Creatine and muscle recovery, a match made in heaven? Think again. A new study shows that creatine, a popular supplement within the body-building and fitness communities, does not help muscles to recover from damage due to exercise.
Released this month in the journal Muscle & Nerve, the study investigates the potential effect of creatine supplementation on muscle recovery after bouts of eccentric exercise, characterized by breaking actions which lengthen muscles.
Creatine, a nitrogen containing compound produced in the liver and kidneys (and also found in red meat and seafood), helps to supply energy to the body’s muscle cells and for decades has been used by athletes, body builders and fitness buffs to increase strength and muscle mass.
While there is scientific evidence to support the claim that creatine supplementation helps to increase performance in anaerobic, power-based activities, the current study finds that specifically concerning muscle recovery, creatine shows no effect.
Fourteen healthy and recreationally active men were given either creatine supplements or a placebo before and then during eight days of exercise designed to induce a moderate amount of muscle damage, similar to that arising during exercise training. Both prior and after the exercise regimen, researchers tested for a range of factors including muscle soreness, muscle thickness, isometric strength and voluntary muscle activation, all of which are associated with muscle stress and subsequent muscle recovery. They found that the creatine supplementation had no added effect on any of the factors connected with muscle recovery.
“These findings do not support the hypothesis that high dose creatine supplementation enhances acute recovery of muscle after a single bout of eccentric exercise in young healthy men,” say the study’s authors.
The study’s authors point to one other study with results contrary to theirs – i.e. it reported positive effects of creatine supplementation on muscle recovery – and suggest that since the other study involved a greater amount of eccentric repetitions than theirs, the muscle damage produced in the two studies may have been of differing amounts, thereby leading to the contrasting results.
Participants in the current study performed exercises for the elbow flexor muscle, completing six sets of eight repetitions. They were then measured for muscle recovery over the 48 hours following the exercise.
Creatine supplementation is seen as a relatively safe practice with minor side effects; in fact, studies have suggested that by increasing muscle mass and strength creatine may have a beneficial effect for those suffering from a range of health ailments such as heart failure, muscular dystrophy and chronic pulmonary disease.
Recently, though, creatine use has come under scrutiny due to its suggested link in the death of Johan Lomu, a former New Zealand All Blacks rugby player who died at the age of 40 from a rare kidney disease. A friend and former teammate of Lomu’s, Joeli Vidiri, who also suffers from the same kidney disease – one which reportedly affects only three in 100,000 people – has suggested that their creatine supplementation during their playing years could be to blame for Lomu’s death.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Vidiri said, “We used to mix it with water and it would puff you up. I can’t remember how much we would take anymore. We took it before we trained and after too.”
But nephrologist Dr. Phillip Kalra says it was likely the case that Lomu’s pre-existing kidney condition caused the problem.
“There is no evidence that creatine hampers kidney function in a healthy patient,” said Kalra. “However, excess creatine use can definitely exacerbate pre-existing kidney conditions.”