Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue
Health & Wellness

Maximizing Firefighter Performance with Creatine

Ahh, Creatine – this popular dietary supplement has been around for decades and is commonly mistaken for a steroid. While it might not be a steroid, this supplement can pack powerful benefits for physical and mental performance in firefighters. Let’s dive into the research, safety, and considerations for first responders.

What does Creatine Do?

Creatine is popularly known for improving strength and power output. Creatine works by increasing the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), our cells’ primary energy carrier. By increasing ATP availability, Creatine helps improve the energy production in muscle cells, leading to enhanced strength, power, and muscle recovery

Creatine is particularly helpful in intense physical and mental activity. It may also have neuroprotective effects and help reduce mental fatigue during periods of sleep deprivation (hello, first responders). Creatine may also improve memory in vegetarians and older adults (aka those with lower than average stores).

Creatine and Firefighters

A recent study evaluated the use of creatine supplementation on occupational performance in firefighters. Thirty firefighters completed a baseline and post-supplementation test battery, including a cycling test, hose care, body drag, and stair climb for time. One group received 25 g of whey protein isolate and 25 g of ProCarb powder; the other group received the same with 5g of creatine monohydrate. Firefighters consumed supplements daily post-workout or first thing in the morning on a rest day. The group that received the Creatine saw a significant performance improvement on the occupational test battery

If you have a drill, training, or fireground performance event coming up, this protocol may improve performance if completed 3-4 weeks before. This may be a good protocol for fire recruits to consider 3-4 weeks before starting fire suppression in the academy.

Dose, Timing, and Type

Start with 3-5 g of creatine monohydrate daily. Take it daily, any time, to work towards saturating the muscles and brain with Creatine. This dose may take four weeks before you notice a benefit.

You may have heard of a “loading phase,” which is often a dose of +20 g per day (0.3g/kg body weight) for 5-7 days before reducing to a lower maintenance dose (3-5g). A loading phase may saturate your muscles with Creatine within one week of supplementing but can come with some GI distress. To prevent GI distress, you could split this into 5g five times throughout the day… but how realistic is that on shiftwork?

There are many forms of Creatine other than creatine monohydrate. However, creatine monohydrate has the most evidence for safety and effectiveness. Plus, it is often cheaper than other forms. Opt for a powder, capsule, or gummy.

Myth Busters

Creatine causes dehydration – False!

In the early 2000s, ACSM recommended avoiding using Creatine in hot environments, originally thinking that supplementation may cause dehydration. Recent research has repeatedly debunked this myth, suggesting Creatine may reduce the frequency of dehydration, muscle cramps, and injuries.

Creatine is an anabolic steroid – False!

While Creatine can improve muscle power and strength, it is a legal and natural substance in your body and animal products. Anabolic steroids are drugs with a completely different chemical structure than Creatine.

Overall, creatine monohydrate is a well-researched and safe product for most populations.

Contraindications and Side Effects

The main side effects of Creatine are GI distress and diarrhea, particularly at larger doses in a loading phase. If you choose to do a loading phase, take smaller doses spread throughout the day

Creatine is safe for both short-term and long-term use in healthy individuals, but more research is needed on its long-term use in those with kidney disease. Creatine at the recommended doses above does not damage healthy people’s kidneys. If your kidney or liver function is impaired, discuss creatine use with your doctor.

For more on Creatine and firefighters, listen to the “Creatine for Firefighters” episode of the FireRescueWellness podcast. (https://www.firerescuewellness.org/podcast/episode-8-creatine-for-firefighters-with-dr-scott-forbes?rq=creatine)

References

  1. Damianou, A. Creatine. Examine.com https://examine.com/supplements/creatine/#examine-database
  2. Elstad, K., Malone, C., Luedke, J., Jaime, S. J., Dobbs, W. C., Almonroeder, T., Kerksick, C. M., Markert, A., & Jagim, A. R. (2023). The Effects of Protein and Carbohydrate Supplementation, with and without Creatine, on Occupational Performance in Firefighters. Nutrients, 15(24), 5134. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15245134
  3. Hultman E, Söderlund K, Timmons JA, Cederblad G, Greenhaff PLMuscle creatine loading in men. J Appl Physiol (1985). Retrieved from https://journals.physiology.org/doi/abs/10.1152/jappl.1996.81.1.232?rfr_dat=cr_pub++0pubmed&url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org
  4. Antonio J, Candow DG, Forbes SC, Gualano B, Jagim AR, Kreider RB, Rawson ES, Smith-Ryan AE, VanDusseldorp TA, Willoughby DS, Ziegenfuss TN. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021 Feb 8;18(1):13. doi: 10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w. PMID: 33557850; PMCID: PMC7871530.
Megan Lautz, MS, RD, CSCS, TSAC-F

Megan is a Registered Dietitian and coach who specializes in firefighter nutrition. Megan’s mission is to help firefighters perform better, recover faster, and enjoy long healthy retirements. Megan is the owner of RescueRD LLC, which provides nutrition seminars and coaching for tactical athletes across the country. Check out @Rescue.RD on Facebook and Instagram.

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