Okay, okay, by popular demand (and since people ask me questions about creatine every day) I have finally decided to put some of the research points together for you into one article. This is a little technical, but I tried to make it as brief as possible and still get the necessary info to you.
Creatine. I use it. I like it. Many aren’t sure about whether or not they want to try it, and if they do want to try it, many don’t know how to implement it into their routine — amount, timing, cycling, etc. Let me give you a lesson on creatine and help clear up some of the confusion surrounding this muscle-building supplement.
First, what exactly is creatine? Creatine is a dietary supplement that athletes and many bodybuilders use to increase high intensity exercise performance, increase strength, have fuller looking muscles, increase body mass and have faster post workout muscle recovery. Creatine is a natural substance found in our muscle cells. It is made of 3 amino acids – methionine, arginine, and glycine. Our livers make creatine naturally, but we also get it from our diet. And of course we can get it in the form of supplements.
The main food sources of creatine are fish and red meat. Half a pound of raw meat provides about 1g of creatine for the body. However, the amount of creatine we get from foods is much less than the amount needed to yield the maximum beneficial effect. Because of this, it is much more convenient to simply consume creatine as a supplement, otherwise you’d end up having to eat a ton of meat each day.
So, what are the benefits of creatine? There are many benefits of creatine supplementation. 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 = Creatine will increase the energy your muscles have. This 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 lift them for. It’s THIS 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).
How much creatine should I take? You will hear different amounts as a suggested daily dose, ranging from 5-15 grams. It depends on your size. I have settled on a daily dose of 10 grams, divided into a morning dose and an evening dose of 5 grams each. This may be a tad on the high side, as many studies will suggest an average size person take 5g per day total. If you are a big guy like me, you may want to go closer to 10 grams, but if you are small or medium build, you should stay closer to the 5g total. I realize that when I take a pre-workout, there is creatine in it as well, which gives me an additional 3 grams of creatine on the days I take a pre-workout. But I don’t change my supplementation to account for it. I simply get more creatine on those days. (For the potential side effects of excess creatine, I cover that in just a minute).
How and when should I take creatine? I like to take my creatine doses 2 times per day, with a shake each time. You will read some studies showing that taking creatine with a high glycemic index fluid (like grape juice) speeds its absorption, but honestly, I would rather do without the extra calories of the grape juice, so I just add it to my shake. If you’ve got the calories to spare in your nutrition plan, go ahead and use the grape juice. Otherwise, mixing it in a protein shake still works great.
Do I need a loading phase? Some recommend loading with a high dose of creatine (20g per day) for the first week to saturate the muscles. Then back down to a maintenance dose. I loaded the first cycle of creatine that I did. For the second cycle, I decided not to do a loading phase. Honestly, I couldn’t tell a difference. So from now on, I will not use a loading phase since I found no benefit to it. Your results may vary, but at least this gives you a starting point!
Do I need to cycle creatine? There are mixed answers here. I want to be on the safe side, so I cycle it. The thought is that after you’ve supplemented with creatine for a couple months, you body “gets used to it” and you stop seeing the muscle gains. By giving yourself a month off of creatine, your body will respond to the supplement all over again when you start the next cycle (kind of like the P90X muscle confusion idea!!) However, some folks take it year round and never take a break, and they have no ill side effects. They may just not be getting the gains they would otherwise experience.
And I’m sure you want to know, what are the side effects of creatine supplementation? Creatine supplements have been around now for quite a while (since the mid 90′s) and they have been studied quite a bit. The results of all of these studies are pretty much exactly the same… creatine is safe for the average healthy adult. What that means is, if you already have some sort of preexisting health problem (like some type of actual medical kidney issue, for example), creatine may not be safe for you and you should definitely check with your doctor before taking it. However, in the typical healthy adult (male or female), there have been no studies that have shown any significant side effects. Of course, some very mild creatine side effects have been reported. Specifically, upset stomachs and muscle cramps. The thing is, these side effects are caused by improper creatine use and can easily be avoided. The 2 biggest causes of these side effects are not drinking enough water, and just taking too much creatine.
So in conclusion, creatine should be thought of more like a vitamin than a steroid or hormone. Creatine is an amino acid similar to glutamine and arginine – both used to enhance performance. This distinction is important since steroids have serious side effects which can harm the body, unlike creatine. But it isn’t for everyone. Study the literature. Evalutate whether or not you want to try it. And if you have questions, feel free to ask me!
I'm new to creatine supplementation. You said in your article that you cycle creatine. Since that article is 3 years old, I'm just curious if you're still doing that. The most recent research that I am reading seems to indicate that cycling and loading is not necessary. I've seen where you said that you don't load anymore, but I'm wondering about cycling creatine and if it's necessary. Thoughts?
