What is creatine?
If you ask Merriam Webster the creatine definition you’re still going to wonder what the heck it is. A, “White crystalline nitrogenous substance C4H9N3O2 found especially in the muscles of vertebrates either free or as phosphocreatine.” I even tried Creatine Wikipedia and didn’t do much better.
Let’s break this down in to something we can understand. Creatine, known as α-methyl guanidine-acetic acid, is similar in structure to amino acids, produced by your body, and found naturally in some meats. Your muscles are typically 60-80% saturated with creatine unless you’re a vegetarian, which means people that don’t eat meat have even more to gain from using creatine. Most importantly it’s stored in your cells and used for energy production. Creatine is not an amino acid, but is similar in structure.
What does creatine even do?
An even better question is does creatine do your body good? The answer is that it can increase strength gains from weight training by up to 10%. Let that sink in, because that number is HUGE. No other natural supplement can do this for you. And creatine is filthy cheap.
The next thing you want to know is, does creatine build muscle? Creatine muscle building is an indirect process in which you get immediate strength and endurance. You then use that extra oomph in your workouts to tear deeper into those fibers, trigger an immune response, and grow back bigger and better. Creatine benefits bodybuilding by building mass and strength.
Creatine is involved in energy production on a cellular level by producing ATP (adenosine triphosphate.) By saturating your muscles with creatine supplementation in the method outlined below, you’ll have more energy, strength, and endurance. That translates into muscle mass gains. But it’s important that you take creatine properly.
Which creatine is best?
I’ll save you some anticipation and tell you straightaway that the best creatine for bodybuilding is creatine monohydrate in powdered form. All the information below covers different forms/structures and leads to why you should stick with old trusty.
What is the best form of creatine?
This blends easily with your drinks and you can dose it however you like whenever you like. This also tends to be the cheapest form and most convenient form. Since you should be mixing this with your pre/post drinks, it also just makes sense.
This is nothing more than the powder form of creatine in a capsule. Pills tend to be more expensive than their powder counterparts. I don’t love swallowing pills. The main reason I recommend powder is because you should be mixing your creatine with dextrose and BCAAs in your intra-workout (pre-workout drink) and sipping it while weight training, or adding it to your whey protein/dextrose shake post-workout. You could break the capsule and empty its contents into your drink but it’s a pain. Why bother?
Liquid creatine breaks down after a couple of days and becomes ineffective and thus worthless. This isn’t a problem with powder because you drink it immediately after mixing. Don’t buy it.
Take Creatine Monohydrate
This is the bread and butter of the creatine world. Almost all the extensive creatine testing has been done with taking creatine monohydrate. When performance improvements related to creatine use are cited, this is what they’re talking about. It’s one gram of creatine per one gram of water.
This is just creatine monohydrate that is micronized (mechanically processed) to improve water solubility. It’s still just creatine monohydrate, but it may lessen some side effects. There is no reason to avoid micronized creatine when purchasing creatine monohydrate, but there is also no reason to specifically search it out. That is, unless, you tend to experience side effects like stomach cramps, in which case it's worth giving it a shot.
Anhydrous means without water. So creatine anhydrous is just creatine monohydrate with the water removed. The result is an increased amount of creatine with each dose. The sole benefit is that you can take less, but that doesn’t really matter. Creatine is cheap and you can just take more. There is no reason to avoid this version of creatine monohydrate, but there is also no reason to pursue it.
Creatine Hydrochloride has been hyped up due to increased water solubility and a potential reduction in side effects like upset stomach. There isn’t sufficient testing on this like there is on creatine monohydrate and any claims are just theory. Stick with tried and true.
Creatine Ethyl Ester
Don’t believe anything you read about Creatine ethyl ester being superior. In a direct comparison with creatine monohydrate, it proved worse at increasing creatine levels in the blood and muscle.
Best creatine for bulking
I’ll write it again, there is only one creatine that has been studied extensively and shown to increase performance. Creatine monohydrate.
