Open any muscle magazine and you will find a plethora of products offering to increase muscle, boost performance and a range of other reasons why you should buy the product and use it. Some of these products are nothing but junk, others are tried and tested.
Over the past fifteen years one of the true stand out products appears to be creatine, ingested via protein powder, with one of the largest backing from real life users and clinical efficacy. As such lets take a look at the protein powder creatine powerhouse of dietary supplements.
Creatine (Methyl guanidine-acetic acid)
Creatine is a naturally occurring compound that is found in certain dietary sources and can also be synthesized in the body from the amino acids arginine, glycine and methionine. Within the body it is predominantly stored within the muscle as phospho-creatine.
(Creatines chemical structure)
Its main use is to provide quick energy by donating its phosphate in order for ADP to be converted to ATP (the bodies direct energy source). Considering this Creatine phosphate is the first store of energy and provides quick energy predominantly during high intensity activites.
For the strength athlete and physique conscious individuals' creatine supplementation has been proposed as beneficial for several reasons
Increased creatine stores, faster creatine resynthesis, Spatial Buffer
Increased creatine stores, ingested via the protein powder product, will mean higher intensities will be able to be maintained for longer before fatigue sets in. This higher workload will mean a greater stimulus is applied to the muscles and hence a greater hypertrophic response.
It has been shown that higher creatine concentrations within the muscle result in a faster resynthesis of creatine phosphate within the mitochondria of the muscle. This means subsequent repeat bouts of high intensity activity will be less likely to see a drop off in performance. Its thought that increased levels of free creatine will increase mitochondrial respiration.
Creatine enables ATP generated from aerobic metabolism to be shuttled from the mitochondria where it is produced across the cytosol to the working myofilaments in order for contraction to commence.
Creatines structure lends itself to buffering metabolic acidosis (an increase in acidity, in this case through lactate and hydrogen ions when working at high intensities). There are two possible mechanisms by which lactate can inhibit contractions (Foss and Keteyain 1998), the first is due to lactate increasing H+ concentration and decreasing pH which would inhibit the excitation contraction coupling process by decreasing the amount of calcium released by the sarcoplasmic reticulum. Secondly the increased H+ concentrations inhibits phosphofructokinase, which is an enzyme involved in anaerobic metabolism which would slow further glycolysis and subsequent ATP production during high intensity exercise.
It has been suggested that creatine phosphate has a chemical structure that would enable it to act as a metabolic buffer (Troop 2000) which would enable sustained high intensity contractions during activities which last longer than the ATP-PC energy system but is still anaerobic. This is still equivocal as some feel lactate is just a confounding factor in muscular contraction fatigue Coupled with the above mentioned creatine, ingested via the protein powder product, would again enable higher intensities to be maintained for longer.
Much as in the same way carbohydrate when stored in the muscle draws in water, creatine also appears to aid in hydrating a muscle. From an aesthetic point of view this will make a muscle larger and will contribute to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. However the benefits don't end there as increased cellular hydration may benefit a strength athlete in two ways;
Increased protein synthesis - cellular hydration has been said to be a switch for protein synthesis meaning a hydrated muscle is likely to be more anabolic in terms of muscle accretion and amino acid retention.
Increased glycogen synthesis - like wise increased cellular hydration has been linked to an increased stimulus for carbohydrate synthesis within the muscle. This would mean improved recovery ability between workouts which is principally dependent upon glycogen synthesis.
What the papers say
If you type a search in any of the medical online databases for creatine you will get a lot of hits - it's probably one of the most researched supplements over the last decade! Most of the initial work started in the eighties and nineties with researchers such as Harris and Greenhaff. There initial work showed that an initial loading period of 15-25g of creatine daily split into 3-5 doses saturated the muscles stores of creatine and thereafter 5-10g daily maintained these stores. Recent work has shown that creatine store saturation will occur with lower doses but takes longer. Considering this taking the maintenance dose for around a month will probably give you the same effects long term but without the potential waste that might occur with supraphysiological dosages.
