Creatine is the most widely used sports nutritional supplement by rugby players. Why is it so popular? Well, put it simply, it’s popular because it works. You can see results quickly, and unlike some more “hyped” supplements, it’s relatively inexpensive to buy.
Creatine can help rugby players in a number of ways:
Increase in muscle strength and power – attack harder, push harder, etc.
Improved stamina and recovery – play at higher levels on the court
Improved anaerobic capacity – run faster and consistently during a game
Improved brain function – focus and make better decisions faster on the court
Plus, there’s the most obvious benefit of increased muscle size which makes you look bigger on the pitch and helps prevent impact injuries.
Creatine is a compound involved in the production of energy in the body, in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Made in the liver, around 95% of the body’s creatine ends up being stored in skeletal muscles, and the remaining 5% is found in the brain, heart, and testes. Once used, creatine is converted into a waste product called creatinine and excreted in the urine.
Creatine is found in small amounts in red meat and fish. However, much of it is destroyed by cooking. It’s also made naturally in the body from L-arginine, L-glycine, and L-methionine, amino acids that are mostly found in animal protein. Insulin is needed for creatine to enter muscles, so consuming carbohydrates with creatine can increase the amount of creatine available to muscles. Creatine is not a steroid and therefore has none of the known side effects of these drugs. Our body produces one gram each day from protein. We also eat about one gram of creatine each day from meats such as beef, chicken, or fish. If you are a vegetarian, supplementing with creatine is even more important for greater muscle growth and strength development.
As a rugby player, when we take in more creatine, you can store more energy. If you take creatine before a game or a workout, you will have more energy at the start and throughout the game. When you lift weights, creatine allows you to train harder, allowing you to lifting more weight and with higher endurance levels. This, in turn, allows you to gain strength and lean muscle mass, which as a rugby player has clear benefits for your performance levels “on the pitch”.
With regular creatine monohydrate powder, many people suggest “loading” 15-20 grams per day for a week. Then the dose can be reduced to a maintenance dose of 5 grams per day. The idea is to make sure people have more than enough creatine to make sure it makes a difference in athletic performance. Personally, I don’t subscribe to this theory – and that’s all a theory is. These high doses do not translate to higher creatine levels in your muscle and may explain some of the side effects of creatine monohydrate powder.
Despite so many positive results, some rugby players report stomach aches, diarrhea, increased urination (which is obviously undesirable in the middle of a match) and muscle cramps. When large doses of the powder enter the stomach, they suck water out of the body, causing intestinal cramps. Personally, I prefer to take creatine in tablet or capsule form. It’s more convenient and seems like a more effective and efficient way to take it. Check the dosage levels of your tablets and remember that creatine versions such as Ethyl Ester and Kre-Alkalyn require lower dosage levels. I would recommend on training days to take half the dose 45 minutes before training and the other half 30 minutes after training with the same protocol also applying on game days. On non-workout days, take the full dose at once with a meal.
The results seen with creatine supplements may vary. If a player doesn’t eat a lot of protein from meat or fish, they may have lower creatine levels and see dramatic improvement with supplementation. Additionally, stomach acid destroys creatine, so the amount absorbed by a person may be large or small depending on a person’s stomach acid level. This last reason is one of the reasons why Ethyl Ester and Kre-Alkalyn are often preferred.
Creatine is safe for long term use. Many natural bodybuilders have taken the product consistently for many years, many in extremely high doses, all without proven toxicity or long-term injury. No controlled scientific studies have shown serious side effects or toxicity. In ancient times, humans as a species were a heavy meat eater eating high concentrations of creatine in meat for long periods of time, with no known ill effects. Creatine in your body is gradually transformed into a substance called creatinine, a waste product that your kidneys excrete. High levels of powder can increase creatinine, but it does not harm the kidneys. Creatinine is not known to be toxic. I always recommend anyone taking creatine to increase their fluid intake, which again helps prevent kidney problems.
To sum up, supplementation with creatine can improve the performance and physical strength levels of rugby players both during training and during a match without having negative side effects if taken correctly.