How To Take Creatine
For Maximum Effect
|by JP CLIFFORD
- Creatine Monohydrate Vs. Creatine Phosphate and Creatine Citrate
- Creatine Pills Vs. Serums (Liquids) Vs. Powders
- Small Creatine Dosage Vs. Large
- Loading Creatine Vs. Not Loading
- Creatine with Juice Vs. Creatine Plus Products
- Taking Creatine Before a Workout Vs. After (When to Take Creatine)
- Cycling Creatine Vs. Not Cycling
- A Few More Things to Consider -Water, Protein, Haste Makes Waste, Caffeine, Alcohol, Orange Juice
- Now That I Know How To Take Creatine, What Exactly Does Creatine Do In The Body That Makes It Valuable For Those Seeking Muscle Gain?
Ask questions about how to take creatine and you are likely to get a wide variety of answers.
Weight lifter "A" believes this is true and weight lifter "B" believes that is true. And just as you are beginning to get confused, weight lifter "C" walks up and he swears by something else.
As is generally true of weight lifters, each one is completely convinced that their way is the way to obtain maximum creatine effect and is quite perturbed that no one has yet written it in stone.
There are many factors that go into finding the supplementation plan that produces the best results for you. The type you take, the way you take it, when you take it, the creatine dosage you use as well as your body's unique characteristics will all play major roles.
One thing is for sure, creatine is not a supplement that you can just take any old way and expect to achieve maximum results.
By learning how to take creatine effectively you can greatly enhance your results.
Unfortunately, while many trainers won't think twice about plunking down extra money for the latest, greatest creatine breakthrough hyped by the supplement companies, they won't bother educating themselves on how to take creatine.
The hyped breakthroughs are typically just marketing ploys while gaining an understanding of how to take creatine properly can help people achieve much better results.
Creatine monohydrate was the first type of creatine on the market and it is the type of that the majority of research has focused on. It is simply creatine bound with water. As was inevitable due to its popularity, supplement companies have initiated a race to improve on it. Today, the marketplace is littered with products boasting marketing claims about revolutionary breakthroughs.
Creatine phosphate adds the phosphate necessary to become phosphocreatine while creatine citrate (effervescent creatine) makes the creatine more water soluble to aid in absorption. While these products sound great and may indeed provide improvements, studies thus far have not confirmed advantages that outweigh their higher costs. In addition to higher costs, they also supply less creatine per gram, which can offset their advantages.
For most people, the search for an effective and cost-efficient creatine supplement should begin and end with a quality creatine monohydrate powder.
When picking a creatine monohydrate powder brand, like when picking a brand for any supplement, look for a reputable name and a reasonable price. Creatine products in particular can have a great variance in quality.
As cheap as quality creatine is these days (less than 25 cents a day), there is no reason to go buy the cheapest on the market. There are many good choices for creatine monohydrate powders, none better then Optimum Nutrition's Creatine Powder.
Exceptions to just going with the basic monohydrate powder include cases where there is gastrointestinal distress. If creatine does not get fully dissolved into free creatine in the stomach it can lead to problems of diarrhea and stomach upset in some people. If you experience these problems, trying different creatine products may provide some relief.
Creatine powders are the most used, the most tested and the most trusted of the delivery methods available for supplementation. In addition, powders are the cheapest and also the most flexible if you want to experiment with your creatine dosage.
Pills, capsules or tablets are expensive, can be more difficult to dissolve and are not very flexible when trying to experiment with your creatine dosage.
Creatine Serums (liquid creatine) are interesting because they seem to offer a great advantage in absorption. However, creatine is not very stable in liquid form and tests of serums on the market have shown that most if not all overstate their creatine contents. This is due to the creatine becoming unstable and converting to creatinine, the waste product of creatine. Serum use remains risky at this time.
Definitely think twice before investing in liquid creatine. Some studies have shown that popular serums have so little creatine that they can't even outperform placebos.
The lower sides of creatine dosage recommendations are to take from 2 to 5 grams a day (non-loading or post loading). Higher creatine dosage recommendations call for quantities as high as 20 to 30 grams a day.
