Creatine for Hockey Players
Should hockey players take creatine?
When it comes to supplements or nutrition, this is one of the most common questions we hear from hockey players these days. And justifiably so, the benefits of creatine have become more mainstream recently and hockey players are increasingly curious if it can help their performance on the ice.
While creatine has been one of the most popular supplements for decades it remains to be one of the most talked about, and misunderstood, supplements today.
Its association with bodybuilding in the 80s and 90s led to getting blamed for everything from it being a steroid to it causing hair loss (both insanely untrue).
Despite this, there is no supplement that has more researched by nutrition researchers, and there are literally thousands of academic publications on creatine and the applicable uses.
In this article, our goal is to showcase the benefits, dispel any “dangerous” myths, and give potentially protocols that you can use as a hockey player to improve your performance on the ice.
What is Creatine & what happens when we take it?
Let’s start at the most basic level – what is creatine anyways?
Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in the body and in certain foods, such as red meats and fish. We naturally make and store Creatine in our muscles and use it as a source of energy during high-intensity short burst activities such as lifting or sprinting.
When we supplement creatine we can increase the amount of creatine stores in the muscles and improve the capacity for recycling energy within the cells, ultimately allowing us to improve performance in these high intensity outputs.
The Benefits of Creatine supplementation
As we mentioned before, creatine has been used extensively both in the bodybuilding community and among sport scientists and researchers.
The primary benefit claimed by bodybuilders and powerlifters is the ability to generate 1-2 extra reps as they fatigue. This alone is a huge benefit when strength training because those end reps are so insanely valuable for strength and power development.
And while the anecdotal reports from serious lifters is rich, the research from sports nutrition academia is even richer.
Here’s a handful of suggested benefits based on current literature:
- Increases muscle strength and power: Dozens of studies found that creatine supplementation increased muscle strength and power in athletes (Study).
- Improves Testosterone: A study in rugby players found supplementing with creatine for as little as 7 days increased DHT/testosterone levels. (Study).
- Increases muscle mass: Multiple studies have found creatine supplementation combined with resistance training increased muscle mass in young adults (Study).
- Improves performance in high-intensity exercise: A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that creatine supplementation improved performance in high-intensity exercise, such as sprinting and weightlifting (Study).
- Improves cognitive function: A study found that supplementing with creatine led to improvements in short-term memory and intelligence/reasoning (Study).
These aren’t “cherry picked” studies, but have been replicated in dozens of other studies. Furthermore, a quick search inside for “creatine supplementation” on Pubmed will return over 15,000 results – showcasing not only the safety but also the efficacy that researchers are interested in learning more about.
Negative of Creatine Supplementation
When I was a young junior hockey player and started to supplement with creatine, my mom said she had heard creatine was a “steroid” and was concerned. Surprisingly enough, she’s not alone on this one – we’ve heard from countless other parents who were concerned with their hockey player taking creatine.
Like we mentioned at the start of this article, there are some wild myths about the downsides or dangers of creatine.
The truth is – they’re all myths.
But let’s dive into the research and see some proven downsides of supplementing with creatine:
- Weight Gain: Depending on your goals this is either positive or negative. Some studies have found that creatine supplementation can lead to weight gain, most likely due to increased water retention in the muscles. It’s important to note this isn’t fat gain, but total mass gain. (Study)
- Gastrointestinal Distress: A large study found that some may experience stomach discomfort diarrhea when taking creatine supplements (Study). We’ve never seen this in any of the athletes we work with, but it does exist in at least one study.
- Dehydration: Some current literature suggests that creatine may cause dehydration, as it causes the muscles to retain water. However, it is important to note that this can be countered by drinking enough water (Study)
So while there are some downsides, it really appears that they’re specific to the individual, and even then they might not outweigh the benefits.
How does Creatine Benefit specifically Hockey Players
So it’s clear that creatine has a lot of potential benefits from a theoretical perspective, but how does it translate to hockey players?
Performance gains for hockey players can be considered multi-fold through a handful of mechanisms – but if we’re to summarize it into one nerdy paragraph we’d say this:
By increasing Creatine available in muscle tissue, muscles have a greater capacity for anaerobic work - increasing intramuscular Creatine prolongs ATP (cellular energy) replenishment, allowing for greater output in short and intense bouts of exercise (think 10s maximum intensity sprints). It also serves as a pH buffer in the muscle, which allows for prolonged fatigue, and supports the mechanism that enables energy to be recycled at the cellular level.
In summary, Creatine can be incredibly impactful for power-based athletes - including hockey players.
Hockey player’s can reap the benefits of creatine in two ways:
- Extra & more explosive work. Hockey players are able to get more explosive reps out with more intensity. While this will help players while supplementing creatine, it will also create an adaptive response in both muscular strength and the nervous system – meaning that effects will last without creatine.
- Feel better & have more gas in short burst sprints. Hockey at its core is a repetitive short-burst game. While there’s intense conditioning demands, it’s truly all about your ability to work for 10-15 seconds at maximal intensity. This is exactly what Creatine supports, and why it’s worthy of consideration for hockey players.
Along with clear evidence that Creatine is valuable in both research and practice, supplementing Creatine has been shown as a safe and healthy supplement with no adverse effects on the kidneys (which is something that often comes up with the myths of creatine).
So are there any downsides to taking Creatine?
There is one potential downside worth mentioning, and that’s water retention.
Creatine naturally draws water into the muscle cells. And while this can be considered a performance enhancement boost in many senses, it can also lead to unwanted weight gain for some players.
While this is seldomly a problem for players who are trying to add muscle or play bigger and stronger, it’s worth a conversation with bigger players on whether adding an additional 5-10lbs of water weight is worth the performance benefits.
For players like this, we recommend Creatine in the off-season to understand how their body holds water, and how it makes them feel on the ice. We never want to sacrifice speed or agility for some extra strength.
Creatine Supplementation Protocols for hockey players
There’s often debate among specific supplementation protocols when it comes to creatine.
Some Coaches and Nutritionists recommend taking Creatine daily, while others recommend taking it in a 6 week cycle followed by 10-15 days off. There’s justifications for each, and research supports either protocol, but we follow suit with taking some time off of supplements to bring awareness to the effect they have on our body. That’s why we favor the cycle approach with most supplements, including creatine.
We’ll often have players utilize a higher dose in the off-season, when strength and power work is most intense, and then a lower dose during the season. This also reduces water weight during games for those players who carry more water when supplementing with Creatine.
In addition to debating a year round or cycled approach, Coaches and Nutritionists often debate the amount of creatine, and whether they should front load or not.
There’s two schools of thought here. First, players should start with one week of high dose creatine (10-20g a day) and then reduce to 2-3g per day. However, the second group believes that supplementing just 2-3g per day is enough, and it will accumulate to the same saturation over time.
For hockey players, we say it depends. If it’s in the off-season, we’ll often recommend starting Creatine at a higher dose; roughly 10g per day for the first week, followed by 3-4g the second week, and then reduced and maintained at 2-3g.
Like always, it’s important to monitor how you feel here - how your weight fluctuates in those first two weeks, how your power work feels, and ultimately how you feel on the ice.
More information like this is available in the 50+ page Peak Performance Nutrition for Hockey Players that we include in all of our hockey training programs.
Kyle is a Hockey Performance Specialist who’s worked with hundreds of hockey players from Peewee to Pro. A former elite hockey player, Kyle earned his degree in Kinesiology before becoming a Strength Coach that specializes in hockey performance. Today, he runs Relentless Hockey where he works with players across the world, including pros in over 20+ leagues including the NHL, KHL, and OHL.