Which creatine should I take?
Now that we’ve determined the best structure and form of creatine for all purposes, I’ll recommend some products I’ve used. These are all going to be Creatine Monohydrate and they’re all going to be in powdered form. You don’t need to read a bunch of creatine monohydrate reviews-creatine is creatine-just order it from a trustworthy company.
What should I take with creatine?
The most effective way to take creatine monohydrate is when taken with dextrose and BCAA’s in your intra-workout beverages (this links to an awesome guide for mixing your own energy drinks). It is equally as effective when mixing dextrose, whey protein and creatine in for your post-workout beverage. It’s preferable to do both for best results. I drink a mix before/during and after my workouts. The formula is as follows.
- 5g BCAAs
2) 30g dextrose
3) 2.5-5g creatine
- 25-30g whey protein
2) 30g dextrose
3) 2.5-5g creatine.
Creatine weight gain and Creatine water weight
All creatine, when used properly, will cause water retention in the muscles. As your creatine levels rise the water retention will increase as well. This is part of the process; this is unavoidable and you should expect it. Eventually, after your creatine levels have peaked and you continue your training you should experience an increase in muscle mass from the additional strength and endurance in your workouts. If you’re concerned with excessive bloating, you can skip the loading phase, which I’ll discuss later in dosing, and just start with the maintenance dose. This will minimize the water retention. Additionally, you can consider eating less salt, eating fewer carbohydrates, and drinking more water. There are also natural supplements such as dandelion root or simply consuming magnesium and electrolytes.
Does creatine cause weight gain?
Creatine will cause weight gain, but It’s important to know that creatine will not make you gain any fat. Any initial weight gain will be the result of extra water weight that is drawn into the muscles. You won’t look fatter, but your muscles will look fuller. That’s a good thing. Any weight gain after the initial will be increased muscle mass from the additional strength and endurance. This is also a good thing.
The water retention varies based on how large an individual is and how much muscle mass they have. Expect to gain 2-5 pounds. Remember that building muscle takes protein, whey protein and creatine have a synergistic effect for bulking. Make sure your getting enough protein if you’re working out. There are so many different kinds of protein that I wrote a guide on what’s good and bad for you. Everything you need to know about The different kinds of protein.
Creatine weight loss
A benefit of adding lean muscle mass (aside from looking sexy), is just how expensive your newfound muscle is to maintain. It takes up to 50 calories extra per day just to sustain each pound of beastly muscle you’ve loaded on. So while you won’t lose weight overall just by being on creatine, your metabolism does speed up as you hulk out. Your overall weight may rise or even remain the same, but your body fat percentage, appearance, and composition will improve.
Oftentimes when we talk about weight loss, what we’re actually interested in is fat loss and body re-composition. Creatine can help with that in a roundabout way. You can do this by putting on muscle while maintaining fat, or maintaining muscle while losing fat, and both have similar end results. You may end up weighing the same in the end, but more of that weight will be lean muscle. And if/when you do decide to cut, it’s infinitely faster and easier to do so with more muscle mass.
How and when should I take my Creatine?
As a general rule of thumb you should consider what you’re taking, where you want it to go, and what will help get it there. We know that we want our creatine to absorb into our muscles. We know that our muscles are most demanding when being worked, and we know that our muscles LOVE to stay full of glycogen. Glycogen is just a matrix of water and carbohydrates that your body stores for immediate use inside the muscles (3g water/1g carb). When you deplete glycogen and then eat carbohydrates afterward or during, all these carbohydrates are immediately processed to renew your glycogen stores.
So when we work our muscles, we deplete our glycogen and build up lactic acid. At this time our muscles are greedy and we can take advantage of that by feeding them a delicious blend of dextrose, creatine, and water. Basically we’re giving them everything they crave to make more glycogen and we’re spiking it with creatine.
