When I was younger, I managed a commercial gym. During this time, I became very close and familiar with the members of that gym. As a result, I became a sounding board for frustrations for many of them. So it wasn’t surprising when Pam* asked if she could come talk to me about some concerns she had about her son.
“Well, I am just so worried about Ben. I saw in his gym bag that he is on something. Something called creatine. I don’t want my little boy on drugs!!”
This was the first time I had heard actual confusion between creatine and anabolic steroids, but it was far from the last time. The truth is, creatine is one of the most misunderstood supplements on the market. My goal in this article is to explain its supplemental role in training.
Lets start with the basics:
Adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, is an energy molecule with three strongly bound phosphates. ATP is responsible for fueling a slew of functions within the body. Of relevance, muscular contraction. When one of the phosphate molecules bond is broken, a significant amount of energy becomes available for immediate use. ATP then becomes adenosine DI-phosphate, as their are now only two phosphates. Adenosine DIPhosphate is the result of the lost phosphate molecule/bond, and is fairly useless within the body. At this point, in order to create energy yielding ATP, ADP must bond with another phosphate group…
Enter Creatine Monohydrate!
While the body has several ways to convert ADP to ATP, the quickest, most efficient way to snag a phosphate molecule is by having a surplus of creatine phosphate present. Supplementation of creatine allows an easily lent phosphate to the ADP, turning is relatively quickly into ATP.
What does this all mean for performance?
Supplementation of creatine allows for a quicker replenishment of ATP, which means more work can be done. As ATP is required for all muscular contractions, allowing a quicker transition from ADP and ATP is crucial for strength athletes looking to get that last rep in hypertrophy work or to come out on the winning side of a grinder.
Its easy to get confused about nutrition. As we have discussed in numerous articles and blogs, there are a million ways to manipulate your intake for a number of different results. And honestly, for the most part, most ways work to a degree. This is why its important to understand nutritional components on a base level and make your decisions based on that. Below I have outlined what I think is important when considering your nutritional intake, and how I troubleshoot nutritional strategies.
Calories: The base of the diet, no matter what version of management you use, all comes down to calories. Calories are the measurement assigned to units of energy inside food required to provide fuel for activities large and small. The very first item I look at when deciding how to set up someones nutrition is what their caloric intake truly is from the start. I realize that there are calculators out there that have an algorithm that will give you a numerical on suggested intake. However, these calculations are usually fairly flawed and hard to trust. The calculators usually ask something about how active you are, and then offer some vague options like “somewhat active” or “extremely active.” The problem here is that no one really knows how active they are. Further, no one is really sure what counts as activity. Somedays I vacuum for an hour pretty intensely. Is that going to tip me over from “somewhat active” to “active”? Who knows! There is most certainly a huge calorie difference between an hour of powerlifting and running for an hour. Very few take body fat percentage into consideration. This seems like a huge oversight, as the upkeep for a pound of muscle is roughly 3x the caloric upkeep of a pound of fat. Its all just a bit precise for how NOT customized the readouts may be. So how do we determine your caloric intake? As tedious as it may be, we keep a log of everything we consume and compare the weight on the scale. I understand thats not a thrilling process, but its necessary for me to get an idea of what you eat and how it impacts you. Once we have figured out what your caloric demands our, we move on to base macros.
Macronutrients/ “macros”: All calorie yielding foods can be broken down into its macronutrient profile, which is simply its protein / carbohydrates / fats. If you have scratched the surface of nutritional studies, you have most certainly heard a lot about how to arrange your macros for various goals.
Protein: Protein is living the high life, thanks in large part to the supplement industry. While its a very important piece of the puzzle when it comes to recovery, its dosages have been hyped to a fairly ridiculous degree. I have had people come to me eating 2-3x their bodyweight in protein, and that is overkill. My blanket suggestion (with the understanding that it all depends on the goal) is .8-1g of protein per pound of bodyweight as a baseline. I might veer upwards of 1.5g/lb and I may sink as far as .5g/lb in certain situations, but generally stay in the .8g-1g range. 1g/lb has never shown me reason to believe more is needed, and the reduction in protein makes room for carbs. And I like carbs.
Fats: Fat is another energy source that the body can use, though fat-adaptation is a fairly painful and inefficient process when compared to carboydrates. However, fats are very important in upkeep of many cellular functions. Fats are essential for the absorption of all fat soluable vitamins (A,D,E,K). Fat is also a key player in hormonal balance and provides structural support for our nervous system. Fat is also fair simple: since I have already figured out the base calories, I simply take 15-25% (again, variance dependent on where client is and need to go) of these calories and allocate them to fat.
Carbohydrates: THE MVP! MY ACE IN THE HOLE! CARBS! Carbs are the last thing I calculate out, and I make the rest of the calories come from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the bodies preferred energy source and are the most efficient energy source for the human body. Because I am fairly conservative on protein and fat intake, I leave a lot of room for carbohydrates.
