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Creatine Supplementation 101 – The Ultimate Guide

creatine supplementation
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Creatine supplementation is possibly one of the most well-researched topics in sports nutrition in the world!

The use of creatine supplementation has been shown to boost a myriad of beneficial effects ranging from increases in power output, muscle mass, increase blood sugar tolerance to even having positive effects on brain damage and disease (3, 5, 10, 11, 12, 17).

In this ultimate creatine guide, you will learn about all of creatine’s benefits, creatine dosing, the best type of creatine and any side effects.

How Does Creatine Work? Creatine’s Role in ATP Energy Production

To understand how Creatine works, we first need to understand why creatine works so effectively.

During exercise, the body requires energy in order for your muscles to contract. In fact, this occurs regardless of whether or not you are exercising (we simply need more energy when we exercise).

The energy that the body requires for movement comes in a form called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in which 1 adenosine molecule is bound to 3 phosphates. It’s basically our body’s currency – everything we eat is broken down to provide ATP energy.

When your muscle contracts, 1 of the 3 phosphates is cleaved off from the ATP compound to form ADP and release energy. In doing so, a cascade of events occurs that allows the muscle to contract and produce force.

Eventually after many muscle contractions and thus, conversions of ATP to ADP, the amount of ATP available for continued muscular work decreases.  This is when weakness and fatigue occurs.

The job of creatine is to help reconvert that ADP back to ATP so that it can be used, once again, for energy production. The more creatine we have, the faster and more effective we can do this.

When you consume creatine supplements your muscle stores increase, in the form of creatine phosphate. When your muscle contracts and thus converts ATP to ADP for energy, the stored creatine phosphate can then donate its phosphate to reconvert the ADP to ATP. This basically gives us a ‘bigger energy bank’, allowing our muscles to work with more force and for longer periods.

The Amazing Benefits of Creatine

Creatine has a number of different benefits for improving muscle growth, strength and even general health.

Arguably the greatest benefit of creatine usage is its ability to improve power output (3, 5, 10, 11). This is primarily due to creatine’s ability to quickly donate a phosphate to regenerate ATP, our primary energy source.

Along with power and strength, there are over 300 studies showing a fair few benefits of creatine. These include:

Increase lean mass: While the initial 1 – 2 week increases in lean mass seem to be attributed to increase cell swelling from water retention (and no, you won’t get bloated, it’s just water stores in the muscle, not under the skin!), long-term use seems to be associated with increases in actual lean muscle tissue gains. This may in part be due to a decrease in muscle breakdown over time, along with a decrease in myostatin levels and improved performance (2, 9, 14).

Reduced Fatigue: Reduced fatigue from creatine seems to be noted after at least 5 days of normal supplementation, likely due to increased energy availability and an increase in oxygen utilization in the brain (18).

Increased Testosterone: Multiple studies have indicated that prolonged creatine supplementation may increase levels of testosterone and other anabolic hormones (15, 16).

Increased glucose transport to muscle: Creatine supplementation appears to improve glucose (broken down carbohydrates) transport into the muscle and improve levels of muscular glycogen, a primary source of energy. This seems to be due to an up-regulation of the glucose transporter, GLUT4 (8).

Protects and grows neurons: Creatine supplementation appears to act as a neuro protectant and seems to also induce neuronal growth via improved mitochondrial activity (12, 17).

Reduced Concussions & Brain Damage: Studies in children and adults have showed creatine can help the brain recover from severe impact or brain damage. From car crashes to football head injuries, creatine can help.

Elderly: Creatine can help the elderly and sick by reducing common issues such as muscle wasting, brain damage and muscle strength/daily quality of life.

Reduced Myostatin Levels: Myostatin is a specific enzyme within the body that tightly controls how much muscle you can grow. Creatine has been shown to reduce the action of this enzyme and potentially allow for faster, greater and more efficient muscle gains.

Not only does the research support these astounding benefits of creatine but, anecdotally, I have had hundreds of clients rave about the improvements in performance they experience when using creatine and the other advanced supplement protocols I use in my famous 90 Day Bikini Plan:

creatine supplment

How to Effectively Implement Creatine Supplementation

In order for creatine to be effective, your muscle must first be saturated with it. This basically means you must raise your creatine stores substantially from their current levels.

Like some other supplements, there is not an immediate effect as a result of consuming creatine. However, with specific loading protocols you can see results after just 5-7 days, which is fast for a legal and safe non-steroid supplement.

A common concern is when to take creatine? There are lots of arguments, creatine pre workout, creatine post workout, etc.

There is evidence that at least during the initial couple of weeks you may want to consume your creatine in the post workout period (1, 6).

During the post workout period, you have an up-regulation of the glucose transporter, GLUT4. This increase, coupled with an insulin response as a result of carb or protein consumption (if you consume a post workout shake), can improve the rate of creatine being shuttled into your muscle (6).

