Is creatine worth your time and money? Definitely yes.
My personal experience with creatine has always been positive. It has boosted my muscle growth, energy levels and recovery.
In this article, I will show you which creatine powder to buy and how to use it for maximum benefits.
I will also provide you with some scientific research on the effectiveness of this compound. Some results may actually surprise you.
What is creatine?
Creatine is my number one supplement, right before whey protein. Personally, if I were to choose between creatine and whey protein I would go with creatine.
Contrary to some popular beliefs, creatine is not a steroid. It’s a natural non-protein amino acid compound that your body produces from protein-rich foods like meat and fish.
By increasing its amount, you boost the production of an energy molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the main source of energy for high-intensity exercises.
This means you can train harder, longer and with more power.
If you decide to start supplementing, I would recommend that you stick to creatine monohydrate. This is the most effective and affordable form of creatine out there.
You will also experience some more benefits, such as enhanced muscle hydration, improved strength and size. But I will talk about them in greater details a bit later in this article.
So if you are looking for a simple and safe way to take your workouts to the next level, creatine might be the right option for you.
How to take it?
If you want creatine to help you improve your performance and muscle growth, you need to know how to take it properly.
First of all, let’s have a look at some general rules that help me and I hope they will help you as well.
I recommend using pure creatine chalk-like powder with nothing added.
You can mix it with fruit juice or water. Mixing it with fruit juice will increase your insulin level. This in turn will increase the creatine uptake into the muscles.
Some other studies suggest that combining carbs and creatine may increase creatine retention in your body.
It’s really up to you. At the end of the day, it’s a loading supplement that is stored in your muscles. Once saturated, it doesn’t really matter how or when you take it.
What’s important is to be consistent and take it every day, even on non-lifting days.
I also try to avoid taking creatine on an empty stomach or directly with caffeine, as this may cause stomach discomfort.
Finally, I drink more water while using creatine, as it helps to saturate the muscles more effectively.
Now let’s dive into the two major protocols you can follow while supplementing.
With a loading phase
This is the fastest way to saturate your muscles.
For the initial 5-7 days, you would take 20 grams of creatine per day, usually divided into 5 grams 4 times per day.
This will definitely speed up the results, but it can also cause some indigestion and bloating.
After the loading phase, you would switch to 3-5 grams per day for maintenance.
Without a loading phase
This is a better method if you have a sensitive stomach like myself.
I prefer to skip the loading phase and just take 3-5 grams per day from the start. This way, my muscles will saturate slower, but I will avoid the potential side effects.
It will take about 3-4 weeks to reach the same saturation levels as with a loading phase, but I don’t mind waiting. Both protocols are equally effective.
After your muscles are saturated, taking more than 3-5 gr of creatine per day is futile as your body will naturally get rid of the excess amount.
On a final note, when you mix creatine with any liquid, try to drink it quickly, as creatine starts to degrade pretty fast.
Is creatine safe?
As long as you follow the instructions and listen to your body, you should not experience any major problems with this compound.
In fact, you may be surprised by how much it can improve your performance and muscle growth.
Of course, if you have any issues with your health, always consult with your physician before taking any supplements.
Now, let’s focus on some popular beliefs.
There are some rumors that creatine may cause hair loss. It’s difficult to find any substantial studies to prove this though. At least, I still have all my hair so I would leave it at that.
This may happen though if you exceed the recommended dose of 20 grams per day, especially during the loading phase, or if you take it on an empty stomach or with caffeine.
To avoid these side effects, follow the guidelines I shared with you in the previous paragraph and drink more water.
You may also notice a bit of weight gain, usually 2-4 pounds, especially at the beginning.
This is because creatine helps muscles to pull water from the body, which can make you look fuller and more hydrated.
Creatine has no calories, so taking it by itself will not increase your fat mass. The weight gain is temporary and reversible once you stop supplementing.
Creatine is also good for vegans, since it’s synthesized and typically doesn’t come from animals.
Non-meat eaters usually lack creatine in their diet, as it is mainly found in meat and fish.
How does creatine affect your body?
In this section, we will dive deeper into the effects you can expect while using creatine.
I will try to explain the science behind it.
