Is creatine good for you?

Creatine can often be a point of contention in the world of health and fitness. Often associated with pumped-up gym-bros, creatine’s reputation among the fitness world is varied. But is it justified?

It’s unlikely. That’s because you probably eat creatine every day — you just don’t realise it. When you eat meat — a delicious rib-eye steak, for example — your liver and kidneys take in the amino acids to make creatine, which is then transferred to your muscles as a form of cellular energy called creatine monohydrate.

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The creatine supplements you’re likely to have seen work in a similar manner, with your body converting the supplement into creatine phosphate, feeding your muscles during explosive exercises such as plyometrics, sprints, heavy lifts and HIIT routines.

However, your capacity for the fuel that’s provided by creatine phosphate runs out at a rapid rate during this type of training, meaning that added creatine supplementation can give you more power for higher reps.

Contents

What Is Creatine?

Creatine in the muscles helps you recover between sets. Which means a supplements’ value lies in boosting recovery speed, which in turn enhances the amount of work you’re able to do during a workout. Over time, this leads to faster gains in both strength and size.

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Creatine has proven itself over the years to be one of the most effective supplements for improving performance during repeated bouts of intense exercise. As far back as the 1970s, Soviet scientists knew that creatine supplements improved performance, and it contributed to the USSR’s Olympic dominance through the 70s and 80s.

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What Does Creatine Do?

Combined with weight training, creatine slows the loss of bone mass as you age and could ease the effects of osteoarthritis, where joints become stiff and painful. That said, creatine, inevitably, has different effects on individuals.

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Generally, the effects of creatine should be evident in a week in most using the supplement— with your training volume and strength increasing. Studies in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that muscle fibres grow faster after creatine supplementation and resistance-based exercise.

That said, it’s not a magic pill. “Creatine monohydrate supplementation is not a magic powder that turns fat mass into muscle mass,” says Andreas Kasper, Performance Nutritionist at England Rugby.

“Dosing with creatine can help increase our muscles store of the metabolite, which is linked with repeated bouts of high intensity performance such as sprinting and lifting weights. When we resynthesise at a high rate, it means potentially we can exercise more readily (1) and may even have a higher intensity session with shorter rest periods required, which hypothetically would aid with hypertrophy (2). However, you still have to lift the weights and bigger muscles do not always equal increased strength.”

Creatine Benefits

When it comes to improving muscle strength, the US National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus, rather unhelpfully, labels creatine as “possibly effective”.

“Analyses of this research show that creatine seems to modestly improve upper body strength and lower body strength in both younger and older adults,” it says.

It’s not all about an increase in muscle mass, though. Creatine also has some other benefits you might not be aware of. As anyone who’s ever pulled an all-nighter in the office knows, sleep deprivation has a negative effect on mental performance and mood. What you might not be aware of is that this is partially due to a drop in creatine levels in the brain.

University College Chichester studies suggest that guzzling a creatine supplement can help to offset the decline in mental performance that normally happens when you’re short on sleep.

In another study on a group of elite rugby players, researchers from the UK Sport Council found that creatine worked just as well as caffeine at wiping out the effects of sleep deprivation on performance during a simple rugby skill test. So you might be better reaching for a shaker than your morning cappuccino.

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Whether creatine improves performance in all sports depends largely on what aspect of performance you’re trying to improve. But if a lack of muscle mass is a limiting factor, creatine certainly has the potential to help you perform better. In many sports, though, there is an “optimum” muscle size, beyond which adding additional mass may be counterproductive. Naturally, bigger muscles don’t always translate to superior performance.

Away from the squat rack, creatine is also beneficial during short, repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise. Research by Athletic Bilbao’s medical staff, for instance, showed that creatine improved performance in sprint bursts designed to mimic on-pitch activity.

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Players were divided into two groups; group one was given 20 grams of creatine per day for six days, while group two received a dummy supplement that had no effect. Creatine resulted in faster sprinting times, increased strength and also improved jumping performance. Unfortunately they chose not to assess the impact of a half-time orange.

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Creatine Side Effects

Creatine supplementation can lead to 2-4lbs of weight gain in a week – your muscles retain water in order to heighten protein synthesis (the building of muscles). This, however, is nothing to worry about, especially for everyday athletes. “Creatine can increase water retention, which in some sports may lead to a negative effect on performance,” says Kasper.

“But this is predominantly sports that restrict weight either to compete (combat sports) of for performance such as endurance cycling/running or swimming where optimal weight ‘on-bike’ or ‘in-pool’ is vital.

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Ironically, this makes the weight-gain from water retention can be a good thing, as studies in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that muscle fibres grow after creatine supplementation and resistance based exercise.

