I get a lot of emails about the supplement creatine. They’re always from people asking the same basic questions. You know…
What is creatine, what does it do, what are the benefits, how and when should it be taken, does it really work, how safe is it, are there any side effects, what brand and type (monohydrate, ethyl ester, etc.) is the best… and so on.
Well, if you’ve ever had any of these questions, you’re in luck. I’m now going to answer every single one of them.
What Is Creatine, And What Does It Do?
Creatine, which is naturally found in red meat and certain types of fish, is produced naturally by the human body for the purpose of supplying energy to muscle and nerve cells. Of course, it’s the “muscle” part of that description that is the reason creatine supplements exist.
In the most basic sense, a creatine supplement will help increase 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, progressive weight training (along with a proper diet) is the only thing that actually builds muscle. A creatine supplement just helps make it happen.
Related article: The 4 Best Supplements To Support Your Training And Body Goals
Does Creatine Really Work?
Yes, for the majority of the people who take it, it works exactly like it’s supposed to.
Countless studies have been done (specifically on the creatine monohydrate form), and the scientific proof and real world benefits are definitely there. It’s one of the only proven muscle building supplements there are.
Of course, there are certain people who take it and notice no benefits at all. They are referred to as the “non-responders.” The best explanation for these “non-responders” is that these are just people who happen to have naturally high creatine levels in their bodies already, either because their body naturally produces an above average amount of it, or possibly because they eat a diet very high in red meat (which as I mentioned before naturally contains a small amount of creatine).
It’s possible it could be a combination of both as well. However, for most people creatine definitely does work.
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Are Creatine Supplements Safe? Are There Any Side Effects?
Creatine supplements have been around now for quite a while (since the mid 90’s) and they have been studied quite a bit (again, primarily in the monohydrate form).
The results of all of these studies are pretty much exactly the same… creatine monohydrate 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), you should check with your doctor first just to be safe (like you should before taking any supplement). However, in the typical healthy adult (male or female), there have been no studies that have shown any significant creatine side effects.
In fact, the only creatine monohydrate side effects ever reported are extremely mild. Specifically, things like muscle cramps or an upset stomach. The thing is, these side effects are caused by not using creatine properly and can easily be avoided. The 2 biggest causes of these side effects are not drinking enough water, and just taking too much creatine.
How do you avoid these mild side effects? Uh, it’s not rocket science. Drink plenty of water and don’t take idiotic amounts of creatine (more on that below). Simple.
How Much Creatine Should I Take?
I’ll keep this short and to the point. You should take 5 grams of creatine per day. That’s it, no more than that. I know… most creatine supplements tell you it needs to be loaded and that you should take 20 grams per day for the first week, and 5-10 grams per day after that. This is stupid, and it’s what causes the mild stomach-related side effects mentioned above.
Instead, take 5 grams per day for the first week, and the same 5 grams per day from that point on. Your body isn’t capable of using any more than that… so any extra you take will at best just go to waste in your body, and at worst be the cause of an upset stomach.
The only other thing I’ll mention is that by skipping the high dose loading phase (and thus avoiding the side effects), it will probably take about 1 month (20-30 days or so) before you start to notice the benefits. No big deal.
Related article: 10 Rules For Building Muscles On Bulking Phase
When Should It Be Taken?
On the days you work out, you should take it with your post workout meal (the meal directly after your workout). As I’ve mentioned before in my Post Workout Meal article, the ideal post workout meal is a shake consisting of whey protein, dextrose and water. You should add 5 grams of creatine to this shake.
Just throw it all into a shaker bottle (absolutely no need for a blender), add water after your workout, and shake. It mixes within seconds and is ready to drink. (If you’re not having a shake after your workout, still take your 5g of creatine with whatever post workout meal you’re having).
On the days you don’t work out, take your 5 grams of creatine any time you want. It really doesn’t matter when you take it on non-workout days. Whenever you remember to is fine.
Related article: 9 Fitness Tips to Help You Build Muscle & Lose Fat
What Type Of Creatine Supplement Is The Best?
The only type of supplement you are looking for here is Creatine Monohydrate. That’s it.
This is the form most of the research has been done on, and it’s the form whose benefits are most proven without any side effects.
You don’t want any other fancy, flavoured, chewable, capsule version, and you certainly don’t want a version that combines 100 other crappy supplements with it to make it cost more. Even if another form of creatine claims to be better, you don’t want it. It’s all marketing bullshit.
You just want plain old creatine monohydrate powder, period. If it happens to mention the word “micronized” somewhere, that’s good too. Micronized just means it will mix a bit easier.
As for which brand is the best, most that fit the above guidelines will be fine, although the quality of some may be a bit better than others.