Looking to get an edge on your workout sessions? Want to build more muscle faster than you thought possible? Wish you could defy fatigue?
The great news is that with one particular supplement, you can.
While creatine isn’t going to magically transform you from the classic skinny guy to the Hulk overnight, it is going to provide a number of advantages that you definitely need to know.
As one of the most well-researched supplements out there, there is one thing that you can be sure of when you turn to creatine and that is that it is going to deliver the results that you are looking for.
Want to know more? Let’s answer the question of how does creatine work, give you some creatine pros and cons, and help you learn how to utilize creatine properly in your program.
Creatine Primer – How Does Creatine Work?
So how does creatine work exactly? Creatine, which is short for creatine phosphate, is a molecule inside the body that couples with a compound known as adenosine diphosphate (ADP). You have a large supply of ADP in the body just waiting around for that creatine phosphate molecule, that when combined, will form something called adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
ATP is like the power house of your muscle cell. It’s the spark plug that provides energy for each and every muscular contraction to take place. Essentially, it’s the gas to your engine, so to speak, as far as high intensity muscular contractions are concerned.
Without it, muscle contractions simply will not exist. You need ATP as you go about the gym.
So what creatine does then is ensure that your stores of this molecule are fully saturated so that ATP can continually be created.
Without creatine there, you’ll only be left with ADP, which isn’t going to do you all that much good. While you will take in some creatine naturally with the foods you eat (especially if you eat a diet rich in red meat), most people will never get enough to fully saturate their stores.
As such, this can become problematic when you’re in the gym.
Creatine Pros And Cons
So what are the pros and cons with creatine? What will it do for you?
Let’s look at some of the pros.
- Improved strength and power
Want to feel stronger? Creatine can help you get the job done. Those who supplement with creatine often notice an increase in their total strength as well as power output. This could mean that you hit those PR’s in the gym that much faster, translating to superior results.
- Enhanced muscular development
Some people have the notion that just by using creatine, you’ll naturally pack on more pounds of lean muscle mass. This isn’t quite correct. Creatine won’t put muscle on someone who isn’t training hard, but what it will do is allow you to train harder, thus seeing greater muscle gains.
Basically, with creatine on your side, you can work harder to see faster muscle growth rates. If you’re committed to training hard in the gym, rest assured you’ll be satisfied with what you see while on creatine.
- Greater cellular water retention
Often creatine gets a bad rap for giving people water retention. And it can lead to bloating in some individuals. Usually though this is only the case if you are:
- Not drinking enough water.
- Not training hard enough in the gym (or at all).
- Using far too much creatine overall.
If you are not doing any of these things, the water retention you do get will be primarily in the muscle cells themselves, thus creatine can help you look more vascular and fuller – both things that most of those training hard want to accomplish.
- Improved endurance
Finally, the last big benefit of creatine is that it can support superior endurance levels. By taking creatine, you might get 10 reps rather than 8 or be able to do three extra sprints during your HIIT cardio training.
This all means great things for those who want to push their limits. When you can defy fatigue, you can work harder for longer, thus seeing faster progression.
So what are the cons to creatine?
Honestly, not much. The great news is that there are hardly any side effects reported from creatine, so it’s something you can feel good about using. There is no need to cycle it and almost everyone will react favorably to it.
The only one potential con that you may want to be aware of is the bloating factor discussed above. But, if you are using a high quality creatine product and are using it properly, you shouldn’t have that issue to deal with.
Also note that some people may experience muscle cramps when they use creatine, but this can be remedied by simply drinking more water. As creatine will draw water into the muscle cell as it’s stored, if you aren’t drinking sufficient water, it’ll take water out of the body with it, which is what leaves you dehydrated and experiencing those cramps in the first place.
Who Benefits From Creatine?
Now that you know the creatine pros and cons and have learned how does creatine work, who benefits from using creatine?
Contrary to what you might think, not everyone is going to see great result from this supplement.
The people who creatine will be useful for are those who are relying on ATP for muscular energy. ATP is what fuels the ATP-PC system, which is the system that is utilized for very short, high intensity activities. Think weight lifting, sprinting, or various team sports such as basketball, hockey, football, and so forth.
Because these athletes are relying on ATP to fuel their muscular contractions, they will benefit from having the increased storage level of creatine phosphate.
Who Should NOT Use Creatine?
On the other hand, those participating in long distance endurance related events (such as marathon runners, those doing steady state cardio training, or those who are doing high rep circuit training for instance) may not see many benefits at all from using creatine.
Chances are they won’t be harmed by using it, but it’s essentially going to be a waste. Because they are using other energy systems (the oxidative system primarily), which utilizes fatty acids and glucose as a fuel source, there is just no need for them to have a constant supply of creatine phosphate in the body. In fact, chances are they already have a fully saturated supply because they are never depleting it with their exercise.