Put simply, by supplementing creatine, you’ll gain weight. But the added weight will help your muscles feel bigger, fuller and stronger. As creatine contains zero calories, it has zero impact on your fat metabolism — so you can take it on a non-exercise day, too.

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What about the claims that creatine users are more likely to get cramps? Well, if you believe the research, then you shouldn’t worry. A three-year study by Arkansas State University showed that 5g/day of creatine had no effect on the incidence of injury or cramping in a group of American footballers. In a retrospective study of 26 athletes using creatine for up to four years, US researchers found no difference in the reported incidence of muscle cramp or injury compared with creatine-free athletes.

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There are also a few reports of kidney problems linked with the use of creatine. Again, these are mainly isolated case studies where someone with a pre-existing medical condition developed further health problems while using creatine. If you’re healthy and not taking a host of other supplements or medicines, you should be fine.

When To Take Creatine

As with everything health and fitness, there are multiple camps when it. comes to taking creatine: before, during and after a workout.

Creatine Before a Workout: Generally, the case for taking creatine during a workout is built on ATP (adenosine triphosphate) an organic chemical that contributes to cellular energy and muscle contractions. When supplementing with creatine, you’ll be taking on more ATP around your muscle cells. More ATP equates to more efficient muscle fiber activation and, obviously, better gains.

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Creatine After a Workout: Thankfully, this is a more simple theory. After a workout, your muscles are depleted and are, essentially, gagging for a payload of nutrients to start repairing and building more muscle.

Creatine, Whenever You Want: Like a healthy amount of protein, there’s no real downside for taking a healthy supplement like creatine that encourages muscle growth and won’t derail your nutrition plan.

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How Much Creatine Should I Take?

“The literature recommends seem to suggest a ‘loading’ dose of 10-20g (5g dosages split throughout the day) for five to seven days followed by a 3-5g ‘maintenance’ dose thereafter,” says Kasper. “In reality, it is dependent upon the speed at which you are looking to load (3).”

“In my personal opinion, for someone new to taking creatine, I would suggest there is no need for a loading phase as you are more likely to suffer any gastro or other side effects – it will just take a little longer to get the creatine loaded into your muscles and experience any positive effects.”

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But what ingredients should you be looking out for when purchasing creatine? “You need to be very careful with ‘pre-workout’ mixes as many of these contain ingredients with very little evidence or dangerous substances such as methylhexanamine (often seen on the label as geranium extract),” says Kasper.

“The main ingredients I would personally look for when choosing supplements to aid with gym performance and these would be caffeine, creatine and potentially beta-alanine.”

Creatine Monohydrate

Although “new and improved” versions of creatine pop up all the time, none have consistently proven themselves to be any better than regular creatine monohydrate.

A substance normally found in muscle cells, creatine helps your muscles produce explosive energy during exercise, such as HIIT or weightlifting. For years, athletes and sports people have taken creatine to gain an edge on their performance — to gain strength, size and muscle and improve exercise capacity.

A dose of 3-5 grams per day of creatine supplement for 30 days will raise creatine levels in the muscle just as well as a 5-day loading phase where you take 20 grams per day.

It doesn’t matter too much when you use it or what you mix it with. In short, creatine is a multi-purpose supplement that has a number of benefits for both physical and mental performance. It’s cheap, it’s safe and it works.

Foods High in Creatine

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Steak: If you take care of your protein in the form of eating varied meats, you may already be close to hitting your creatine goal. Steak is one of the most creatine-dense, packing around 5g of creatine per kg of uncooked beef.

Claudia TotirGetty Images

Fish: Another food high in creatine is fish. Salmon and tuna are especially high in creatine, packing around 4.5g of creatine per .5kg of salmon.

Jakkapan Sapmuangphan / EyeEmGetty Images

Egg Yolks: Cracking into eggs at breakfast will unlock just under 2g of creatine per egg, so it pays to have a cooked breakfast before the gym.

Creatine: The Best to Buy in 2019

Creatine Monohydrate Myprotein myprotein.com £5.35 Optimum Nutrition Micronised Creatine Monohydrate Optimum Nutrition amazon.co.uk £15.75 Creapure® Creatine Monohydrate Bulk Powders bulkpowders.co.uk £4.49 The Protein Works Creatine Monohydrate Powder The Protein Works amazon.co.uk £5.49

(3) Hultman E, Soderlund K, Timmons JA, Cederblad G, Greenhaff PL: Muscle creatine loading in men. J Appl Physiol 1996, 81:232-237; Willoughby DS, Rosene J: Effects of oral creatine and resistance training on myosin heavy chain expression.Med Sci Sports Exerc 2001, 33:1674-81.

