If you’re in the gym and trying to build muscle, chances are you’ve heard about creatine. Opinions on the controversial supplement run the gamut, and it seems like it’s always a hot-button topic.
But what does creatine do?
Don’t let ignorance stop you from taking advantage of a valuable supplement!
Here’s everything you need to know about what creatine does and how you can use it.
What Does Creatine Do?
Creatine is a naturally-produced combination of three different amino acids: glycine, arginine and methionine. Your body already produces minimal amounts of these amino acids, and creatine can be found in high-protein sources of meat.
When your body produces creatine, or you ingest it, the creatine helps to increase your energy stores. More energy allows you to train longer and harder—meaning more strength and more repetitions, resulting in greater overall strength.
Some argue that all creatine does is suck more water into your muscle cells, making your muscles seem bigger. But that’s not entirely accurate. Yes, creatine does hydrate your muscle cells. But when your muscle cells are hydrated, protein synthesis increases, boosting muscle growth.
Your muscles don’t just temporarily look bigger, creatine helps you build muscle faster. That means if you stop taking creatine, your muscles don’t just deflate. You keep the gains you made! But your muscles cells will become less saturated with water, leading to a smaller appearance.
To date, there are no safety issues with taking creatine, but long-term studies have not been conducted.
Before creatine can become fully effective in your body, your muscle cells must be saturated with the amino acids. Because of this, most people start taking creatine with a “loading” phase.
A loading phase is simply when you take larger doses of creatine to saturate your muscle cells quicker. Depending on the creatine, your loading dose will be between 15-25 grams. Usually, this phase lasts 5-7 days. Please note, all of these measurements should be adjusted based on your bodyweight. Be sure not to take too much too fast.
Once the loading phase is over, you return to the daily dose of 5 grams. Loading isn’t mandatory, but it can help creatine work faster.
A study conducted by the International Society of Sports Nutrition found “creatine cycling” is not necessary and will give you no added benefits. This you don’t need to cycle creatine to continue experiencing results.
That brings us to the next question: should you take creatine post-workout or pre-workout? Studies have found post workout to be only slightly more effective, but the difference is minuscule. So take creatine whenever is best for you!
Be careful when buying pre-workouts that claim to have creatine. Most only contain 1-2g of creatine, which is far below the recommended serving size.
Creatine Benefits: What you Need to Know
So what does creatine do for you?
Here are a few of the most exciting benefits:
- Improve maximum power and performance
- Produces more energy
- Increases muscle size and strength due to elevated power output
- Enhances muscle recovery during high-intensity exercise
The Side Effects of Creatine
Some people believe that consistent use of creatine will damage your kidneys, but no research has been cited to validate this claim. Quite the contrary, actually.
Dehydration, injury and muscle cramps are often linked with creatine, but again, no data supports these myths.
Although creatine helps improve muscle recovery time during workouts, there is no indication that creatine supplementation will improve post-workout recovery time.
The opposite is actually more likely! Increased energy levels during high-intensity workouts enable your body to perform at a higher level. When you lift more weight for more repetitions, you’re going to increase the strain on your muscle fibers. This is great for growth, but greater strain will necessitate greater recovery, not less.
A small percentage of supplementers find creatine causes gastrointestinal issues. As a result, companies have refined creatine powder further into what is known as Micronized Creatine. This smaller form of creatine helps the body more readily absorb creatine, decreasing stomach issues.
Creatine does cause initial weight gain. Your muscles pull in and store additional amounts of water, causing you store a couple extra pounds. Additionally, you should start to gain more weight as muscle growth and size increases.
Creatine Tips: How to Incorporate it into Your Training Program
If you want to try taking creatine to see if it will help you with your fitness goals, we highly recommend Micronized Creatine Monohydrate Powder. This is because the monohydrate is the simpliest, purest form of creatine. Also, the micronized power mixes very well in water.
Creatine is most effective for high-intensity training, and you’ll find it within most pre-workout supplements.
Research shows creatine “may enhance exercise performance in sports participants requiring maximal single effort and/or repetitive sprint bouts.” If you want to take it as effectively as possible, here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Take creatine with food. Some individuals experience gastrointestinal issues when they take creatine on an empty stomach. Because creatine timing isn’t important, you should always take creatine with a meal or at least a protein shake. This will help reduce any potential stomach problems.
- Expect to see weight gain initially. When you start taking creatine, don’t be disappointed if you see your weight start to spike. You’re not gaining fat! Increased water muscle retention is the cause.
- Start small. Take 3-5 grams of plain creatine monohydrate powder daily.
The Case for Creatine
If you’re skeptical about creatine, you’re not the only one. When taken correctly, though, creatine can increase your energy levels, make it easier to push yourself, and help you build muscle.
Science fully supports creatine! It’s safe to use and as legal as whey protein. Give yourself an advantage and give it a try.
Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. Many times the content is not written by a single author, instead it is usually a team effort.