1. Creatine monohydrate is the most effective and most researched form of creatine supplement
2. 20% of athletes do not respond to creatine supplementation
3. May improve competition performances in shorter races (i.e. 50m, 100m, 200m)
4. May aid in training intensity during dry-land training and ultra-short race pace training
5. May hinder competition performances in longer races
You have probably heard of creatine before. But do you know what it actually is? How it works? Or the possible role it can play for swimmers?
First, it is important to know that creatine is not prohibited by WADA. It is also widely accepted as an ethical performance-enhancing supplement, and is in no way, shape, or form associated with steroids. It is also important to know how creatine works in the body so that we can start to understand the concepts and uses of a creatine supplement. The following are the basic facts that you or your athletes need to know about creatine’s role in the human body.
Internal Creatine (In The Body)
Lets start with phosphocreatine, or creatine phosphate (CP). CP is a naturally occurring energy store in the human body. Creatine is a peptide containing a high-energy phosphate. CP’s role is to donate its phosphate group to form ATP (our body’s primary source of energy). This occurs as our muscular ATP stores become depleted, typically within the first 10 seconds or so of maximal intensity exercise (e.g. 25m sprint). This is often known as our ATP-CP energy system.
External Creatine (Supplements)
Does it actually work?
In short, yes, creatine supplementation works. Resting CP levels are typically around 125mmol/kg of muscle. However, the body seems to be able to store around 160mmol/kg before hitting a ceiling where it will not store any more. About 80% of athletes who supplement creatine will experience an increase in ATP-CP related performance. This is due to a rise in resting CP stores from around 125mmol/kg to the 160/mmol/kg limit. (20% are considered “non-responders” wherein they rest closer to their ceiling or their ceiling is below average, or more likely a combination of the two). For “responders”, the almost 30% increase in muscular CP directly translates to increased duration of the ATP-CP system function. Simply put, more creatine means more energy for muscles.
CP is the body’s internal form of creatine. Like I said above, CP is creatine bound to phosphate. Creatine monohydrate is THE basic form of supplemental creatine. Wherein a creatine molecule is bound to 1 water molecule. And, with so many variations of creatine on the market, it would take quite a while to find the research and compare each and every type of creatine. So, instead of getting into all of this, I am going to focus on the supplementation of creatine monohydrate, as it is the most researched and proven to work (You’ll have to take my word for it).
So bottom line, creatine monohydrate does its job of increasing CP stores. Next lets talk about how to use this supplement. The following is a typical, well-researched procedure for supplementing with creatine:
· Loading phase (5 days) – 20g of creatine monohydrate, taken in 4 separate servings throughout the day (4x5g).
· Maintenance phase – 5g of creatine monohydrate taken once per day. Realistically, even 3g/day would probably do fine for maintaining saturated CP stores.
Typically creatine monohydrate will come with a 5g scoop. If yours doesn’t have a scoop, 1 tsp is approximately 5g. Now the loading phase is not necessary to maximize creatine phosphate (CP) stores, but it will allow you to do so quicker (approximately 5 days). Without a loading phase, a maintenance dose will eventually maximize creatine phosphate stores, but will take much longer (20-30 days).
Some research indicates that taking a serving of creatine following a training session may be the most effective way of absorbing it. However, the reality of it is this: when you take your creatine probably won’t make a difference since you will be maxing out your CP stores regardless.
The take home message here:
Don’t get too anxious about timing your creatine ingestion. Just try and get 5g/day.
If you miss a dose one day, carry on as if it never happened, it takes 4-6 weeks for CP stores to return to normal levels. It won’t happen to you in a day!
Uses for Swimmers
Remember which energy system creatine is fuelling. The ATP-CP system lasts seconds, not minutes! Creatine supplementation will improve performance in shorter races (i.e. 50m Freestyle) rather than longer ones. It is interesting to note that when CP donates its phosphate to form ATP, it binds up a H+ ion. H+ ions are responsible for muscular acidosis, which decreases muscle contraction strength. You may know this better as that “lactic acid burning”. So, swimmers competing in races than venture into a few minutes’ duration (e.g. 100m, 200m races) may benefit from increased CP stores as a result of creatine supplementation.
However, even swimmers that don’t compete in 50m, 100m, 200m races may still benefit from creatine supplementation in their high intensity training (e.g. ultra short race pace training USRPT). Additionally, if these athletes are doing weights in dry-land training with the goal of producing some nervous adaptation, then creatine will help them hit those last few reps with speed. Keep in mind that the harder a swimmer can go in practice or training, the greater their adaptation will be. This will translate to improved competition performance.
A typical side-effect is weight gain of several pounds. It happens quite rapidly. This is fine, safe, and expected. With increased CP stores in muscles comes increased water retention as well. Now, this creates an interesting issue from the propulsion/drag standpoint. For athletes that compete in 50m, 100m, 200m races, having loaded CP stores probably “outweighs” the weight gain, because of the improved power output in those races. Athletes who compete in longer events may want to utilize a creating supplement in training to elicit greater adaptation, but cycle off before a competition to lose the additional water weight. If this is the case, the athlete should cease supplementing creatine for about 4 weeks before the competition. This should be adequate time for CP stores to return to normal levels, and the body to shed the excess water weight.
By Kevin Iwasa-Madge BASc, CISSN owner of iMadgen Nutrition, and as a former top-5 finisher in the world as a freestyle wrestler, Kevin embodies the lifestyle of an elite athlete. Kevin completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph in the Applied Human Nutrition. This clinically focused program allowed him the opportunity to address a range of diseases from a nutritional approach. After graduation Kevin attained his certification in sports nutrition from the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Athletically, Kevin has been an elite wrestler for over 10 years, competing for both the University of Guelph and Team Canada. Kevin is a former First Team All-Canadian, Academic All-Canadian, and Canadian Champion. As a varsity athlete, Kevin was short-listed for the prestigious Student-Athlete of the Year award. He currently trains with and competes for the Guelph Wrestling Club and National Team. Over the years, Kevin has worked with a range of individuals, from those looking to improve their overall health, to rugby player, football players, swimmers, professional fighters, wrestlers, endurance athletes and more.