Edward Cooper Ed Cooper is the Deputy Digital Editor at Men’s Health UK, writing and editing about anything you want to know about — from tech to fitness, mental health to style, food and so much more.

Creatine? Is It Worth the Risk?

Athletes are always on the lookout for a little edge, and you don’t have to search far to find creatine. Creatine supplements are flying off the shelves at health food and vitamin stores, and Internet supplement vendors sell more of the stuff than we’ll ever know. Its popularity stems from the belief that creatine increases strength and muscle mass. Hence, it is classified as an ergogenic aid.

Creatine’s first documented use was in the Soviet Union during the 1960s, when a professor of exercise biochemistry researched creatine supplementation in elite athletes. His experiments were thought to have played a role in the Soviet Union’s unprecedented success in power lifting, wrestling and gymnastics in the Olympic Games from 1964 to 1994.

Creatine is an amino acid derivative found naturally in the body. Concentrated in the muscle, it is produced by the body from amino acids and is consumed in meat and fish. It functions as an essential part of muscle contraction.

Athletes and body builders take creatine supplements to try to increase the pool of creatine in muscle, so the muscles can work harder and recover faster.

Does creatine work?

Many studies have been performed to determine the effectiveness of creatine supplementation in athletes. It has been shown to improve performance in bicycling sprints and weightlifting. Studies involving bicycle sprints found that creatine supplementation increases in total work performed. Most studies evaluating weightlifting or specific muscle group activities suggest that taking creatine helps increase lifting strength.

There is a limit to how much creatine supplements can increase muscle creatine levels. The muscles have a saturation limit. Most people produce and consume enough creatine for their muscles to contract efficiently, so taking more creatine may not help. People who do not have high creatine levels in their body, such as vegetarians, may benefit more from creatine supplementation than the rest of the population.

There is no indication that use of creatine gives any benefit in sports such as running and swimming. Studies indicate that creatine does not enhance endurance.

One study involving a 6K run found that subjects taking creatine ran more slowly than the group that didn’t. It may have been that creatine supplementation caused weight gain, which results in slower running times.

How much is needed?

Most studies use an initial daily dosage of 20 to 25 grams for five days, followed by a maintenance dosage of 2 to 5 grams per day. However, a daily dose of 3 grams for 28 days appears to achieve the same level. Some recent studies suggest that maintenance dosages of greater than 2 grams per day have no additional benefit and may increase the workload on the kidneys.

Any side effects?

Creatine supplementation can cause weight gain, which is primarily due to water retention within muscle cells. With long-term use, some of the weight gain may be due to increases in muscle fibers. While this weight gain may be great in some sports, such as power lifting, bodybuilding, and football, it is a concern for women in sports such as running, swimming and gymnastics.

More serious is the finding that creatine supplementation increases the workload on the kidneys. Kidneys may be damaged if users take too much creatine or already have kidney problems. There is one report of a 25-year old athlete with a kidney disease whose kidney function worsened within 16 weeks while taking creatine daily during soccer training.

Twenty reports of adverse reactions in people taking creatine have been filed with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The reactions included seizures, cardiac arrhythmias, blood clots and death. The FDA has not yet pointed the finger at creatine, but there are definitely some questions.

Another concern is that high school and collegiate athletes frequently take much more creatine than recommended. High dosages increase risk to the kidneys, and may affect growth. In one recent study of male baseball and football players for a NCAA Division I school, 39 of the 52 athletes exceeded the recommended maintenance dose of 2 to 5 grams per day. The most common dosage was 6 to 8 grams a day, with three players using 17 to 20 grams a day for maintenance.

The bottom line

Using creatine supplements is an individual decision. As with many other supplements, the long-term side effects are not known. Dehydration and kidney impairment are short-term risks. Runners, swimmers and other endurance athletes have little to gain from using creatine, because it doesn’t improve endurance. Taking creatine may actually worsen performance in endurance sports because of weight gain and dehydration.

Strength and short-distance athletes may benefit from taking creatine, as it generally results in increased strength and increased muscle mass.

If you are taking creatine, or considering it, discuss it with your physician, who knows your medical history and the type of medications you are on.

Avoid taking creatine if you have any kidney problems or diabetes; the workload on your kidneys may be too much.

Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

Do not exceed the recommended daily dose of 2 grams or 0.3 grams per kg body weight.

If you discover any side effects, discontinue creatine and report the symptoms to your doctor.

As always, staying safe and healthy will allow you to train better and longer, and you won’t have to risk illness for that little edge.

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What is it? A dietary supplement, primarily used in weightlifting, that aids size and strength.

How much does it cost? Varies between about a tenner for a bottle of 90 capsules to £70 for a planet-sized bucket of this amino acid in powder form.

