Creatine for women
I know that for women especially, discovering and introducing supplements to your regime can be pretty daunting. Particularly where creatine is concerned, there are lots of misconceptions. But, if you put aside connotations of huge bodybuilders, suspend any fears you may have of ‘looking bulky’, and know that creatine simply contributes to energy production in your body, it doesn’t sound quite so scary, does it? In fact, it sounds pretty good to me!
Creatine is the most widely researched sports supplement in existence and is used by a huge number of athletes, as well as a large proportion of gym-goers; both male and female. However, creatine also contributes to lots of other functions within your body, meaning that there are very few people who wouldn’t benefit from taking it.
What is creatine + where can you find it?
Creatine is a naturally occurring compound. It is formed of three different amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine. That’s all.
Without supplementation, creatine is produced in the body by the liver, with a little help from the pancreas and kidneys. It’s also found in animal produce - meat and fish - in the same areas that creatine would be found in human tissue; the muscles.
Since vegetarians and vegans lack the main source of dietary creatine intake, they are have been reported to have lower levels. The same is likely the case with other amino acids too.
Creatine is widely available from sports supplement companies and is also really inexpensive to purchase in its most common (and most researched) form, creatine monohydrate. I’ve been using creatine monohydrate from MyProtein.
I’ve also come across creatine in supplements such as Inner Me Energise Me capsules, although the dose of creatine is so minuscule that I wouldn’t recommend it for that purpose.
What does creatine do?
Energy drives the processes in your body, and creatine ultimately plays a role in energy production. Creatine supplementation can lead to improved exercise performance during high intensity (anaerobic) exercise, from sprinting to weight training to HIIT. It can help you to lift heavier, go for one more rep, jump higher, or win a race.
What you’ve probably heard, and where the association with huge body builders comes from, is that creatine supplementation can lead to increased muscle mass. However, this relationship is mostly indirect; by allowing you to work with heavier weights or to get more reps with a given weight, gains in muscle mass might be increased.
One particular piece of research that I looked at, which used female subjects, showed creatine supplementation to increase strength and fat-free mass, leading to a more desirable body composition.
Now for the geeky bit that I love (I’ve tried to make it as simple as possible)...
The Science Behind Creatine
Firstly, know that creatine is stored in muscles in the form of phosphocreatine (creatine bound with a phosphate molecule).
ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is an energy-rich compound that powers the energy-requiring processes of the cells in your body. It’s for this reason that ATP is often referred to as “energy currency” for cells. ATP plays a role in processes from digestion to circulatory function and, within your muscles, ATP contributes to the muscular contractions that enable you to move.
Physical activity provides the greatest demand for energy transfer. Intense physical activity of short duration, such as sprinting or weight lifting, relies on ATP. However, ATP depletes, breaking down into ADP (adenosine diphosphate) as it loses a phosphate molecule.
It’s at this point that phosphocreatine comes into play, donating it’s phosphate group to ADP to resynthesise ATP. It’s this quick regeneration of ATP that enhances exercise performance by allowing you to work at peak performance for a longer period of time.
Weight-Gain + Water
Another way that creatine can increase muscle size is through cell volumisation. Essentially, creatine causes water retention; it draws in water from outside of the muscle cells through the process of osmosis.
Because of this, a concern issue that women may have when supplementing with creatine is potential weight gain from water. Of course, weight gain may also be down to increased muscle mass.
To me, my weight is an arbitrary number. What I’m really interested in is what that weight is comprised of; the numbers that I’m interested in are fat mass, and fat-free mass. So long as it’s not because my fat mass is increasing drastically, weight gain doesn’t bother me.
On the subject of water, creatine can have a dehydrating effect, so remember to stay hydrated!
How should women take creatine?
Ultimately there is no difference between how women and men should supplement with creatine, although dosages for men will likely be at the higher end of the recommended ranges as they generally have a greater muscle mass, and thus the potential to store more creatine.
Here are some tips for how to supplement with creatine:
Research suggests that creatine is best consumed post-workout. I always take creatine post-workout with a scoop of whey isolate and some simple carbohydrates (a great excuse for gummy bears, no?) to elicit the insulin response that will maximise its uptake into the muscles.
Some people like to take creatine pre-workout, but note that the creatine your body will use during the workout will come from the creatine phosphate stores already in your muscles, not from the creatine you just ingested.
On rest days, simply take creatine at whatever time is most convenient for you.
Where creatine is concerned, there is often talk of loading phases, which means taking higher doses of the supplement for a period of time, before continuing with a maintenance dose. A loading phase will boost muscle creatine levels more quickly and allow you experience the benefits sooner, but it is not essential. I personally didn’t introduce creatine with a loading phase.
A dose of 3-5g daily is recommended. If you decide to have a loading phase, aim for 15-20g per day for 5 days before returning to a smaller daily dose.
Hopefully, you now understand that creatine plays a really important role in your body. While you ingest some creatine though dietary sources, you may benefit from supplementing with creatine, especially if you are very active, or have a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Creatine is completely safe for healthy individuals to supplement with. However, if you have a history of kidney or liver disease, I recommend you consult a doctor if you’re considering supplementation.
Finally, like any other supplement, to get the best results, be sure to follow a suitable training programme and diet.
Do you already supplement with creatine? Have you found improvements in exercise or sporting performance?