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Creatine 101

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Creatine is one of the most researched and legitimate supplements on the market. Still, there seems to be a lot of confusion as to how, when, and why to use it, and what to use along with it. Hopefully after this brief report, you will have a better understanding of creatine and if it fits in your program. You will also be able to dispel myths that you may have heard in the past about creatine. Prepare to get brain swole.

What is it and why use it?

Creatine is the coming together of the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine. So it’s not an amino acid, but the production of it requires amino acids. It is already occurring naturally in the body; you can also increase it with the addition of certain foods and supplementation.

Creatine acts in many different ways and provides positives to different processes ranging from faster regeneration of ATP, which is great for short burst energy, to cell volume that can increase protein synthesis. There is evidence it helps aid in faster recovery and general training performance overall.

It is cheap, researched, and one of the best supplements you can get.

How do I get it in the body?

Creatine transport happens in your body on a daily basis. Everyday you lose and gain a certain mount of creatine. It is thought that on average your body makes roughly 1 gram per day and, if on an appropriate protein based diet, you can gain roughly 1-1.5 more grams depending on how much you stuff away. Food wise, creatine occurs in the largest amounts in red meats.

You have three main choices of creatine supplementation.

Creatine Monohydrate (CM)
Creatine Phosphate (CP)
Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE)

CP was long thought to be best because the process of transfer for energy uses creatine phosphate. However, it can’t be taken up directly into the muscle via supplementation, so supplementing with CP is useless.

CEE is supposed to be more efficient in smaller amounts and perhaps easier on the stomach, but overall hasn’t been researched enough to say definitively. It also tastes like ass.

So the winner, by a long shot, is CM. CM is the cheapest and most researched form of creatine supplementation, and thus far nothing has been shown to provide better results.

Loading?

Loading and how to do it is actually very simple. It only became complicated because people don’t understand the difference between faster, better, and needed.

First off, you don’t have to load in large amounts for creatine to work. You can take smaller doses over a period of time and increase your saturation level. However, loading it in larger amounts can cause saturation to occur in less time so it works faster. The goal of loading is to top out your levels of creatine storage so that when using your energy stores you tap out less quickly.

There are a LOT of different loading methods out there and maintenance intakes for suggestion. Some of it is based in research and some is based in BS. All you need to know are these few things before we dive into the recommendations.

-Taking large doses at one time isn’t needed and could cause you to run to the bathroom.
-You can hit solid saturation levels by just starting out at a normal dose and causing the stores to fill over time.
-If you are going to go slow at loading, it may take longer to feel/notice any effects.
-In general, the effects are not crazy or drug-like. At best, you will have a little more energy, a little more “pump,” the ability to do a few more reps, and a little better recovery. It also pulls water into the muscle so that “swole” may look a little better too. That’s about it though; it isn’t miracle juice.

Dosage and Loading Recommendations

Fast: 5g/20 days then 5g per day
Faster: 10g/10 days then 5g per day
Fastest: 20g/5 days then 5g per day

(This can be higher or lower depending on LBM and weight. For example, if female at 120 lbs and 18% bf, 15g/5 days and then 3g per day may be more than enough. Decrease excess water retention if concerned.)

When to take it?

It is best taken around workouts, specifically pre/post-workout. The amount and what to take along with it can change based on your size, training goals, and dietary program.

How to take it?

You can take it via powder or capsule. The general method is via powder mixed in a shake.

Why would I not respond to creatine?

There has been research that discusses responders versus non-responders. While it isn’t known for sure, there can be various reasons why you may not respond to creatine; these can range from caffeine usage, body fat levels, and just plain genetics.

Possible reasons for non-responders:

-Possible correlation with having more type II fibers.
-Possible correlation with a higher body fat percentage.
-Possible that people on diets already high in meat and protein don’t notice the effects because they have a higher natural level of creatine.
-Possible that caffeine usage could impede results.

Water retention?

Creatine draws water into the muscle. It shouldn’t really cause much of a negative effect in the aspect of look, and if anything it should help increase “swole.” However, if you have a higher body fat level, that “swole” can sometimes turn into a look of “bloat” because there is a lack of definition.

It is also going to increase your physical scale weight. This shouldn’t be a concern unless you are freaking out over the scale in general or need to make weight for class.

Man or woman?

Both men and women can benefit from creatine usage.

Is it safe?

