Creatine is the most popular and probably one of the most effective supplements on the market. If you are a beginner and just starting out with weight training I am sure you have a ton of questions about creatine and how it works. Let's look at the most common questions when it comes to creatine supplementation.
What is creatine? Our body naturally produces creatine, which is used to supply energy to our muscles. It is produced in the kidney, pancreas and liver and is transported to the body's muscles through our blood stream. Once it reaches the muscles, it is converted into phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine increases the muscle energy source Adenosine TriPhosphate, or ATP.
Creatine is 100% natural and found in a number of foods that we eat with the richest natural sources being meat and fish. However, eating meat and fish alone to get the benefits of creatine would require a very large amount. That is why creatine supplementation is so beneficial, as you get more creatine per weight of material.
How does creatine help me? By increasing the amount of energy we have available creatine allows you to train much harder. When we exercise our muscles energy source (ATP) can only provide enough energy for roughly 5-10 seconds. Creatine helps rapidly recreate and top up ATP during exercise. This means by having more energy you are able to train harder, leading to more muscle gains.
Does creatine make my muscles look bigger? Yes, the first thing you will notice when taking creatine is your muscles will look fuller due to the movement of fluids from the blood stream into skeletal muscle, causing muscles to swell. This will account for the 1-2kg you will initially put on when taking creatine.
Does creatine make me stronger? Not directly, but since creatine allows you to train with more intensity and also helps you recover faster you will be in a better position for your next workout to train harder. This indirectly leads to stronger and fresher performance in the gym.
How do you take creatine? Creatine can be simply mixed with water, juice or protein shakes. It mainly comes in a white powder form that mixes easily with liquid. It is recommended that when you first take creatine you go on what is commonly referred to as a "loading phase". This basically means the first 5 to 7 days you saturate your muscles with creatine by taking between 20 to 30 grams each day. After the loading phase you will basically take 5-10 grams a day for maintenance.
Recent research is starting to suggest that you don't need to go through the loading phase and can just start taking a 5-10 grams of creatine for the same benefits. The choice is yours.
When is the best time to take creatine? Before and after workouts. Have a 5 gram serving before your workout and a 5 gram serving straight after your workout. For best results mix your creatine with a pre and post workout shake consisting of protein and glucose. This not only increases muscle creatine uptake, it also ignites and provides the necessary building material for protein synthesis.
On non-weight training days simply take your servings with water in the morning or the evenings.
Are there any side effects associated with creatine? Some individuals may experience muscle cramping, however this normally occurs when your intake of fluid is low when supplementing with creatine. Simple fix is to simply drink lots of water.
Is creatine safe? There have been no studies to show any negative effects from taking creatine.
What are the different types of creatines that you can buy? There are three different forms of creatine products on the market, they include: Creatine Monohydrate - Is creatine in the simplest and cheapest form and has a lot of research to back up its legitimacy. Creatine Transport - By mixing creatine monohydrate with fast absorbing carbohydrates such as pure glucose (dextrose) you can create an insulin spike which helps transport creatine to the muscles much faster and also increase the uptake of creatine into the muscles. However these creatine mixtures are quite expensive and come with significantly less servings than the regular creatine monohydrate. As a cheap way around it, I recommend buying a 1kg bag of pure glucose for a few dollars and mixing that with your pure creatine monohydrate instead. Avoiding taking creatine transporters on non-weight training days as you will intake excess calories through the simple sugars contained in this mixture. Creatine Ethyl Ester - Basically creatine monohydrate mixed with an ester (inorganic compound) attached, which claims higher absorption, no loading stage and lower dosage use due to higher absorption. I would stay away from this product as it has no studies on it to back its claims. In fact a recent research (read story) actually showed that creatine monohydrate outperformed creatine ethyl ester. So, what should I look for when buying creatine? Obviously you want to look for a good price but also look for 100% pure creatine monohydrate. Try not to buy creatine product just because it is cheap, you will most likely get an inferior product.