What does it promise? According to MaxiNutrition, you can “increase your strength, power, muscular effort/recovery, time to exhaustion, lifting volume and performance”.

What’s it actually like? To begin with, tedious. The first part of a creatine programme is the “loading” phase, where you basically flood your system with about 20g of the stuff four or five times a day. Which would be amazing if it tasted nice, but it absolutely does not. After that comes the easier “maintenance” phase, where you have a creatine shake once a day. And, unless this is all just a big psychosomatic con job, it really seems to work – I quickly found myself getting better at shorter explosive exercises, and recovering from them faster, after taking creatine for a few weeks.

Best and worst bit The best bit is how unstoppable you feel at the gym after the loading phase. The worst bit is the nagging sensation that you’ve somehow cheated in order to achieve that sensation. And the fact that all the gains almost instantly disappear as soon as you stop taking creatine, which you will, because having tubs of it around your house is pretty much the most embarrassing thing on the planet. Oh, and all the farting.

Is it worth it? For me? No. But if you want muscles at any cost, and you’re also a millionaire whose taste buds were burned off in an accidental explosion, then be my guest.

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The Best & Worst Creatine Supplements and Powders of 2019, According to an RD

Creatine is one of the most popular dietary supplements on the market. It’s used by professional and amateur athletes, including bodybuilders, hockey players, and gymnasts, as well as the general public. As long as you choose wisely, creatine supplements may just be the ticket to a stronger, faster, and leaner body.

What is creatine and what does it do?

Creatine is a source of energy for muscles. The body converts creatine to creatine phosphate, which it uses to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the fuel that allows your muscles to contract during exercise. Though some creatine is found in the blood and in tissues, muscles store about 95 percent of the compound.

You lose a certain amount of creatine every day and you need a steady intake to maintain muscle and blood levels. The body makes some creatine by combining three amino acids. You also get creatine from animal foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, and dietary supplements.

What are the benefits of creatine supplements?

Maximizing muscle creatine means you can do more exercise without tiring, which increases muscle power, size, and strength. Creatine supplementation works best for high-intensity bursts of activity such as bicep curls, jump squats, and short sprints. It’s unlikely that endurance athletes, long-distance swimmers, or soccer players benefit in the same way from creatine, however.

In addition to boosting strength and performance during short-term physical activity, creatine supplements also:

  • Increase lean body mass, with or without resistance training, in younger and older people.
  • Bridge dietary creatine gaps. Vegans and vegetarians, as well as others whose diet limits animal foods, store less creatine in their muscles.

Creatine supplements are an efficient way to increase creatine consumption, and nearly all are free of animal products. (Be sure to always check the label.)

Is creatine safe to take?

Creatine, particularly creatine monohydrate, the most-researched form, is considered safe and effective for healthy adults for up to five years. The International Olympic Committee, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) allow professional athletes to consume creatine supplements, too.

While creatine supplements are OK for most adults, people under the age of 18 and pregnant and nursing women should not take them, as experts are unsure about the effects on these groups. People with diabetes or kidney disease should also avoid creatine pills and powders.

How much creatine should I take?

There are many ways to safely take creatine supplements, including the following:

  • Consume 5 grams (5,000 milligrams) of creatine 4 times daily for 5 to 7 days then 3 to 5 grams a day after that.
  • Take 3 to 6 grams daily for about 1 month.
  • Consume 6 grams daily for 12 weeks.

If you choose the second or third option, keep in mind it may take longer to see the effects of creatine supplementation.

You’ll also want to resist the urge to take more creatine for faster or “better” results. Skeletal muscle can hold only so much, and the body breaks down extra creatine to creatinine, which the kidneys must excrete in the urine. In rare cases, high doses of creatine could result in kidney problems, and combining creatine with some medications, including certain over the counter pain relievers, can make matters worse. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about how creatine interacts with the medicines you take.

Water retention in the muscles that may cause weight gain is also a potential side effect of creatine supplements. It’s possible to become dehydrated as your muscles relocate fluid from the rest of your body, so drink extra water when taking creatine. Long-term use of creatine supplements may trigger muscle cramps, diarrhea, and nausea.

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Which creatine supplements should I take?

Google “creatine supplements” and you can easily become overwhelmed by a dizzying array of powders and pills boasting about their benefits. Beware. Intense competition among brands has led some of them to go too far in order to stand out.

Creatine supplements vary in the amount and quality of creatine they provide. While creatine monohydrate has the best track record and is the least expensive form of creatine, supplements often contain other less-studied forms of creatine, as well as extracts, botanicals, sweeteners, and artificial colors and flavors. The best creatine supplements have the fewest extras and make the least claims.

