Creatine 101 – Health Benefits, Dosage, Side Effects

Much to my dismay, new studies and reports on creatine are flowing in. Magazines publish updates every other month, science conventions overflow with documentation on the subject. It’s almost as if the only thing out there for us to use is creatine. Annoying as it is, I swore to keep you updated on the movements of the industry, and since this is the hot topic of the moment, I have to write about creatine. Already, from studies, articles, and questions I get emailed every day, I have been able to compile an updated article on the ever-present supplement. I present you with the latest.

Creatine and Absorption

The key to more and better absorption of the element creatine is the hormone insulin. To increase insulin has been the goal from day one for creatine manufacturers. To do this, they mostly used sugars, preferably the high-glycemic dextrose. This is the same product used to asses insulin sensitivity in diabetic individuals. Much as some companies claimed to be innovative by doing this or claimed to be so based on the exact dosage they used, they weren’t. This process has been used for over 5 decades. Other means that the industry has put forward have fallen on the fruitless ground. ALA may mimic insulin to a point, its strength can never really rival it or form a comprehensive alternative, perhaps not even an aid, to insulin.

Chromium has been proven to be very effective to upgrade the sensitivity to insulin in cells, but oftentimes companies will:

A) not use even half of the dose needed for optimum effect and/or

B) neglect the fact that chromium only really has an effect in people who are deficient in this nutrient.

Arginine Helps In Absorbing Creatine

The body only takes in the amount it needs, so extra is a futile effort. And the most recent technique is using the amino acid arginine to increase the uptake of creatine into the cells. Let it be known that a bodybuilding diet contains more protein than most people can handle, that arginine is non-essential and manufactured as needed from essential amino acids and that therefore excess arginine will not be used to the extent that some would like. A point I also brought up about the use of glutamine in bulking diets.

Another much-discussed issue about creatine and its absorption is its inability to be taken at the same time as protein and/or individual amino acids. This is, of course, complete and utter crap. The reasoning behind the myth is that both nutrients require the same calcium transport-ion.

Calcium And B-Vitamins

While I don’t recommend taking a protein-only meal with creatine while on a diet, I would be a fool if I recommended you took creatine at all while on a diet. In a bulking phase, however, I’m assuming you are being a good bodybuilder and getting more than your daily need of calcium (about 2500 mg on a 4000 calorie diet) so that calcium in circulation is high, and that because you are concerned about how good all your food is being used that you get ample B-vitamins from whatever source you please. High potassium intake is welcome too.

All this makes for good calcium use. Now as people who know our stuff we are all aware that depending on circumstance we can absorb 35 to 90 grams of protein in one sitting. The circumstances being the presence of other nutrients like carbs and fats, and of course how hungry the muscle is. Then I ask you if these circumstances are optimal AND calcium levels in the blood are high and ready for use, how will 5 extra grams of creatine hinder the absorption of 40-50 grams of protein as most of us ingest in a meal? Or vice versa for that matter.

When to Take Creatine 

The next question we are often faced with is when to take creatine. There are some disagreements concerning the best time to take it, and whether you should be consuming it before or after a workout. 

Supplementing with creatine before a workout is based on the idea that, the greater the creatine concentration in muscles, the more ATP energy is available, meaning you can achieve a greater level of power during your workouts. This therefore allows you to sprint faster or lift more weight, so even more muscle can be gained. 

However, during a workout, the body’s natural supply of creatine is easily depleted. It is therefore suggested to consume it post-workout. This can help to replenish your muscles and allow you to continue receiving all of the great benefits. This is especially the case when creatine is consumed in conjunction with carbs. It is thought that it should be taken with simple sugars like dextrose in order to elicit an insulin response — which can result in more creatine being transported to the muscles. 

Generally, consuming creatine after a workout is recommended, with the next best option being taken before a workout.

The Proven Post-Workout Solution

Furthermore, to point out that this discussion is one we should not even be having, a recent study has shown that taking in 50 grams of protein and 50 grams of a simple carb source has given similar effects as 90 grams of dextrose, which is far above the amount some companies claim is optimal. So the protein/carb combination has its uses. Even nutritionists have shown that high carb levels provide better protein usage (and thus create weight gainers as a better investment for the average bulking bodybuilder than straight protein). Yet the high carb concentration also absorbs more of other nutrients such as healthy fats, creatine, vitamins, and oxygen.

Now the protein/carb combination has been proven to uptake more creatine than mega-dosing dextrose it seems like the optimal recovery meal should consist of a weight gainer shake containing at the very least 50 grams of protein and an equal or higher amount of high-glycemic carbs, 5-10 grams of creatine depending on bodyweight and content of clean fat. Together this would sky-rocket your recovery levels and avoid the issue of uptake.

Take It With Protein And Carbs

Ingesting extra protein with your carb-creatine mix as it was in the past, not only frees these carbs for replenishing glycogen stores but also delivers more amino acids, used for muscular repair and the making of new muscle tissue. So you have all the nutrients for recovery, you boost insulin levels better than without the protein and you supply the muscles with ATP regenerating creatine. So instead of hindering absorption, extra protein increases the absorption of creatine.