What this means is you want to drink your creatine with dextrose, with water, and during exercise. It should ideally be mixed into your intra-workout drink (or what some people call pre-workout drink). We also want to drink creatine immediately after exercise with the post workout protein shake that should also contain dextrose.
The proper amount of creatine is 5 grams a day. This should be accompanied by around 60 grams of fast digesting carbohydrates. I like to take 2.5 grams of it with my intra-workout shake and 30g of dextrose, and then another 2.5g of creatine in my post workout protein shake with another 30g of dextrose.
Is creatine bad for you?
There is no study or research based evidence to support this claim. Creatine has been exhaustively tested and shown as safe. Any source that tells you it causes cramps or is hard on your liver or kidneys is total hogwash. That being said, I personally feel a great deal of lethargy when starting a creatine load if I don’t drink enough water. This can be remedied by, you guessed it, drinking more water, which is good for you anyways. Always aim for at least one gallon a day no matter your goals.
Dosing, Is creatine loading necessary?
A typical creatine dose is around 5-10g/day depending on your needs and size. Some people choose to add more creatine to their initial loading period to boost their creatine levels quickly. It isn’t necessary to load creatine to increase you creatine levels. The only difference is the time it takes to get the necessary amount to make a difference in performance. If for some reason you do not want to do a fast creatine loading phase then you can get the same effect in about 28 days instead of 1 week. I always prefer the 1 week. why make it take longer unless your doctor has guided you to do so?
Creatine Loading Phase
Here are the creatine load doses for each loading phase. Which ever one you choose just remember to stick to the planned regimen.
No Bulk Loading
If you choose to load with normal doses, it can take up to 4 weeks to saturate your muscles. This dose is dependent on your size, but for most people is around 5 grams a day.
Normal Creatine Loading Phase
If you choose to do it fast the creatine loading dose is 20-25g/day (divided into four doses throughout the day), you can shorten that period to 1 week, after which you’ll return to your normal regimen. Make sure to split your creatine loading doses up throughout the day. You do not want to take this all at one time. Plan for three or four set times throughout the day to stick to.
It’s up to you how fast you want to go. Even though creatine loading is not necessary I recommend the 20-25g dosage in the first week to saturate your muscles simply because it’s effective and creatine is cheap. There’s no reason not to.
Creatine Dosage bodybuilding
It’s not steroids, you will use the same amount no matter what your doing. Once your muscles are saturated, more will make no difference.
What should I take with creatine?
Cycling supplements is when you only use them for a period of time and then come off of them to give your body a break. Many supplements help less the long you are on them so you have to come off of the for awhile before you go back on them. This is known as cycling. Creatine does need to be cycled.
Is creatine good for cycling?
Yes, it is good for cycling. (bike cycling?) No, I don’t mean that kind of cycling, but yes if you ride bikes this can actually help your strength and in the event of an injury could help you keep your muscle mass longer.
What happens when you cycle off creatine?
Fatigue from Creatine Withdrawal as your body has to start making it again. There is no evidence that suggests creatine use will prevent your body from starting up synthesizing creatine again. A short-term decrease in production following creatine use has been observed and is expected from supplementing creating, however your body should go back to making its own.
Creatine monohydrate side effects
Nothing earth-shattering, but cramping and upset stomach are common side effects of creatine monohydrate and other forms of creatine. Creatine is considered safe. These side effects can be alleviated by taking smaller doses rather than one large dose. Drink plenty of water.
If you want to do some research on the safety of creatine here is a great set of resources from Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition-
Studies showing that creatine supplementation
Rather, as noted above, creatine monohydrate supplementation has been found to reduce the incidence of many of these anecdotally reported side effects.
Clint Ellingsworth-I am a father of Two, I work in Nuclear Power and I can fall asleep anywhere. Everything I write is about something I’ve struggled with, researched, wasted loads of time and hard-earned money for crap results, and eventually made the effort to figure out the why’s and how’s of doing things the right way as a bodybuilding enthusiast without Olympian genetics.