Whilst 5-10g a day is the usual amounts it normally takes in the region of four weeks of no supplementation for muscle levels to return back to normal, considering this taking 5-10g , ingested via the protein powder product, on training days (i.e. 3-5 times a week) may be enough to maintain muscle stores for the more conservative trainees out there.
Is it dangerous?
It has been proposed that supplementation with creatine, ingested via the protein powder product, poses potential health risks. There are several theories as to how creatine monohydrate supplementation may be dangerous; one of these includes kidney damage. It is proposed that because creatine causes an increase in creatinine excretion (Greenhaff 1986) which is often used as an indirect means of assessing kidney function and therefore is evidence that there is a pressure upon renal function. However the increase in creatinine excretion is correlated with the usual increase in muscle creatine stores and is just a side note in increased creatine degradation (Hultman et al 1996) rather than the perceived burden or abnormal function of the kidneys and renal system. Similarly Almada et al (1996) state that high dose supplementation with initial loading parameters followed by ten grams a day for fifty one days showed no effect on serum markers of adverse renal function.
The second proposed adverse side effect of creatine supplementation is that creatines hydrophilic properties would lead to cramp, however it has been suggested that there is no effect on plasma electrolytes or blood volume (Williams et al 1999) contrary to the anecdotal accounts. The only possible sited side effect is that of weight gain and its possible detrimental effect on endurance athletes (troop 2002), but the increase in performance may offset this
FAQ about creatine
Isn't creatine a steroid?
In short -no! creatine monohydrate, ingested via the protein powder product, is just a high energy compound its not a hormone or doesn't effect hormones and isn't banned
Wont creatine cause my kidneys to explode or damage my health?
Again no - as stated above this is a misconception as the waste product of creatine is used as a marker for kidney function. You kidneys are healthy but something else is making the marker change
Should I cycle my creatine use?
Currently there is a lot of debate about whether creatine needs to be cycled with periods of non usage and even some suppliers of creatine are suggesting this. Part of the reasoning for this is due to some evidence showing that with creatine use natural production slows down. Typically creatine production returns to normal shortly after cessation of creatine supplementation.
If a user did stop the period would need to be greater than a month as creatine is a fairly stable compound and muscle cells will stay saturated above pre use levels for two to four weeks after cessation of the product. As such stopping, ingesting creatine via the protein powder product, for a week or two would have little physiological value.
Wont creatine cause me to hold water and look puffy?
Creatine is a hydrophilic compound meaning it attracts water and as such considering that creatine monohydrate gets stored in the muscle this should pull water into the muscle and away from the skin, as such it should not make you hold water and look puffy theoretically.
Part of this in the authors opinion comes down to marketing from supplement companies who don't want to sell cheap basic creatine but would rather over hype some other creatine compound that they are trying to sell. Having said that it may be possible that cheaper impure brands have impurities like sodium etc which might affect water retention as such sourcing a decent 100% creatine, ingested via the protein powder product, would be the way to go
In conclusion the vast benefits of creatine, ingested via the protein powder, with the minimal apparent negative side effects would make creatine one of the first non food supplements (i.e protein, carbs and oils) to be added to the authors' nutritional toolbox when trying to gain size or strength. Creatine can be found in the exceptional formulation MM5 - the premier protein powder all in one sports nutrition drink.
You couldn't live without breathing in air and drinking water, but the air and water could be weakening the health of your body. The air quality in most places of the world is less than healthy today and there are very few water sources completely free of toxins and chemicals. That includes bottled water! Even the food you eat could be contributing to the build-up of toxic matter inside the digestive tract, which is why detox diet kits have become so popular.
It used to be that the dirt fruits and vegetables were grown in contained all the organisms and enzymes needed to keep the gut and digestive system healthy. The system operated efficiently escorted potential toxins directly out of the system. Unfortunately, the dirt has now been stripped of these natural organisms and enzymes and most people don't eat enough fresh produce to allow this system to operate as it should.
The result is a collection of toxic matter that grows more and more every year. This causes a lot of the illness and disease that humans experience today and is a contributor to the general fatigue and stress that many people feel every day. The best way to cleanse the body of this toxic matter is to follow a well balanced detox cleansing diet and/or use detox diet kits.