Best Creatine Supplements

1

Premium Creatine with Creapure, Unflavored (Muscle Feast)

Serving Size: Per 1 level scoop, 5.5 g creatine monohydrate

Don’t let the name throw you: Creapure is the brand of creatine monohydrate in this product, and it’s micronized, which may sound gimmicky, but it’s not. Micronization mechanically processes creatine into smaller particles which may improve its ability to dissolve in water and allow the body to absorb more.

$15.99 at AMAZON Buy Now 2

Creatine Monohydrate, Unflavored (NOW Sports)

Serving Size: Per 1 1/2 teaspoons, 5 g creatine monohydrate

What you see is what you get in this no-frills supplement with a single ingredient: creatine monohydrate. Each portion provides five grams of creatine, so it’s easy to consume the suggested 20 grams a day when you’re just starting to supplement. Plus, it’s available in bulk, which drives down the cost per serving.

$16.82 at AMAZON Buy Now 3

Creatine 4200 (Met-RX)

Serving size: Per 6 capsules, 4.2 g creatine monohydrate

Anything in capsule form tends to be more expensive than a powder, but it’s often worth the cost when you’re on the run. These 100 percent creatine monohydrate pills eliminate the hassle of mixing powder with water or other fluids when you’re traveling or at work. Make sure you drink lots of fluid with the pills to prevent dehydration, though.

$8.71 at AMAZON Buy Now 4

CreaForce Creatine and Beta-Alanine, Unflavored (Neoforce Performance)

Serving size: Per 1 level scoop, 2.5 g creatine monohydrate, 1.6 g β-alanine

CreaForce combines creatine monohydrate with β-alanine, an amino acid. Some studies suggest that consuming β-alanine and creatine monohydrate together may produce greater effects on muscle strength and lean mass, and possibly reduce muscle fatigue compared to taking creatine alone. Pay attention to portions here, though. Because CreaForce is bulked up with β-alanine, you will need two scoops several times a day to achieve 20 grams of creatine monohydrate.

$24.99 at AMAZON Buy Now 5

Swanson 100% Pure Creatine Magnapower Powder (Swanson Health Products)

Serving size: Per 1 scoop, 2.25 g creatine monohydrate, 400 mg magnesium

Who wants to gain water weight when they’re trying to gain muscle? Creatine bound to magnesium may be as effective as creatine monohydrate, without the fluid retention.

Preliminary evidence also suggests magnesium-chelated creatine may reduce recovery time from intense workouts as compared to creatine monohydrate alone.

$18.68 at AMAZON Buy Now

Not all supplements are worth you trying out, though. Here are the ones you’re better off skipping.

Worst Creatine Supplements

1

Creatine Ethyl Ester Capsules (Axis Labs)

Serving size: Per 3 capsules, 2.25 g creatine ethyl ester HCl

Axis Labs touts creatine ethyl ester as “one of the best discoveries that has ever hit the bodybuilding and fitness world.” Hardly. While this form of creatine is creating buzz for supposedly making more creatine available to muscle cells, the opposite is closer to the truth.

It’s unlikely that creatine ethyl ester ever makes it out of the digestive tract, where it’s converted to creatinine and later excreted in the urine.

2

Creature Creatine Complex, Unflavored (Beast Sports Nutrition)

Serving size: Per 1 scoop, 4 g creature 5X complex, 200 micrograms (mcg) biotin, 50 mcg chromium, 92.5 mg creatine optimizers

This product contains creatine monohydrate, but it’s unclear how much is in each portion because it’s lumped into a patented blend called Creature 5X Complex. Banaba leaf extract and Cinnulin extract, part of the “Creatine Optimizers” listed on the label, are perplexing additions as both may help with glucose metabolism. You also get biotin (a B vitamin) and the mineral chromium, which have no known bearing on creatine use in the body.

3

Genius Creatine Powder, Post Workout Supplement for Men and Women, Green Apple Flavor (The Genius Brand)

Serving size: Per 1 scoop, 3 grams creatine monohydrate, 1.6 g β-alanine, 1.5 g creatine hydrochloride, 500 mg creatine magnesium chelate, 25 mg AstraGin

This company is confident that the three types of creatine in their product promote optimum absorption and uptake in the muscle. There is zero proof that combining creatine monohydrate with creatine magnesium chelate and creatine hydrochloride works any better than creatine monohydrate alone. In addition to paying for two more-expensive forms of creatine, you’re also shelling out cash for two types of sweeteners, three types of extract, and something called AstraGin—ginseng and astragulus root—that has nothing to do with creatine absorption. Save your money.