Thus far, there have been few problems reported with creatine other than upset stomachs (from high dosing) and water retention. In short, don’t do anything stupid or that is not recommended and you will be fine.

Is it steroids?

No, not even close, not at all.

Will putting it in any liquid such as hot water or orange juice destroy its effects?

No.

Should I use creatine if I’m on a fat loss diet?

There are no problems with doing that; and as you can see, there can only be benefits.

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30 comments

  1. Mike H.
    August 25, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    I love your references, Leigh!

    That article was 1.21 gigawatts of kick-ass!

  2. Keith
    August 25, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    I have read so many stupid stupid things this week about Creatine. This comes at a perfect time for linking, thanks.

  3. Jennifer
    August 26, 2009 at 1:05 am

    Thanks, Leigh.  Simple and to the point – nothing to be confused about.  But, that’s what we expect from you anyway!

  4. Sarah
    August 26, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Leigh would you benefit from creatine as an endurance runner or is it just for lifters?

  5. jillebean
    August 26, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Leigh do many women use creatine? I was thinking about getting some when I got down to my goal weight.

  6. Great easy to read overview of Creatine.
    I was also wondering if there are any women who have some success stories with Creatine.  Have you personally had success with it?

  7. CovermeA
    August 26, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    Shouldn’t you already have success stories with it if your pimping it ;P
     
    Great read as usually Leigh. I enjoyed it the first time too.

  8. James
    August 26, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    ^ Nice catch

  9. AnnetteW
    August 26, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    I wanted to start using it to help with fibromyalgia.  I’ve read a lot of positive things about it for that case.  I have a heck of a time with recovery these days.
    Love your podcasts the most though, when I take my walks.
    Thanks for being sane.

  10. Sinead
    August 26, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    An interesting read. Thanks! 🙂

  11. lolaso
    August 27, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    I have a question
    How much time  we can take creatine?

  12. Lynda
    August 27, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Thank you for writing this, as usual, you make things clear and concise so that even I can understand them 😉

  13. Garion
    August 27, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Thanks for the article. I’d disagree with the view on loading. Studies show there’s no difference except in excess cost compared to using maintenance dosage levels. Also I don’t see how creatine capsules are effective since there’s no dissolution prior to ingestion. Even experts such as Berardi advise taking creatine in powder form AND in a warm liquid — see this post for details: http://forums.menshealth.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/63310347/m/671109561?r=3061023706#3061023706.

  14. James
    August 27, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Garion- Your comment doesn’t make any sense.

    First Leigh specifically said you didn’t have to load , but if you do want to increase speed of saturation you can so what are you talking about there? Leigh also said that you can use POWDER or capsule but that powder is the general method. Again what is there to argue?

    Also in the future instead of quoting a message board post why don’t you put up the actual studies you are referencing.

  15. sunshine
    August 28, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    okay – i’m having a brain fart… or maybe i’m over thinking this…

    if i want to use creatine, should i use it EVERY day, or just on days i lift?

    and if the recommended dosage is 5g/day and i only use it on days i lift, and i lift 4 times a week, would i use 8-9g on the days i lift? or only 5g??

  16. Leigh Peele
    August 28, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    Sorry for the delay.

    To answer some of the questions.

    Creatine for endurance athletes? – Creatine is more for short burst of energy. The general time of use is roughly 15-35 secs IRC. Can be a bit longer, but in short it isn’t for endurance training.

    They one person above I think was asking “How much can you use at a time?” but I am not sure.

    At one time I wouldn’t recommend more than 15-20 grams. Much more beyond that and you aren’t going to be lifting, you are going to be running to the bathroom.

    Creatine everyday? – Daily if a responder

     

  17. CovermeA
    August 28, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    <3

  18. CovermeA
    August 28, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    Ugh Leigh your reply thingy doesn’t work. <3 was to James.

  19. Pierre - Shape Journey
    September 8, 2009 at 7:35 am

    Great post Leigh. I like to fact to you also write that some people don’t  respond to creatine. But those who don’t respond to it directly might respond to it by the mighty placebo effect.
     

  20. Deb
    September 10, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    How do you know if you’re a responder or not? Are the effects subtle, or more obvious?

  21. Curt
    September 13, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Hi Leigh,
    Nice post. I was doing research on creatine/creatine loading recently and learned a couple of new things that are related to your post.  In an inteview at Menshealth.com Dr. Richard Kreider who has studied creatine extensively stated that simply taking 3-5 grams of creatine a day doesn’t seem to produce the same benefits as a loading phase even though it does saturate your muscles with creatine after a month or so. The other point of interest is that the majority of the creatine absorbed by your muscles is within the first 3 days of loading. This suggests that a full 5 day loading period may not be necessary.
     
