Creatine supplementation significantly increases the benefit of strength training for older, healthy adults, a new study has found.
The new research, published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, is the work of a team from a university in Iran.
The researchers used creatine monohydrate, the most well researched of the forms of the nutrient, according to a position paper from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN).
Creatine is a nitrogenous organic compound first isolated from human muscle tissue more than a century ago.
It became popular as an ergogenic training aid the early 1990s. The ingredient had the misfortune, so to speak, of coming into prominence as a sports nutrition ingredient around the same time as anabolic steroids. As a result, according to the ISSN document, several myths cropped up about creatine’s effects and purported risks that really pertain more to the now-banned category of steroids.
Those myths, which have proven hard to dispel, include that the increases in muscle size observed with resistance training combined with creatine were only the result of water gain and that creatine usage could harm the kidneys. Other myths include that creatine use causes dehydration and/or electrolyte imbalances and that use of the substance is somehow unethical.
According to the ISSN, creatine “appears to be the most effective nutritional supplement currently available in terms of improving lean body mass and anaerobic capacity.” Dr. Richard Kreider, Ph.D., of Texas A&M University, and one of the of the foremost authorities on creatine, is a co-author of the position paper.
However, other researchers have noted that the effects of creatine supplementation present a dichotomy. Gains in muscle size and power in the laboratory and other research settings that feature short term, dynamic movements have been demonstrated. However, it has been difficult to prove that those gains translate to better results in actual sports competition.
Creatine as an anti-aging ingredient
The Iranian researchers, who are associated with a university sports sciences department, were looking at creatine more as a healthy aging aid than a sports nutrition ingredient.
The study’s aim was to investigate whether strength training could reduce oxidative stress and improve the quality of life of a cohort of older individuals who were neither supplement users nor were exercising regularly. The researchers added creatine as a secondary intervention to see it if improved the effect of the primary intervention (the resistance training).
A cohort of 45 healthy men and women in their 60s and 70s were recruited for the 10-week study. The participants were divided into three 15-member groups, with one group doing resistance training plus a placebo, another doing the training along with taking creatine, and a third group serving as no-intervention control.
The test groups performed a standard resistance training routine on weight machines. The creatine was dosed at 0.1 g/kg/d.
The researchers measured glutathione peroxidase (GPX) and total antioxidant capacity (TAC) to assess the oxidative stress side of the coin. An increase in the one repetition maximum (1RM) for the various lifts the subjects performed served as the strength increase measure.
The researchers found that both the creatine and non-creatine groups improved in terms of oxidative stress levels as well as quality of life measures, when compared to the control group. There was no difference between the creatine and non-creatine groups for these endpoints.
However, they found a significant effect for the creatine group when it came to the strength gains. The non-creatine group improved by 36%, while the creatine group improved by 57%.
Dietary data lacking
Dr. Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., a sports nutrition expert who was one of the founding members of the ISSN, said the study’s results were interesting and potentially significant, but that a key shortcoming means they will need to be confirmed by additional research.
“What may be the largest limitation in the study is that the only dietary data that appears to have been analyzed or at least only reported are kilocalories. It’s critical to understand the protein consumption, as well as creatine consumption of the subjects in lieu of muscle creatine levels,” she said.
“It might be that the resistance training plus creatine group benefited from creatine supplementation, because across the board the subjects are all low in protein consumption and creatine consumption. It wouldn’t be unusual for an older population such as this to have lower protein consumption and, particularly in this part of the world, lower creatine consumption. That might explain the large discrepancy between the benefits of the creatine group versus the resistance training only group,” Kleiner added.