Ultimately, the ideal creatine dosage for you will have to be found through trial and error. Due to the unknown effects of long-term supplementation with higher doses (anything beyond a loading week) it is probably not a good idea to pursue these creatine dosages for long periods of time.
The amount you ingest will not be the amount that the body will be able to utilize. A percentage will be lost due to a variety of factors including your particular stomach's ability to digest the creatine. Therefore, the ideal creatine dosage will vary by the individual.
A good place to start your supplementation is at 5 grams per day. This is a standard amount and an amount that has shown significant results in studies. People with bodyweights up around 200 lbs. and beyond may want to consider upping their starting intakes. From this point you want to track your results, experimenting some until you find acceptable results. Keep in mind that the ways and times you take your creatine dosage can also affect your results.
If the body is given creatine that exceeds its capacity, it will simply expel the excess. Taking a dosage that is too high will mean that you are literally flushing away a portion of your creatine budget (and putting unnecessary strain on your kidneys).
Once your muscles are saturated, there is no point to taking more. Therefore, it behooves you to accurately track your supplementation.
This is often a heated debate among weight trainers. It need not be as studies have shown that both sides are correct.
Loading is done by taking an extremely high creatine dosage for the first 5-7 days of supplementation (loading phase), typically 20-25 grams a day split into two to four servings. Thereafter, loaders follow up with a smaller maintenance creatine dosage each day. This method is based on the theory that when you first begin supplementation your muscles have the lowest level of creatine and can therefore benefit from the very high creatine dosages. This is an attempt to immediately super-saturate your muscle cells.
Studies have shown that loading will speed up your response. However, studies further show that in the long term simply sticking with a smaller creatine dosage from the beginning will create the same effects.
With loading, you may reach your creatine potential and be performing with its full benefits after just a week while if you choose not to load the effects will build up more gradually. When blood creatine levels are tested after 30 days of usage, the results will be similar with both methods.
Taking the large daily creatine dosage required for loading can cause stomach upset in some. It can also prove to be more expensive. If your stomach doesn't like the high doses, or if you are content to more gradually build up your creatine levels and save some bucks, relax in the knowledge that you aren't really missing anything.
Taking your creatine dosage with a juice (or other fast-acting carb source) has been shown to be more effective than just taking it with water. The reason for this is that as the carbs break down and release glucose into the blood the body reacts by releasing insulin.
Insulin is a hormone that has the job of helping the glucose find its way into the cells where it is stored as glycogen. Not only does insulin offer transport to glucose, it does the same for other substances including creatine. Therefore, the insulin spike created by the fast-acting carbs will allow for greater uptake of creatine within the muscle cells.
The most commonly used juice to mix with a creatine dosage is probably grape but anything with high sugar content (Kool-Aid, sports drink, etc.) can be used effectively.
Some evidence exists that the insulin spike created by the simple sugars may be too brief to be ideal. This theory suggests that the majority of the creatine is not broken down in the stomach and available for transport until after the insulin spike has dissipated. Weight trainers subscribing to this theory will drink additional juice about 30 minutes after taking their creatine dosage. You have to be careful here because excessive simple carbs can easily become body fat and produce an unwanted gut.
Other methods of taking a creatine dosage with the aim of maximum absorption include mixing it with a warm or hot liquid. This can aid in the dissolution of the creatine.
And then, of course, you have the supplement manufacturers who have their own formulas designed to aid in creatine uptake. These creatine plus products add insulin-potentiating ingredients like lipoic acid, ribose, dextrose and others to a creatine dosage in an effort to get more creatine into the muscle cells. As you might guess, all supplement manufacturers claim to have scientifically developed the most advanced creatine formula.
As you also might be able to guess, these super advanced formulas don't come cheap. If you compare taking a quality creatine monohydrate powder with juice to creatine plus products you will find a significant price difference.
The question becomes, can creatine plus products deliver results that justify their high price tags?
