Last updated on October 5th, 2018
- Safe (it’s the safest way to gain a few pounds of muscle)
- Inexpensive (It’s the cheapest way to gain a few pounds of muscle)
- Can help add several pounds of lean mass in 8 to 12 weeks
- Can increase strength and power significantly
- Does NOT need to be cycled (but can be)
- Can be loaded but doesn’t have to be
- 5g a day works for the average man
- Water retention will be temporary
Creatine is produced naturally in the body, and plays a huge role in the production of energy. By storing phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine, it can provide energy in times when the muscles need it the most – during anaerobic power output.
Adenosine Triphosphate – or ATP – is the main source of cellular energy, and can be quickly regenerated when enough creatine is present.
Although the body manufactures it, it is depleted quickly during periods of highly energetic performance.
Some food groups, such as meat, eggs and fish contain it also. However, additional supplementation has been shown again and again to significantly benefit the user.
Strength increases are not the only benefit creatine offers. It has been shown to protect the brain and heart from oxidative stress and help keep bones and livers healthy.
The majority of users take it to improve lean body mass, power and strength because it allows them to dig a bit deeper within the set and push a few more reps out.
This, in turn, stimulates increased muscle growth during the recovery and overcompensation phase following the workout.
It does not have the same effect for aerobic training as the body will utilize different energy sources for that purpose.
Creatine – What The Supplement Companies Aren’t Telling You
A small fraction of creatine users will be non-responders, meaning no matter what dosage they take, they will not benefit from it.
Creatine monohydrate is the most effective and most inexpensive of all the types of creatine (despite the supplement industry’s attempts to persuade you otherwise), and has an excellent safety rating.
Some water retention may occur during the first few weeks of supplementation. The additional weight is temporary, and goes after a few weeks, to be eventually replaced by muscle mass over 2 or 3 months of use.
Five to 7 lbs water weight can be expected. Similar muscle gains will then be made in 8 to 12 weeks of supplementation.
Some mildly unpleasant side effects are possible but only at dosages which are too-high / higher than those recommended. They include stomach cramps and nausea.
Editor’s Note: Creatine is both safe and very effective. Ignore the fear mongering about water retention and kidney problems*. The average person can take 3 – 6g of Creatine Monohydrate daily.
Loading is not necessary, although it may help you saturate your cells quicker. About 20 – 25g per day for the first 5 to 7 days makes a loading dose. The maintenance dose thereafter might be 2 – 5g per day. Cycling is also unnecessary but people still do it with good results.
*No study is yet to support the claim that creatine damages the kidneys.
Scientific Support and Possible Gains
Creatine has a huge number of scientific studies which support its use as an ergogenic supplement. In fact, in the context of sports nutrition it is the most studied compound ever.
There have been well over 60 studies carried out to determine Creatine’s effects on power output alone, and many more for its other attributes.
With the result of many of these individual studies, two meta-analyses were conducted to find an overall effect of supplementation on body composition, performance and strength when combined with resistance training.
The titles and links to each meta-analysis are presented below:
This meta-analysis reviewed 22 studies involving creatine monohydrate. It revealed the following findings:
- 8% Strength increase on average (compared to control group. 20% increase from baseline)
- 14% Power increase on average (compared to control group. 26% increase from baseline)
This analysis looked at 100 studies involving creatine and determined that it:
- Increases power output
- Increases lean mass
No significant differences between male and female subjects, and trained versus untrained subjects were found.
Should I Load Creatine?
The short answer is – it’s up to you.
Creatine is absorbed by cells until they reach a saturation point and can store no more. This saturation point would be the ideal level to maintain, as it would ensure maximum storage and would not waste any (as any excess leaves the body as waste).
The rationale behind ‘loading’ creatine is that this saturation point is reached quicker than it otherwise would be, and therefore, the benefits to power etc. will take effect sooner.
While this is true, some people prefer to take a smaller, consistent daily dose to ensure they always have their levels topped up, and to avoid unnecessary bloating at the beginning of the period of supplementation.
Also, anyone who needs to look as muscularly defined as possible (say, a model, or competition athlete) would avoid creatine loading during a week or fortnight when it would be detrimental aesthetically.
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Creatine Dosage – Loading vs. Consistent
Slight variations should be considered but the main difference in approach will be dependent on whether a loading phase is desired or not.