4

Body Fortress Super Advanced Creatine, Fruit Punch (United States Nutrition)

This combination of creatine monohydrate and creatine hydrochloride has five grams of added sugar per serving, which would amount to more than 4 teaspoons of table sugar a day for people trying to achieve 20 grams of creatine. It’s unclear how betaine anhydrous, a compound used to treat high urine levels of the amino acid homocysteine in people with certain inherited disorders, plays a role in creatine metabolism. You may also want to avoid the artificial flavors and colors it takes to produce this fruit-punch flavored powder.

5

Three-Atine 3-Type Creatine Blend Tablets (Crazy Muscle)

Courtesy of Crazy Muscle

Serving size: Per 3 tablets, 4.8 g creatine monohydrate, .51 g creatine alphaketoglutarate, 1.5 g creatine pyruvate

Blends of creatine are one of the many ways brands try to stand out in a crowded market, but you have to wonder about this one. It contains 96 percent creatine monohydrate, and very little of the alphaketoglutarate and pyruvate forms, which have no advantage for maximizing muscle absorption, and cost more due to additional processing. To make matters worse, these are tablets, which further adds to the expense of this less-than-useful supplement.

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How do I take creatine monohydrate? When do I take it? How do you load it? Can I use it while dieting? How much creatine per day?

We’ve pulled together all you need to know when it comes to using creatine correctly.

Most bodybuilders and gym goers are familiar with creatine monohydrate. Whether they’ve used it themselves personally or have just heard others in the gym talking about it, there’s often a lot of confusion around this popular supplement.

Let’s see if we can clear some of that confusion up.

How to Take Creatine Monohydrate

Chances are, there are quite a number of people not taking creatine correctly. Creatine powder is one supplement that needs to be taken in the right to make the most of its benefits.

There are several ways you can go about including this supplement into your routine.

How to Load Creatine

Typically, people start taking creatine supplements with a loading phase. This is designed to completely flood the muscle’s supplies with creatine, then advance into the maintenance phase where you’ll reduce the dose to keep levels where they need to be.

Usually, you’ll use 20 grams of creatine over the course of five days. This is the fastest way to increase the stores in the body and get yourself back onto maintenance.

Since creatine can trigger water retention in some people, together with gastric upset, some decide to do a lighter version of the loading phase than is recommended.

Rather than 20 grams, these people use a lower dose of just 10 grams per day, loading this over a period of 10-14 days instead. Whilst the bloating is less, the loading period is longer.

If you’d prefer not to load at all, you can choose five grams of creatine taken over the course of a month. That said, your results may differ from the former two methods.

Bear in mind that it’s not advisable to go over the recommended 20-gram dose for five days straight. This is because longer-term, high doses of creatine will convert to formaldehyde in the urine.

Creatine Maintenance Dose

Once you’ve completed the loading phase, you then progress to maintenance. Whilst some maintain on five grams per day, others need two to three grams per day.

If you’re eating a diet lacking in red meat, or you’re vegetarian, you may want to maintain on five grams a day.

However, if you eat a lot of red meat, you may discover you don’t benefit much from creatine supplements, as your supplies are already fully topped up.

So, any additional creatine absorbed by the body will simply be excreted. Therefore, supplementing won’t be of any use to you.

It’s important to note that you must take creatine regularly if you want it to be helpful. Taking it ‘as and when’ won’t be of much benefit. If you’re especially lacking in creatine stores, then performing a loading phase will supplement your exercise, but if you want to take advantage of creatine’s benefits, then make sure you keep those stores topped up afterwards.

How Do I Take Creatine?

So, how should you take creatine? The supplement can get into your muscle cells quicker if an insulin spike is taking place. This is why you may have heard that taking it with juice (grape or orange) is a good idea.

Creatine is often best taken after a training session, as this is when muscle glycogen is most receptive to topping up supplies.

You may want to split up the dosages during the loading phase by taking it over two or three times in the day otherwise it’ll be too much for your body to manage simultaneously.

It’s best to take something with it. Plump for a post-workout powder made up of protein and carbs or a nutritious meal. This way, there’s less chance of a stomach upset from occurring.

And remember. Creatine isn’t just designed for the weight lifters among us. It’s also ideal for athletes who partake in a lot of high-powered, explosive sports, as their muscles will be depending on muscle stores of creatine, too.

What if I’m on a Diet?

On a diet? Wondering whether creatine will be of benefit to you? Classically, creatine is linked with ‘bulking’ periods, as its main purpose is to promote the muscle building process which enables you to train for lengthier periods in the gym.

But when it comes to losing weight, naturally, you’re more concerned with fat loss rather than strength and muscular gains. So, why would creatine be of use to you?

