Creatine, what does it do? When should you take it? What type is best? The side effects? How much to take? Let's go into everything there is to know, of course, according to the #science
As always, if you are reading this then you have likely come from my recent “Creatine science” video, in which case, go back and smash the like button #alwayplug
Anyway, unlike other blogs, this is going to be quick and straight to the point giving you a full summary of all of the points discussed in the video, along with a few extras in order for you to have to continually refer back to over the course of your “fitness journey” if/when you are unsure about how to take creatine to maximise strength and hypertrophy.
So, creatine 101
What does it do?
Creatine has been countlessly shown to improve anaerobic capacity, max power, strength and enhance overall quality of training, leading to 5 to 15% greater gains in strength and performance (Kreider et.al. 2003) than those who don’t supplement with it. This can then have a direct carryover to increasing overall workout volume/workload thus enhancing hypertrophy (Schoenfeld et.al., 2015).
What type is best?
Though many forms of creatine currently exist in the market, most have shown to be no better than traditional monohydrate in increasing strength or performance (Falk et.al. 2003, Selsby et.al. 2004, Mero et.al. 2004).
How to take it and how much?
The supplementation protocol most often described in the literature is the “loading" protocol whereby you ingest ~0.3 grams/kg/day of creatine monohydrate for ~1 week to “saturate” the muscles and 3–5 grams/day thereafter (Williams et.al. 1999, Kreider et.al. 2004) HOWEVER, additional research has reported that the loading protocol may only need to be 2–3 days in length to be beneficial particularly if the ingestion coincides with protein and/or carbohydrate (Steenge et.al. 2000, Green et.al. 1996). Therefore, a quick load for 2-3 days on the onset of supplementation can RAPIDLY “saturate” skeletal muscle creatine stores followed by again, taking 3-5g per day thereafter.
What about side effects?
Yes, the only side effect directly associated with creatine supplementation so far is weight gain (Becqueet.al. 2000) and one can expect an initial 1- to 3-pound increase in weight during the first week of use (Francaux M and Poortmans 1999, Volek et.al. 2001). HOWEVER this weight gain is NOT fat nor muscle. Instead, the gains made are due to greater water retention during supplementation as increased muscle creatine concentrations are associated with changes in the intracellular osmotic pressure thus resulting in movement of water into the cell, water retention, and weight gain so its INTRMUSCULAR water that you gain, not fat, how many times do I have to say this.
Are there responders and non responders?
A large between-subject variability in muscle creatine uptake following creatine supplementation has been shown (Harris et.al. 1992) with those already having high baseline muscle creatine showing lower muscle creatine uptake and vice versa (Green et.al. 1996, Greenhaff et.al. 1994). Therefore, those who have lower muscle creatine stores, such as those who eat little meat/fish, are more likely to experience greater muscle storage vs those with already relatively high muscle stores (Kreider, 2007).
Is it safe?
Results from both long and short term studies indicate that supplementation does not appear to adversely affect markers of health status in athletes undergoing intense training (Kreider et.al. 2003, Bemben et.al. 2001, Greenwood 2000, Venembre et.al. 1998).
Will it cause hair loss?
Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) has been shown to increase rate of hair loss (Bang et.al. 2004) and creatine supplementation has been implicated in increasing DHT in one study conducted on male rugby players who took bolus doses of creatine during a 3wk loading phase (van der Merwe et.al. 2009). However, all the evidence and claims are from this ONE individual study which, to date hasn’t been replicated thus not fully reliable and it’s likely that the results may only practically apply to people with a family history or already present receding hairlines, since there is a significant genetic component for hair loss in young males (Rathnayake and Sinclair, 2002).
Are there any gender differences in how to take it?
There is no evidence in the literature of an effect of gender on creatine supplementation (Branch 2003) meaning that creatine supplementation for women is just as effective as for mean. However women will tend to “fear” the side effect of weight gain more, even if it isn’t fat.
Should you mix it with carbs?
Although there are some studies which show that combining creatine with carbohydrates and/or carbohydrates and protein leads to and increase muscular uptake of creatine (Green et al 1996), overall, as per Theodorou et al (2017), the effect on performance measures may not be greater than using creatine monohydrate alone. This means that your main focus when supplementing is to take it and take it CONSISTENTLY in order to ensure you maintain muscle saturation levels.
Mixing creatine wit with caffeine?
Most of you asking this are likely referring to certain research which as shown that, when combining creatine with caffeine, caffeine counteracts the benefits of creatine however, while this is confirmed in some research (Franco et al 2011), there is still a limited amount to be able to fully confirm it. Therefore, if you want to be “safe”, avoiding the combination of the two would be best however, overall, it is not going to be what makes or breaks your ability to make gains and reap the benefits from creatine supplementation.
Creatine is a safe and effective supplement to increase overall strength and size however ON ITS OWN, it will not do much, leave that for steroids. The ‘‘beneficial’’ effects of creatine supplementation on muscle strength and hypertrophy are thus largely down to creatine loaded subjects being able to train at a higher workload than placebo groups so you still need to train HARD for it to be effective.
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