Creatine Updates! May 2001
Much to my dismay, new studies and reports on creatine are flowing in. Magazines publish updates every other month, science conventions overflow with documentation on the subject. It's almost as if the only thing out there for us to use is creatine. Annoying as it is, I swore to keep you updated on the movings of the industry and since this is the hot topic of the moment, I have to write about creatine. Already, from studies, articles and questions I get e-mailed every day, I have been able to compile an update article on the ever-present supplement. I present you with the latest.
Creatine and Absorption
The key to more and better absorption of the element creatine is the hormone insulin. To increase insulin has been the goal from day one for creatine manufacturers. To do this they mostly used sugars, preferably the high-glycemic dextrose. This is the same product used to asses insulin sensitivity in diabetic individuals. Much as some companies claimed to be innovative by doing this or claimed to be so based on the exact dosage they used, they weren't. This is a process that has been used for over 5 decades. Other means that the industry has put forward have fallen on fruitless ground. ALA may mimic insulin to a point, its strength can never really rival it or form a comprehensive alternative, perhaps not even an aid, to insulin.
Chromium has been proven to be very effective to upgrade the sensitivity to insulin in cells, but often times companies will A) not use even half of the dose needed for optimum effect and/or B) neglect the fact that chromium only really has an effect in people who are deficient in this nutrient. The body only takes in the amount it needs, so extra is a futile effort. And the most recent of techniques is using the amino acid arginine to increase the uptake of creatine into the cells. Let it be known that a bodybuilding diet contains more protein than most people can handle, that arginine is non-essential and manufactured as needed from essential aminos and that therefore excess arginine will not be used to the extent that some would like. A point I also brought up about the use of glutamine in bulking diets.
Another much discussed issue about creatine and its absorption is its inability to be taken at the same time as protein and/or individual amino acids. This is of course complete and utter crap. The reasoning behind the myth is that both nutrients require the same calcium transport-ion.
While I don't recommend taking a protein-only meal with creatine while on a diet, I would be a fool if I recommended you took creatine at all while on a diet. In a bulking phase however, I'm assuming you are being a good bodybuilder and getting more than your daily need of calcium (about 2500 mg on a 4000 calorie diet) so that calcium in circulation is high, and that because you are concerned about how good all your food is being used that you get ample B-vitamins from whatever source you please. A high potassium intake is welcome too.
All this makes for good calcium use. Now as people who know our stuff we are all aware that depending on circumstance we can absorb 35 to 90 grams of protein in one sitting. The circumstances being the presence of other nutrients like carbs and fats, and of course how hungry the muscle is. Then I ask you, if these circumstances are optimal AND calcium levels in the blood are high and ready for use, how will 5 extra grams of creatine hinder the absorption of 40-50 grams of protein as most of us ingest in a meal? Or vice versa for that matter.
The Proven Post-Workout Solution
Further more, to point out that this discussion is one we should not even be having, a recent study has shown that taking in 50 grams of protein and 50 grams of a simple carb source has given similar effects as 90 grams of dextrose, which is far above the amount some companies claim is optimal. So the protein/carb combination has its uses. Already nutritionists have shown that high carb levels provide better use of protein (and thereby establishing weight gainers as a better investment than straight protein for the average bulking bodybuilder). But that high carb levels absorb more of other nutrients such as clean fats, creatine, vitamins and water as well.
Now the protein/carb combination has been proven to uptake more creatine than mega-dosing dextrose it seems like the optimal recovery meal should consist of a weight gainer shake containing at the very least 50 grams of protein and an equal or higher amount of high-glycemic carbs, 5-10 grams of creatine depending on bodyweight and a content of clean fat. Together this would sky-rocket your recovery levels and avoid the issue of uptake.
Ingesting extra protein with your carb-creatine mix as it was in the past, not only frees these carbs for replenishing glycogen stores, but also delivers more amino acids, used for muscular repair and the making of new muscle tissue. So you have all the nutrients for recovery, you boost insulin levels better than without the protein and you supply the muscles with ATP regenerating creatine. So instead of hindering absorption, extra protein increases the absorption of creatine.
The issue has been brought up mostly in relevance to glutamine. Though I'm not one to advise you use both together, creatine on a diet retains water and glutamine while bulking is a waste of money, it may be wise for some multi-sport athletes to consider supplementing glutamine year-round. The issue of absorption has been settled here : in the presence of enough carbs, both creatine and protein sources will be properly absorbed.
This does not mean you HAVE to take them together. Since you are using a proper meal and creatine after your workout , it may be better to use the glutamine in between meals to prevent muscle wasting. Perhaps a shot before bed with a last serving of your weight gainer would go a long way towards achieving your goals.