Mike, that is exactly what I have been seeing too. I think there is some probability that your responsiveness to creatine will down regulate over time, so cycling still can make sense. But taking it for 3 months doesn't seem to be an issue (that is even the recommendation of Body Beast).
Coach, according to you articles, it seems that taking creatine as a pre-workout results in higher levels of energy for increased reps? But, do you take creatine pills for this or a shake before workouts? i guess pills if it's the low does creatine that you don't need to cycle?
Lee, a lot of PWOs have creatine but most people take it post workout. Your body has creatine naturally in it, so you are really just topping off your supply. You just need to maintain the level. With Kre-Alk you do not have to cycle.
For the first day I used 5, the next I did 3g twice. I'm starting to thing that everyone using over 5g of creatine isn't using it right. I'm going to try cutting down to 3g a day.
Shawn, it really depends on each person and how much you need to saturate your muscles. If that is 3g great, some start with a lower level naturally and will need more. Trail and error. Dial it back and see. I have used up to 10g a day with not discomfort. Discomfort is most likely a sign of undigested (too much) creatine.
Shawn, no problems here. If it is giving your digestive issues, you may be taking too much. Are you just using 5g?
I'm excited about my new supplement, I think I'll cycle it, but not more than 10g a day! That's alot of creatine! Thank you coach.
I need the scoop on the scoop of creatine. I've been thinking about the benefits of creatine, so today I had to go to GNC to pick up a bottle for myself, I went for something in my budget, the Creatine Monohydrate 5000, despite another worker telling me that his brother peed green because of it. I think that it would be a great supplement since I really want to put on some real muscle now that I'm on my last phase. I took the first scoop, or heaping teaspoon today of 5g. I was wondering if there's a weight range on how much I should or need to take. I weigh 122, I'm going to cycle it, and do a loading phase, but how much should I take??? D; ... Lol
Shawn, that is perfect creatine. No 5g is great. I wouldn't load, I've done it both ways and didn't notice any difference.
I understand creatine will make your muscles grow, i am not so much focus into that. What i want is endurance, for example when doing push ups or running. will creatine help with that? if not what is the best supplement to get those kind of endurance?
hey coach, im looking at buying some creatine and im wondering if there is any brand that is better or worse?
Travis, for creatine monohydrate, Creapure is some of the best. Lots of brands use Creapure, so look on the labels. Should be just creatine, no sugar or flavors.
Hi Wayne,i recently bought l glutamine,can I stack it with creatine mono,and can we use creatine for a longer period
Hey coach have a couple question I'm going to be starting p90x 0n the 10th along with my wife. Was wandering if creatine was a good idea for the first round or not and I know its going to sound dumb but should my wife stay away from creatine or would she benefit from it as well.
Donald, creatine is useful anytime. It is safe for women. Their may be some initial weight retention because of water. I would really concentrate on nailing down your nutrition. Supplements can help, but fat shredder and a deficit are crucial.
Hey coach, so let me get this straight kre-alkalyn doesn't hurt you on the body fat loss because I'm trying to lose weight and be lean and ripped.I saw on one of your blogs that you took it and it helped so I was just trying to make sure...thanks
I got a question, if i were to take creatine everyday, can i still take pre-workout supplements as well, or what that be too much for one.
Anthony, I think a PWO everyday would be too much. The stimulants can be pretty intense. I recommend saving them for lifting days only.
Thanks, so I think I'm going to start using it when I begin the strength phase of X2, since creatine is a 2-month on, 1-month off cycle and it seems like it would be best to use in the last two X2 phases. In terms of dosage, when I bulked, my trainer told me to split the 5 g dosage into 2, one to be taken before the workout and one after. He said also to do this on rest days. I personally found this to be a hassle. So what would be a better way to take it, if I'm not very big (5'8)? I'm thinking just 5g post workout with my recovery drink, and just 5g at any point on a rest day (I'm not sure if goals make any difference in that). What do you think? Thanks!
Thanks. When I used creatine, I found it incredibly annoying to use on my off days, because I am usually away on weekends and taking it with me was difficult. Is taking it every day necessary for it to work or can I just take it on my workout days?
Jeremy, it is best to take it every day to maintain a constant level in your body. Remember your muscles grow when you rest. So keep the creatine coming.
Hey coach, I'm a bit confused about using creatine. I have a creatine monohydrate powder that I used while bulking. I had always been under the impression though that creatine can hinder your results when you want to cut. Now that I see that is not true, I have some questions on using it: I've learned that whenever you do a cut, you will lose muscle volume (which most people seem to confuse with actual muscle mass) inevitably because of a lower calorie, lower carb plan. I've noticed this on me, because my muscles don't really look as full as they did when I bulked. So now that I am starting X2, with the plan we spoke about on the "How to build muscle" page (X2 fat shredder at a 400 cal deficit in order to shed a good amount of body fat while retaining my new muscle from my bulk to get ripped, indefinitely until I'm either bonking, plateauing or happy with my body fat level), would using creatine help with this goal, to make the muscles fuller? If so, then should I start it right away on the fat shredder or should I wait until I switch to the energy booster phase and raise calories to maintenance? Thanks!
