Whether you’re an athlete or not, you’ve likely heard of creatine. Unfortunately, for many years it has been subject to unsubstantiated claims. Most revolving around fear and danger. But, creatine is a supplement superpower! We've brought you the latest research because it's time to set the record straight on creatine.
Should I Take Creatine?
If you want to increase your strength, then you probably want to take creatine. It is the king of quick and noticeable strength gains. Most think creatine increases weight and size due to water retention. But, this is not always the case.
Creatine has an affinity for increasing water inside muscle cells. This then leads to an increase in nutrient absorption, recovery, and strength. In as little as two weeks, most may notice a strength and size increase. This is one of the reasons creatine has been and is still banned in some sports. Always check with the NSF (Certified for Sport) if you are a current competing athlete.
Science Talk: What Is It?
Creatine is an endogenous molecule produced predominantly in the kidneys. It's a combination of three amino acids: arginine, methionine, and glycine. Used in energy transfer, those trillions of generator cells we have called mitochondria rely on creatine phosphate to function at an optimal level.
To create ATP (adenosine triphosphate) quickly enough to keep up with demand under stress, creatine phosphate is called upon to speed up the process. Muscle cells will generally hold enough ATP for 3 or so seconds of intense work. Once used up, creatine phosphate jumps in to provide another 7-10 seconds of fuel.
It may not seem like much but think about the NFL combine. Some of these athletes run a 100-yard dash in under 12 seconds! Think about when you are running late to work and have to sprint inside from the parking lot in a matter of seconds, clocking in with just a couple to spare. Without naturally occurring creatine, we wouldn’t have a chance.
How to Take Creatine
The most familiar form of creatine is monohydrate. And the most common way to take this is through a process called “loading.”
What this means is taking an average of 20-25 grams of creatine monohydrate split amongst equal doses throughout the day for 5-7 days. I recommend multiplying your lean body mass by .15 and taking that amount for 3-5 days. If you don’t know your lean body mass, you can schedule a weigh-in here to find out.
The latter is a bit more personal way of dosing. It’s a trick I learned from the most successful strength coach in history, Charles Poliquin. The reasoning behind loading phases is to decrease the amount of time it takes to fully saturate muscle reserves of creatine. Depending on muscle mass, taking 5-10 grams per day for about 28 days will achieve the same goal, if you prefer.
After the loading approach things get a bit less intricate. Very little research exists for the other forms and dosing parameters of various creatine types. These include krealkalyn, creatine glycerol phosphate, creatine hydrochloride, and creatine ethyl ester. Some research does exist for dosing of these subgroups in the neighborhood of 1-5 grams per day, without the need for a loading phase. These groups also tend to allow for less water retention, which also may mean slightly less weight and muscle gain...at least in the short term.
Many prefer these formulations to monohydrate because of their digestibility and ease of use. But, these forms of creatine do offer the same energy turnover benefits as standard monohydrate. All types of creatine are available in an array of formulations, such as powders, pills, liquids, and tablets. Powder is most often going to offer the greatest ease of use, especially for the loading phase.
You can shop for the cleanest creatine supplements right here. We only carry the best of the best. And to find out what our favorite creatine supplement is, click here.
Contrary to popular belief, creatine is one of the safest performance-enhancing supplements available. One of the most common misconceptions about its use is that it may harm the kidneys in some way. The research does not support these fears. But, there is research showing that type 2 diabetics, a population that tends to have a higher risk of complicated renal (kidney) function, supplemented with creatine for 12 weeks and saw no negative effects. If you take too much you will most likely only suffer from some bloating and diarrhea.
One of creatine’s best attributes is the fact that it can be taken indefinitely, in most cases. There is no danger of overdosing or building up too much since our body will evacuate extra stores of it. This is especially helpful to athletes who do not particularly like stimulants before training sessions. Since creatine facilitates faster ATP (energy) turnover, it is a welcomed addition to any non-stim pre-workout program.
Creatine does show a bit more efficacy, at least in some studies, to absorb better in the presence of insulin. Cellular absorption increases when insulin increases. This helps shuttle the creatine into muscle cells. It works better when the person taking it is insulin sensitive. Trying to cut fat while still enjoying the benefits of creatine? Use a combination of l-glutamine and creatine. Glutamine, an endogenous amino acid, can give a slight insulin signal. This may help facilitate the same transport into the muscle cells without the detriment of blood sugar stimulus to those who are insulin resistant. A good rule of thumb is to only use sugar to boost absorption if you are under 12% body fat for men and 18% for women.
Creatine also helps balance a very important process in the liver called methylation. In a nutshell, methylation is required for a host of processes in the body. These include clearing of environmental toxins, creatine synthesis, homocysteine clearance, neurotransmitter formation and clearance, and many more. More and more research shows that the majority of Americans, greater than 60%, do not methylate properly. Poor methylation, and in turn higher homocysteine levels, may be related to a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease. When supplementing with creatine, the need for the body to methylate drops by 40%! So you see, creatine is not only for athletes or exercise.
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