Creatine (Wait, Stop! I Promise This Post Won’t Make Your Head Hurt)

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Creatine has been around for well over 20+ years and is undoubtedly one of the most researched (and popular) sports and performance supplements in human history.  Still, there’s a lot of preconceived notions and misinformation regarding creatine and its efficacy.

Some people think it’s a steroid (it’s not), some people think it will stunt growth (it doesn’t), some people think it will shut down your kidneys faster than Congress can shut down the Federal Government (it’s close, but no cigar; in fact, it’s perfectly safe), and some think creatine is part of the Periodic Table of Elements (Walter White would be disappointed in you).

And while there’s certainly no shortage of blog posts, articles, and even books written on the topic, this post written by Eric Bach of Bach Performance won’t make your head hurt with long words and overly “sciency” stuff.

In every essence of the phrase, he gets right down to the nitty gritty and tells it like it is.

Enjoy! – TG

Creatine. We’ve all heard about it, but what’s the real deal?

I get tons of questions regarding the safety and effectiveness of creatine.

Does it make me look better naked?

Will it turn me into a deadlifting Megatron?

What’s the ideal dosing?

Is it dangerous?  Are there any side-effects?

With all the products and information it’s no wonder there are questions.  I’m going to dig in and tell you what creatine is, how to use it, and what to expect.

What is it?

Creatine is a natural amino acid most commonly found in red meat, but is also produced in small amounts by the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. In the body, creatine becomes a fuel source for short duration high-intensity activities such as weight training, sprinting, and jumping where phosphocreatine is converted to ATP.

The amount of creatine consumed through the diet and produced naturally in the body are low; supplementation increases available levels.

Why It’s Important

*Warning, this gets a bit heavy.  But I promise it will be fairly painless.

The energy needs of brief and powerful movements lasting less than 10 seconds, such as a short sprint or a maximum lift, are met by the phosphagen system. This system replenishes the stores of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which provides energy to working cells  (Andrews).

Muscles have a small amount of ATP in the cell, but only a little bit — enough for a few seconds. ATP is broken down by removing a phosphate, which turns it into adenosine diphosphate. To generate more ATP, the muscles need to replace the third missing phosphate. AH-HA!

This is where Batman creatine saves the day. Creatine donates a phosphate for ADP to become ATP again, providing fuel to finish the sprint without a drop in performance.

Supplementing with creatine creates larger stores of creatine, allowing for more ATP for short-duration exercise performance.  Endurance athletes have also experimented with the use of creatine, but for the most part creatine is not useful in endurance sports.

Basically, more creatine let’s you go Beastmode for longer. And that’s cool.

Do You Even Lift, Bro?

A sweet side effect of creatine supplementation is weight gain. Some don’t gain any weight, and some gain 5-10 pounds, it’s highly individualized.

Here’s the deal: Creatine is osmotic, meaning it pulls water into the cells. When supplementing with creatine it’s best to drink boat-loads (this is an actual measurement, trust me bro) of water to properly hydrate the body.

When this happens your muscles pull additional water into the muscle, increasing cell volume. The additional hydration increases the speed of protein synthesis within the muscle, boosting muscle growth and recovery.

Safety Concerns

Contrary to the beliefs of its pundit’s, creatine is safe. Creatine has gone through extensive research and testing without significant findings that it’s harmful.

The biggest issues related to creatine relate to dehydration, which can lead to soft-tissue injuries such as a strain, and hypothesized kidney dysfunction at extremely high levels.

Recently, increased research and testing of creatine have analyzed the effectiveness of creatine on health related outcomes. Preliminary evidence has suggested supplementation can be beneficial in the treatment of a broad range of diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, cancer, rheumatic diseases, and type 2 diabetes.

How to Use It

The body can store only a limited amount of creatine. I don’t recommend a loading phase for my clients; rather, taking 5-10 grams per day.

On workout days dose it pre and post-workout with your beverage of choice. Taking creatine with a protein or carbohydrate beverage can increase absorption, as the increased insulin response will pull more creatine into the muscle tissue. A recovery drink works better than beer, trust me. 

On non-workout days creatine works well in the morning with a drink such as green tea. Using a warm drink helps dissolve creatine better, so the bottom of your beverage doesn’t taste like a sandbox.

Other Types of Creatine

There has been an influx of new creatine products hitting the market over the past few years. Despite the fancy marketing and price tag they aren’t better than good ole’ creatine monohydrate. In this study, creatine ethyl ester was found to not be as effective as creatine monohydrate at increasing serum and muscle creatine levels OR in improving body composition, muscle mass, strength, and power.

Sounds busted to me.