Jeremy creatine is always good. I don't know why guys are against it for cutting. It in no way slows fat lose. You weight may stay the same for a bit due to the water retention in your cells, but that is good. It will keep you fuller. Also what bodybuilders do is a carb load coming into their competitions. So if you were look to look really fully on day 90. You could cycle up your carbs early in the week and tamper them towards day 90.
I usually take E&E PWO and as you know that doesnt have any creatine, I also take BCAA drink while working out. I am not drinking a recovery drink except for a protein shake and shakeology. The question is, should I throw 5g of creatine in my BCAA drink while I work out or wait to take it with post work out drink?
Hey Coach, I have been using pre-workout drink ACG3 for quite a while. It only has about 3g of creatine per serving, and is powder (I'm assuming powder = monohydrate?). I have never done any cycling. I just use it to get me going before my workout. Is kre-alkalyn only in capsule form? And to add to that, can I put it in a shake or water or some liquid and it will dissolve? You may get the sense I have a lot of trouble swallowing larger pills/capsules (which I do - a standard Ibuprofen/Tylenol is normally my size limit!)
Hey Justin, you'll need to cycle the ACG. I believe it has a few forms of creatine in it, but your label will tell you that so look at it. Most kre-alkalyns are capsules, but I don't know for sure if all are. Yes, you could definitely just open the capsule and dissolve it in water or a shake. That would be fine.
Ok cool.. Was just wondering because I would like to continue on the ripped/lean look that I have going right now. Was just wanting to add a little bit of muscle mass without losing the ripped. Don't want to be buff. U are such great help.
Hey Caleb, like I mentioned in the "creatine revisited" article, creatine has zero effect on body fat. A "poofy stomach" that hides the abs would be body fat. Some experience bloating with creatine mono, but that just makes your whole body retain water. It doesn't make you have body fat. You would still see your abs just as well with water weight in your system as you would without. That's one of the big bonuses of kre-alk is that it doesn't cause as much bloating. Plus it doesn't need to be cycled.
I have been wanting to try the kre akalalyn for a while now. I'm just not wanting any of the bloat that comes with using creatine... Am I understanding it right that using the kre akalalyn causes no bloating? Thanks a lot
Hey Coach, When did you start to notice any affects from the creatine and what did you notic efirst? "feeling" stronger, seeing the muscles volumize? Just curious as today is my first day using it. Figured I try loading for this first go around and then not next time to compare.
Hey Ben, some people feel more strength, some get a bloated feeling. I just saw that I gained a couple lbs of water weight during the first week or so. It wasn't a drastic change. Everyone is different though.
Hey Coach, I am 16 years old and just finished my first round of P90X!! wohoo! the only supplement I used in that round was Whey Protein, I will be starting insanity tomorrow and i was wondering if it is safe to use micronized creatine as a supplement with the Whey?, I will only be taking 5 grams of it daily with the protein shake, so is it safe for a teen??
Sure Ali, creatine is safe for teens. However, it won't be all that effective during a round of Insanity since it is a muscle building supplement and you won't be doing any resistance training. You'd be better off waiting and using creatine when you do P90X again.
One more question Coach, I am in the middle of my first recovery week and plan to use creatine for months 2 and 3. Would it be better to load a few days before my first lift day since I'm going to try loading or just wait and start on my first day of phase 2? Basically would I see a benefit to already having the creatine in my system on the first lift day?
Just start at the beginning of phase 2 Ben so that you don't have to cycle off before you end the round.
Hey Coach, I am just finishing my third week of P90X and I'm going into my first recovery week! I planned to start taking creatine with week 1 of phase 2 through the end of my 90 days. My question is, is 10g a a good place to start for me? 6'4" 193#s 15.5% fat right now. I am/was a pretty thin built guy if that helps. I also planned to try loading for this first go around. Thanks!
Even if it says "loading is not required or recommended with this product"? What does "loading" mean in this situation?
Hey Robert, "cycling" refers to a 2 month on / 1 month off cycle. You have to do that will all creatine forms except kre-alkalyn. "Loading" refers to taking a much higher dose the first week or so that you are on a cycle to "charge up" your system. You don't have to load yours, but you still have to cycle it.
Hey Wayne, I'm currently using muscle pharm creatine and it doesn't say wether to cycle it or not. I only take it 5 days a week and on recovery weeks I only take it 3 times. Should I cycle it or not?