read to learn about creatine in relation to CrossFit and CrossFit gains. This article took some time from me and my friends who were kind enough to write a fantastic response. Read time is about 7 minutes, so strap in and get ready!
To help me with this post I asked two knowledgeable leaders in the CrossFit world, Taryn Romanowich owner of FUNCTION and Scott Paltos owner of PUMP for their input on creatine. Drawing from their own personal experience they have written responses that I hope will help you as much as it has helped me.
First, some creatine basics:
CrossFit Creatine Basics:
Creatine is a vital component to the skeletal muscle system and always has been. It was first “found” two decades ago when Michel-Eugène Chevreul, a French scientist, isolated it from the muscle. It wasn’t until recently when athletes used it for supplementation that it became the most popular errogenic (performance enhancing) supplement on the market.
How It Works:
Creatine works by increasing the amount of energy your muscles can use. Our cells store their energy in molecules called Adenosine TriPhosphate (ATP). The amount of work our muscles can perform is directly correlated with the amount of ATP we have available as well as the rate in which we can regenerate ATP as it depletes. This regeneration is why creatine is so beneficial. With supplemental creatine we effectively increase the amount of times that ATP can be regenerated allowing us to sustain near maximal force for longer, without having an effect on our maximal limit. This is the short term immediate effect of creatine.
Creatine also has the ability to increase our maximal force or limit. This is done by stimulating myogensis (muscle growth). There are two ways creatine does this:
This is the most known and seemingly the most concerned effect of creatine. Muscle volumizing is the growth of muscle due to movement of fluids into the skeletal muscle from the blood stream that causes the muscle to swell.
Protein synthesis is the production of new muscle proteins. On one end, research has shown that the muscle volumizing process actually stimulates the production of new muscle proteins. On the other end, because creatine allows us to stay near maximal force for longer, that two will stimulate protein synthesis. With these two synergistic effects, it’s no wonder strength gains are so common with this supplement.
Protein synthesis is the end game. This errogenic effect will last long after you stop taking the supplemental creatine, whereas muscle volumizing will deplete over time (about 1 month) after discontinued use.
What Does This Mean For Crossfit?
For the sport of Crossfit, this means you will be able to do those 21s unbroken instead of stopping… it means adding a crapton of weight to your lifts, it means setting new PRs daily… It means going above and beyond what you thought was your limit… something we all crave.
One of the themes of this blog is to share what works, to help each other with our own experiences. This is the perfect article for just that. First I will post Scott’s response with some background:
Scott has been a high class performance coach for top rated schools, health educator at metro health clubs, competitor in strongman and powerlifitng, and now competes in CrossFit. He is the owner of a successful CrossFit and performance gym, PUMP in New Jersey. Besides a great person and a great trainer I like Scott because he too experiments with just about everything to see what works. For the last 20 years Scott has experimented with nearly all supplements known to man, been involved with case studies, created his own case studies and observing results not only with himself but those he works with and trains with. Here are the questions I asked concerning creatine and his responses:
What did you use it for? (What kind did you use?)
I first used Creatine when I was in High School in ’94. As a supplement it had yet to hit mainstream athletics. It was around, but it was in straight monohydrate form. Simple powder and no connections were around yet. Below I will list the timeline in which I have used Creatine.
-Monohydrate: First few years in creation I would use the supplement in a cycle form. Never really adhering to a strict schedule for more than 4-6 weeks. I used the “loading parameters” at first…i.e. 5g x 5times x 5 days…SUPER SATURATION belief. I would mix the powder with orange juice or water, and as some time passed eventually Grape Juice. A maintenance dosage of 5-10g was used PWO (post workout).
-Creatine PWO Cocktails: This is and typically what I would still use more recently. And what I mean by most recently is the supplements that I use now with Creatine in it. In the past the supplement was mainly attached to a simple carb source as the shuttle system. As the companies grew and people got wiser, some other things have been attached to them as well…bcaa, beta-alanine, ala…plus a bunch of others. Most recently these cocktails have gotten rid of the simple carbs and used other compounds to mimic the shuttle insulin response the carbs gave to you.