My answer is probably not. However, I have personally received great creatine results using MuscleTech's Cell-Tech and so I can't not recommend it despite its costs which can hover dangerously close to the $1 a day range. But, I have received just as impressive results using the guidelines presented on this page and done so at a fraction of the cost.
If you are looking for maximum creatine results and aren't worried about your budget, Cell-tech and similar products are worth a try.
Some believe that taking your creatine dosage an hour or so before a workout is advantageous so that it is available in the bloodstream to immediately replace the creatine your body uses in the workout. Others believe that you should take your creatine dosage immediately after because your muscle cells will then be the most receptive to sucking up nutrients. Still others believe that because creatine is a stored substance, it really doesn't matter when you take it.
In my own case, I take my creatine dosage immediately after working out on workout days and first thing in the morning on non-workout days. First thing in the morning and post-workout can be advantageous because the body is looking for nutrition and will enthusiastically suck up anything you give it.
No studies I know of have shown dramatic differences in creatine performance based on when it is taken. Experiment with your times and see if you notice a difference.
There are two reasons for creatine cycles...
- In some cases, supplementing the body with certain substances shuts down the body's ability to produce that substance on its own. When creatine is ingested in large quantities the body shuts down production of it within the body.
The fear is that after long-term creatine usage, the body's own synthesis of creatine will not return to normal when supplementation is stopped. Studies have not shown any problems with creatine production returning to normal after short-term use. This has not been shown to occur with long-term use either but, keep in mind, it is a relatively new supplement and long-term studies have not been completed.
- Another reason for cycling creatine is to try and recreate the "first month" results. The best results are typically reported in the first 30 days of usage. Therefore, through creatine cycling, these "first month" results can theoretically be recreated every three or four months. Some weight trainers skip the off time and just repeat the loading phase every so often in an effort to recreate these results.
No significant creatine studies have shown dramatic performance benefits to cycling as opposed to continuous use. Personally, I cycle two months on and one month off just to be safe rather than sorry should it happen to come out twenty years from now that long-term supplementation can in fact affect the body's own production abilities. It also does seem to produce better results, or at least more dramatic results, when restarted.
- Water - Drinking a lot of water is a good thing to do whether or not you are using creatine supplements but it becomes even more important when you do supplement. Creatine draws water into the muscle cells and therefore the body will require more water.
Do not rely on thirst to tell you how much to drink. Pay special attention to your water intake when using creatine and even more special attention if you do a loading phase. One 8 oz. glass of water for every ten pounds of bodyweight daily should do the trick.
- Protein - Studies have shown that adding protein to your creatine mix can positively influence your muscle's ability to absorb and retain creatine.
- Haste Makes Waste - Remember that creatine is NOT stable in liquids - Drink it immediately after you mix it. The longer you let it sit, the less effective it becomes (the creatine converts to creatinine).
- Caffeine - There is some debate over the effects caffeine has on creatine's effects. A couple of studies have shown it to reduce the effects while others have shown no effects. Some weight trainers report taking their creatine dosage in their morning coffee with great results. To be safe rather than sorry, it is probably best to limit caffeine use while taking creatine. Caffeine is a diuretic and so as creatine is pulling water into the muscle, caffeine is pulling it out.
- Alcohol - Alcohol is also a diuretic and so it is best to limit its use while supplementing (but, hey, if you want to throw back a couple every once in a while, it isn't a big deal. Just make sure to drink extra water afterwards).
- Orange Juice - It is theorized that the citric acid in orange juice will degrade the creatine if you mix the two. I haven't seen real evidence to support this theory and it really seems flimsy. With all the nasty acids in the stomach, I think citric acid would be the least of creatine's worries. But this becomes another "better safe than sorry" scenario. Just use grape juice or something else to mix with your creatine dosage and don't worry about it.
Now that I know how to take creatine, exactly what does creatine do in the body that makes it valuable for those seeking muscle gain?
Creatine's big benefit is in its ability to help you regenerate energy faster. This allows you to train longer with heavier weights, causing greater stress to the muscle and therefore encouraging more growth.
To learn more about how creatine affects your body, check out the article, The Effects of Creatine Supplementation.
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