I always try to teach people that they can reach their goals through a properly designed nutrition plan based around whole foods and that supplements should only be taken for convenience or for a nutritional deficit of some kind. There is one exception to this and that would be creatine monohydrate, if you know how to take creatine properly it has shown to promote faster muscle growth and help burn fat.
In this article I’m going to explain what it is, why it’s so beneficial, the pros and cons, how to do a loading phase and how to use on a daily basis with your fitness routine.
What Is Creatine
It is a chemical that is naturally made and found primarily in your muscle cells, it is used by your body for many reasons but the one action that concerns bodybuilders is how it distributes energy to your muscles during periods of stress from strength training and high intensity cardio.
95% of your it is stored in your muscles with the other 5% being found in your brain, liver and kidneys.
Different variables will decide how much you have in your body like…
- What percentage of testosterone you have
- How much meat you have in your daily diet
- How often you exercise will determine creatine levels
- What percentage of muscle mass you have on your body, since creatine is stored in your muscles the more you have will obviously allow your body to be able to store more.
Why Should You Take Creatine
The short answer is when taken on a regular basis it will increase muscle mass, add strength, allow you to do more reps during your workouts and improve your exercise performance.
The longer technical answer is that it helps your body produce ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) ATP is basically the currency of energy. When you lift weights it makes the cells in your muscles require energy and your body supplies the energy by breaking down ATP, this is known as hydrolysis.
The problem is that there is not a lot of ATP to go around, and once you run out your muscle endurance and workout will start to sacrifice.
This is where creatine supplementation comes into play, your body can only store enough ATP for about 10 seconds of high intense workouts, at this point your body must start producing more ATP.
Creatine increases your bodies phosphocreatine which will be used to make ATP during strenuous activity, allowing you to workout longer, add reps, decrease muscle fatigue and increase your intensity.
Being able to workout harder, longer and at a higher intensity in the long run will give you faster results.
How To Do A Loading phase
Your muscles naturally store creatine but it is believed that they are only 60 to 80% filled at any given time, supplementing with creatine will fill the remaining 40 to 20%.
Doing a loading phase you will fill up your creatine stores quickly allowing you to experience the benefits sooner.
During the first week of usage, you’ll take 20 grams a day broken up into 4 daily servings of 5 grams each, normally taken at breakfast, lunch, dinner and before bed.
After the loading phase you’ll take one serving everyday that will range from 3 to 10 grams. I never take more than 5 grams a day and think anything above this is a waste.
Once you saturate your muscles with the loading phase and maintain the levels with 5 grams per day after that your muscles can’t hold anymore and the excess will be moved to your brain, liver and kidneys.
Is The Loading Phase Necessary
In no way shape or form is it necessary to do the loading phase, if you start off with 5 grams a day in about 3 to 4 weeks your storage will be at it’s max. The loading phase only gets them filled up quicker and there is no other benefit other than that.
What Should You Mix Creatine With
The options below are some of the popular ways people take it, if you want to take it with water that is also completely find and you will still receive all the benefits.
A lot of experts will tell you to mix it with a fruit juice that is high in sugar. The thinking behind this is that insulin regulates the absorption of creatine, so if you spike your insulin you will elevate absorption levels.
There is a problem with this though, you have to use a fruit juice that has at least a 100 grams of sugar in order to raise your insulin. Since you take creatine everyday the calories from the high sugar content is going to add up quick.
If you feel like this is beneficial make sure to do your research and to find the healthiest fruit juice you can and make sure to account for the calories in your nutrition plan.
I mix my creatine with a protein shake just for the sake of convenience, I drink it after every workout and don’t have to worry about forgetting it.
Many people believe that there is a 30 minute window after your workout where your body is starved for nutrients and will use a higher percentage at this point than at any other point during the day.
Many people buy pre workouts that have creatine in them already or you can add some to it, personally I find most pre workout supplements to be garbage and it is just as beneficial or healthier at times to have a double shot of espresso.
Especially since caffeine is the main ingredient in pre workouts, it’s just covered up by a bunch of other ingredients to make you feel like you’re taking something special.
Benefits Of Taking Creatine
While it has been shown to help fight neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s, Epilepsy and brain and spinal cord injuries were going to focus on the physical benefits that come from it.
- Increase in lean muscle mass – Countless studies done over many years have shown significant muscle gain when creatine supplementation is combined with strength training.
- Strength gains – When your levels hit their max by a loading phase or daily servings studies have shown increased strength between 5 and 15%
- Improved cardiovascular and muscular endurance – Your performance during high intensity cardio and strength training will increase anywhere from 15 to 20%.
- Improved hydration – Creatine pulls water into your cells which is believed to help reduce cramps, muscle tightness, strains and other miscellaneous injuries.
When Is The Best Time To Take Creatine
This is a debate that I don’t ever think will end, is it better to take when you first wake up when your body is craving nutrients, or before your workout to enhance power and strength, after your workout or before bed. You can decide and then you’ll have your own opinion to keep the debate alive.
