Creatine has been widely studied as an effective sports supplement. Several potential benefits listed in an updated position statement from the International Society of Sports Nutrition statement include increased single and repetitive sprint performance, enhanced glycogen synthesis and greater training tolerance (1). As a creatine user myself, I wanted to read up on the latest studies. However, my main take away was surprise at how few women capitalize on the benefits provided by creatine.
The position statement cites a NCAA 2014 report of creatine use being most popular among male athletes of various sports ranging from 12.9% of tennis players to 29.4% of hockey players. Female use was reported to be 0.2-3.8% (see here). In fact, NCAA athletes use recreational drugs more than creatine. Alcohol use was reported among 83%, marijuana at 22% and tobacco at 10-16% of athletes.
I find this to be both shocking and puzzling.
The University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport says women coaching women at the collegiate level was over 90% in 1974 but barely over 40% in 2016. So is there some sort of gender bias going on? Is it that coaches aren’t recommending creating to their female athletes, but treat male athletes differently? Or do female athletes hold certain fears about taking sport supplements and refuse to try it?
Whatever the case may be, a lot of published studies are in men only (2-5), but there is literature suggesting creatine is effective in augmenting exercise training in females too (6-10). Anecdotally in using it myself, talking with friends and working with female athletes who’ve used it, I personally believe women can also receive performance benefits from using creatine.
Where does creatine come from?
Creatine is found naturally in foods like red meat and seafood – one pound of uncooked beef and salmon provides about 1 – 2 grams of creatine (1) . For reference, most creatine powder supplements are dosed at 5 grams in one serving, or one teaspoon. Humans produce creatine endogenously as well and this combined with dietary sources maintain muscle stores at 60-80% of total saturation. According to the position statement, Americans consume over 8.8 million pounds of creatine a year – that’s a lot of creatine!
How does it work?
Creatine combines with a phosphoryl group in the body. When ATP (our cells’ form of energy) breaks down into ADP and a phosphoryl group, the phosphoryl group from creatine can combine with ADP to replenish ATP, thereby allowing for greater power/strength and faster recovery times. Being able to train harder or faster leads to increased exercise adaptations AKA #gains.
This tastes gross. How do I use it?
No it doesn’t. Ok maybe it does a little. Chug it with 8oz of a fruity beverage or no-added sugar juice. Flavored supplements are available as well. If 83% of athletes are chasing alcoholic drinks they need to adopt the same attitude and chase their gross creatine if they really care.
At this point, the research suggests the most effective form is creatine monohydrate (1, 11). The position statement posits the most effective way to push muscle creatine stores to full saturation is to take 5g (or 0.3g per kilogram of bodyweight) four times per day for 5-7 days (1, 3, 5). This is referred to as “loading” although some studies claim loading isn’t necessary. Another method is to just take 3-5 grams daily for 28 days and avoid the loading phase (3).
Once saturated, the body needs 3-5g per day to maintain stores but some larger athletes may need up to 5-10g daily. It’s also recommended to take creatine with a non-hot high carbohydrate meal, snack or beverage to promote glycogen storage and creatine retention. It will take 4-6 weeks after stopping supplementation for muscle stores to return to their pre-supplementation levels.
There’s still much experimenting to be done by women athletes and sport supplements. With a little background research, quality testing stamps of approval and confidence women athletes can realize performance benefits too. Don’t forget to eat real food, train hard, get adequate sleep and recovery and when those bases are covered, take some damn creatine!
1. Kreider RB, Kalman DS, Antonio J et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. In. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition2017.
2. Okudan N, Belviranli M, Pepe H, Gokbel H. The effects of beta alanine plus creatine administration on performance during repeated bouts of supramaximal exercise in sedentary men. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness. 2015;55(11):1322-8.
3. Hultman E, Soderlund K, Timmons JA, Cederblad G, Greenhaff PL. Muscle creatine loading in men. Journal of applied physiology. 1996;81(1):232-7.
4. Griffen C, Rogerson D, Ranchordas M, Ruddock A. Effects of Creatine and Sodium Bicarbonate Coingestion on Multiple Indices of Mechanical Power Output During Repeated Wingate Tests in Trained Men. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism. 2015;25(3):298-306.
5. Bereket-Yucel S. Creatine supplementation alters homocysteine level in resistance trained men. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness. 2015;55(4):313-9.
6. Grindstaff PD, Kreider R, Bishop R et al. Effects of creatine supplementation on repetitive sprint performance and body composition in competitive swimmers. International journal of sport nutrition. 1997;7(4):330-46.
7. Vandenberghe K, Goris M, Van Hecke P, Van Leemputte M, Vangerven L, Hespel P. Long-term creatine intake is beneficial to muscle performance during resistance training. Journal of applied physiology. 1997;83(6):2055-63.
8. Tarnopolsky MA, MacLennan DP. Creatine monohydrate supplementation enhances high-intensity exercise performance in males and females. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism. 2000;10(4):452-63.
9. Ziegenfuss TN, Rogers M, Lowery L et al. Effect of creatine loading on anaerobic performance and skeletal muscle volume in NCAA Division I athletes. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.). 2002;18(5):397-402.
10. Candow DG, Chilibeck PD, Burke DG, Mueller KD, Lewis JD. Effect of different frequencies of creatine supplementation on muscle size and strength in young adults. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. 2011;25(7):1831-8.
11. Jager R, Purpura M, Shao A, Inoue T, Kreider RB. Analysis of the efficacy, safety, and regulatory status of novel forms of creatine. Amino acids. 2011;40(5):1369-83.