Do I Need To Take Creatine After My Workout?
No you don't have to, but I do advise it for bodybuilders. For strength athletes I usually suggest taking it before a workout because it can boost strength levels and increase performance. This kind of short term thinking does not apply to bodybuilders who need to peak months or even years after first ingestion. Strength athletes also have no need to load creatine, because of the short-term effect. Simply taking 5 grams prior to each workout, about 30 minutes before, will do.
Most agree that 5 grams a day is enough for most athletes, but with an increase in bodyweight, the need for creatine increases too. I estimate that most intermediate to advanced NATURAL bodybuilders can absorb 7-10 grams. To increase that absorption, we split the dose to the two times most creatine is needed. In the morning, after an overnight fast the muscle will absorb things much easier. And again after a workout.
The after a workout window is ideal because an exercised muscle has higher concentrations of creatine, about a 10-15 percent increase. So supplying the extra creatine being used makes sense. Because of the rise of creatine in the muscle, you will also increase cell hydration and protein synthesis, but perhaps most importantly, because of the pump in the muscle blood flows slower which absorbs more aminos for protein synthesis and more creatine for volumization. So the optimal window is within a half an hour of training, before the muscle gets cold. Remember, if you take it with protein and carbs it will provide the ultimate recuperation.
Creatine and Water Weight
"Creatine is nothing but water weight!" How many times have I heard that before. Where the initial weight increase is just that, if you want to be strict, then why would I advocate it after a workout and not before. It will absorb water anyway and then at least you have the strength advantage. Well creatine does more than absorb water. It increases levels of ATP, short term energy good for weight lifting. By supplying it after training you avoid ATP drainage and get a better glycogen restoration and resulting thereof a faster recuperation.
The extra ATP assimilated afterwards will gradually increase strength, and the strength increase in turn will make you lift more and create more muscle density and sometimes even size. The extra waterweight of cell makes it move more and get used to the extra size, with water it will also take in more nutrients. So creatine is not the miracle supplement it is often made out to be. If you gain 10 pounds in 7 days, you will most likely look like a bloated prick more than anything else and that's not the idea either. I suggest you treat creatine as a recovery supplement and focus on the long-term gains, which are more rewarding than the short-term gains.
One advantage extra water weight does have, is its anabolic nature. So don't worry if you retain some water. Creatine would not be as good as it is without the water retention effect. The only thing I was trying to point out was that you should be weary of growing too big too fast. There is such a thing as too much water weight too. Consequently, since creatine works for only 80 percent of people, you may wish to try an age-old bodybuilding remedy : Dessicated Liver. Its been a around a while and delivers the same water retention effect. I once saw someone gain 7 pounds of extra weight in 7 days with my own eyes. Of course it was all water-weight, but he managed to turn it into a respectable 14 pound lean mass gain over the next few months.
The Loading Issue - Again
Do you need to load? That question wouldn't bother me so much if it didn't come from cheapskates trying to save 2 bucks on a cycle. No you don't need to load, it all depends how fast you want your gains. But you will not save money on it. It will take you ten days longer or more to get the same mass and strength accrual as the rest that did load, only your receptors will downgrade just as fast as the others and you may be left behind.
With the low cost of creatine I don't see why you wouldn't load anyway. By over-saturating the area surrounding the muscle you force more creatine into the muscle, because of the body's need for homeostasis which will attempt to bring balance between levels outside the cell and levels inside the cell. This effect wears off after a while which is why we then proceed to a maintenance level. If you only absorb 7-10 grams, there is no need to use the 20 to 30 grams you would for loading.
How Much Do I Need?
Well, though I have addressed the issue many times, I'll try to do so again. You can get by with a mere 3-5 grams extra, which still tops body levels of 1 gram. Many pros do it this way, but then many pros have proper dietary habits and know how to take creatine. On top of that high roid levels will make better use of creatine. I don't suggest you take in as little as 3 grams unless you are only taking it to recover from your weekly jog.
When taken properly, that means with adequate carbs and protein, you can easily get by with 5 grams though. This has been a fact for a while now. But for many of my athletes I recommend, and believe me when I say I know why, they take 10 grams daily split into two doses. Since you can absorb 7-10 that means you get optimal levels split over two highly strenuous times on the body. It's a bit more expensive agreed, but creatine is a very cost-effective supplement and it has paid off.
There you have it. I hope this settles the creatine debate for a while so I can focus on some other things. Too much of one thing is never good. I think I've managed to cram in all there is to know for the moment and not leave anything out, should this not be the case, be sure to let me know and I'll try to include it in my next update.