Supplements designed to enhance performance (whether human or equine) come and go. Most make tremendous claims but fade away as they have little to back them up in terms of solid proof or real improvements. However, once in awhile something comes along that appears to be helpful anyway. Creatine, at least when used by human athletes in certain stages of training, is such a supplement.
Creatine is the backbone of a high-energy compound found in muscle. It may help performance at speed, maximal muscular efforts and any exercise that exceeds the athlete’s aerobic threshold. Creatine, however, is also controversial because creatine is not necessary in the horse’s diet, and some studies claim it therefore makes no difference.
Creatine is expensive — very expensive. As with all high-price supplements, many manufacturers give dosage recommendations that are far below what should be given to an animal the size of a horse. In many cases, dosages may be even less than what would be effective for a human. When adjusting dosages of supplements from human to equine, a factor of six is generally considered accurate, as the horse has six times as much metabolically active tissue.
Humans supplement with creatine in one of two ways. The first way, loading, is performed for three to five days prior to a competition, at a dosage of 20 grams per day in four divided doses. With the more gradual method, creatine may be taken once or twice a day at a dosage of five grams per day. On this lower dose, it takes about two weeks for peak creatine levels to appear in the muscle. Therefore, the horse would need 120 grams/day for loading or 30 grams/day for gradual accumulation.
We tested straight-creatine products first by manufacturer’s recommendations and then with modifications that we felt might improve results. We also tested products that combine creatine with other substances, according to directions.
We limited outside factors to improve the chances that any changes we saw were indeed related to the product. However, we performed our tests under conditions similar to those that you — the owner or trainer — also encounter. Therefore, these were field trials.
Creatine Combination Trials
In two trials using the product Overdrive, both involving older horses, there was a rather obvious change in the horses’ attitude: more alert and eager, higher general energy level. Both horses were relatively nonchalant about turnout time when not receiving Overdrive. When on Overdrive, they showed improved energy. But neither showed clear improvement racing on creatine. Overdrive was also tried on an open jumper with no obvious effect.
Amino-Blast II was used on three occasions as a pre-race supplement. One horse developed digestive upset after a single dose, another showed essentially no effect but raced well, and the third was reported to have a clearly improved attitude, more alert and eager, and also raced well but in a manner consistent with prior good performances.
Amino Blast II also contains the amino acid tyrosine, which is a precursor of thyroid hormone and a mood elevator in people, and L-glutamine, which is the most abundant amino acid in muscle and prone to deficiency levels under conditions of high physical stress. The lipoic acid is an interesting addition since lipoic acid can function like insulin in getting creatine into the cells.
Straight Creatine Trials
With the straight-creatine products, one event horse was reported to have improved recovery between phases and improved performance overall. The impression was that the product definitely helped. This horse had received 30 grams per day for five days prior to the event.
The remainder of the creatine trials were done on racehorses — where the effect should be the easiest to see. Trials took place over a one-year period, allowing a three- to four-week washout when switching products, as creatine levels can remain elevated that long after supplementation stops.
We used Standardbreds as they have pre-race warm-ups performed at speeds equivalent to training sessions. Multiple trials were done with each horse, allowing no changes in diet and no change in exercise, racing frequency, racing class or driver.
One six-year-old mare raced 15 times with creatine, an eight-year-old stallion seven times and an eight-year-old gelding three times. The gelding and stallion were given loading doses of a total of 60 grams over two to three days prior to the race for three races, with the balance of the stallion’s races at 100 to 120 grams over three days. At the higher dosage, energy levels appeared improved. Racing performances were good but not beyond that without creatine.
With the mare, no effect was seen when using manufacturers’ dose recommendations if they were below 25 grams/day. She did not tolerate the short-loading-dose approach well, developing digestive upset about half way through the loading period on three occasions. She was then switched to the more gradual approach: 25 to 30 grams daily for seven to 10 days prior to the race. On two occasions, she showed extremely fast ??-mile times (27.4 seconds) and in one race equaled her lifetime best time for the mile, originally taken as a three-year-old. However, she has subsequently improved on that time by almost two seconds, without creatine. Did the creatine help her’ Probably, but not to the extent it can be said she would not have raced as well without it.
From this evaluation, we can’t unequivocally recommend or discourage the use of creatine. We can say the benefits we did see weren’t worth the cost to us.
If you still want to try creatine, choose a pure creatine product and up the doses, as we suggested. We recommend giving a paste/liquid of creatine mixed in corn syrup, or an equal volume of sugar, then water to dissolve immediately before giving by dose syringe.
We found no difference among pure creatine products, so let money be your guide. Uckele’s and S&K Labs’ are the most ecomonical.
However, if you don’t mind paying almost four times more, ATP Advantage “creatine serum” is a stabilized liquid form of creatine with a honey base and is available in several different fruit flavors that offers a few pluses: This product eliminates the fuss of mixing and was best tolerated in terms of gastro-intestinal upset with none being seen using this product, even at high loading doses and in test horses that did not tolerate large doses of the powder.
If you also feed glucosamine, ATP Advantage Plus Glucosamine will also give you six grams of glucosamine (over half our recommended daily dose) for each 30 grams of creatine (the low-level/maintenance dose). At about $6 per day, you might save money with this product, depending on the cost of your current glucosamine product.
Of the combination products, Amino Blast II formula is designed with speed and recovery in mind. Results were similar to pure creatine.
Edge is designed with endurance and aerobic exercise in mind. Ten of the 14 grams in each package are DMG, an aerobic-performance enhancer. Edge contains only one gram of creatine. It was given a trial for two races and one event horse with no obvious effects on speed or recovery between phases. However, the other ingredients target aerobic exercise, so the results were really no surprise.
Although Overdrive is designed for horses performing at speed, this product is targeted for horses that are showing subpar performance that is suspected to be related to subclinical muscle damage/tying-up or an overall inefficiency in energy generation inside the muscle. This product has proven effective in those situations, but Equi-Aide freely advises customers not to use it if their horses do not fit this profile.
Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Creatine vs. Carbo-Loading.”
Click here to view ”Your Horse May Be A Creatine Candidate.”
Click here to view ”Creatine Is Difficult To Feed Effectively.”
Click here to view ”Creatine Products: Prices And Ingredients.”
Click here to view ”Problems With Creatine Supplementation.”
Click here to view ”Still Not Sure What Creatine Is’”
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