What is Creatine?
Creatine is an organic compound that can be produced in the liver and kidneys in relatively small amounts (about one gram per day). Creatine can also be obtained from the diet, mostly from animal products like beef, pork, chicken, and fish. Vegan and vegetarian footballers have virtually zero dietary creatine intake.
Creatine is exported from the liver, kidneys, and gut via blood circulation to the muscles where 95% of the body content resides. Creatine is present in muscle as free creatine and also (combined with phosphate) in the form of phosphocreatine (also known as creatine phosphate).
Phosphocreatine acts as a short-term energy store that can be used to rapidly regenerate adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is the only source of energy that can be used directly for muscle contraction and, in fact, all other energy-requiring processes in the body.
Phosphocreatine is essential for high-intensity efforts in football like fast running, jumping and all-out sprinting. No other energy source can provide energy at a high enough rate to satisfy the demand in these sorts of activities.
Creatine in the body is also constantly being broken down into creatinine and excreted in the urine at a rate of about 1-2 grams per day. Therefore, it needs to be continuously replenished.
What Does Creatine Do?
The amount of free creatine in your muscles affects how quickly you can regenerate phosphocreatine. The more creatine you have the faster you can regenerate your phosphocreatine allowing you to go full-out in your next sprint.
A high level of creatine and phosphocreatine in your muscles allows you to sprint faster for longer. Without it your successive sprints in a match will start to slow down sooner.
How Does Creatine Benefit Footballers?
Increasing dietary creatine can increase the free creatine by up to 30% and also the phosphocreatine content of the muscles by about 10%. This provides a greater energy store for rapid use during very high-intensity exercises such as sprinting.
The breakdown of the phosphocreatine to regenerate ATP can also help to neutralize the acidity that is produced in this type of exercise.
Creatine supplementation is known to improve repeated sprint performance which is so important in football.
Another effect of creatine supplementation is that after exercise it can boost the resynthesis of muscle glycogen (the most important energy source for endurance and sustained high-intensity actions in football) by up to 80% in the first 24 hours after a match when it is accompanied by sufficient carbohydrate intake. For this effect, you need to take 20 grams of creatine after the match.
The best strategy would be to take the Recovery formula (containing 5 grams of creatine) immediately post-match and then add 5 grams of creatine supplement powder to 3 of your high-carbohydrate meals over the next 24 hours. That strategy can make a real difference if your next match is only a few days away!
Some fascinating emerging evidence suggests that in addition to muscle, the creatine content of the brain can be increased by creatine supplementation and that this has positive effects on cognitive function under stressful conditions including mental fatigue, exhaustive exercise and sleep deprivation which cause depletion of brain creatine.
Football players competing during congested fixture periods and in multi-day tournaments need to maintain optimal cognitive functioning. However, sleep disruption due to travel requirements, unfamiliar surroundings, anxiety and intensive schedules is likely. In these situations, cognitive function may be enhanced or maintained through creatine supplementation.
Vegetarians may experience greater benefits from creatine supplementation as the vegetarian diet contains very little creatine and these individuals start from a lower level of creatine in the muscles.
How Much Creatine Should A Footballer Supplement With?
A good amount of creatine is around 3-5 grams per day and should be consumed after a workout or match.
A proven approach to load the muscles with creatine is to take 20 g/day (divided into four equal daily doses), for 5–7 days. This is then followed by a maintenance phase which means taking a single daily dose of 3–5 g/day for as long as you want to retain optimal muscle creatine stores (i.e. all of the competitive season). If you stop taking creatine supplements it takes about 4-6 weeks for levels to return to normal.
Side Effects of Creatine
One potential disadvantage of creatine loading is that many players gain 1-2 kg in weight due to an increase in muscle water content. An alternative approach of taking 3-5 g/day for 4 weeks may avoid the associated increase in body weight. There are no reported harmful side effects of using creatine, and you should consider getting 3-5 grams daily.
Where Does Creatine Come From?
Creatine in the diet will come mostly from meat products like beef, pork, chicken and fish. Eating to satisfy your normal protein requirements will provide only about 1g/day.
Creatine supplementation using a supplement like a Recovery will substantially boost your creatine intake and allow you to increase your muscle creatine content above normal without any harmful effects. The vast majority of studies that have shown positive effects have used creatine monohydrate.
Low creatine status will negatively impact your high-intensity performance and recovery as a footballer.
Appropriate creatine supplementation improves high-intensity repeated sprint performance, enhances training capacity and chronic training adaptations (muscle strength and power
and lean body mass) and may also support brain function.
Use creatine monohydrate supplementation to boost your muscle-free creatine and phosphocreatine levels to maximize your muscle power and repeated sprint performance.
Take a daily supplement like Recovery containing 3-5 g creatine.
Reference Sources and Recommended Reading
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Cancela P et al. (2008). Creatine supplementation does not affect clinical health markers in football players. Br J Sports Med 42:731–735.
Claudino JG et al. (2014). Creatine monohydrate supplementation on lower-limb muscle power in Brazilian elite soccer players. J Int Soc Sport Nutr 11(32):1–6.
Collins J et al. (2021). UEFA expert group 2020 statement on nutrition in elite football. Current evidence to inform practical recommendations and guide future research. Br J Sports Med 55(8):416.
Dolan E et al. (2019). Beyond muscle: the effects of creatine supplementation on brain creatine, cognitive processing, and traumatic brain injury. Eur J Sport Sci 19:1–14.
Gleeson M. (2022). Nutrition For Top Performance In Football. Meyer & Meyer Sport. Available from Amazon as paperback or Kindle eBook
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Peeling et al. (2018). Evidence-Based supplements for the enhancement of athletic performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 28:178–187.
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Volek JS & Rawson ES. (2004). Scientific basis and practical aspects of creatine supplementation for athletes. Nutrition 20(7-8):609–614.