INTRO – WHAT IS CREATINE?
When it comes to natural supplements, creatine is one of the most frequently used and best researched (over 200 studies to date) out of the bunch. It is basically a nitrogen-containing organic compound which is already produced in the human body by the liver, pancreas and kidneys, while most of it is stored within the skeletal muscle. Creatine can also be found in real food, especially red meat like ground beef, but to really see major improvements in performance, a larger intake than the average 1 gram per day is needed. Therefore creatine is the second, most frequently used supplement after whey protein. However, there are some controversies associated with creatine use, which will be discussed in this article as well.
BENEFITS OF USING CREATINE
The main benefits of supplementary creatine come when it’s used for building muscle and gaining strength, coupled with an increased caloric intake. So let’s see what exactly creatine does and why it’s so widely used in sports.
1. IMPROVED HIGH INTENSITY WORKOUTS
Creatine has been proven to produce an impressive performance boost when it comes to short, high-intensity workouts. When creatine is taken as a supplement, it increases the availability of Creatine Phosphate (CP) in the intramuscular storage. CP is one of the most important components when it comes to delivering energy and strength to the muscle by re-phosphorylating adenosine diphosphate in order to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The more ATP is produced, the more energy can be utilized during workouts, leading to an enchanced performance.
2. BOOSTS MUSCLE GAINS
Clinical studies made on creatine use so far have discovered that it can have an amazing effect on gaining lean muscle mass, through the increase of both TYPE I and TYPE II muscle fibers. The reason why this effect occurs is the improved ability to perform in the gym, from the before mentioned faster production of ATP. This in turn increases the users endurance and energy, leading to improved high intensity workouts which lead to increased muscle mass.
Another reason behind its effectiveness is that it causes swelling of the muscle cells. This leads to better absorption of nutrients and improved muscle hypertrophy. On top of that, with the better nutrient absorption the user can increase his/her caloric intake without having to worry about gaining fat.
3. INCREASES STRENGTH
All of these effects are also complemented by increased strength. Increase in strength is the most visible positive effect of creatine, and it’s not uncommon for a regular gym goer to increase their bench press or deadlift over 30% after a month of using creatine. Besides the increased energy and absorption of nutrients, creatine can cause some water retention when bulking. This is not necessarily a bad thing if you’re trying to gain strength, as the water retention improves strength, especially when doing the big 4 compound exercises: squats, deadlifts, bench press and shoulder press.
HOW TO USE IT
There are various ways to use creatine, but the most well established and scientifically approved way is to do a „loading“ phase for 5-7 days, followed by the „maintenance“ phase for the remaining time of usage. The loading phase would consist of roughly 20 g per day, spread evenly over 4 servings, which should be consumed with meals. The maintenance phase would consist of using only 5-10 g daily.
Some experts claim that the loading phase is unnecessary, and that it’s best to start with 5-10 g daily straight away. I’ve personally had the best success doing the loading phase first, and I’ve enjoyed the sudden effect those larger servings had on my performance in the gym. The best time to take those 5-10 g is in two servings – one-half an hour before training and the other mixed in a protein shake or taken with a post workout meal.
It’s also good to know that creatine is (almost) always supplemented with fast-acting carbohydrates such as dextrose and maltodextrin or the amino acid Glycine. These nutrients are often found within the supplement itself. However, it’s good to check the label and see if they’re there. If not, adding simple, fast-acting sugar when in taking creatine will produce a stronger effect through improved digestion and nutrinet absorption.
SIDE EFFECTS OF USING CREATINE
Creatine has been well researched, and there have been no serious side effects or complications found amongst users that have used creatine for up to 12 weeks. However, that is the case with people who are generally healthy. Some people have digestive problems, and using creatine can cause some gastrointestinal discomfort in these individuals.
For people with kidney issues, creatine should be used very carefully and in smaller doses. The reason why it can cause problems is the water retention. The best way to tackle water retention is to actually avoid eating processed foods, and those foods that cause the user to retain water in the body. Eating salty and greasy foods like pizza is almost always accompanied by water retention.
Users who want to be on the safe side with their creatine usage, can turn it into a cycle. An example would be using creatine for 6 weeks, stopping for 6 weeks and using for 6 weeks again. That way the body can rest and return to its standard functioning. This technique can in fact be employed for better gains, as the effects of the first 6 weeks will remain during the break, and just as the body starts to return to an average performance, it’s kick-started again for another 6 weeks, thus creating a prolonged effect.
To say that creatine is one of the best natural supplements for improving muscle mass and strength would be an understatement. It is THE supplement when it comes to making improvements in those particular areas. Creatine has been around for a very long time, so there is tons of information on its effects, and every worthwhile supplement company sells its own creatine. Used as both a pre-workout and a post-workout supplement, it can certainly provide a powerful improvement to your physique and performance.
If you want to buy creatine I would suggest only buying Creapure brand creatine. It is the only form of creatine monohydrate NOT made in China.
Alex Rogers is a supplement manufacturing expert. He has been formulating, consulting, & manufacturing dietary supplements since 1998. Alex invented protein customization in 1998 & was the first company to allow consumers to create their own protein blends. He helped create the first supplement to contain natural follistatin, invented whey protein with egg lecithin, & recently imported the world’s first 100% hydrolyzed whey.