Before we get into a deep discussion of creatine, let me refresh your memory about what creatine is =
Creatine is a combination of amino acids produced primarily in the kidneys and liver. It is made of 3 amino acids – methionine, arginine, and glycine. It is used intramuscularly and about 95% of our total body’s creatine is located in skeletal muscle (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/873.html). Our bodies produce creatine naturally, and we can also get it through our diet and supplementation. Of the many benefits of creatine, the ones we are most interested in are exercise performance, increases in strength, fuller muscles, and increased lean body mass. Of all the sports supplements, creatine is by far the most studied, safest, and most effective.
Basically, creatine increases the amount of energy your muscles have. While it is used as a muscle building supplement, it doesn’t just magically “build muscle.” It works like this: maximizing your levels of creatine will increase the energy your muscles have. This in turn will increase the amount of work they will be able to do. The more work your muscles can do, the more weight you’ll be able to lift and the more reps you’ll be able to complete at that load. It’s THE WORK (and great stimulus from bigger weights and higher reps at that weight) that leads to muscle being built. In fact, working out and following the nutrition plan 100% are the only thing that actually builds muscle. A creatine supplement just helps this process along. It also serves to “volumize” your muscles, by helping them retain fluid. This facilitates a more efficient transmission of proteins and nutrients into the muscles for repair and recovery (and is also why people report gaining a couple pounds when they start creatine — you can think of it as “retaining water” so to speak but it has no negative effect on fat loss).
Learning Curve with Creatine
Maybe you’ve already picked up on it but I really enjoy learning about fitness, nutrition, and supplementation. :-) There’s tons information out there and I spend a lot of time reading and researching. Over the past 3+ years I’ve learned a lot and I’ve changed a lot of the ways I do things based on the best science available. How I use creatine is one such example.
When I first started supplementing with creatine I used plain creatine monohydrate. I did a pretty standard loading phase (20 g per day) and a cycle of two months on and one month off. Through my own experimentation, I then used creatine monohydrate without a loading phase (just using my 5g – 10 g maintenance dose). I saw no discernible difference in effectiveness between using a loading phase and skipping the loading phase. Finally like most people, I looked into other/newer forms of creatine — specifically pH buffered creatine, Kre-Alkalyn. I enjoyed it for a lot of the reasons I was told I would enjoy it… I didn’t have to load it, I didn’t have to cycle it, and I didn’t get “bloated.” Truth be told, creatine monohydrate never made me bloated either. It was nice having a label reassure me and tell me of all these new positive things and the pills were also easy to take.
This brings me to what I’ve been learning and experimenting with recently as it relates to creatine.
For the past 6 months, I’ve been using good old creatine monohydrate (not the mixes with sugar and calories — just plain creatine monohydrate).
I’ve been using 5g per day, mixed in my Shakeology morning shake for breakfast. I don’t worry about using high carb juice to take it with since it still gets absorbed without it.
I don’t cycle on or off. I just use it nearly every day (some days I forget lol).
I don’t worry about timing it to my workout since muscle saturation of creatine should stay near 100% all day every day as long as I remember my daily dose.
I occasionally use a pre-workout that has creatine, but I don’t adjust my regular creatine mono dose to compensate. I still take it in my shake every day, so if I use a PWO with 3g of creatine in it, I’ll end up with 8g for that day. As long as I don’t experience any GI bloating, I know I’m fine.
That approach almost seems to basic and simple, huh? No cycling? No loading? No worries about when to take it and with what? Surely this won’t work, right? Surely I need a complicated creatine dosing schedule that uses costly creatine blends if I really want it to be effective, right??? Well, that’s not what the real studies have shown me.
I think it’s very important to find trusted sources of information. One such person and source I have come to truly appreciate is Layne Norton, PhD. I’ve mentioned him before but what I really like about Layne is not only his expertise and experience (PhD in nutritional sciences with an emphasis in protein metabolism and he’s a pro natural bodybuilder and power lifter… pretty good credentials) but his honest, no-nonsense, science backed approach. Read any post/article of Layne’s and you will see citation after citation of all the studies he is basing his opinions off of.
Layne just posted a new vblog where he addressed creatine. I don’t think he stated anything earth shattering or that he hasn’t mentioned before. He laid out very concisely his views, and more importantly research’s views on creatine. In my own practice, I don’t think I was that far off. His discussion of creatine will run until a little after the 4 minute mark (he gets into Silk Amino Acids and myostatin… interesting too).
