Creatine. This is one supplement every gym going newbie has heard of round the corner. Creatine is so much common these days that people who are not taking creatine will be found talking about creatine!
What makes creatine so much popular and so much of interest to everyone?
Well, thing is, because it works!
If there is one supplement that has truly stood the test of the times and has actually been found to support muscle growth in any direct way, which is without a doubt, the good old Creatine! Plus, if you are like me, someone who is always too much concerned about the "Return on Investment", then it is creatine which will provide you with the most bang for the buck than any other supplement.
This article aims to answer your every little question you may have about creatine. Let's get started ;)
Bro, what is Creatine?
Creatine is a chemical compound, an amino acid that exists in your body naturally <so now you can be assured that you won't be putting anything foreign inside your body> and can also be supplemented.
Creatine is made of 3 amino acids: Arginine, Glycine, and Methionine.
Where does the creatine exist inside my body?
Most of the creatine is stored in your skeletal muscle and some of it in your heart <which is also a muscle>, brain, and other organs.
Cut the crap, bro! What does Creatine do?
To understand the role of creatine in our sport, we need to understand first what goes on inside our body while we are working out.
Recall some basic science they taught you at the school and you will remember that body spends its energy in its own currency called as the ATP: Adenosine Tri-Phosphate.
When you are doing high-intensity work, i.e., like lifting heavy weights, you need some quick energy source and that energy comes from the stored ATP. The supply of ATP is unfortunately very limited and after you have exhausted the existing ATP, you must rest between the sets before your body has regenerated ATP and you can begin lifting again.
However, the body has lots of ADP <Adenosine Di-Phosphate> stored, which unfortunately is not a usable source of energy, and must be converted to ATP before it is useful.
This is where creatine kicks in.
Creatine binds to phosphorus inside the body and is stored as Creatine Phosphate. It gives up phosphate to the ADP to form ATP and this allows you to work harder, longer!
Now, if you didn't realize already, creatine will allow you to shell those last extra 2-3 reps that are actually responsible for the muscle growth and will also increase your lifts. Quoting my own experience, when I first started creatine I was amazed to see how I increased my one arm dumbbell rows from 35 kg for 4-5 reps to 40 kg for 7-8 reps in mere a month of creatine use!
If this were not the only enough good reason to use creatine, here are some other things it can do:
1. Reduce the burning feeling during workout: that is due to the lactic acid formation and creatine helps buffer lactic acid.
My experience: My muscles used to burn badly in my initial days of lifting and using creatine really solved the problem!
2. Creatine draws water into the muscle cells, called as "Cell Volumization" which gives an appearance of increased muscle size ;) This cell volumization also makes your muscles feel nice and tight by physically stretching the muscle cells, and this tightness helps you feel strong and stable and allows you to lift more. Regardless of the ATP production.
This is though a temporary effect, but you are going to gain some permanent size with creatine in the long run!
3. Creatine also increases cardio performance: it will increase performance during your HIIT and help build permanent stamina, and also help you sustain moderate intensity cardio sessions to burn that fat!
Goes without saying, it is a helpful addition to your arsenal during bulking as well as cutting phases
4. There is also evidence that creatine enhances cognitive functions by fuelling the brain and helping it transfer information from one neuron to another. More brain fuel is useful for anyone not only in studying and working but also feeling more concentrated, focused and remembering day to day things.
Wow, Bro! Where do I buy it, Bro?
Creatine can be found at almost all supplement stores. It comes by various brands. The german grade and the Creapure <the company manufacturing pure creatine from which all of them buy> are the best! If the box has Creapure written on it <regardless of the brand>, you have good stuff!
Mind you, creatine comes in many forms: Creatine ethyl ester, liquid creatine, and what not! These are just marketing gimmicks, and just stick to the old creatine monohydrate which comes as a tasteless, colorless, and odorless powder!
Selling old creatine isn't very profitable anymore and also, its not very "sexy" to keep selling the same product for ages. So they always want to come up with different reasons to try to sell to you. However, it doesn't make any difference whatsoever.
However, go for a creatine powder that is micronized. Many people get problems with traditional creatine powders <however, those are rarely seen now>
How do I use it, bro? I am so much confused as I hear different stories!
Okay, so creatine is one supplement which takes the time to build up in your body and will take about a week <or even longer depending on your loading technique: okay, I am coming to that> to show any effect.
