This is a great question and one a person with my background gets a good deal. A number of products are available that are touted for use by strength and power athletes or athletes who desire to be strong and powerful while also maximizing muscle mass and minimizing fat. Easily, the best way to answer this question is to reword the question into, “which supplements would I spend my own money on to gain strength and power and maximize body composition changes!” The list is short and supported by a great deal of science: creatine monohydrate, whey protein, beta-alanine and caffeine. In an effort to strike a balance between saying the things which need to be said about each ingredient but not writing an article that is too long, this topic will be broken down into installments. Next month is whey protein, then beta-alanine, then caffeine and after that I will quickly summarize some “honorable mentions”.
First Things First
I have said this before many times and I will say it again, do not even think about taking a supplement for these outcomes if you: 1) are not consistent with your workouts and 2) your diet is crappy. Seriously, take the time to get your life mapped out to where you are regularly working out and first spend your money on good, high quality food. Things like complex carbohydrate, lean cuts of protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and healthy oils. Start there and work at it. Every day!
Buy a cookbook, buy cooking utensils, pots/pans, plastic storage and small kitchen appliances to help. Open the cookbook. Read it and grow your repertoire of healthy meals you can prepare. Shoot, you could even consider this to be good dating advice as well. What guy does not like a woman that cooks well and what woman does not like a guy who will cook for her once in a while? It’s really important and something that everyone puts their head down about, but it’s a big deal. Too many people depend on a supplement to perform miracles and then gripe and moan when it does not give them their expected results. This is like putting high octane racing fuel in a Toyota Corolla and expecting to win a NASCAR race.
Why creatine? Easy. Hundreds of scientific reports consistently report that both short-term and long-term use of creatine in dosages ranging from 2 – 15 grams each day improves one or multiple bouts of exercise performance lasting less than a minute or so. The jury is still out on whether creatine can be effective for longer periods of exercise (one to several minutes or longer). Creatine works by increasing your muscle’s ability to rebuild energy that is expended quickly during exercise [1, 2]. With greater energy available, your muscle is able to perform better. You should note that some people respond better than others to creatine which means if you are a non-responder you may not see the anticipated increase in muscle mass, strength and power. Does not mean you won’t respond at all, but this is something to consider.
Is Creatine Safe?
With the information we know right now, the answer to this question is Yes. A number of studies have examined safety responses to supplementing the diet with creatine and findings from these studies consistently indicate the creatine is well-tolerated. This may surprise some nurse or doctor friends, but this statement has multiple scientific reports to support it [1, 3, 4].
Initially, reports circulated that creatine causes dehydration resulting in any number of combination of injuries including muscle pulls, torn muscles, heat injuries, cramps, etc. Fortunately, studies have been conducted in a number of different groups of athletes over long periods of time and these non-scientific reports are unfounded [5, 6].
The only known side effect is weight gain . For those who plan to take creatine for this purpose, you certainly won’t view this as a side effect, but for an athlete who needs to watch their weight but also perform maximally (e.g., wrestler, gymnast, etc.) this effect can be viewed as a problem.
Recommended Dosing Amount and Regimen
Take 2 – 5 grams every day. This amounts to a spoonful of a standard kitchen spoon. You can take it with or without food; all depends on how your stomach can handle it. If your stomach gets upset, take it with some food as this will likely help. When you take it doesn’t appear to be critical, but some researchers have indicated that taking it after a workout may help facilitate its absorption. I say take it whenever you won’t forget and take it every day.
Creatine would be the first supplement I would have a strength and power athlete begin taking after they have demonstrated consistent workout habits and a sound diet. It’s relatively cheap and overall is a must-have really for any athlete who wishes to maximize performance as scores of scientific reports consistently report its ability to improve performance and recovery.
- Buford TW, Kreider RB, Stout JR, Greenwood M, Campbell B, Spano M, Ziegenfuss T, Lopez H, Landis J, and Antonio J. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007; 4: p. 6.
- Kreider RB, Wilborn CD, Taylor L, Campbell B, Almada AL, Collins R, Cooke M, Earnest CP, Greenwood M, Kalman DS, Kerksick CM, Kleiner SM, Leutholtz B, Lopez H, Lowery LM, Mendel R, Smith A, Spano M, Wildman R, Willoughby DS, Ziegenfuss TN, and Antonio J. ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review: research & recommendations. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010; 7(1): p. 7.
- Mayhew DL, Mayhew JL, and Ware JS. Effects of long-term creatine supplementation on liver and kidney functions in American college football players. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2002; 12(4): p. 453-60.
- Kreider RB, Melton C, Rasmussen CJ, Greenwood M, Lancaster S, Cantler EC, Milnor P, and Almada AL. Long-term creatine supplementation does not significantly affect clinical markers of health in athletes. Molecular and cellular biochemistry. 2003; 244(1-2): p. 95-104.
- Greenwood M, Kreider RB, Greenwood L, and Byars A. Cramping and Injury Incidence in Collegiate Football Players Are Reduced by Creatine Supplementation. Journal of athletic training. 2003; 38(3): p. 216-219.
- Greenwood M, Kreider RB, Melton C, Rasmussen C, Lancaster S, Cantler E, Milnor P, and Almada A. Creatine supplementation during college football training does not increase the incidence of cramping or injury. Molecular and cellular biochemistry. 2003; 244(1-2): p. 83-8.