So make sure that you take a good look at the type of exercise you are performing first before deciding whether or not you should be utilizing creatine.
The Types Of Creatine Available
If you’re making the decision to include creatine in your protocol, you’ll also want to keep in mind that there are a few different varieties available. Understanding these will help you make the best overall shopping decisions. Let’s look at the types to know.
The most commonly used form is creatine monohydrate, which is the original version and works best when taken in with some form of sugar. The sugar will spike insulin levels, thus driving the creatine into the blood stream where it will then be absorbed and utilized.
This variety of creatine is slightly more advanced and newer on the market and does not need to be taken with sugar to be maximally absorbed. Additionally, it’s claimed that you can get away with no loading period when using this creatine and still see maximum results. For more details on loading periods, please see below.
This variety is also available in both pill and powder format, so for those who don’t like mixing creatine with their other supplements, the pills may be highly appreciated.
Another newer form of creatine on the market is tri-creatine malate. This is creatine combined with malic acid. Malic acid is involved in the Krebs energy cycle and can make this variety slightly more effective in terms of boosting your ATP production.
Users also typically report experiencing slightly fewer gastrointestinal issues when using this format, so if you are particularly sensitive, it might be something that you’ll want to consider.
It is quite a bit more expensive however, so if you are on a budget, regular creatine is likely the better idea.
Finally, the last form of creatine that you may come across is micronized creatine. This is basically creatine that is in much smaller particle form than the typical creatine variety and thus helps to slightly boost absorption rates.
Once again, this variation is considerably more expensive and the payoff doesn’t appear to be all that significant, so don’t feel bad about going for the cheaper route here and choosing straight creatine monohydrate instead.
How To Use Creatine Effectively
All of this said, how should you use creatine effectively? In order to see best results, you need to keep a few things in mind.
First, creatine will work best when taken in with carbs, especially faster acting ones like sugar. Now, I’m on telling you to put a spoonful of sugar in your creatine mixture and drink up, but I am saying that you may want to consider adding creatine to a meal where you do have some faster acting carbohydrates present.
Namely, your post workout meal. Since having faster digesting carbs is a big part of what makes for a good post workout meal, it only makes sense to add the creatine in at that point.
Now, some people may choose to take creatine pre-workout instead. This is fine as well, but just do keep in mind if you are going to have it then that you’ll want to ensure you get a carb source with it.
As these carbs help to spike blood glucose levels, which then means insulin comes in to transport that glucose to the muscle cells, creatine will just tag right along, going exactly where it’s needed.
Apart from that, there are two methods to consider when starting to use creatine: the loading cycle or the maintenance cycle.
Creatine Loading Cycle
If you choose to do a loading cycle, you are essentially going to first focus on doing five days of a high creatine intake. This is to rapidly saturate your creatine stores, ensuring that you see maximum results as soon as possible.
This means taking a total of 20 grams of creatine per day for five days. You should spread those dosages out into five gram servings, so take four – one at breakfast, one before the workout, one after the workout, and one before bed. Do you best to eat all of these with carbs, if possible.
Then after the loading phase is up, you can then move into a maintenance phase, taking five grams per day at either the pre workout or post workout period as discussed.
Note that some users who are either very heavy (and thus have more lean muscle mass) or who are training very intensely (defined as being in the gym for at least 7+ hours per week) may opt to use a slightly higher maintenance dosage, going to 7.5-10 grams per day. As they will deplete creatine faster, this can help them keep up with their needs.
What are the drawbacks to the loading cycle? The only big drawback is that if you are going to experience water retention or cramping, there is a much greater chance this will happen if you do the loading cycle first.
So if that’s something you are concerned over, you’ll want to keep this in mind.
The Non-Loading Creatine Cycle
For those who do want to ensure they stay as lean looking as possible and thus not deal with any bloating issues whatsoever, adopting a straight maintenance cycle is likely the safer bet.
With this, you’ll simply move into the straight dose of 5 grams per day (or a little more if necessary as noted above) and take that for as long as you plan to be on the creatine.
Note that if you go this route, it will take you longer to become fully saturated, so there is that trade-off.
After about two weeks, you should be on par with where the loaders were however, seeing the same great benefits that creatine has to offer.
So there you have the facts that you need to know about creatine supplementation. The great news is that this is a relatively cost effective supplement, so not one that you’ll have to pay a fortune for to reap the benefits.
As it’s also widely accessible, it’s one that any high intensity athlete should have in their arsenal.
With the holidays now done and over with, you may be left with a body that isn’t exactly what you had dreamed of. Going into the New Year, you had hoped to maintain your physical fitness and not put on any weight, but if the holidays got the best of you, you took a few weeks off the gym and indulged in some Christmas goodies, not to worry. All hope is not lost. You just need to know how to get back on the bandwagon and do some damage control.