Timing: This is the very last thing I mess around with, and I actually don’t incorporate it if calories and macros are routinely not getting hit. If calories and macros allow, my first act of nutritional support is to add in a peri-workout protocol, which varies from client to client depending on their endeavors.
A lot varies, but these are the order of operations for nutrition. I dont skip calories and go right to macros, and I dont throw in macro timing without seeing compliance to an eating strategy. All of this said, being well versed in a variety of nutritional ideas will serve many well, as the best diet out there is the one clients can make work with their life.
HELLO FROM AUSTRALIA! I am currently writing this from the lobby of my hotel in Australia, where I am speaking at a three day certification course about Hybrid Athletics. This is such a cool opportunity for me, and happens to be at the tail of of my higher calorie phase that I have been doing for the past five weeks. That being said, I have certainly been guilty of throwing caution to the wind on traveling weekends, as any staff member can attest that was with me during the Sports Performance Summit last month in Columbus, OH. However, I have a few projects in the works that I simply cannot afford to act like a jackass about. I committed to making this trip more about seeing sights, networking, and enjoying time with friends and less about eating food. Here are a few things I did that have kept me from blowing it:
- Research and prepare : Australia has very strict rules on what they allow into the country. In fact, upon exiting the plane, all passengers were asked to wipe off their shoes to avoid any mud-dwelling diseases. Because it is an island, contagious diseases can be absolutely devastating for the population of Australia, and they treat any and all risks appropriately. What does this have to do with me? I couldn’t pre-pack my normal food like I would if I was traveling domestically. Instead, I went with what was safe. I ordered limited quantities of the following individually wrapped foods: a.) single serving protein isolate b.) single serving cashews 3.) single serving dried bananas. With these in tow, I had protein, carbs, and fats in easily portioned sizes that would construct my meals during the THIRTY HOURS of airport time I spent getting to Australia.
- Plan your training based on what is available: The hotel gym that I stayed at was actually pretty well equipped. It certainly had enough cardio equipment to get my cardio in, and there was enough DB weight, a few cable pulleys, and even a squat rack and standard bar in. With that equipment, I was actually able to do my normal programming for both back day and chest/shoulders with minimal modifications. I trained glutes/hams right before I left and found a local bodybuilding gym (legendary Dohertys gym) for my leg day. With those accommodations I was able to get all my training in without it costing an arm and a leg.
- Use the resources around you: With the popularity of fitness, nearly every developed country has meal prep companies that will create pre-packaged meals for you. Maybe they don’t exactly nail your macros. In this instance, I buy options that are under the requirements and supplement with the foods I mentioned in item 1.
- Get comfortable turning down food. You don’t need to eat every bit of food put on your plate. You don’t have to eat airline cookies. While you are often given a lot of food with limited control over quality, the choice to eat that food is certainly in your hands.
This isn’t to say that you cannot enjoy travels and loosen the reigns a bit. You certainly can. However, traveling while on a diet doesn’t have to be quite as stressful as it seems. You can certainly handle business abroad without falling to the vacation mindset.
Over the past few years, I have become a bit better about healthier habits. Three years ago, after my first show, I did the bare minimum: I would eat breakfast, pack a lunch and come home and eat whatever. Because I was so active (and 24-25), I really didnt see any negative consequence and stayed within 15lbs of stage weight. I wasnt lean, but I wasnt fat. The following summer, I jumped the gun and competed again. Between a half hearted attempt at dieting and just have zero appreciable habits to get through the hard times, I was able to bring the worst package I had ever brought to stage. I laugh at this, because in all reality, I knew better than to think I was pouring it all into my prep at that time. I took 1.5 years off and went back to the basics: I ate 6 meals throughout the day that had structure. Even if I didn’t feel like eating my planned meals, I ate. When I felt like binging, I didnt. I surrounded myself with really great people and was able to make a pretty good comeback when it was time to prep again.
This was good for me to experience because I saw that the hard work was absolutely worth it. Further, the habits I made during the off season were easy to fall back into once the show was over. I didn’t blow up, I didn’t experience the post-show blues. I was able to fall back on the habits I had created over the off season and managed to keep my weight gain to about 10lbs. I stayed healthy enough to dive right into training for powerlifting and strongman. In effort to always be progressing, I decided that I needed to be held accountable to someone even in the offseason. After a bit of research, I hired Justin Harris and will continue using him for the foreseeable future. So far, my weight has come from 161 to right at 150, making the two lb cut to 148 in the next couple weeks a breeze. We haven’t had to cut any calories, which was unexpected, but nice. I wont go into much detail about the exact layout, because I didn’t create the diet and cant speak to the design process.
–I have three dietary templates that I use on various days of the week. While all macros change each day, I match my carbs up with certain training days.
–2 high days per week: 315ish g Carbs , lower protein, low fat (one day has a cheat meal at the end of it, which usually tacs on ~1200 extra calories)
–3-4 moderate days: 180g g carbs, moderate pro, low fat
–1-2 low days at 75g carb, higher pro, moderate fat
–HIIT 5x/week at the end of my training