    Curt
     

  22. Amanda
    November 9, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    I started Creatine per your dosage and loading recommendations (fast) about 11 days ago.  It is causing a lot of bloating.  Not the under the skin “swole” look, but abdominal discomfort.  I look and feel like there is a balloon in my intestines.  Is that something that goes away after a while, or am I just one of the few that cannot handle the creatine?

  23. Leigh Peele
    November 9, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    If that is the case I would either A) back off dosage (2-3 grams) and see what happens or B) suspend use altogether. It should not be causing you discomfort.  I have known of only two women who responded with severe bloat on the level it seems you are describing. Both just stopped using it.

  24. […] Creatine 101 […]

  25. Jenn
    March 29, 2011 at 9:02 am

    Leigh,

    Can you expand on the potential problem with caffeine? I know caffeine has a half life of around 5ish hours. So is it just any amount of caffeine in your system? Or is it more of a problem when ingesting those products like energized expand that have both creatine and caffeine in them?

    Thanks!

    • Leigh Peele
      March 29, 2011 at 8:32 pm

      There has been some research that suggests it could be possible caffeine consumption in large amount could hinder the effects. Note, this is in high doses and a complete causation has not been proven. At this point it is on the “high speculation” chart. I think it would only be relevant for those who take in massive amount of energy drinks, EC stacks, etc. Even then, it still may not be an issue, but it has at least a base level of logical speculation to it at this point.

  26. John
    April 7, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Leigh,

    What is your take on the cycles with Creatine. My understanding is that in order to see continued long term absorption / effects it needs to be cycled. Has your take been that you essentially keep taking the maintenance dosage “forever”?

    Thanks!

    • Leigh Peele
      April 8, 2011 at 3:22 am

      The short answer – There is no need to cycle creatine.

      Mol Cell Biochem. 2003 Feb;244(1-2):159-66.
      Acute and moderate-term creatine monohydrate supplementation does not affect creatine transporter mRNA or protein content in either young or elderly humans.

      Tarnopolsky M, Parise G, Fu MH, Brose A, Parshad A, Speer O, Wallimann T.
      Department of Medicine (Neurology and Rehabilitation), McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada. tarnopol@mcmaster.ca
      Abstract

      Animal studies have shown that supra-physiological creatine monohydrate (Cr-mH) supplementation for 3 months reduced skeletal muscle creatine transporter (CRT) content. The doses of Cr-mH (1-2 g/kg/day) used in these studies were between 5 and 10 times those usually used in human studies, and it is unclear whether a down-regulation of CRT would occur in humans at the recommended doses of 0.1-0.2 g/kg/day. We measured CRT, and citrate synthase (CS) protein content using Western blotting before and after 2 months of Cr-mH supplementation and weight training in young men (N = 11 Cr-mH (0.125 g/kg/ day); N = 8 placebo). CRT and CS were also measured before and after 4 months of Cr-mH supplementation and weight training in elderly (> 65 years) men and women (N = 14 Cr-mH (0.075 g/kg/day); N = 14 placebo). Finally, CRT mRNA was measured using competitive RT-PCR before and after 8-9 days of Cr-mH loading in young men and women (N = 14, CR-mH (mean = 0.18 g/kg/day); N = 13, PL). Total creatine content was significantly elevated after the Cr-mH supplementation period as compared to placebo in each of the studies. Neither Cr-mH supplementation, nor exercise training resulted in measurable alterations in CRT protein content and acute Cr-mH loading did not alter CRT mRNA. There were no gender differences in CRT mRNA or total creatine content in the young subjects and no gender differences in total creatine content or CRT protein content in the elderly subjects. Weight training in young men did not increase CS protein content, however, in the elderly there was a significant increase in CS protein content after exercise training (p < 0.05). These results demonstrated that Cr-mH supplementation during weight training resulted in increases in skeletal muscle total creatine without reductions in CRT protein and acute Cr-mH loading did not decrease CRT mRNA content.
      __________________

      • John
        April 9, 2011 at 10:13 pm

        Thanks for the reply and study information. I guess when you think about it, the logic makes sense. If its present in the body the body will take advantage of it, it’s it’s not it won’t.

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