When you first wake up
The thought behind this is when you first wake up your stomach is empty and you’re catatonic from not eating for 6 to 8 hours making your body ready to absorb anything you put into it. On my off days I take it first thing in the morning with my espresso shat.
Before your workout
This argument wants you to believe that consuming it before your workout will increase your strength, force and endurance. Allowing you to activate more muscle fibers and as a result lift more weight and lead to more muscle growth.
The problem I have with this is that as long as you take creatine everyday your muscles are already saturated with it and you should already be seeing increases in strength, force and endurance. I don’t see how this would make any difference.
This is why there are many opinions about this topic
After your workout
I personally feel this is the best time to take creatine, I subscribe to the thinking that there is a window of opportunity between 30 and 60 minutes after your workout, where your body is primed to absorb every gram of creatine and protein in order to repair itself from the epic workout that you just performed.
This is only my opinion, but it is also backed by science. In the end find what works best for you and do that.
There are some people that feel it helps them sleep, but I’ve had a hard time finding any studies to prove this. There isn’t anything that happens during your sleep that would make it more effective or absorbed more.
I’ve heard people arguing this point before, but for the life of me can’t figure out why. If you want to take it before bed go right ahead, but at least with the 3 prior times you can find a case study or science fact to back them up.
Creatine And Caffeine
I am a legit coffee addict, I would drink 20 shots of espresso a day if I knew my heart wouldn’t explode, but there is one thing you need to know about caffeine and creatine.
As we spoke about earlier, creatine pulls water into your muscles which can make you dehydrated if you’re nit drinking enough water throughout the day.
Unfortunately caffeine also makes you dehydrated so the combination of the two can really put a hurting on your water levels unless you make sure to drink a lot.
Over the years I have gotten used to drinking around a gallon of water a day, but I know this isn’t common for everyone, so I wanted you to be aware of this so that you can take measures to hydrate properly.
Is Creatine Safe
The first report of athletes using creatine was in 1992 during the summer olympics, since then it has been the most studied supplement in the industry, it is deemed by the International Society Of Sports Nutrition as extremely safe and one of the most beneficial supplements an athlete can take.
Will You Gain Weight Taking Creatine
Creatine does not make you fat, it doesn’t have any calories and has no impact on the speed of your metabolism.
The first week that you take creatine you will have between 2 and 4 pounds of water weight added to your body, but this is a good thing. Creatine pulls water into your muscles making them look bigger and fuller and this also helps them repair faster.
In fact creatine should be taken while cutting as a way of keeping lean muscle mass while you’re losing weight during your cutting phase.
Will Creatine Hurt My Kidneys
There have been countless studies done testing the safety and efficiency of it and there hasn’t been one single case where any proof has been found that creatine directly hurts the kidneys.
There has been some anecdotal reports (evidence based on the occurrence of one single unique event) This means if the study has 51 participants and one of them has kidney problems that they have to make a note of it in the results.
I would recommend that you only take creatine on a daily basis if you’re a healthy person with no past history of kidney problems.
There is a percentage of people that do not respond to the benefits of creatine due to there genetic disposition.
If you do the loading phase you should know within 2 weeks if your responding to creatine supplementation, you’ll notice less muscle fatigue and a small increase in how much you can lift.
If you’re not doing the loading phase you’ll have to wait 3 to 4 weeks to see if you’re a non responder.
What Foods Can You Receive Creatine From
If you’re taking creatine everyday via supplement I wouldn’t worry about how much creatine you’re receiving through your diet, but if you’re trying to receive it through a whole foods diet here are some foods high in creatine.
|Food source||Creatine Content|
|Shrimp||Minimal Amounts but really good|
There is no doubt at all that creatine monohydrate is the best creatine choice. There isn’t any other creatine or supplement for that matter that has been tested longer or more often that has repeatedly proven how beneficial it is to building muscle and being safe at the same time.
For those of you who are curious and want to look into other options here is a list, but I’m not going to go into them due to the fact that I feel they’re inferior to monohydrate brands.
- Creatine ethyl ester
- Creatine hydrochloride
- Creatine ethyl ester malate
- Creatine gluconate
- Tri Creatine Malate
- Tri creatine orotate
Creatine Capsules And Chewables
Some people feel these are more convenient than having to mix the powder into a drink, but one negative is the capsules are not digested as quickly (if this matters to you) and has been known to cause heartburn in some individuals.
If you’re constantly on the go and have a hard time carrying or making a drink than maybe the capsule form is the way to go. Again, it all comes down to what works best for you.
Creatine monohydrate is safe, beneficial and absolutely provides the results that it promises to deliver. You can’t say that for the vast majority of supplements that are on the market today.
If you aren’t already, I definitely recommend picking some up and seeing for yourself how close it is to being a magic pill.