Good ol’ Creatine. A muscle-building, sport-supplement staple, creatine is something I’m always asked about and surprisingly have never written anything on. Wha–I know, right? Today, all that changes. In this post, we’ll get into creatine basics: what creatine is, why to take it, when to take and hopefully bust some half-truth misconceptions (it builds muscle!!) in the process.
Just for the record, I do use Creatine. I tend to cycle on and off (we’ll get more on that later) and can tell when I’m using it and when I’m not. I am a fan of the supplement and appreciate its 0 calorie simplicity. Waaaay back when as it was gaining popularity (1998-ish) there were a lot of concerns about its safety but over the years, it’s become the most heavily tested and researched supplements out there and its safety record has held up. There’s always “too much of a good thing” but staying within the confines of recommended dosage is safe and yields good results.
Creatine is one of the most widely used supplements out there but one that’s still misunderstood. By definition, Creatine is an amino-acid based energy source (comprised of arginine, glycine and methionine) energy source that occurs naturally in fish, red meat and… You. Creatine is notable because it gives energy specifically to muscles. And while a normal diet doesn’t give enough creatine to make a noticeable difference in strength and power, when supplemented to levels of 5-15g (roughly 1-3 teaspoons or so) per day, you can get some pretty decent effects in muscle load and quick recovery.
Why take Creatine?
I kind of gave it away in that last sentence but supplemented creatine has shown to increase energy supply to muscles which helps them lift more, work harder and recover faster. Thus, muscle gain. It’s not that creatine packs on muscle in and of itself– it’s the working and increased loads that build muscle. Work builds muscle. Creatine just helps you work a little more through more weight with more repetitions. Creatine also draws fluid (water) into the muscle tissue, allowing for better flow of the nutrients (including protein) to help growth and repair. That said, it’s your job to load those nutrients in there so creatine will be effective in the other part of its job. You can do this with a solid protein powder, the Rest and Recovery Formula, Shakeology and following the Nutrition guide and Body Blueprint.
What kind should I take?
Creatine comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes. It’s loaded into pre-workout formulas, post-workout beverages like CellMass, sugar loaded sports drinks (the sugar is there to help it transport easier) and “more effective” variants like concentrated, micronized and ph buffered. All these creatine delivery methods have their selling points including smaller doses and being “more easily absorbed” than good ol’ Monohydrate but Monohydrate’s worked for me so I like to keep it simple: A scoop in my Recovery Formula after workout and one before I hit the sack. It’s a habit and I’ll just keep going that rout. In the end, the idea is to simply get creatine into your system so it can work. It’s your choice on which way you’d like to get it there.
Will Creatine Make Me Fat?
This is a pretty common misperception. Creatine “volumizes” muscle, in that it allows (and takes in) more water flow throughout for better repair and quicker recovery. That’s the water retention myth and why people feel they’ve gained weight after taking it. In short, it’s water weight but it’s INSIDE the muscles, not puffing you up on the outside. And weight isn’t a factor around here anyway– fat is and volumizing has nothing to do with fat gain.
How Much Is Too Much? How Much is Not Enough?
A typical does of creatine is usually between 5-15 grams per day– five grams being a teaspoonful. I’d think you’d have to be pretty big to take in 15g so (as I mentioned) so I usually take 10g– one after workout and one at night. Dosage usually depends on body size, so a good rule of thumb is the taller you are, the closer to 10g you go, while the shorter you are the closer to 5g grams you get. For most guys after P90X or P90X2 mass building, anything over 10g is probably overkill.
When To Take Creatine
The way I like to explain creatine is this: consider your muscles a clip and the creatine bullets. You load your muscles with creatine and when they use it up or “fire off that last round”, it’s gone and you need to “reload”. If it’s not used, the extra is flushed out (providing you’re drinking enough water), which is why it’s recommended to take creatine twice for better distribution. A favorite way to take it is with a high-sugar juice to aid in absorption (Recovery Formula) but aside from that, I’ll just take my second dose with a gulp of whey protein as aside from the necessity of the Recovery Formula, I’m not big on just downing juice.
Loading and Cycling
There’s a few ways people advocate taking creatine and you’ll hear about “loading and cycling phases”. When it comes to loading, this is the introductory phase. The theory is your muscles don’t have much creatine, so load them the heck up with 20g a day for a week and then go to 10g a day from there. Honestly, in my own experience of loading or just jumping right into 10g a day, I’ve never noticed a difference so I’ll just take creatine after a workout when my muscles are ready to soak it up as opposed to loading. It’ll stay there ’til used and then… reload.
As for cycling, most creatine brands recommend it. Cycling is simply laying off the supplement for a month after taking it for two. This allows the body to expel it and not come to rely on it so when you take it back in a month later, the effects are still as effective. That’s the theory anyway and since I’m kind of a cautious guy, I go that route.
Will I Grow A Third Arm? (Side Effects)
Sorry, your third arm is going to have to wait. In study after study, creatine has been deemed safe for both men and women. Still, as with any supplement, it’s always the best case to consult with your doc if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or kidney problems (kidneys filter all excess waste after all). You’ll find all kinds of answers on creatine side-effects but the most common are cramping, thirst and upset stomach. I’ve experienced the first two out of being dumb but never the last. On that whole dumb thing, I wasn’t drinking enough water in the first place as I followed a 20g loading phase and the cramping was a result of too much creatine as I was using a post-workout formula with creatine and getting about 15g a day… too much. I scaled back to 10g and problem solved.
Is creatine right for you? That simply depends on your goals. For increased strength and mass, I’d recommend it. I may be old school but I use powdered Creatine Monohydrate from Optimum Nutrition. To be clear, creatine isn’t some crazy steroid but as with all supplements should be researched and tolerance tested. Creatine is ridiculously researched and information is abundant so all the detailed sports science minutiae is out there for the taking.
In the mean time, I’m happy to answer any questions you may have on how I continue to use it. Happy Creatine-ing!