Do you want to build muscle mass? Great. There’s no excuse for you not to supplement creatine. Seriously, it’s that good.
There’s a vast array of “magical” muscle building supplements to choose from but most of them have a marginal effect at best. Whey protein and creatine are the two most researched and effective supplements for building muscle.
We’ve already discussed whey protein at length so today we’re going to discuss creatine.
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WHAT IS CREATINE?
Can I say gold dust and leave it at that? Probably not.
It’s a molecule found in meat, eggs, and fish. And it’s incredibly useful for muscle building because it quickly produces energy to aid cellular function.
It’s great for most types of physical activity but today we’re going to discuss it purely in relation to muscle building.
What Can it Do for You?
We’ve already talked about fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers in my How to Build Muscle Fast guide. We’ll cover some of the basics here though.
You want to activate your fast-twitch muscle fibers at the gym because that’s how you build muscle.
When you activate your fast-twitch fibers you need energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate from your phosphagen system. The problem is that phosphagen only lasts for 3 seconds before it needs to replenish again.
What does this mean in English?
When you do a bicep curl, for example, your body desperately tries to source energy to support the contraction. It sources this energy from your phosphate system.
Guess what the most energy dense phosphate is? Yup, it’s creatine. It’s the difference between doing 4 reps and 6 reps.
If you get to rep 4 and your phosphagen stores are low, you’re going to fail at rep 5.
If your phosphagen stores are high, you’re going to smash out another rep or two.
The way you build muscle is by progressively lifting more weight. If for example, you bench pressed 80kg for 6 reps last month and 90kg for 6 reps this month, it’s because your muscle fibers have increased.
This is exactly what you want to happen! Creatine is essential because it helps you increase reps and then, in turn, muscle size.
Does Creatine Work?
For many years I’ve focused on losing fat and maintaining muscle. I have to stay away from creatine because whenever I touch it I increase my muscle size. It’s honestly an incredible supplement.
If you’ve read other articles on my site you know that I don’t often champion supplements. I like to let the evidence speak for itself and although I might recommend a supplement, I don’t shout it from the rooftops.
It’s very hard to avoid that with creatine because it’s so damn good.
But as I said earlier, it’s a very well researched supplement.
Let’s break down each benefit.
Increased Muscle Mass
Most studies agree that taking it in the short-term can result in increased muscle mass.
You’ll find that many people recommend 6-8 week cycles. We’ll discuss that in more depth later in the article though.
Take your pick. Many studies have showcased significant improvements in power output.
Have you plateaued at the gym for a while? You’ll smash past your barriers after taking creatine.
Lean Muscle Mass
Many studies have found that lean mass increases in subjects after taking it.
You’re likely to experience an increase in water weight. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. It can actually be very useful in helping you stay hydrated during training sessions. This is especially the case if you train in hot conditions.
Do you compete in boxing or MMA? You should avoid taking it leading up to your weigh in because you want to avoid extra water weight. It can be great during your training camp though.
Some studies have showcased increased cardio performance in subjects.
Various studies have highlighted subjects feeling less fatigued after fitness activity.
Various studies have noted increased testosterone levels in their subjects after taking creatine.
What do you think? A pretty impressive range of benefits, right?
Best Creatine Supplement
Now that you know just how beneficial it is, let’s talk about the two main types you can buy.
Monohydrate is almost pure, very effective, and quite cheap.
Micronized Creatine Monohydrate
What’s the difference between micronized monohydrate and monohydrate? Not an awful lot but there are some key differences.
Micronized mixes with water easier because it’s been refined into smaller pieces. It also reduces bloating and stomach discomfort.
You also get more of an effect with micronized because it’s purer.
Most people chose micronized over monohydrate because of these reasons.
Best Micronized Creatine
I’ve experienced amazing results with Optimum Nutrition Creatine. You can also see by the reviews on Amazon that pretty much everyone experiences fantastic results (4 and a half stars based on nearly 5,000 customer reviews).
I also want to give a shout out to Genius Creatine. I love their brand and products.
I’ll be doing a full review on it at a later date, so I’ll leave it there for now. Check it out on Amazon!
The powder form can be quite awkward to mix with water so you can choose to take pills instead. Crazy Muscle does a great product which you can check out on Amazon.
When to Take Creatine
This is an area where more research needs to be done. You might think that the best time to take it is before working out, but this has yet to be proven.
Some studies even suggest that you should take it after working out (source).
The truth is, you can take it at any time of day and it’s likely to have the same effect.
