Rugby fitness and the pros and cons of taking creatine supplements

Hard, specific and well-executed training should be enough to improve your players' rugby fitness levels. However, some players seek an extra boost. Legally, creatine is a supplement which can give players that little bit extra, although it has had a mixed press and is not something that is at all appropriate in children's rugby.

Creatine occurs naturally in the body. This is one of the reasons why it does not appear on the IOC's (International Olympic Committee) banned substances list. The benefits of taking creatine supplements have long been argued. The majority of studies have shown a performance increase (see below).

Most research shows some  ergogenic effects (performance-enhancing effects) on young males, aged 20 to 30 years, who have a high level of training.

Effects of creatine

It is claimed that creatine accelerates muscle mass growth, increasing overall strength. This is beneficial in situations requiring high-power output such as tackles or scrums.

However, initial increases in muscle mass may be due to water retention and not all research studies have found that creatine supplementation increases power output, so it appears to be sport or situation-specific.

Creatine supplementation has been found to decrease the level of fatigue between repeated bouts of high intensity exercise, such as several short sprints on the rugby pitch.

It is believed that creatine supplements increase the natural acid buffering system in the body, reducing acid build-up in the muscles and so delaying the onset of fatigue and its effects.

How to take creatine

The most important point to make about creatine supplementation is that it has no effect unless accompanied by strength training.

You must strength-train a minimum of three times per week. Therefore, the optimal time to take creatine is in the off-season and pre-season. This helps ensure the maximum muscle loading and strength has been obtained prior to the playing season.

There are different forms of creatine on the market, but it does not appear to matter which form is taken, so long as it is not a liquid. Because of creatine's instability in water it is not viable in liquid form and therefore no benefit would be gained.

Athletes prefer the powder form. Creatine is found naturally in foods such as meat and fish. However, since there is only 3g to 5g of creatine per kg of uncooked meat, players would need a huge daily protein intake to benefit from the creatine in these sources.

Research has found that the optimal dosage is to begin with a loading dose of 20g per day for five days, followed by a maintenance dose of about 2g to 5g per day.

Long-term effects of high creatine intake

The effects of taking creatine long term are unknown. Excess creatine is excreted through the kidneys and it is thought that prolonged excessive use may harm the kidney function.

No research has been undertaken on children taking creatine. Because children's musculature needs to follow the maturation of hormone changes, it is not recommended that children take creatine supplements.

This article is taken from Rocket Rugby by Dr Sally Lark and Doug McClymont. Get more rugby fitness tips and advice by ordering a copy of Rocket Rugby, the ultimate rugby fitness manual containing training programmes to take you through the whole season.

Click the link to get more rugby fitness tips.

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