It’s worth noting this isn’t key, it may just optimize creatine absorption. However, the key is daily consistency.  In order to saturate your muscle with creatine and reap long-term benefits, you’ll need to supplement with it regularly and not go on and off, like many people believe with the silly ‘creatine cycling’ protocols.

How To Dose Creatine Supplementation Effectively, Should You Creatine Load or Cycle Creatine?

Many people suggest utilizing a “loading protocol” in which you take multiple, low doses of creatine every day for a period of a week or so.

While some research suggests that this is not entirely necessary and may lead to negative side effects such as gastric distress if dosed incorrectly, I do personally recommend creatine loading (13).

Why? Well, it simply allows you to reap the rewards after 5-7 days rather than waiting 30 days to notice a benefit. Furthermore, if you do breakdown the 20g dose sensibly, as I recommend, you are unlikely to notice stomach or digestive issues.
Either way, you should consume about 5g of creatine per day long term.

If you do decide to go down the loading protocol route, it’s strongly suggested to consume the entire dose (20 grams) evenly spaced in 4 separate 5g doses. For example:

  • 8AM: 5g Creatine
  • 12pm: 5g Creatine
  • 4pm: 5g Creatine
  • 8pm: 5g Creatine

Finally, people often and wrongly suggest you should cycle creatine. This is a myth, based on no research. In fact, it goes against the whole principle and mechanisms of creatine. Remember, creatine levels must remain elevated in your muscle. By cycling creatine, you will just be purposefully dropping them back down and wasting time and money.

Is Creatine Supplementation Safe? Are There Any Side Effects? 

Creatine consumption is perfectly safe for long-term use without cycling or time off. Medical studies ranging from 3-5 years indicate that there are no meaningful side effects associated with creatine supplementation (this is a very long time in sports supplement research!).

While people often report side effects such as sickness, GI distress, dehydration, cramp and even liver/kidney issues, none of these have been proven in research and are a myth.

For sickness and digestive issues, this only occurs when it’s dosed incorrectly and in high levels, which is the same for any supplement or food.

Additionally, a few studies used creatine for athletes training in the heat (where cramp and dehydration are more common) and showed it even reduced incidences of cramp and dehydration which is in contrast to many people’s claims!

No studies have proven creatine to be dangerous in healthy individuals. Although one study perhaps suggested issues in 1 participant with liver/kidney disease, this individual was, however, also consuming multiple other supplements. Of course, the main point here is that he already had liver/kidney disease, indicating that it’s perfectly safe for a healthy individual who is disease free.

Realistically speaking, everyone has creatine in their body and muscles, all we are doing with supplementation is increasing the stores by about 15-25%. This is one of the primary reasons that creatine is considered to be safe.

The Best Form of Creatine Supplementation To Use

Due to the popularity and effectiveness of creatine, there are different types now available on the market. Additionally, many people argue that one type works better than the other, despite little evidence suggesting this is the case.

The short answer to the best type of creatine is clearly Creatine Monohydrate. Creatine monohydrate has time and time again been shown to be the most effective form. Creatine monohydrate has hundreds of studies, it’s been around for decades, it costs 10$ per bottle and is very safe. It’s really a no brainer.

There is some evidence that Creatine HCL (hydrochloride) is more soluble in water (meaning can be dissolved better) and can be absorbed better through your intestine (4, 7).

However, this seems to be the only benefit, when compared to creatine monohydrate. Further, once your muscles are saturated with creatine, the speed in which it is absorbed into the muscle is largely irrelevant.

While some people suggest creatine monohydrate bloats them, studies do not support this. Several studies have tested this specifically and never found any issues.

Creatine, The World’s Best Muscle Building Supplement

Based on the research, I and many other researchers believe Creatine Monohydrate to be the best and most effective supplements on the market.

In order for creatine to be effective, you need to ensure that your muscle is saturated and remains saturated (do not cycle, there are no benefits). It’s suggested you take 3-5 grams per day depending on how much muscle you have, possibly after your workout in order to do so.

Additionally, while not essential, you can “load” your muscle faster with creatine and reap the rewards after a short period of time. A creatine load involves consuming 4 x 3-5g doses (20g total) for a period of about 1 week, before reducing intake to a single dose of 3-5 grams per day.

There you have it, an ultimate guide to creatine. I hope you can see why this is the most powerful supplement in the world, which, I believe, everyone should take (athlete or not).

If you enjoyed this article, here’s another one to learn about 5 of my favorite research proven supplements: 5-of-the-best-fat-loss-supplements-proven-by-research

Creatine References

1. Antonio, J., & Ciccone, V. (2013). The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1), 36.

2. Branch, J. D. (2003). Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 13(2), 198-226.

3. Candow, D. G., Chilibeck, P. D., Burke, D. G., Mueller, K. D., & Lewis, J. D. (2011). Effect of different frequencies of creatine supplementation on muscle size and strength in young adults. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research25(7), 1831-1838.