The issue has been brought up mostly in relevance to glutamine. Though I’m not one to advise you use both together, creatine on a diet retains water and glutamine while bulking is a waste of money, it may be wise for some multi-sport athletes to consider supplementing glutamine year-round. The issue of absorption has been settled here: in the presence of enough carbs, both creatine and protein sources will be properly absorbed.

This does not mean you HAVE to take them together. Since you are using a proper meal and creatine after your workout, it may be better to use the glutamine in between meals to prevent muscle wasting. Perhaps a shot before bed with the last serving of your weight gainer would go a long way towards achieving your goals.

Do I Need To Take Creatine After My Workout?

No, you don’t have to, but I do advise it for bodybuilders. I typically recommend taking it before a workout for strength athletes, as it can improve stress levels and performance. This kind of short-term thought does not extend to bodybuilders who tend to plateau months after first ingestion or even years after.

Instead of the short-term impact, strength athletes also do not need to load creatine. Just take 5 grams before each workout, about 30 minutes before it’s over.

Most agree that 5 grams a day is enough for most athletes, but with an increase in body weight, the need for creatine increases too. I estimate that most intermediate to advanced NATURAL bodybuilders can absorb 7-10 grams. To increase that absorption, we split the dose to the two times most creatine is needed. In the morning and after an overnight fast, the muscle will absorb things much easier. And again after a workout.

The after-workout window is ideal because an exercised muscle has higher concentrations of creatine, about a 10-15 percent increase. So supplying the extra creatine being used makes sense. Because of the rise of creatine in the muscle, you will also increase cell hydration and protein synthesis, but perhaps most importantly, because of the pump in the muscle blood flows slower which absorbs more amino acids for protein synthesis and more creatine for volumization. So the optimal window is within half an hour of training before the muscle gets cold. Remember, if you take it with protein and carbs it will provide the ultimate recuperation.

Creatine and Water Weight

“Creatine is nothing but water weight!” I have experienced it many times before. Where the initial weight increase is just that if you want to be strict, then why would I advocate it after a workout and not before. It will absorb water anyway and then at least you have the strength advantage. Well, creatine does more than absorb water. It increases levels of ATP, short term energy good for weight lifting. By supplying it after training you avoid ATP drainage and get a better glycogen restoration and resulting thereof a faster recuperation.

Creatine Increase Strength and Size

The extra ATP assimilated afterward will gradually increase strength, and the strength increase, in turn, will make you lift more and create more muscle density and sometimes even size. The extra water weight of a cell makes it move more and get used to the extra size, with water it will also take in more nutrients. So creatine is not the miracle supplement it is often made out to be. If you gain 10 pounds in 7 days, you will most likely look like a bloated prick more than anything else and that’s not the idea either. I suggest you treat creatine as a recovery supplement and focus on the long-term gains, which are more rewarding than the short-term gains.

One advantage of extra water weight does have is its anabolic nature. So don’t worry if you retain some water. Creatine would not be as good as it is without the water retention effect. The only thing I was trying to point out was that you should be wary of growing too big too fast. There’s something like too much water weight too. Consequently, since creatine works for only 80 percent of people, you may wish to try an age-old bodybuilding remedy: Desiccated Liver. Its been an around a while and delivers the same water retention effect. I once saw someone gain 7 pounds of extra weight in 7 days with my own eyes. Of course, it was all water weight, but he managed to turn it into a respectable 14-pound lean mass gain over the next few months.

Creatine Loading Issue

Will you load it? That problem wouldn’t bother me so much if the cheapskates didn’t try to save 2 bucks on a cycle. No, you don’t have to load, it all depends on how quickly you want your winnings. It won’t save you money, though. This may take you ten days or more to gain the same mass and strength as the others that filled, and your receptors can not decrease as rapidly as the others, and you could be left behind.

I don’t see why you wouldn’t load anyway, with the low cost of creatine. By over-saturating the muscle surrounding area, you push more creatine into the muscle due to the body’s need for homeostasis that will attempt to regulate levels outside the cell and levels inside the cell. After a while, this impact wears off which is why we proceed to a maintenance point. If you consume just 7-10 grams, you don’t need to use the 20 to 30 grams you can load.

How Much Creatine Do I Need?

Ok, while I’ve discussed the problem several times, I’m going to try to do it again. You can get away with only 3-5 grams extra, which still tops 1 gram of body levels. That is how many pros do it, but then many pros have sound eating habits and know how to take creatine. In addition to the high roid rate, creatine would be best exploited. I’m not saying you take in as little as 3 grams unless you just take it to get back from a weekly jog.

When taken correctly, that means you can comfortably get by with 5 grams of sufficient carbs and protein. It was shown to be a fact for quite some time now. Yet I recommend and trust me for many of the athletes when I say I know why they take 10 grams separated into two doses a day. Because you can consume 7-10 this means you are dividing optimum rates on the body between two very strenuous periods. It’s understood to be a little more costly but creatine is a very cost-effective drug and it pays off. There you have it. I hope that ends the creatine controversy a while so I can work on some other issues. Too much of one thing never goes well. I think I’ve managed to cram everything I need to know for the moment and not leave anything out, if that’s not the case, please let me know and I’m going to try to include it in my next post.