Creatine – what a history, what a supplement! This highly effective product took the market by storm back in the early ’90s and the sports nutrition industry hasn’t been the same since.
Back in 2001 when I was a District Manager for a major supplement chain, I had the pleasure of touring with the man largely responsible for introducing creatine to the supplement industry. Mr. Ed Byrd was promoting his newest product, NO2 (the first nitric oxide booster).
The stories he told! When creatine was originally being marketed, all the big companies were in the middle of a calorie/weight gainer war. You had products like Mega Mass 4000 and Heavyweight 9000. Yes, that’s as much as 9,000 calories per giant (and I mean giant) serving.
Here comes “Mr. Creatine” with the original zero calorie creatine monohydrate. No one knew what to do with it. All the big boys turned him down. “You need something with some calories, boy”. So, he co-founded EAS (Experimental & Applied Sciences), launched the first creatine product known as Phosphagen, and the rest is history. And yes, the big boys woke up and jumped on the bandwagon.
Benefits Of Creatine
By now, the benefits of creatine are well-known to the bodybuilding world. Creatine is helpful in 5 main areas:
- Pumps – The original cell volumizer, creatine helps pull water into the muscle cells for water-based pumps. Creatine is one of many ingredients that have this effect, and it is a mainstay of many “pump” products.
- Endurance – Creatine improves endurance through its role in the body’s production of energy (ATP). This translates to an increased work output in the gym.
- Recovery – Creatine supports recovery by enhancing post-workout glycogen replenishment.
- Muscle Growth – Due to its cell volumization benefits, creatine is thought to stimulate protein synthesis.
- Cognitive Function – Recent research suggests that creatine may support overall brain health and function.
Types Of Creatine
Creatine Monohydrate is the most common type of creatine. It’s also the original and most studied type. The only real change since its introduction is that now it’s usually micronized (or, made into smaller particles) for better absorption.
Every other version of creatine has built on the idea of absorption – each one claims to be better absorbed than regular creatine monohydrate.
Additionally, most of newer forms of creatine boast a smaller dose than creatine monohydrate. For comparison, the standard dose of creatine monohydrate is 5g (and of course, it is still the most commonly used type of creatine). Other forms of creatine include:
- Buffered Creatine – Known commercially as Kre-Alkalyn. This ingredient is patented and claims to slow the conversion speed of creatine into creatinine, which is a waste byproduct of creatine. This version claims to absorb better than regular monohydrate. It also requires a smaller dose (3g).
- Creatine Hydrochloride – This compound consists of creatine bound with hydrochloric acid to improve solubility and absorption. This means that it will be broken down quicker in your body and more easily absorbed by your muscle cells. The typical dose is 2g.
- Creatine MagnaPower (Creatine Magnesium Chelate) – Creatine MagnaPower is a combination of creatine and magnesium chelate. This version claims to improve creatine absorption. The suggested dose is only 1.5g.
- Creatine Nitrate – This type consists of creatine monohydrate attached to a nitrogen base. This type claims to increase the solubility and absorption of creatine. The suggested dose is 1g to 3g.
- Creatine Anhydrous – This is creatine monohydrate with all the water removed. The theory is that this provides a more concentrated type of creatine per gram than regular monohydrate. This dose is the same as regular monohydrate.
- Creatine Citrate – This is creatine attached to citric acid. Once again, the sole purpose of this type of creatine is to improve absorption. The suggested dose is 4g.
- Creatine AKG – This ingredient is creatine that’s attached to alpha-ketoglutarate, which is a precursor to the production of nitric oxide. The claim here is improved absorption and as with the others, the suggested 2g dose is lower than monohydrate.
What Type Should I Use?
I have provided the most widely used types of creatine currently available. Still, you may see a type of creatine not covered here. Supplement companies are constantly innovating and trying to develop new forms of creatine that absorb easily and require low doses. Typically, these versions of creatine will be part of a blend that is only used by 1-2 supplement brands.
If you are new to creatine and find yourself a little confused about which type to use, I suggest regular creatine monohydrate.
Why? Simple. The primary reason is that creatine monohydrate is the most heavily researched, proven effective format of creatine. What about absorption? Most brands use micronized monohydrate, which improves absorption.
How To Take Creatine
There are two popular methods to supplement with creatine. The first method involves a loading phase, while the second just goes with a steady daily dose. Both of these methods are assuming the use of creatine monohydrate.
Method 1: Loading Phase/Daily Maintenance Dose
Originally, it was suggested to take creatine with simple sugar, such as grape or apple juice. This improved absorption.
Supplement brands would encourage you to “load” by taking four or five 5g doses over a period of 5-7 days. After that, you could take a 5g dose once per day.
More recently, this method has been refined to include a body weight-based dosage for the loading phase. Here’s the formula: 0.3g/kg body weight. This method allows for rapid saturation and ultimately, faster results.
Method 2: Low Daily Dose
Eventually, simply taking a 5g dose every day was the suggested method of creatine intake. This bypassed the inconvenience of loading, but took several weeks longer to saturate your muscles.
The currently accepted interpretation of this method is to take 3g per day for 28 days.
Does Creatine Need To Be Cycled?
Creatine does not need to be cycled, but many users do. Why? The theory is that continual use lessens the effects.
If you take a break, you’ll notice faster effects when you start it back up again. Ultimately, you should experiment with cycling creatine and see if it works well for you.
Are There Any Side Effects
Like any supplement, over the years creatine has been accused of all sorts of evils. Some people think it’s a steroid (it’s not). Still, others think it’ll cause all kinds of health problems.
The truth is, creatine is one of the safest products you can use. There are quite a few studies to support this. If you’d like to investigate further, here’s a 5-year study along with an excellent breakdown on the safety of creatine.
When Is The Best Time To Take Creatine?
Once you’ve saturated your muscles with creatine by either a loading/maintenance approach or low daily dosing, you can really take creatine anytime you want. Having said that, it makes sense to take it either with a pre-workout or, if you are trying it for recovery, with a post-workout.
Since creatine is the original cell volumizer, I like to take it with a pre-workout that includes other osmolytes, such as betaine, glycerol, and taurine. Combined with nitric oxide boosters, this approach gives you the biggest bang for your buck in terms of pumps. It’s also a good combination for strength.
No matter when you take creatine, I suggest drinking plenty of water while using it.
What Supplements Can I Take With Creatine?
When it comes to muscle growth, you can stack virtually anything with creatine. As I stated above, it works especially well with other water-based pump ingredients. For mass, a great stack could look like this:
- Protein Powder (I suggest a blend of proteins to take advantage of varying digestion rates)
- Fish Oil
- Pre-workout (including effective dosing of creatine, betaine, glycerol, and taurine)
From there, you can add any number of optional products.
What about fat loss? Creatine is not a fat loss supplement. Still, it can help you maintain mass while you drop fat.
Are There Any Supplements I Should Avoid?
There’s no solid data suggesting creatine is not safe to take with any other supplement. As with any supplement, if you are taking any medications, you may want to talk to your doctor before taking creatine.
Creatine is without a doubt one of the best supplements you can take for bodybuilding. In fact, it should be a cornerstone product in your supplement program.
Hopefully this article has cleared up any questions about what type of creatine you should be taking, and how much you should supplement with. Nothing is worse than not being sure how much of a product you should be taking. If adding size is your goal, follow Method 1 to help with those gains you’ve been chasing!