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by Gary F. Zeolla
Creatine is one of the most researched sports supplements there is. And most of the research shows it is a safe and effective supplement for those engaging in sports requiring short bursts of high intensity muscle contractions, like the powerlifting I compete in.
During intensive exercise, the body first uses its muscular stores of ATP (andesine tri-phosphate). The ATP is converted into ADP (andesine di-phosphate). Once the stored ATP is depleted, the body utilizes stored creatine phosphate (CP) to reconverted the ADP into ATP. Once both ATP and CP are depleted, the exercise must stop long enough to allow the body to restore the ATP levels. But creatine supplementation increases the stores of creatine phosphate (CP).
What this means is an exercise can be continued for a longer period (i.e. more reps can be done in a given set) and shorter rest times are required between sets as the APT is replenished quicker. I have especially found the latter to be true. With creatine, I can rest a little less time between sets, and I feel stronger on second and subsequent sets of a given exercise.
However, it is important to get a high quality product. This was mentioned in a research study on creatine I read some time ago. It mentioned that in all the studies done on creatine, there were never any side effects noted. However, there have been anecdotal reports of side effects from creatine use. The researchers explained the apparent discrepancy by stating that the reported side effects outside of studies were probably due to impurities in the creatine the people were using, so it is best to stick to a high quality product. That is why I use Ultimate Nutrition's Creatine.
The label states, "HPLC tested and analyzed 100% purity... guaranteed to be free of impurities and by-products: creatinine (CRN), dicyandiamide (DCD), and dihydrotriazline (DHT) according to present analytical methods." That means it is pure creatine, nothing else. Note, HPLC stands for high performance liquid chromatography. "HPLC is used to separate components of a mixture by using a variety of chemical interactions between the substance being analyzed (analyte) and the chromatography column" (Wikipedia).
Also Ultimate Nutrition's Creatine is micronized. This means the particles are smaller than regular creatine, so it mixes up well even in cold water easily, with no clumping whatsoever. It might also be absorbed more easily in the body.
Creatine is best taken about half an hour to an hour before or immediately after a workout. I personally mix six grams in with my pre-workout snack, but those much larger than me (~120 pounds) might want to use more. It is also best to take creatine with a moderate to high-glycemic carbohydrate, like maltodextrin, brown rice syrup (available at health food stores), or Ultimate Nutrition's Pure Muscle Carbs. Personally, I now eat a bowl of cold cereal for my pre-workout snack, so that provides the carbs. Such carbs increase insulin levels, which helps to drive the creatine into the muscles cells. It should be noted, that fruit juice is not as effective in this regard.
Note also, that some report getting bloated from creatine. I do not have a problem this problem, if I take it before or after a workout. But if I take it at other times I do. I can only assume that the creatine is used up when I take it before a workout or it is used to replenish muscle creatine if I take it afterwards. But if taken apart from a workout, there’s no use for the creatine, so for some reason that causes the bloating.
Along these lines, many recommend a "loading" phase, taking five grams of creatine five times a day for the first five days. That is a complete waste of money and the reason many experience bloating from creatine use. The only reason that was ever done was in an initial research study the researchers wanted to get the participant's creatine levels up as high as possible as quickly as possible to shorten the length and thus cost of the study. But by taking just one normal dose a day, you will end up with the same creatine levels, it will just take a couple of weeks. But you'll save yourself the negative side effects and using up half the container of creatine the first week.
Another point to note, creatine degrades if left in a liquid for a period of time, so it is best to mix it up immediately before use. Do not mix it up hours ahead of time.
Also, there are a lot of "specialty" creatine products. These products claim to increase the absorption by adding elements like arginine or alpha lipoic acid or by using a different form of creatine than the creatine monohydrate found in most creatine products. I have tried some of these products, but I have not found them to work any better than a high quality creatine plus carbohydrate. But one thing they will do is lighten your wallet quicker. Therefore, save yourself some money and get Ultimate Nutrition's creatine and take it with some carbs rather than any specialty creatine product.
Finally, it should be noted that all meats naturally contain creatine. Per kilogram (2.2 pounds), beef contains 4.5 grams, pork 5 grams, herring 6.5 grams, salmon 4.5 grams, tuna 4 grams (Livestrong), and chicken 4-5 grams (Healthy Eating). Eating meat would be a more natural way of attaining creatine, but you would have to eat a lot of meat to get the same amount of creatine as from supplementing. But this is why vegetarians would probably benefit more from creatine supplementation than meat-eaters, and this is one reason I do not think a vegetarian diet is "natural," as I discuss in my God-given Foods Eating Plan and Creationist Diet: Second Edition books.
November 29, 2009 Update: Creatine dosage from the “food cops”
I just read an interesting recommendation for creatine dosage in Nutrition Action Healthletter (Dec. 2009, p.9). This newsletter is published by CSPI, better known as the “food cops.” This issue contained the article about the ridiculously high amounts of calories and saturated fat in movie theater popcorn that you might have heard reported on the news.
