Creatine is one of the most widely used supplement in the sports and fitness world and there is a good reason for that. It is known for increasing muscle mass, strength and performance and it is one the most studied supplement, therefore its effects have been proven again and again. But there is still a lot of confusion about creatine and that is why I decided to write this post. So, here are 7 things you need to know about creatine to help you maximize its effects.
1. What is creatine exactly?
If you look at the molecule just above, you will see that creatine shares similarities with amino acids (and if you don’t care about molecules, please keep reading, I won’t get too geeky, promise!). In fact, your body can produce creatine by using glycine, arginine and methionine, which are three amino acids.
So, why should you supplement if your body is able to produce it? Because, creatine’s role is to store ATP (your primary source of metabolic energy) by producing a compound called phosphocreatine in your muscles. The more creatine available, the more energy you can store in your muscles, but there is still a limit to that process. So, don’t think that taking massive doses of creatine will make you superhuman! That won’t work and could be dangerous! Always follow the prescribed dose. Keep reading to find out what it is.
2. What is the best type of creatine?
There are a lot of creatine forms available, including the following :
- Creatine monohydrate
- Creatine HCl
- Creatine citrate
- Creatine ethyl ester
- Buffered creatine
Of all the forms available, creatine monohydrate is the one that’s been studied the most and that showed consistent results. Plus, it is the cheapest form available out of all the other. Even though the other forms are claiming to be more effective, they lack the evidence to back their claims. So, until more research is done, I would suggest sticking with creatine monohydrate and saving your money. Although, if creatine monohydrate upset your stomach, you could try other forms. I would suggest trying either creatine HCl or a buffered creatine first, because they might help with that.
3. Before or after a workout?
Most people seem to think that it does not matter if you are taking your creatine pre or post workout. There are slightly wrong because some studies suggest otherwise. I said slightly, because in two studies (1, 2) that examined the timing of creatine (pre vs post workout), they both found trending results that would suggest that post workout intake would be more beneficial. What that means is if you can take your creatine post workout rather than pre workout, than do it! Remember, we want to maximize creatine’s effects here and at no extra cost!
4. Take it alone or combined with carbs and proteins?
Again, many people think that it doesn’t matter what you take your creatine with. But some studies suggest otherwise. For example, this study suggest that taking creatine with carbohydrates helps to raise insulin levels and therefore helped with creatine retention. Another study found that with either a high dose of carbs (around 100g) or a combination of proteins and carbs (around 50g of each) substantially increased muscle creatine accumulation compared to ingesting creatine alone. So, I would suggest incorporating your creatine in your post-workout shake, consisting of protein powder and fresh or frozen fruits in order to achieve around 50 g of carbs and 50 g of proteins. That should help you maximize creatine’s effects!
5. Is a loading phase necessary?
There are two common ways of taking a creatine supplement.
1) Loading: Take 20 to 30 grams of creatine split into 3 to 4 doses for 5 to 7 days. Then, take 3 to 5 grams per day to maintain creatine concentration in the muscles.
2) No loading: Take 3 to 5 grams of creatine right from the start to gradually increase your creatine concentration in the muscles.
So, which one is better? Studies (3, 4) agree that there is not a better way to take creatine, in fact both methods will achieve the same results in terms of creatine concentration in the muscles. However, the loading protocol will achieve it faster. So, if you are looking for faster results and don’t mind spending the extra bucks, than definitely go for the loading protocol. Otherwise, if you are not in a hurry and want to save a couple of bucks, then choose the no loading protocol, it’s that simple!
6. What about cycling ?
Cycling is done by taking creatine for a certain period of time and then taking a break and then starting again… To be a little more specific, let’s look at one of the most common ways to cycle creatine.
- Begin with a loading phase of 5 to 7 days of 20 to 30g per day (split the doses to give time to your body to absorb the creatine)
- Then, follow with a maintenance phase of 4 to 6 weeks of 3 to 5g per day
- Finally, a time off phase, lasting from 2 to 4 weeks and then repeat the cycle!
Some people believe that when you take creatine continuously your body will get used to it and its effects will diminish over time. Well, according to some studies like this one, this isn’t true. Their results show that our creatine stores are not affected by a long period (up to 21 months in this study) of creatine supplementation. Plus, they did not find any adverse effects on health makers when comparing to subjects who did not take creatine. That means you can make a calendar and follow it or just take your 3 to 5g of creatine everyday and not worry about your body getting used to it. I prefer the latter!
7. Any side effects ?
Again, creatine is one of the most studied supplements and there are no serious negative effects reported from any of them. The only side effect that comes up frequently is weight gain due to water retention, which could be a bad or a good thing depending on your personal goals. Other side effects mentioned include stomach cramps in some individuals when creatine is taken with insufficient water and diarrhea when too much creatine is taken at the same time. Based on those facts, I would suggest to stay hydrated and spaced out your creatine intake through out the day, if you opt for a loading phase.
This is it! 7 things about creatine to help you maximize its effects based on your personal goals. Are you going to try other types of creatine? Are you going to do a loading phase or not? Is cycling an option for you? Let me know which tip or tips you are going to apply! Be smart, stay healthy!