If you're looking forward to a winter season of productive muscle building, there's a good chance you've given some thought as to whether or not you should supplement with creatine.
Creatine is one of the most popular weight gain supplements that users find themselves on and has shown to be very helpful in many situations.
Touted to help you build muscle at a faster rate, it's not surprising that many individuals who are into bodybuilding find curiosity in this supplement. Nevertheless, unless used properly and in the right situation, it will not show optimal results.
Here are the facts you need to know about creatine.
What Is Creatine
Before going into the protocol for use, it's important to understand exactly what creatine is.
Creatine is a substance that is actually found in our bodies naturally and is a critical component in providing fuel for the muscle tissues to contract and relax as exercise takes place.
You will get creatine from sources apart from supplements, however, often times these sources are still not enough to fully meet your requirements.
Most of the creatine you do get naturally is from meat, where it is absorbed from the food, into the bloodstream. If the diet is not providing much creatine at all from meat sources, the body can then manufacture a small amount of creatine from some other amino acids, namely arginine, glycine, and methionine, but this will still not be enough for intense exercise purposes though.
If you don't eat a fair amount of meat in your diet regularly, chances are, you're going to be running short in creatine.
About 95% of the total creatine you have in the body is housed in the muscle cells, so ensuring that this creatine supply is as full as possible is going to go a long way towards promoting optimal workouts through ongoing muscle fiber contractions.
How Does Creatine Work In The Body
Next up is understanding how creatine works in the body so you can see why it would be useful for you to take.
Creatine's basic role is to be a main component in the high energy compound that fuels muscular contractions. It is found in the muscle fiber in two different forms, free (unbound) creatine, and then as creatine phosphate, which is what is formed when the creatine molecules combine with the phosphate to make the high energy compound ATP.
More of the creatine in the body will be in the form of creatine phosphate than in the free creatine form.
This ATP then physically provides energy by releasing one of the phosphate molecules during the contraction-relaxation cycle, leaving behind what is now called ADP (which consists of only two phosphate molecules as opposed to three).
Naturally the body only has enough ATP to perform about 10 seconds worth of high intensity exercise, so you can see how quickly it would run out. In order for the exercise to continue on past this point the body must manufacture more ATP. This is where the creatine phosphate molecules come into play.
They will give up their phosphate molecule to the ADP, therefore creating ATP so the cycle can continue.
So to summarize, the primary role of creatine is to serve as a carrier for the phosphate molecule, which is what itself provides the muscular fuel for the power stroke in the muscle tissues to take place.
The more creatine you have available coming into the muscle tissues from dietary sources or otherwise, the more likely you are going to be able to sustain longer durations of intense exercise.
By choosing to supplement with creatine, you are taking one extra step to making absolutely sure your body isn't running low.
As stated in the introduction, it is rather difficult to maintain completely optimal full stores of creatine in the body strictly from eating food—or being manufactured from other amino acids, which is why adding the supplement is a good idea in most cases.
Who Does Not Need Creatine
The one class of athletes who may not need to supplement with creatine, or not supplement to as great of an extent would be endurance athletes that are exercising at only moderate intensities.
Since they are not going to be strictly relying on this ATP compound for fuel (they can utilize body fat for energy), they will not deplete creatine stores as quickly, and as such, may be able to maintain their stores through dietary means.
That's not to say these athletes will be harmed with creatine use, just that there isn't as much research with creatine supplementation as there is for strength or sprint related athletes.
To Load Or Not To Load
While the standard practice for taking creatine is to start off with a loading phase and then progress to a maintenance phase, this isn't a complete necessity.
For individuals who don't do well with the loading phase (suffer from a great deal of bloat, discomfort, etc), they may want to decrease the dosage of the load and carry it out over a longer period of time.
So for example, the typical loading phase is to take 20 grams of creatine over a five day period, and instead of doing so, you opt to take 10 grams of creatine for ten days.
Essentially you will be getting the same amount in the end. You may not experience quite as significant improvements right off the start, but both set-ups will be effective.
When To Take Your Creatine
One question that many people often have is when the most optimal time to take their creatine will be.
Ideally you want to be taking it right around the post-workout period, as this is when the muscles will be most receptive to taking it into their cells.
If you are in the loading phase, chances are though that you don't want to be taking that whole dose all at once, so in this case split it into three or four different doses; one pre-workout, one post-workout, and the other one or two later on in the day.
The Best Mix For Creatine
Another hot question related to creatine is what to take it with. Many people figure grape juice is the magic secret, but really, any type of fast reacting carb will do. Whether this is dextrose with your protein shake or your favorite juice, both will get the job done.
If you are on a very low carb diet, you can take creatine without the carbs, it will just not be quite as effective.
Should You Take Creatine If You Aren't Working Out
This question should be divided into two categories:
- Non-workout days.
- Those who simply do not workout—period.
If you're currently on an intense weight lifting routine, then yes, you should be taking your creatine on non-workout days. This will help to ensure your muscles are well stocked for the next workout.
If you aren't working out at all though, then it would be a good idea to stop using creatine as there will not be much demand at all for it in the body.
Should You Take Creatine When Trying To Lose Body Fat
Since creatine is typically referred to as the supplement to help you build muscle, is it beneficial to take while trying to lean down as well?
In most cases, you can still benefit from creatine while you are dieting. Since the primary purpose is to help maintain the intensity of your workouts, which is something that can be trying when you're really cutting back calories, creatine will help you do this.
In addition to this, keeping that intensity up for your workouts is one of the most important factors when dieting, therefore it is something you definitely want to be sure you're doing.
One thing to keep in the back of your mind though is that creatine will cause you to retain water, so if the scale is not moving down as quickly as you would have expected, this could be a reason why.
So, regardless of whether you're trying to build muscle or lose fat, do give creatine some thought. It can play a critical role in helping you perform better workouts and therefore lead to better muscle mass building.