In any case, the issue also contained an article about the benefits of exercise, which included a section on creatine. It confirmed what many of us already know, that creatine is effective in adding muscular strength, not just for “bodybuilders” but even for senior citizens. But what I found interesting was the dosage recommendation. The article recommended taking one gram of creatine per 20 pounds of bodyweight, half before a workout and half afterwards. It also said creatine is more effective if taken with 20-25 grams of protein.
I’ve been taking about four grams of creatine with my pre-workout drink, which also contains a scoop of protein powder, so I got the 20-25 grams of protein part. But this dosage would work out to about six grams total of creatine, three grams before and three after.
As I mention above and in my powerlifting book, I’ve found that if I take creatine either before or after a workout I don’t have a problem with bloating, but if I take it at other times I do. I used to take it after my workouts but more recently I’ve been taking it before. However, I never tried taking it both before and afterwards, but that might be worth a try, so I think I’ll try slightly reducing my pre-workout dose then add a second three gram dose with my post-workout dinner. I’ll see if that pattern helps any further.
December 13, 2009 Update
To update the above update, I tried splitting up my creatine dosage, taking half before and half after my workouts. But I didn’t feel that provided as much benefit as taking the full dose before my workouts. However, the slightly increased dosage did seem to help. As such, the dosage recommendation of one gram of creatine per 20 pounds of bodyweight seems about right.
April 2, 2014 Update
I had been taking creatine in one fashion or another ever since I first started powerlifting again back in 2003. And I continued to take it until the fall of 2011. With taking it the entire time I was in powerlifting training mode, I was never sure if it was doing any good or not. But as my health began fading, and I ceased to be able to work out at any kind of intensity, I stopped taking the creatine. I figured there just wasn't any reason for it. After I stopped taking it, my strength and bodyweight really began to drop. I just assumed that was due to the continuing fading of my health. But after a dramatic weight and strength loss last summer, and with continuing to lose even more weight and strength over the next few months, I figured it was worth a try to start taking creatine again.
As soon as I started to take the creatine, there was a noticeable difference in my strength levels. It was then that I was able to start to gradually increase the weights that I was using, rather than gradually dropping them as I had been having to do for the previous four years. This turnaround could easily lead me to proclaim that creatine does in fact work. And that is one possibility. But there is another, more complicated possibility.
The human body makes creatine, just as all animals do. That is why it is found in meat. But with supplementing creatine endogenously, it is possible that caused my body to stop making creatine, and with taking it for eight years, maybe my body lost the ability to make it. As a result, when I stopped taking it, my body wasn't able to start to manufacture it again, and I was left with no creatine for the ATP-CP cycle, which is how the body produces short bursts of energy for exercises like weight training. And with no creatine for that cycle, that is possibly why my strength loss became even more dramatic, but then I made a turnaround when I started taking creatine again.
In other words, maybe I would have been better off never having taken creatine in the first place. But there is no way for me to know for sure at this point. But as it is, I will continue to take it for the foreseeable future. As such, I'm not sure what I would recommend to the reader. If you're not currently using creatine, maybe it's best you don't start. That way, your body will never lose the ability to manufacture it, and you won't have to bother with the expense and trouble of taking it. If you feel you need creatine, eat meat. That would be the most natural way of attaining it. Or maybe wait until you've made significant progress in strength training, and then try it. If it causes you to make even greater progress, great, keep taking it, but "cycle" it, meaning, take it for a few weeks then stop it for a few weeks. That might keep your body from losing the ability to create it. If it initially doesn't help at all, then stop it altogether before your body loses the ability to create it.
November 11, 2014 Update
As indicated above, it was when I started taking creatine again that my training began to turn around. I have continued to take it at the six gram dosage, or 1g/ 20 pounds of bodyweight. And my training has been going very well. Even with using much heavier weights for lower reps, I am still getting through my workouts at a good pace, with not needing excessively long rests between sets. And I have not experienced any side-effects from it. In addition, I recently had a blood test done with my yearly physical. Among other things, it checked my creatinine levels. This is a by-product of creatine digestion. At one time when I was supplementing with creatine, it was high. But now it is just fine, being 0.8 on a range of 0.7-1.5, so the indicted dosage seem just right. (For more on this blood test, see the update at the end of Diet Evaluation - June 16 to July 15, 2014).
All of this means that for me creatine has been a God-send: effective, inexpensive, and without side effects. It's rare when you can find a supplement you can say all of that about it. As such, I am giving creatine five stars, as it is a necessary supplement for me to take if I want to make progress in my strength training. But the the reader will have to decide for yourself if you think it will be beneficial for you as well.
June 14, 2017 Update
I have continued to take creatine in the above indicated fashion and dosage, namely six grams in my pre-workout snack. And my powerlifting training has been progressing well. Despite being in my mid-50s, I have made slow but steady progress in all three powerlifts, both in training and in competition. But of course, I have no way of knowing if creatine has anything to do with this continued progress. But given that creatine is a safe and inexpensive supplement, I see no reason to stop it. "If it's not broken, don't fix it."
Ultimate Nutrition's Creatine is available from Amazon.
Creatine - Supplement Descriptions. Copyright © 2004-2017 by Gary F. Zeolla.
The above article was posted on this site May 7, 2004.
The Updates were added as indicated.
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