Creatine has been a vital part of my training arsenal for years. It can provide a huge advantage with minimal side effects.
A natural amino acid most commonly found in red meat, creatine is also produced in small amounts by the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. Once in the body, it becomes a fuel source for short-duration, high-intensity activities such as weight training, sprinting and jumping. It also promotes muscular hypertrophy—the increase in muscle fiber that football players strive for.
The amount of creatine absorbed in the body through diet and produced naturally is very low, which brings us to supplementation as a means to increase available levels.
Should I Take Creatine?
Most studies on creatine usage show that supplementation boosts strength and lean muscle mass while increasing the intensity of short-duration activities like weightlifting and sprinting.
During high-intensity exercise, the muscles require readily available energy. Stored creatine can provide energy for the first four or five seconds of intense activity. With creatine supplementation, you are able to train harder and longer at a higher intensity. If you can squeeze out one or two additional reps or add 5 pounds to your max, you will get stronger.
Creatine will not improve endurance, however, so it is not particularly useful to athletes in endurance sports.
Creatine and Weight Gain
Weight gain up to six pounds is a common side effect of creatine supplementation. It occurs because creatine is osmotic—i.e., it pulls water into the cells in the process of increasing muscle protein synthesis, which can lead to further muscle growth and recovery.
Creatine and Safety
The biggest risk with creatine is dehydration, which can lead to muscle strains and pulls.
How to Use Creatine
The muscles can store only a limited amount of creatine, so you don't need a "loading phase," where you start with a larger dose, then scale back.
Start with 5 to 10 grams of creatine monohydrate per day. You can take it in the morning with green tea, or just before your workout. Some athletes prefer taking it with a protein or carbohydrate source to increase absorption. An increased insulin response will pull more creatine into muscle tissue.
I prefer to cycle on and off creatine in 12-week intervals.
Other Types of Creatine
An influx of new creatine products has hit the market in recent years. None of them is as effective as creatine monohydrate. In a 2009 study, researchers at Baylor University's Department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation found that creatine ethyl ester is not as effective as creatine monohydrate at increasing serum and muscle creatine levels—nor is it as effective in improving body composition, muscle mass, strength, and power.
Tips for Taking Creatine
- Use only creatine monohydrate.
- Take 5 to 10 grams if looking to add mass. If looking for strength/performance benefits, stick with 3 to 5 grams.
- Mix creatine with green tea or take it with pre-workout nutrition.
- Cycle on and off creatine every 12 weeks or so.
- According to current research, creatine is safe in both the short and the long term.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Most issues related to creatine supplementation occur because the user is under-consuming water.
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