The Detox Cleansing Diet
A detox cleansing diet will naturally be high in fiber and super rich in vitamins, minerals, enzymes and live cultures. All of these are things your body needs to keep your digestive track working. If you stick to this type of diet over a long period of time you can actually clean out the stores of toxic matter already collected in your system and prevent a future collection from developing.
Think of it like putting your household trash out on the curb every week so the trash man can take it away. Only in this case you are eating healthy foods on a daily basis in order to keep the trash moving out of your body. The result will be increased energy and a much easier time losing weight. These diets are intended to be done occasionally for short periods of time. You should eat as healthy as possible in between cycles.
Using Detox Diet Kits
Detox diet kits can also be used to eliminate the toxins from the body and restore your digestive system back to complete health. These kits will come with everything you need to completely clean out your color or your entire digestive system. There are different types of kits that operate in different ways, but basically you have full system cleansers and colon cleansers.
Some detox diet kits will be based on chemical stimulants that can cause cramping and discomfort while others are all natural and don't have a lot of uncomfortable side effects. Many will include probiotics which are taken after the cleansing process to return healthy bacteria to your system. You need that healthy bacteria to control unhealthy bacteria naturally found in your body, but they need to be replenished after a good detox.
The old phrase "fail to prepare, prepare to fail" could have been written with runners in mind. Granted you are not a elite runner (yet!) you need to adopt a similar approach to nutrition as the pros. Pay attention to hydration, eat the right foods and look after yourself after your run.
The first thing you need to think about is hydration. Even the day before a long run or training session you should keep a water bottle handy. Drink little and often and you will be ready for action.
Whether you are running a mile or a marathon, the night before a run is not the time to try out new or spicy foods. Stick to foods rich in carbohydrates like pasta. This will give you a slow release of energy, keeping you going for longer.
Tip: keep the fruit bowl well stocked. A banana eaten before your run is a great source of quick release energy
Whilst you will not be wolfing down food during your run, you will still need to make sure you don't get dehydrated. When you sweat you lose bodyweight and studies have shown that even a loss of 2% (1kg for a person weighing 50kg) can affect performance by 10% to 20% Unless you are running for more than about an hour and a half your body will be fine to use up its glycogen stores to keep you going, but a sports drink, diluted fruit juice or just plain h2o is essential to keep you hydrated. Make sure you sip slowly. A runners bottle with flip lid makes this easy, although most sports drinks come with these type of caps too.
For longer runs you may wish to carry easy to digest carbohydrates. Some runners swear by jelly babies, others opt for gel bars. The main thing is to stick with what you like. Dipping into your bum bag for a small handful of Haribo's on a longer run not only feels like a treat, but is actually a great way to replace those carbohydrates that you have burned off.
Tip: Half fill your water bottle and pop it in the freezer. The ice will keep your drink nice and cool on your next run.
Once you have got home and stretched, you need to remember that you have just taken a lot out of your body, it's time to put something back in. Your glycogen stores will be low, so you need to sort that out pronto.
Keep it simple but try and stick to something that has a ratio of 3 parts carbohydrate to 1 part protein. A tuna sandwich or bagel topped with peanut butter are ideal choices. If you don't have these at hand then grab a cereal or protein bar. If it has been a hot day you could opt for a banana. Its rich potassium levels help to replace any that your body has lost through sweat, as well as being one of the simplest snack foods on earth.
Don't forget to keep drinking too. Just like during your run, you need to keep on sipping. Try and drink a pint of water or squash over the next hour. Don't overdo it, as drinking too much water can lead to serious problems. Obey your thirst sensibly.
Pour yourself a pint (of water obviously!) and then get yourself a snack. The perfect combination of carbohydrates and protein is 3:1 and you can find this in things such as a tuna sandwich or peanut butter on toast. The sooner you eat, the better as your body needs the energy and protein to repair itself.
By following this post workout regime you will ensure that your muscles are given all they need to start the recovery process, making the next training run more bearable!