Creatine is one of the most popular supplements in the world. It’s also one of the most well researched, and creatine monohydrate is the most commonly-used form on the commercial market.
There are other alternatives available, but creatine monohydrate has the advantage of being the most easily absorbed version and the cheapest to buy. In virtually all muscle building supplements you will find some form.
Why Is It Important?
Creatine is an organic compound that provides the muscles with energy. The body manufactures its own supply and further supplies are obtained from fresh meat, tuna, and certain other foods. However, you would need to eat a ridiculous amount to obtain an effective dose.
The body’s internal supply is produced by the pancreas, liver, and kidneys and is transported to the muscles via the blood. It actually a combination of the amino acids L-Arginine, Glycine, and L-Methionine and, when it reaches the muscles, it is converted to phosphocreatine.
This powerful metabolite regenerates ATP and this ability is one of the things that allows it to have such great value.
ATP is the muscle tissue’s ultimate energy source and, when the muscles are worked hard, ATP levels are exhausted fast. When used in the correct manner, creatine supplements increase the body’s stores of phosphocreatine, which can generate extra ATP during high-intensity exercise, thereby allowing an increased amount of activity and a greater level of benefit.
Creatine and Muscle Storage
An average man who weights 70kg generally stores around 120g of creatine in his muscles. However, the muscles are actually capable of storing around 160g. It’s a bit like having a car with a fuel tank that hasn’t been fully topped up. It’s good for the journey but will run out of juice sooner than it should. Supplementing helps fill the tank to the max and allows the muscles to go the full distance during training, thereby giving them a greater stimulus for growth.
- Enhanced performance
- Greater stamina
- Increased muscle growth
- Strength gains
- Faster recovery
- Improved sprint performance
Creatine and Muscle Function
In addition to its value as an energy provider, creatine increases the water content of muscle cells, helping ensure adequate hydration and improvements in muscle size. There is also evidence to suggest it may boost levels of a hormone called IGF-1 that’s known to be important for muscle growth.
Creatine Loading and Dosage
The most important thing is not what time of day you take your creatine supplement. It’s that you take it consistently and, during the initial stages of supplementation, a higher dose will be required to “load” the muscle and get levels up to maximum capacity.
During the creatine loading phase, around 20g will be required per day. This should be split into 4×5g servings, and this level of supplementation is typically maintained for 5-7 days and will help maximize it’s retention as quickly as possible.
After the muscles have been fully loaded with creatine, supplementation levels can be decreased to a maintenance dose of around 3-5g per day and the best time to take it is just before workouts because this is the time when the muscles are likely to be most receptive to fuel.
It’s unclear whether supplementation needs to be done in cycles, but many people believe taking a break from creatine can help ensure it keeps on providing maximum benefits. A typical cycle is usually 6-12 weeks of supplementation followed by a break of 4 weeks. Athletes who are going to take a break from creatine in this way can probably obtain the maximum benefits by timing their cycles so that their periods of supplementation correspond with their periods of higher intensity training.
Many athletes combine their dose of creatine with a source of carbohydrate, such as dextrose, because the resulting insulin spike can help carry nutrients to the muscles at a faster rate. It’s also quite common to add some protein to the mix.
Creatine can also work particularly well when it’s stacked with beta-alanine because research shows the two compounds have a synergistic relationship. Scientists at the College of New Jersey recruited 33 college football players and provided some of them with daily doses of creatine and beta-alanine. Others were only given creatine. After 10 days, the group that was given the stack showed a greater increase in muscle mass than the group using creatine on its own.
The football players using the creatine and beta-alanine stack also showed a greater reduction in body fat. So, although creatine works well on its own, stacking it with dextrose and/or beta-alanine can be a good way to further enhance the benefits creatine provides.