First things first: You must take creatine post workout for the best results because after a workout:
1. Your muscles are starving and glycogen depleted after a workout and likely to uptake anything you feed them like a dry sponge absorbs liquids.
2. Insulin shuttles nutrients to muscles: Insulin sensitivity is high post workout: You are already using post workout cocktail of Milk+Protein Powder+Glucose+ High Sugar Fruit <okay you weren't? Take home a freebie from bro ;)>
You are creating the biggest insulin spike and the best time and this is the time when you should take advantage and use creatine!
Creatine can be a pain in the butt when trying to make it dissolve, and if left unmixed it can cause stomach cramps. So make sure the creatine is fully dissolved. It won't dissolve easily, mind you. So either you can use lukewarm water to mix creatine <since heat increases solubility>
Coming to the loading: loading means a phase where you consume high amounts of creatine to saturate your muscles fast with creatine and start reaping the benefits ASAP.
A typical loading method states that use 5 grams of creatine four times a day for a week and then use just 5 grams every day. This approach has only given me stomach cramps and constipation and thus I stay away!
Also, this approach won't work if you are fat since your insulin sensitivity is low. Insulin sensitivity means the efficiency of insulin to shuttle nutrients to your muscle stores. It is heightened after a workout but still remains pretty low for beginners and obese people.
So you would be better off with gradual approach.
A research states that the men who didn't load on creatine had same levels as men who had loaded on creatine after 21 days.
Phew! There comes my lifesaver! I have experienced that I achieve the full effect within a week if I take because I am using the best environment for creatine to be absorbed! So, no loading for me. Just use it every day. I prefer to use 5 grams pre and post training. Research suggests that creatine in the bloodstream, when taken before a workout, is better absorbed by a working muscle.
So if you take creatine and run a stationary bike with only one leg, the working leg will absorb more creatine than the dormant one.
Do I need to cycle creatine, Bro?
Okay, the idea came from the fact that all supplements need to be cycled because your body will be addicted to them or they will reach a toxic level in your body. Heck, some people even talk about cycling protein powder! LOL :D :p
For the record, only fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin E or D have the potential to reach a toxic level because they can be stored for a longer duration. Other stuff just gets excreted in your urine. All water soluble vitamins fall into this category.
First, tell you what. Creatine can be found naturally in meats: esp red meat. So, this is also why they could never ban creatine in sports, else they will have to ban eating meat as well. Plus, note one more thing: do not expect much benefit from creatine supplementation if you are a heavy red meat eater <which most of us Indians are not usually>. Vegetarians are most likely to benefit from creatine supplementation.
Additionally, I want to address this: There is nothing such as a Creatine Non-Responder. If you feel your strength didn't increase from creatine, you might not just be picking up heavier weights with time (Progressive Overload) or you are just getting enough creatine from your diet.
Hell No! Creatine is not a non-vegetarian supplement! It would take insane amounts of meat to extract it naturally, so they prefer making it in labs ;)
Unless you plan on cycling meat consumption, I feel there is no need to cycle creatine. For skeptics, you can cut down creatine dosage to 3 grams a day <which is enough for maintaining creatine levels in your system> which equals a serving of red meat eaten every day, and can stay on it months after months, years after years!
Creatine sounds too good to be true. What about side-effects, Bro?
Alright, yes it does have some side effects but none of these are health damaging side effects. The only side effects are weight gain <because of cell volumization> and constipation.
Dehydration may occur if you are not drinking enough water. This is because creatine is so efficient at pulling water into your muscles, that if you don't drink enough water, it will pull water from your internal working organs.
While caffeine doesn't interfere with absorption or function of creatine, you might experience cramps due to creatine demanding more water and caffeine excreting water. It will be a good idea to avoid them both together at least during loading phase when water requirements are elevated or till you are fully saturated with creatine and your body has stored all the water it needs to feed its creatine stores.
Additionally, just drinking more water doesn't solve the problem. There is only so much water you can drink and absorb in a given period of time, and drinking more and more to compensate for caffeine and creatine combo will only give you bloat.
Here comes the no-brainer that lack of water in your system can lead to kidney problems. But would you prefer to leave on all these benefits for something that can be easily and completely avoided by just drinking water? Decide yourself, mate!
FINAL WORD: I hope you do not need any more reasons as to why creatine must not be supplemented. If you got any questions please comment below.