-Ethyl-Ester, Malate, Di-Malate: All creatine sources, but broken down even more, so absorption rates are better. Most have only been around for a few years, so research is out still. BUT I will say some are much easier on the stomach/digestive process…thus the point of creation.
The only reason for USING creatine is for performance. Performance can mean strength, muscle volume, cns stimulation, muscle recovery, maximum output capacity, plus a few more. BUT performance is #1 and in my opinion should be the only reason. There is NO reason for people to think it will be used as a weight gainer. It is a cell-volumizer the water retention that is gained can quickly go away. Yes it will increase capacity and a quick weight response if done right, BUT it is not a weight gainer.
What Results Did You Get?
At first and still occasionally when I use new version I may add some water volume to the muscle belly. That is one visual result. I do see a faster recovery time when I am using the supplement in the right fashion. I no longer waste time with loading. Also my creatine cycles last MUCH longer. I can honestly say that I will take creatine in some small dosage (3-8g) consistently throughout the year. It may be mixed in my PWO or pre-workout cocktails that I make. I feel that with the capacity that I work at, and the volume, PLUS the work load for running my own business, that little extra recovery helps.
Would you recommend it and why?
I will not say I do or I don’t recommend it. It is not my place to do so. What I do believe is that people need to see for themselves. I have had members, clients, athletes and training partners all use multiple types and brands and get NOTHING out of them. And I have had vice-versa. I do believe it works when done right and when used the right way when training, eating and sleeping enough. BUT how many people actually do all of those consistently well. All this being said, I believe the supplement has its place in a healthy regime.
Taryn Romanowich is the owner of FUNCTION, a complete functional fitness facility that not only offers CrossFit, but athletic therapy and chiropractic services. Taryn is an athletic therapist as well as CrossFit instructor. Taryn was perfect for gaining insight on the female perspective and adds a very unique and rare advice for all females out there weary that creatine might not be right for them. Here are her responses:
What did you use it for?
I used it to see what kind of strength gains I could get from it. When I first got serious about becoming a competitive CF’er, I knew that I needed to get stronger. I was just like any other female entering the CF world, which had been told all along that girls needed to be skinny, with skinny legs and skinny arms. Getting strong would make you bulky. But not getting strong wouldn’t let me be a CF’er, so I went against the “norm” and added it to my mix.
What results did you achieve?
I can’t attribute the creatine alone to anything, but in combination with a few other things, I gained about 15lbs of muscle and all of a sudden came out of nowhere as a competitive CF’er. I combined it with whey protein, glutamine, and apple sauce, and I would simply consume just that mixture after my workouts. That’s the only time I took it. At this time I had also started a strength biased program in an effort to isolate that and knock up my numbers. Well, that’s exactly what happened.
As I became obsessed with my training, I wanted to see what creatine cycling would do, so for a month, I cycled in conjunction with the Wendler 5-3-1 cycle. For a frame of reference, pre-supplements I was stuck at a 185# DL and a 75# SP, the former of which I was stuck for about 10 months. During this cycling phase, I would hit a 275# DL, and I just PR’ed my SP at 115# the other day. Now, I haven’t taken creatine for about 2 months recently, but you can see how much my numbers have jumped.
Of course, you can always attribute other things to this as well – the strength biased programming, my overall nutrition, sleep, stress, accessibility (our gym burned down a year ago…etc), so did creatine have a sole account on this? I can’t pin point it and it’s unfair to say.
My overall opinion is that the creatine helped me gain a baseline strength foundation fast.
Would you recommend it? Why?
I stopped taking it in about May in an effort to drop some extra weight and really lean out. Creatine has a high water retention factor that wasn’t helping my success with that. And as I just proved to myself, with a 175# rack jerk the other day, I don’t need it anymore. It’s great for those trying to attempt a strength gain that don’t have that established strength baseline. Now that I do, I don’t need it. The progression to develop that however, was much quicker with the aid of the supplementation.
It seems safe to say that creatine has its place in a Crossfit lifestyle. When I took it (you can check out my Crossfit Strength Program for the details) I found great strength increases as well as water retention. To me, I felt great and still do use it. Try it, see how you feel and judge the supplement after! I will be posting a future article about how to best intake creatine and what types to use.
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