Bigger men, with higher training volume can take 10g per day comfortably. 5g per day will be sufficient for the average person.
Smaller men and average women might want to take 2 or 3g per day, if only to minimize waste.
Loading for the average male involves taking about 20 to 25g of creatine monohydrate daily for the first 5 to 7 days. Following this, the dosage is dropped to a ‘maintenance’ dose of 2 – 5g.
Unless the user is cycling creatine for some reason, the maintenance dose can be continued daily for as long as necessary.
High single doses can cause a bit of an upset stomach, so people with sensitive stomachs might want to split the loading doses up to 3 or 4 separate ones a day.
Not To Load
A daily dose of 3 to 6g appears to be effective for the average user. Again, muscle mass and training volume may be a factor in the decision.
Bigger and more active users might opt for a larger daily dose. Ultimately, 10g per day will ensure a slightly faster saturation curve and will be more than enough as a maintenance.
NOTE: Creatine Monohydrate is incredibly cheap compared to other supplements so people tend to take at least 5g on the daily / maintenance dose to ensure saturation. Some of the bigger (or highly active) guys might even take up to 10g per day. Any excess just leaves the body safely anyway.
Should I Cycle Creatine?
There is no need to cycle creatine. At least, no need safety-wise.
It is safe to use it daily for as long as desired, within the recommended dosage range.
Some people prefer to load creatine and use it on an 8 to 12 week maintenance cycle. After such time they take an equal time off, so that they can experience the initial power and strength improvements of the first few weeks again.
The results are unlikely to be different in the long term, but there may be a psychological element to seeing the results in more tangible steps, rather than as a gradual improvement.
Is Creatine Safe?
Research is overwhelmingly positive regarding the safety of using creatine. There have been no adverse side effects noted during studies.
How Do I Know If I’m a Creatine Non-Responder?
Non-responders cannot take advantage of creatine because it does not pass from their blood to their muscles. Research is looking into ways of getting around this problem.
During scientific studies, the non-responders show no benefit to creatine supplementation, in contrast to significant benefit (overall) for the creatine groups.
Most first time users who are attuned to their bodies and responding to the creatine will find the power increase to be quite noticeable. Non-responders will notice only regular advancements.
If you think you are a creatine non-responder then try a loading dose for a week. Lack of noticeable water retention (at least 5lbs weight gain in the first week or so) will confirm it.
Creatine in your Pre-Workout Mix
Ugh! This is a source of frustration: the 1 or 2 grams of creatine in your pre-workout powder. It’s value at that dosage is minimal to pointless.
An argument for it is that it tops up creatine levels a little bit in case you’ve missed your creatine dose for the day, or you are trying to stretch your creatine out.
The answer to any of these points and more is: creatine is super cheap. You can buy 6 months of creatine for the money you’ll find in your couch if you go digging.
Secondly, that single gram or 2 in each dose of your pre-workout is valuable space that could have been used for another ingredient that does do something at those dosages.
Conclusion and Recommendations
If you lift weights regularly, or do any kind of sport where strength and power are an asset, and you aren’t already taking creatine, then it’s a really easy way to get some great results.
It’s almost silly not to, considering the price it can be purchased for.
It is available in other forms than monohydrate, but the advantages of these other types are not all they are cracked up to be.
Faster absorption is one such touted ‘advantage’. Speed of absorption is of little use considering this is a supplement you want to saturate your cells with and have at maximum levels nearly all the time.
As long as you go into your training session replenished, you will get the benefit.
Topping up every day – as suggested when discussing dosage earlier in the article – will take care of that.
Certainly, faster-absorbed creatine is NOT worth the additional price tag.
Micronized Creatine Monohydrate is not a different type, but is a finer powder of the same type. It shouldn’t add much to the price tag but it may be worth it to some people because it:
- mixes better with water (or protein shake)
- reduces chance of stomach cramps with high load doses
Creatine is a valuable source of emergency fuel for the muscles during anaerobic exercise; particularly weight lifting and power sports.
Simply by giving you the additional energy to lift a little more, or the strength to push a couple more reps out, it helps your muscles over-compensate and grow stronger for the next time you hit the gym.
The huge amount of research conducted has given the bodybuilding and sports community a confidence factor in its safety and efficacy, comparable to no other supplement.