Creatine improves performance for competitive squash players

Oral creatine supplementation improves exercise performance

The key question about creatine is not so much whether it works at all as whether it works as well for trained athletes as for untrained novices. Now a new study from Birmingham has made an important contribution to the debate by demonstrating for the first time that oral creatine supplementation improves exercise performance in competitive squash players.

Nine players of county level or above performed an on-court 'ghosting' routine - 10 sets of two repetitions of simulated positional play, each set interspersed with 30 seconds passive recovery - before and after supplementation for five days with either creatine monohydrate or placebo. After a four-week 'washout period', each participant went through the same routine on the opposite treatment.

The results were convincing: while the control group improved their mean time for all 10 sprints by an average of 1.5% after supplementation with placebo, those taking creatine supplements boosted their time by an average of 4.7%.

No side effects of treatment were reported by any of the study participants, but a significant 1.5% gain in body mass was observed in the creatine group after supplementation.

The researchers believe this is the first study to confirm the potentiating effect of creatine supplementation on high-intensity intermittent exercise performance in squash players. They point out that while their results accord with some previous findings about repetitive sprint performance, they contradict others, which have failed to demonstrate any ergogenic effect.

'Possible explanations for these discrepancies,' they explain, 'may be related to individual variability in response to Cr supplementation, insufficient time to allow washout of Cr in crossover studies, a large inter-individual variance in exercise performance coupled with a small sample size and/or use of exercise protocols with a greater emphasis on aerobic versus anaerobic metabolism.

'In conclusion, these data support existing evidence that Cr supplementation improves high-intensity intermittent exercise performance. In addition, (they) provide new evidence that oral Cr supplementation improves exercise performance in competitive squash players.'

Int J Sports Med 2001;22:546-552

...But protein may be just as good for strength gains

Protein supplements lead to similar strength gains after resistance training as do creatine supplements - despite the fact that total body mass increases more after creatine supplementation. These are the somewhat surprising conclusions of a Canadian study of healthy untrained men.

The 23 participants - of whom four later dropped out - underwent an eight-week whole body weight training programme, incorporating six exercise sessions per week. After each session they took either a protein-and-glucose supplement or an identically-flavoured creatine-and-glucose supplement. Measurements were made before and after the training programme of fat-free mass, total body mass, muscle fibre area, isokinetic knee extension strength and one repetition maximal (1RM) strength for 16 weight training exercises.

The researchers were testing the hypothesis that these two supplement combinations, consumed in the immediate post-exercise period, would be equivalent in their capacity to enhance strength and fat-free mass gains after the training programme.

In the event they found that, while there was a significant increase in total body mass for both groups, the gain for the creatine group was greater than for the protein group (5.4% compared with 2.4%). By contrast, fat-free mass increased for both groups after training, with no significant difference between groups.

Despite the differences in total body mass, muscle fibre area increased similarly after training for both groups and there were no treatment effects on the rate of increase in strength for any of the 16 weight training exercises. In addition, there were significant and similar increases for both groups in isokinetic torque of the knee extensors at both slow and fast contraction speeds from baseline to four weeks and from four to eight weeks of training. Both supplements were well tolerated.

'The main finding,' state the researchers, 'was that the strength increases after eight weeks of strength training were identical for subjects who consumed a creatine/glucose supplement (CR-CHO) as for those who consumed an isoenergetic and isonitrogenous protein/glucose supplement (PRO-CHO) postexercise. In spite of the similar increases in strength, the increases in total body mass were higher for the CR-CHO as compared with the PRO-CHO group.'

However, they acknowledge that the greater gain in total mass for the creatine group may have implications for sport-specific performance. 'From a practical standpoint for the athlete, it may be that those who participate in sports where a high strength:lean mass ratio is important (ie wrestling, jumping) should consider the PRO-CHO postexercise nutrition, whereas those in which a high absolute mass is required (ie American football) could consider a creatine-carbohydrate supplement (ignoring, for sake of argument, any potential ethical issues in sport).'

Med Sci Sports Exerc 2001 Dec 33(12), pp2044-2052

Isabel Walker

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