Wrap Up

Creatine is a great supplement that increases high-intensity exercise performance and boosts muscle mass. Stick with creatine monohydrate, as it’s the most tested and proven form. 5-10 grams per day should work great, especially if taken post-workout with your recovery meal or in a warm beverage on non-workout days.

To maximize creatines’ effectiveness and alleviate any safety concerns hydrate your body.

About the Author

 

Eric Bach, CSCS, PN1 is a Strength Coach in Denver, Colorado. Eric trains clients in-person at Steadman Hawkins Sports Performance and is President of Bach Performance. A writer for EliteFTS, thePTDC, and STACK, Eric has established a great reputation for his simplistic style, nutritional programming, and helping clients develop long-term lifestyle changes.

Come hang out with Eric on Facebook, twitter, or drop him a line at Bachperformance.com.

Resources:

Andrews, Ryan. “All About Creatine.” Precision Nutrition. Precision Nutrition Inc., n. d. Web. 2 Nov. 2013. <http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-creatine>.

Baechle TR & Earle RW. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. National Strength Training Association, 2nd ed. Human Kinetics. Champaign, IL. 2000.

Green AL, et al. Carbohydrate ingestion augments skeletal muscle creation accumulation during creatine supplementation in humans. Am J Physiol 1996;271:E821-E826.

Gualano, B., H. Roschel, A. H. Lancha Jr, C. E. Brightbill, and E. S. Rawson. “National Center for Biotechnology Information.” In Sickness and in Health: The Widespread Application of Creatine Supplementation. (2011). National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 28 May 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22101980.

Spillane, Mike, et al. The effects of creatine ethyl ester supplementation combined with heavy resistance training on body composition, muscle performance, and serum and muscle creatine levels. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2009, 6:6doi:10.1186/1550-2783-6-6.

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  • Barb

    Creatine seems to influence fluids in the body, so I’m curious about how taking it might affect people with lymphedema. Can’t seem to find any research on it. Any thoughts?

  • Guest

    Creatine affects fluid in the body. I can’t find any research concerning its effects on people with lymphedema. Any thoughts?

    • Thanks for reading. I’m sorry I really don’t know this one, I’ll do some research and see if I can find something for you. Please contact me through Bachperformance.com and I can get you an answer.

      • Barb

        Thanks, I will. (sorry for the double post)

  • john

    Great post! One question though, would it be beneficial in any way to cycle it, or is continuous use the way to go?

    • Thanks John. I haven’t found any benefits to cycling off creatine. I suggest 5 grams per day continuously. Just make sure it’s fully dissolved.

  • Rees

    Brand suggestions?

    • Thanks for reading Rees. I’ve had great results with Biotest creatine monohydrate. High quality and blends easily.

      • Rees

        I’ve lost my previous provider at the gym and would like it back in stock. Unfortunately biotest isn’t an option. You have any other suggestions?

    • TonyGentilcore

      I think any brand which sells the monohydrate version would be idea. Steer clear of the trumped up brands which promise 170% more muscle growth by need week.

      $15 is plenty to spend.

  • Charley Fraser

    He didn’t debunk or support cycling. What would (if any) the benefits be of cycling on and off creatine?

    • Hey Charley,
      I believe continuous low-dose creatine supplementation is best for good health and performance. I would only cycle off creatine if it’s taken in very high doses on a consistent basis. Like any supplement, it never hurts to take a few weeks off per year. I suggest vacations, bringing fine white powder through the airport seems a little dicey 🙂

    • TonyGentilcore

      I don’t feel you need to cycle through creatine. I generally take 5 grams per day with a shake or a meal. If I happen to miss a day or two here and there I don’t feel it affects anything.

  • Charley Fraser

    Any thoughts on creatine hydrochloride? The GNC rats told me it doesnt have the water retention effect (which doesn’t really make sense). Figured I would give it a test run.

    • Creatine monohydrate is the way to go. The water retention effect is more prominent with high dose loading phases, I’d be interested to hear how the creatine hydrochloride works for you.

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  • ISQUAT

    Great article. I have read that Creatine taken PRE-workout is the optimum time. Can you explain the difference between pre- and post workout dosing?

    • Hi ISQUAT,

      I really don’t think it makes a huge difference. Your body gets to a saturation point and uses creatine to improve high-intensity workout performance. If you’re taking a mixed drink with bcaa’s and other supplements before is fine.

      Here is a study by Jose Antonio that created quite a buzz for post-workout dosing:
      http://www.jissn.com/content/10/1/36

      Either way, as long as you get your creatine mono I’d say you’re set.

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  • Ryan

    Solid article backed by solid research. Nice work Eric

  • joe

    What age do you think is the appropriate time to take creatine?