Almost anyone involved in bodybuilding and fitness has heard of creatine before. Whether they have used it themselves personally or have just heard others in the gym talking about it, there tends to be a great deal of confusion surrounding creatine.
When do I take it? How should I take it? Is a loading phase necessary? Is it okay to use while dieting? What about creatine and women? Are they going to see any benefits or is it just a waste of money for female lifters? Let's try and clear up some of that confusion.
How To Take Creatine
For every person you have taking creatine the right way, there are probably two who aren't. Unfortunately, creatine is one supplement that must be taken with precision otherwise results likely will not be obtained. Now, that said, there are a few different ways that you can go about incorporating this supplement into your routine.
How To Load
Usually the most common way people will take creatine is to start off with a loading phase which is designed to fully saturate the muscle's stores of creatine, then move onto a maintenance phase where you will lower the dose to keep levels where they need to be.
Typically, you will use 20 grams of creatine for a five day period, which will be the quickest way to stock up the stores in the body and get yourself back onto maintenance. Due to the fact though that creatine can cause bloating in many people along with some gastric upset, some choose not to pursue the loading phase to quite this extent, preferring to sacrifice time over water retention.
These people then can use a lower dose of only 10 grams per day, but load this over a period of 10-14 days. The result is likely less bloat, but a longer loading period duration.
Finally, for those who really don't want to load at all, you can just opt for 5 grams of creatine taken over the span of a month, however usually this technique isn't quite as beneficial as the two former ones are.
As far as what these dosages equate to, 5 grams of creatine is one teaspoon worth, so multiple this in multiples of five to get whatever dose you are going to use.
Finally, keep in mind that it is not recommended you ever go above the 20 gram dose for five days straight for whatever reason as longer-term high doses of creatine will convert to formaldehyde in the urine.
Moving To Maintenance
After the loading period is finished, then you move to maintenance. Some people will maintain on five grams per day, but for most individuals, 2-3 grams each day will be sufficient. One variable in this equation was if you were eating a diet devoid of red meat, as you normally get some creatine from red meat, which decreases the need for additional supplementation.
Therefore, vegetarians or those who simply don't like red meat, may want to maintain on that 5 gram number instead.
As a note to this point, if you are a very heavy red meat eater, you might even find that you don't benefit all that much from creatine in the first place as your stores are already fully saturated. Once this occurs, then any excess creatine taken in will just be excreted by the body, so theoretically, supplementing will be of no use to you.
Finally, if creatine is going to be beneficial for you, you need to be taking it on a constant basis, not just 'here and there' as you feel. Definitely if you are very low in creatine stores and perform a loading phase this should help your workouts, but if you are to sustain the benefits that creatine offers, you need to keep those stores up thereafter.
How To Take Creatine
Next we need to assess how you should take your creatine. Creatine is going to get into the muscle cells quicker if an insulin spike is present, thus why you typically hear the recommendation to be taking it with juice, usually either grape or orange (note that the type of juice is not going to largely matter here).
Remember though, potentially even better than taking it with juice will be mixing it up with your own dextrose, as juice is part fructose, which will have minimal effects on insulin levels (whereas dextrose will exert maximum effects on insulin).
Furthermore, because of this reason, creatine is often best taken in post-workout period, as this is when muscle glycogen is going to be most susceptible to filling their stores. During the loading phase though, you must split the dosages up and take it over two or three times during the day as this will simply be too much for your body to handle at once.
Taking it with something, be it a post-workout shake comprised of carbs and protein or a full-fledged meal, is a good idea because this will help to reduce the chances that stomach upset is seen in those who are more sensitive to it.
Finally, don't think that creatine is only beneficial for those who are involved in heavy-weight lifting. Athletes who perform a lot of high-intensity explosive sports will also greatly see results with creatine usage as their muscles will be relying on muscular stores of creatine as well.
Creatine And The Dieting Individual
Next, dieters are often questioning themselves as to whether or not creatine would be a good idea for them to be using. Typically creatine is associated with 'bulking' periods since it is designed to help with the muscle building process as it allows you to work harder for longer while you are in the gym. When it comes to dieting, since you're more focused on fat loss rather than strength and muscular gains, it doesn't seem to quite fit.
This is not the case though. Creatine still can actually be quite advantageous to the dieter as it can help to keep the intensity of their workout sessions up there. When you go on a low calorie diet, your gym sessions will need to be reduced in volume and you may find strength starting to lag as a result of the diet, so making sure your CP stores are full will really help offset these negative side effects.
Do note though that generally carbs are reduced when dieting which will mean the creatine will take longer to be absorbed and may not be absorbed to the same extent as if a high dose of carbs were fed to the individual, but they will still get into the muscle.
In this case, taking the creating straight with water (or protein) in conjunction with a meal (to reduce stomach upset) is the protocol to follow.
If you happen to be training for a bodybuilding or fitness competition though, you will want to remove creatine from your supplement intake at a certain point out in order to prevent any water retention you experience while taking it. Talk to your specific coach with regards to when you should be doing this though, as each will have their own preference.
Creatine And Women
Finally, the last topic to touch on is whether or not creatine is beneficial for women. For most women, yes, creatine is a supplement to consider. A large part of this is because even more so than men, women tend to cut red meat out of their diet quite frequently, thus their natural stores do tend to be more reduced.
Studies have shown though that women may not hold as much creatine in their muscle cells as their male counterparts, thus the effect of creatine on lean muscle mass may be slightly higher in men, but this is not a reason for females to think that the supplement has no benefit to them.
So, if you're currently taking creatine but are not following a correct formula for use, or if you've never taken it before but have been curious, now might be the perfect time to give it a try. It has been proven time and time again that there are no harmful side-effects (apart from the bloating and potential stomach discomfort described above) as long as it is taken in the manner as instructed.