Actually, creatine can be incredibly beneficial to any dieter, as it helps preserve the intensity of your training sessions. When you’re on a low-calorie diet, you’ll have to make sure your exercise sessions are cut down in volume. You may also notice that strength begins to wane because of the diet, so ensuring your creatine supplies are fully stocked will help counteract these undesirable side effects.

As a side note to the above, carbohydrates are reduced when dieting. This means creatine will take longer to be absorbed than if you were eating more carbs. That said, they will get into the muscle. So, you could take creatine with water (or protein) together with a meal (to lessen the chance of a stomach upset).

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If you’ve ever set foot on a weight room floor, you’ve probably heard guys touting the muscle-building benefits of creatine. Maybe you’re even thinking about experimenting with it yourself.

Nobody should put anything in their body without weighing the benefits and risks first. That goes for everything from beer to ice cream to the amazing amino acid called creatine.

Here’s what you should know about taking creatine: what it is; what it does; and what the side-effects are.

Men’s Health

What is creatine?

Your body actually makes its own creatine, by way of your kidney and liver, after you eat protein. Your muscles then convert creatine into creatine phosphate, which is then generated into adenosine triphosphate (ATC), which your body uses for explosive exercise.

Supplement manufacturers have made creatine intake more efficient. Instead of consuming pounds of protein, all you have to do is take the nutrient in powdered, liquid, or pill form.

Also important: Creatine supplementation should be considered complementary to consuming protein, not a replacement for. That’s because creatine and protein work in different ways. In short, creatine leads to more strength during your workout while protein leads to more muscle repair after your workout.

What are the effects of taking creatine?

Creatine increases the body’s ability to produce energy rapidly. Creatine exists naturally in our bodies and helps fuel our muscles, which is why some people take it as a supplement to boost their performance in the gym.

The mechanism is straightforward: If you’re able to lift more weight in the gym, you’re able to create more of the muscle fiber tears that your body can then repair and rebuild bigger and stronger after your workout.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus, creatine is rated as “possibly effective” when it comes to improving muscle strength.

“There is a lot of mixed research on creatine’s ability to improve muscle strength,” the government website says. “However, analyses of this research show that creatine seems to modestly improve upper body strength and lower body strength in both younger and older adults.” Creatine has also been shown to improve athletes’ performance in rowing, soccer, and jumping height.

“You should feel good about your creatine supplementation,” Men’s Health nutrition advisor Michael Roussell, Ph.D., says. “Take 5 grams of creatine monohydrate with your workout shake to help you get bigger and stronger.”

Although some research has pointed to creatine’s efficacy for high-intensity, explosive exercises like sprinting, the overall results have been mixed.

What are the short-term effects of creatine?

One thing is almost certain: If you take creatine, you’ll gain weight.

“Creatine is a quick way to add muscle, but not without some water weight, too,” Carolyn Brown, R.D., a nutrition counselor at Foodtrainers. “Most people gain between two and four pounds of water retention in the first week.”

But that water weight is good, Roussell points out: “Creatine’s going to pull more water into your muscles, making your muscles bigger and fuller.”

What are the long-term effects of creatine?

After that initial retention period, subsequent gains are due to the increase in the workload you can handle, according to Paul Greenhaff, Ph.D., professor of muscle metabolism at the University of Nottingham in England.

Some guys think that if they take creatine and don’t work out, they’ll put on fat — but Roussell says it isn’t true.

“Creatine contains no calories, and has no impact on your fat metabolism,” he explains. “So taking creatine and not working out is just going to lead to nothing.”

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What are the best forms of creatine?

Not all creatine supplements are made equal.

“If you’re going to add a supplement in, make sure it’s creatine monohydrate,” Brown said. “A lot of other supplements out there will have a lot of junk that you don’t need, and they’ll be much more expensive.”

Powder is the way to go. Studies show that liquid creatine and creatine ethyl ester (CEE) are unstable and break down in your blood system. Don’t bother with them.

Chad Kerksick, Ph.D., assistant professor of exercise physiology at the University of Oklahoma, recommends 100% pure creatine powder. Some companies add electrolytes and other ingredients, but tests indicate those do little to improve performance.

“Save money and buy creatine powder and fruit juice,” Kerksick says.

Fruit juice? That’s right — the sugar in the juice raises insulin levels, which helps increase creatine uptake into the muscle. Sports beverages work just fine too.

You need about 70 grams of simple sugars for every five grams of creatine, Greenhaff says. He suggests looking for a drink or supplement with 60 grams of carbs per 100 grams of product.

You’ll know the powder is of poor quality if it’s hard to dissolve and there’s residue at the bottom of your glass after you drink it. You want the powder in your muscles, not in the glass. If this happens, try a different brand.