When I take creatine I tend to do it two or more hours before working out. Do you need to do the same? I’m not sure. It’s more of a mental thing for me. Either way, you’ll experience great results.
Creatine Loading Phase
There’s quite a lot of confusion around this. Let’s clear it up.
What is a creatine loading phase?
You can load up when you first start for 5-7 days. In theory, this will stock up your stores and produce quick results.
How much should you take in a loading phase?
You should take 20 grams per day (split into 4 doses) during your loading phase. Mix it with water or take it in tablet form.
You should take 5 grams per day after your loading phase has finished.
Does loading creatine work?
The initial loading phase works but don’t be tempted to go past 7 days or do it more than once without cycling off it first.
Why? Your stores have a maximum limit. If you continue to overload it converts it into formaldehyde. And you don’t want that to happen, trust me.
Are there any side effects to loading?
Yes. You’re likely to feel bloated and you could experience gastrointestinal discomfort. I’d only recommend a loading phase for bodybuilders and not athletes.
Opinion varies on this. Some people will tell you that you need to cycle creatine, others will tell you that you don’t.
The answer lies somewhere in the middle. We need to ask two questions first though.
Do you need to cycle for intolerance and health reasons?
The answer to the first question is no. Creatine doesn’t build up an intolerance so you can take it all year round.
Is it dangerous to your health if you take it for long periods? Only if you take too much. You won’t experience side effects if you follow the correct dosage (5g per day).
In answer to the main question. No, you don’t need to take a break.
How long does it take for creatine levels to normalize?
There might still be some reasons why you want to take a break anyway though. Perhaps you want to reduce water weight or you experience gastrointestinal discomfort.
For example, I suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, so creatine does cause slight discomfort for me sometimes. I like to cycle it for this reason.
It takes up to 1 month for your creatine levels to normalize. Most people recommend 2-3 months on and 1 month off. I like to cycle off for 6-8 weeks before I start again but it depends on how you feel.
Do you want to build muscle mass and you don’t have a stomach condition? Take it all year round.
COMMON CREATINE QUESTIONS
Could creatine cause breathlessness in sport?
No. Only inadvertently. Some people have complained about shortness of breath but it’s usually because they’ve taken it 30 minutes before their workout and they feel bloated.
Solution? You should take it 2 or more hours before working out to be on the safe side.
What goes well with creatine supplements?
Whey protein! Do you want to build muscle? Whey protein and creatine are the two main supplements you need to purchase. It’s as simple as that.
Is the use of creatine bad for your kidneys?
We alluded to this earlier. it’s only bad if you take too much of it. Stick to 5 grams per day and you’ll be fine.
What are the dangers of consuming creatine?
We’ve pretty much answered this already. The dangers are taking too much because you think the more you take the better it’ll be for your muscle growth. Avoid this mentality.
We’ve already talked about your maximum storage capacity. You can load up for 5-7 days but stick to 5 grams per day after that!
Is creatine good for gaining weight?
It’s great for gaining muscle, which of course classes as gaining weight.
If you struggle to gain weight in general though and think creatine is the answer, don’t be fooled. You will gain water weight very quickly but that’s only temporary weight.
You can read my essential dieting principles guide to learn how to gain weight effectively.
What food is high in creatine?
This is a great question. You should always try to source as much as you can from natural dieting as possible.
The following foods are high in creatine:
- Eggs and dairy (to a lesser degree)
You need to reduce your dosage If your diet is high in any of those foods. When people complain about creatine side effects it’s usually because they supplement 5 grams a day on top of eating foods like beef and pork.
let’s finish off with a quick recap of what we’ve covered.
- There’s no excuse for you not to supplement creatine if your goal is to build muscle. It’s cheap and damn effective!
- It’s effective for most types of physical exercise, especially for bodybuilding;
- You need to activate your fast-twitch muscle fibers to build muscle;
- Your body sources energy from your phosphate system when you activate fast-twitch muscle fibers;
- Creatine is great for helping you do extra reps at the gym because it’s the most energy dense phosphate;
- Some of the benefits include; increasing muscle mass, lean muscle mass, muscle power, hydration, cardio performance, testosterone levels, and fatigue reduction;
- You can take creatine at any time of day but try to avoid taking it 30 minutes or less before your workout;
- You can do a loading phase for 5-7 days for quick results (20g per day and 5g after 5-7 days);
- Cycling on and off isn’t necessary unless you have a stomach condition or want to reduce water weight;
- Foods high in creatine include beef, pork, tuna, salmon, sushi, eggs, and dairy.
Okay, let’s finish off there. Do you feel like an expert on creatine now? Great!
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