Creatine Take Aways
1.) Only use creatine monohydrate - it works, it’s proven, it’s safe. And it’s CHEAP compared to the fancy schmancy versions of creatine being marketed as superior. Again, don’t get it loaded with sugar/flavored/etc. Plain creatine monohydrate works great!
2.) You don’t have to load!Within a couple weeks your muscles will be saturated with creatine either way.
3.) If you’re getting bloated, you’re taking too much creatine.(Undigested creatine is what can cause gastrointestinal issues. If you’re having issues dial back your creatine and don’t load!)
4.) You don’t have to cycle creatine monohydrate.(Actually trying this was new to me – I’ve been on 5g daily for about 6 months now. You can still cycle to help become more responsive to creatine again. It is up to you.)
5.) Don’t believe all the hype!Hype got me too… But more and more I’m sticking to research and what science is showing as effective. And this case creatine monohydrate is as effective as it gets, and cheaper too!
Hi Coach! Just wondering if, based on your experimentation, you would recommend a creatine monohydrate powder or a capsule like Kre-Alkalyn? I currently am using Kre-Alkalyn capsules, and I'm not sure if I'm getting the full benefit that I should be getting from a creatine supplement. Thanks again!
i'm a beginer,i did p90x for 14 days but at 14th day my body failed and i couldnt continue workout . and since that i feel tired very much (excuseme i dont know english well, so i may make mistake in writing) and i can not complete my workouts and i always feel infirmity ,i did not use any supplement and i have no reach to shakeology or p90x recovery drink (because of the country that i live in)does (whey+creatine) helps me or only creatine? if not which supplement i have to use?thanks (email@example.com)
I did what you said and took 5mg of creatine mono every morning, and after about 3 weeks, I put on about 2.5 pounds. I then stopped and lost the 2.5 pounds within about a week so i am pretty confident that it was due to the creatine.
I only weigh 150 pounds, so do you think I should possibly dial it back to about 3mg per day, or could my body just be sensitive to getting the bloat at any level of creatine intake.
i've been taking creatine monohydrate for almost 6 months 5grams every morning. i recently had a few blood tests done and my kidney levels came back elevated. doc wants me off of the creatine and wants a nephrologist to see me.
i've had kidney stones in the past, but it was before i changed my lifestyle.
i'll be very disappointed if i'm told i can't use creatine. i've noticed some pretty big changes on it, but they are my kidneys and i don't want to screw around if the docs say no.
I love the theory behind this, it all makes sense and it makes everything so much easier. My question is, I already have a full bottle of kre-alkalyn, and I like the simplicity of pills. Do you think it makes sense to just take 1 kre-alkalyn pill per morning, or would you recommend I switch and start taking the 5mg of monohydrate every morning.
I'm starting X2 on the week after my birthday (May 8th is my birthday) So I'd like to take 10 grams of creatine a day, 5 grams after my workout and 5 grams in the morning. Currently I only take 5 grams after my workouts. Do you recommend taking only 10 grams or 20 grams if I'm trying to put on some size? Also is it okay to take it with the R&R Formula?
Hey coach, im on day 8 of p90x and I want to shed fat and pack on some muscle. Im thinking of buying GNC pro performance monohydrate creatine. It has 5g per serving. I workout in the afternoon. im still new on the whole creatine deal so when should i take it and with what? Thanks!
Great article. Thanks for the information. I was wondering what effect, if any, taking creatine would have on your kidney function? Does any unused creatine get metabolized to creatinine? Will this artificially increase your creatinine level in blood work and make it appear that you have kidney dysfunction? Also do you have any insight into why the GNC creatine monohydrate says to discontinue use two weeks prior to surgery? Thanks again! You're an inspiration.
one reason i can see pill form beneficial is for traveling. white granular substance in a zip loc bag just doesn't give me a warm fuzzy feeling when passing by the TSA. i could only imagine the story as that passed under the scanner.
yep creatine monohydrate. i've stuck with optimum nutrition via amazon. it's so cheap.
layne also makes good note about non-responders here and there. it's worth subscribing to his stuff.
So Coach would you say that Kre-Alkalyn is still a good option or for some reason creatine monohydrate is better. In other words would I be missing out on any benefits if I take Kre-Alkalyn vs. creatine monohydrate ? Thanks !
I just ran out of Kre-Alkalyn and finished Round 1 of P90X. I was about to purchase more today and your post popped up on Facebook. How are you calculating the amount of creatine you should take everyday? Is it the recommended amount on the label or is there some equation your using?