But before we move on, you should be aware that there is a percentage of people for whom creatine will not work. This is typically 20-30% of the population.
They are non-responders, so if you don’t see any effects within a month of starting supplementation, you are one of them. In this case it doesn’t make sense for you to continue using this compound.
For the rest of us, creatine can have a significant impact on our body.
In general, it’s a simple mechanism: you take creatine, then you train harder, then your body creates more muscles.
But there are some interesting facts worth having a look at below.
It improves recovery and helps with fatigue
Creatine definitely improves my fatigue and recovery.
I can work out harder, lift heavier or with increased volume, and I am less tired.
This means I can push myself more and achieve better results.
Also, my recovery is 15-20% quicker compared to the periods when I don’t supplement with creatine.
It’s interesting that my personal feeling correlates with some studies on this matter.
It boosts single workout sessions
More creatine means more phosphocreatine in your muscles. This means more ATP. More ATP means more energy for workouts.
ATP helps you last longer. It will improve your performance in high-intensity sessions like sprinting, lifting or jumping.
What’s interesting, creatine seems to improve short-duration workouts but not the ones that require endurance, because they rely less on rapid ATP usage.
It stimulates muscle growth
One of the main reasons why people take creatine is muscle hypertrophy.
The good news is that creatine can help you with that.
The research proves that you can increase your weightlifting performance by 14% when you supplement your body with creatine.
Some other studies also suggest that creatine supplementation can increase strength and fat-free muscle mass more effectively than resistance training without supplementation.
It promotes brain health
Some recent studies show that creatine is not only good for your muscles, but also for your brain.
We already know that creatine helps to boost your energy by supporting the production of ATP.
Since your brain is the most active metabolically organ in your body, it will benefit from higher ATP production as well.
In fact, more energy can improve your brain function and protect it from damage.
Some studies suggest that creatine might also help treat such conditions as depression, but more studies are needed to further prove this point.
One of the researches that I found was conducted on animals. It shows that combining creatine supplementation and physical exercise might have some positive effects on decreasing seizure durations.
There is also some positive information for people at early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Creatine intake may actually be useful in improving energy metabolism in their brain.
It stimulates protein synthesis
Creatine can stimulate muscle growth by increasing the production of anabolic hormones in your body.
Anabolic hormones, such as testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), are responsible for stimulating protein synthesis in your muscles.
This process involves creating new muscle fibers from amino acids, the building blocks of protein.
By taking creatine and doing resistance training, you can boost your anabolic hormone levels and enhance your protein synthesis rate.
This can lead to more muscle mass and strength over time.
It helps pump water into your muscles
Muscles are mainly water, and creatine helps hydrate them even more.
This can improve their functioning and appearance, as well as prevent dehydration and cramps.
Some interesting research confirms that creatine intake can increase your performance in heat.
It promotes healthy aging
Creatine can support your muscle and bone health, especially if you are over 60 years old.
According to the research, low-dose creatine intake combined with high protein food can help you develop lean tissue mass and keep your bones healthy.
This can prevent or delay the onset of sarcopenia, which is a normal loss of muscle mass that can begin as early as at 35 years old.
Between ages 50-60, on average, people lose 1.5% of muscle mass per year.
After the age of 60, it increases to 3%.
This can impact your everyday activity, such as standing or walking, and increase your risk of falls and fractures.
Creatine can actually help you combat this. You can stay active and strong longer.
What to do next?
Remember that taking creatine alone will not shape your body and improve your form. You need to exercise regularly and effectively. Here are some excellent articles to improve your deadlift, work on your shoulders, legs or chest. Good luck!
Is Creatine Safe?
Yes. Creatine monohydrate is probably the most researched supplement on the planet.
Is “Loading Phase” Necessary When I Start Supplementing?
No, it’s not. It’s sufficient to take the “maintenance” dose throughout the whole supplementing period.
You will saturate your muscles in 3-4 weeks but you can feel the initial effects (more strength and better recovery) much quicker.
Is it Better to Supplement Creatine Before or After the Workout?
There are some studies suggesting that taking creatine before the workout can very slightly improve your results. However, the differences are so minor that it doesn’t really matter.
Creatine is a loading supplement which means it saturates your muscles and then stay there. Consistency is more important than when you take it.