by, Aug 22, 2012
Your Ultimate Guide to Creatine
Creatine is one of the most hyped, bashed, and hotly debated supplements on the market. In every supplement shop across the country people are buying the stuff, but when they get to the checkout they ask: What exactly does this do? Creatine is like a famous work of abstract art, it draws huge crowds of people all wondering what exactly they’re looking at. Everybody has the same questions: is creatine safe and effective, or is it harmful and over praised?
I’m here to help you understand the science and application of creatine.
Creatine monohydrate ranks as one of the most analyzed and discussed supplements available on the market. It happens to be one of the most effective as well. This guide will teach you what creatine is (and its various incarnations), how creatine works, and why you should supplementing with it.
So what is Creatine?
Is it a steroid? Is it illegal? Will it turn my skin green and give me super powers so I can join the Avengers? No, creatine is not some radioactive supplement mined in the mountains Kazakhstan that the Government uses to make super soldiers; it’s actually an organic acid that’s found in various meats such as beef and fish.
Creatine is naturally made our bodies by three amino acids-glycine, arginine and methionine which makes it a non-essential nutrient (you don’t need to consume it to survive). Once formed, it’s stored in skeletal muscle as creatine phosphate.
Sounds riveting, but should I take it?
If you’re reading this guide and have made it this far, you’re probably wondering if taking a creatine supplement can help you. Before answering that question you have to ask yourself what your goals are. If the answer is a desire to put on muscle (any amount), increase your strength, or improve athletic performance, then you’ve come to the right place. If that doesn’t sound like your particular brand of vodka, feel free to stop reading now, I won’t be offended. Promise.
Creatine: A Fuel Injector for the Body
So let’s look at how creatine works and aids in achieving your goals. To do that we need to get in our time machine and transport back to high school biology for some Energy 101 review.
ATP transports chemical energy within cells for metabolism.
Our bodies are like any other engine; we have to give it fuel to make it work. One of these fuel sources is called Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP) and it helps in many activities, but is a primary fuel source in weight training and high intensity cardiovascular activity (think sprinting).
Normally the body’s stores of ATP are broken down and depleted during these activities which make you feel fatigued and hinders your performance. This is where creatine comes in to lend a hand. As ATP breaks down, creatine phosphate helps to replenish the body’s depleted levels. By performing this simple task, creatine aids your body to “put more gas in the tank” which will improve your strength, endurance, and overall efficiency.
So let’s cut to the chase is it gonna make me big or not?
Creatine has also been shown to increase lean body mass in many of the studies done on it. The most common knock on creatine that I hear is “Yeah it makes you big, but its all water weight.” Though this has some truth, it doesn’t mean that you have ‘fake’ muscle for the duration of your creatine cycle that will deflate like a balloon the moment you discontinue use.
Creatine increases your body’s intramuscular fluid (water held within the muscle itself) which actually helps to keep the muscles hydrated and has shown to keep it more anabolic (a state of process where tissue is built).
Ok, so which one do I buy?
Not only are there several manufactures to choose from, but creatine itself has multiplied like a family of rabbits. Now you have offspring with names like “Creatine Ethyl Ester” and “Creatine Decanoate” which are specialized versions. If you’re just getting started on your creatine journey, than I suggest you stick with the golden child of the family: Creatine Monohydrate.
Creatine monohydrate is the most prevalent forms of creatine, it’s the most studied and still the most tried and true form available.
As you try to narrow down the brand you want to go with, keep in mind that companies are not currently required to provide lab results for their products, but many of the top selling products offer lab certified analysis of their products which means you’ll know you’re taking something void of impurities.
To Load or Not to Load.
When getting started with creatine manufacturers often give one of two recommendations on usage. You can take somewhere between 3-5g (1/2-1 rounded tsp) per day which will saturate your muscles stores after a couple weeks. If you wish to speed up the saturation process you can “load” for 5-6 days which requires a significantly higher serving size, often three to five times the suggested amount (15-25g).
The biggest difference between the two is how much you’ll spend on creatine. Both have proven to be effective.
A Word on Timing
As you compare products, one major difference in the “suggested directions” may jump out at you: when to use. Some manufacturers suggest pre-workout, others suggest post while some make drinks that you consume during the workout itself. I’ve even come across directions to take it only during a full moon to maximize results (kidding).
The truth is, it really doesn’t matter; the most important thing is that you take it consistently to maintain muscular saturation. So if taking it pre-workout keeps you consistent, then go for it.
Too Good to be True
Before you rush to buy what sounds like a miracle supplement you need to be aware of the flip side of the creatine coin. On paper creatine would seem to dehydrate the body, thus in theory cause damage to the kidneys and liver. So far there is no clinical data to support this theory.
Long term studies have been conducted on creatine for over 20 years and have yet to demonstrate any negative side effects when recommended use is followed.
One complaint I hear often is that creatine causes gas and bloating. Usually this is a consequence of loading or using more than 5g for maintenance. The obvious remedy for this is to cease loading or back down your maintenance serving size to 3-5g. This isn’t a product where the recommended amount is good so double that must be “gooder”, doubling creatine intake isn’t the secret to getting a great physique, it’s the secret to frequent trips to the bathroom.
Let’s Get Started!
The take-home of this guide is that creatine is one of the safest and most affordable products available. If your goals are muscular size, strength, and performance then I recommend you get started today.