I've been so torn about whether or not I want to give creatine a try. I've never used it before and after going thru P90X and P90x2 I wonder how much it could've helped or help me now during Asylum...decisions decisions...I have ON's creatine mono added to my amazon cart lol let's see if i finally pull the trigger
Reza, that is just he start of the program! It's always tough. I would just jump right back at it. Use that pause button and modify when needed. You will do great with the supps you have. Whey is a great way to hit those protein budgets. Keep up the good work and don't give up!
@mike1886 No, the water retention is a good thing. That is what creatine is designed to do. You want more fluid going to your muscles. If you didn't have any digestive discomfort, I would keep it at 5g. It in no way slowed your fat loss. Once you have the initial water weight gain, you will lose weight and BF the same.
@awaterz I wouldn't get too disappointed. Your health is the ultimate goal and prize. I would listen to your doctor. I what I have heard and read, elevated kidney levels doesn't necessarily mean there is a problem, but it could. The specialist should be able to shed a lot of light on that. Trust the doctors and realize that creatine is a really small piece of the puzzle. You are doing what's best for you!
@sandyparulekar You have to saturate your muscles with creatine (have it build up) for it to be effect. And it probably won't be a pronounced feelings. Just fuller and bigger muscles. If you track your performance, you should show progress.
@coachjavyperez No, I recommend taking just 5g. You just need to saturate your muscles and 5g is plenty. More creatine than that is what can easily cause issues digestively. Make sure to watch the embedded video. And yes, it is ok to take with R&R (R&R only has 0.5g).
@Scott Stoelb Yes, take it. Creatine does not impair fat loss at all. It does improve your ability to work. So you can work harder. Harder work = more muscle and more calories burned. Creatine is fine while cutting.
@MarcN No clue on the GNC recommendation. Higher creatinine levels are associated with great muscle mass even. It doesn't mean you have kidney issues. A blood test can just show markers for a kidney issue. You'd need greater testing to actually know if there is an issue. Creatine can breakdown to creatinine though. Examine.com has great info. They record 7, repeated double blind clinical trials that show no change in kidney function with creatine use. Check it out (studies with an A confidence): http://examine.com/supplements/Creatine/
@richardbaffor I've come upon a similar situation. I was alternating calories depending on whether I was lifting (higher calories) or had a cardio day (lower cals). I decided to keep my cals consistent in accordance with Wayne's recommendations here on the site: 1900 cals/day @ Fat Shredder %'s. This makes things simpler since I don't have to change up my menu everyday.
@richardbaffor I would set one deficit that is large enough to produce the type of fat lose you want. Set at least a 600 calorie deficit (most like 1000 to start). www.teamripped.com/calorie-calculator
@Rishi_D Monohydrate is what's tested and proven. KA sounds appealing (and it did to me too), but it's claims are necessarily true. If creatine doesn't cause you to retain water, it's not helping. You don't have to bloat with creatine (see takeaways). You don't have to even cycle mono. With KA, I personally don't know if the smaller dose is effective. And regular creatine is more than effective at saturating your muscles 100% with creatine. Save your money and stick with mono.
@CoachGaston I've been using that creatine for a month now with no negative side effects. I don't feel or look bloated. I take 5g a day and have increased my reps & weights in my workouts. The Optimum Nutrition is also Creapure creatine which is a plus.
@CoachWayne thanks man. eh it's more like other kids get to eat the extra candy (creatine) and i might not be able to which equals :(. we shall see, and i will report back.
i have a history of lower leg problems that i won't outline here, so there is a lot to the story. being 3 years(?) kidney stone free now is good enough for me. whatever it takes not to pee pop rocks is cool with me.
@CoachWayne I've carried various pills (fish oil, aminos, medicine) in my carry on a bunch of times with no problem and this is even with a few times when I was singled out for closer inspection. The odds that someone is going to try and carry cocaine or some other controlled substance powder in their carry on is not something that TSA is going to worry too much about when you consider they're more worried about explosives, weapons, etc. If they ask you tell them what it is and that will end it. The likelihood that it goes further than that (if it even gets this far) is very small.
@John Rocha@CoachWayne but, with short trips that don't require check in it just seems humorous to take something powdery in a zip loc bag through check in (who would?). consider the audience would have no idea what 'creatine monohydrate' is. umm, explain this one (as said TSA snaps the rubber glove).
not that it would be a big deal to miss a couple days here and there anyway.