4. de França, E., Avelar, B., Yoshioka, C., Santana, J. O., Madureira, D., Rocha, L. Y., … & Caperuto, É. C. (2015). Creatine HCl and Creatine Monohydrate Improve Strength but Only Creatine HCl Induced Changes on Body Composition in Recreational Weightlifters. Food and Nutrition Sciences, 6(17), 1624.

5. Del Favero, S., Roschel, H., Artioli, G., Ugrinowitsch, C., Tricoli, V., Costa, A., … & Lancha-Junior, A. H. (2012). Creatine but not betaine supplementation increases muscle phosphorylcreatine content and strength performance. Amino Acids42(6), 2299-2305.

6. Green, A. L., Simpson, E. J., Littlewood, J. J., Macdonald, I. A., & Greenhaff, P. L. (1996). Carbohydrate ingestion augments creatine retention during creatine feeding in humans. Acta Physiologica, 158(2), 195-202.

7. Gufford, B. T., Sriraghavan, K., Miller, N. J., Miller, D. W., Gu, X., Vennerstrom, J. L., & Robinson, D. H. (2010). Physicochemical characterization of creatine N-methylguanidinium salts. Journal of dietary supplements, 7(3), 240-252.

8. Ju, J. S., Smith, J. L., Oppelt, P. J., & Fisher, J. S. (2005). Creatine feeding increases GLUT4 expression in rat skeletal muscle. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 288(2), E347-E352.

9. Kilduff, L. P., Pitsiladis, Y. P., Tasker, L., Attwood, J., Hyslop, P., Dailly, A., … & Grant, S. (2003). Effects of creatine on body composition and strength gains after 4 weeks of resistance training in previously nonresistance-trained humans. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 13(4), 504-520.

10. Lamontagne-Lacasse, M., Nadon, R., & Goulet, E. D. (2010, May). Effect of Creatine Supplementation on Jumping Performance In Highly-Trained Volleyball Players: A Pilot Study. In MEDICINE AND SCIENCE IN SPORTS AND EXERCISE (Vol. 42, No. 5, pp. 444-444). 530 WALNUT ST, PHILADELPHIA, PA 19106-3621 USA: LIPPINCOTT WILLIAMS & WILKINS.

11. Lee, C. L., Lin, J. C., & Cheng, C. F. (2011). Effect of caffeine ingestion after creatine supplementation on intermittent high-intensity sprint performance. European journal of applied physiology111(8), 1669-1677.

12. Li, Z., Okamoto, K. I., Hayashi, Y., & Sheng, M. (2004). The importance of dendritic mitochondria in the morphogenesis and plasticity of spines and synapses. Cell, 119(6), 873-887.

13. Ostojic, S. M., & Ahmetovic, Z. (2008). Gastrointestinal distress after creatine supplementation in athletes: are side effects dose dependent?. Research in Sports Medicine, 16(1), 15-22.

14. Parise, G., Mihic, S., MacLennan, D., Yarasheski, K. E., & Tarnopolsky, M. A. (2001). Effects of acute creatine monohydrate supplementation on leucine kinetics and mixed-muscle protein synthesis. Journal of Applied Physiology, 91(3), 1041-1047.

15. Vatani, D. S., Faraji, H., Soori, R., & Mogharnasi, M. (2011). The effects of creatine supplementation on performance and hormonal response in amateur swimmers. Science & Sports, 26(5), 272-277.

16. Volek, J. S., Ratamess, N. A., Rubin, M. R., Gómez, A. L., French, D. N., McGuigan, M. M., … & Kraemer, W. J. (2004). The effects of creatine supplementation on muscular performance and body composition responses to short-term resistance training overreaching. European journal of applied physiology, 91(5-6), 628-637.

17. Walsh, B., Tonkonogi, M., Söderlund, K., Hultman, E., Saks, V., & Sahlin, K. (2001). The role of phosphorylcreatine and creatine in the regulation of mitochondrial respiration in human skeletal muscle. The Journal of physiology, 537(3), 971-978.

18. Watanabe, A., Kato, N., & Kato, T. (2002). Effects of creatine on mental fatigue and cerebral hemoglobin oxygenation. Neuroscience research, 42(4), 279-285.

19. Wilder, N., Deivert, R. G., Hagerman, F., & Gilders, R. (2001). The effects of low-dose creatine supplementation versus creatine loading in collegiate football players. Journal of athletic training36(2), 124.

About the author

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Rudy Mawer, MSc, CISSN

Rudy has a 1st class BSc in Exercise, Nutrition & Health and a Masters in Exercise & Nutrition Science from the University of Tampa. Rudy currently works as a Human Performance Researcher, Sports Nutritionist and Physique Coach. Over 7 years he has helped over 500 people around the world achieve long last physique transformations.

He now works closely with a variety of professional athletes and teams, including the NBA, USA Athletics, World Triathlon Gold Medalists, Hollywood Celebrities and IFBB Pro Bodybuilders. If you would like to get in contact or work with Rudy please contact him on social media.

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