And pills? While they’re effective, you often have to take a ton, especially during the creatine loading phase, in order to hit an effective dosage. If you love taking pills, go for it. For everyone else, powders seem to be the best bet.

Here’s a buyer’s guide for what to look for in a high-quality, effective creatine supplement.

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What foods are high in creatine?

Just as our bodies produce creatine, the chemical is also found naturally in various foods.

“Creatine isn’t just found in supplements,” Brown said. “It’s actually found in beef, pork, and salmon.”

Try these recipes for creatine-rich meals:

  • A steak dinner in one pan
  • 7-ingredient pork chop
  • Barbecued lemon pepper salmon filet

Will creatine mess with my kidneys, blood sugar, or cause muscular dystrophy?

Don’t believe everything you read on Internet forums.

Researchers are constantly studying creatine for its effectiveness and safety. That’s why many trainers and health experts support the use of creatine: Studies indicate it’s safe.

“Creatine is one of the most-researched sports supplements out there,” Kerksick says. “And there’s no published literature to suggest it’s unsafe.”

There have been anecdotal reports of kidney damage, blood sugar concerns, heart problems, muscle cramps and pulls, dehydration, and diarrhea, in addition to other negative side effects. But the key word is anecdotal.

“I’m not saying people don’t experience cramps, but I don’t believe it can be very common,” Greenhaff says. “If there were any major adverse side effects, we would have seen them by now.”

Some of these conditions can be caused by consuming too much of certain vitamins, says Tod Cooperman, M.D., president of ConsumerLab.com. “Too much vitamin C can cause diarrhea, and too much iron may lead to stomach problems,” he says.

To be safe, he recommends using creatine only if you are healthy and have no kidney problems. That’s because your kidneys excrete creatinine, a breakdown product of creatine.

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So there are no adverse effects of taking creatine?

Not so fast. If you can get big without it, there’s no reason to use creatine.

“I wouldn’t recommend doing anything that would show minimal improvement and possible risk,” says Jim King, M.D., president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “Weigh the negatives and the benefits before you try it.”

Kids under age 18 should avoid creatine, King says. “Children are still in a growing phase, and we’re not sure what impact creatine may have on muscles and bones as they grow,” he says. “I feel very strongly that middle and even high schoolers shouldn’t use it.”

Will creatine increase my power, strength, and body mass?

Here’s one thing all the experts can agree on: It’s impossible to say.

Creatine has different effects on every individual. Some people just don’t respond to creatine — it’s a genetic thing.

If you’ve started taking creatine, you should know if it works for you in about a week. If your training volume increases, it’s working for you. If not, you’re probably a nonresponder, and taking the powder isn’t going to help you.

Diet is important. Since certain meats and seafood have high levels of creatine, vegetarians — i.e., people who don’t eat those creatine-rich foods on the reg — usually see a greater response. Those whose diets are highly carnivorous may see less change.

Of course, a healthy diet is key to anyone’s muscle-building plan. “If your diet is junk, there’s no point in adding creatine,” Kerksick says. “It’s better to eat good sources of carbohydrates and lean protein.”

In the end, creatine alone will not make you a bigger man.

“Only when combined with exercise does it improve the quality of training,” Greenhaff says. “You still have to do the work.”

Brittany Risher Brittany Risher is a writer, editor, and digital strategist specializing in health and lifestyle content.

How much creatine should you take?

Each individual probably has his or her own creatine requirement. Those who regularly train but don’t eat much meat probably need more creatine than those who train less but eat more meat.

Harness the benefits of creatine with the right dosage

Supplementation with creatine monohydrate increases creatine levels in the body. The use of moderate amounts of creatine has proven benefits. We therefore recommend taking three to five grams of pure creatine monohydrate daily.

Can I take more creatine?

Regular supplementation with creatine causes creatine levels in tissues to reach a threshold that will not be exceeded. However, each day, a certain portion of the creatine pool is also converted into the biodegradable product creatinine and then excreted. This is a completely natural process. This is the part that needs to be replenished – either through the body’s own biosynthesis, consumption of food and/or nutritional supplementation. If more creatine is taken than the body actively requires, the surplus will be excreted in the urine. Therefore, it does not make sense to take unnecessarily high doses of creatine over a longer period.

Does creatine loading make sense?

Some internet articles suggest taking higher doses than the daily recommended amount of three to five grams of creatine. They recommend starting with a higher dosage and reducing it after a few days.
However, high-doses and creatine loading strategies are unnecessary. Studies show that after three to four weeks of taking three to five grams of creatine daily, the body’s creatine level is just as high as when higher doses are taken at the beginning. While the daily intake of three to five grams of creatine is considered safe, a comparable safety assessment is not available for higher dosages or for creatine loading.

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