No, ‘yo’ isn’t some variation of creatine. I just wanted to say yo because it doesn’t get said enough these days. Anywho, as promised this is the first in a short (or long depending on the response I get) series of reviews of popular supplements. I believe in my BCAA and Proteins blog that I revealed that the supplement industry is a billion dollar business. Think about that for a minute. A BILLION dollar business! And to be frank, there are a few supplements out there that I like, recommend, and even use myself. That being said, the majority of it is crap and people are wasting their money. So the purpose of these posts is to give you some information so that you can make an informed decision and possibly save a few bucks. So here we go…
Background time! Creatine is a naturally occuring metabolite in our bodies. The host sites within the body are, as you might expect, mostly in skeletal muscle tissue. You can also find some in our brain and heart. We obtain the vast majority of creatine in our diet from meats and fish. Again, this kind of makes sense. It’s also probably important to note here that vegetarians and vegans tend to have lower levels of creatine in their bodies and typically respond better to supplementation than us horse meat eaters. Sorry, but I was just at IKEA. Other ways to obtain it come from supplements which we will get to in a minute.
So you’ve likely heard that creatine can make you stronger or a better sprinter and for all intents and purposes you heard right. But how? Well I’ll tell ya.
Within our muscles, as I said earlier, you’ll find the creatine molecule. This is important because it plays a direct role in providing energy to our muscles. You see, the energy in our bodies that allows our muscles to contract and create force on/against an object is called Adenosine Triphosphate, or ATP. For musclular contraction to work, it requires a phosphate group. This is pretty sweet because ATP has 3 of them, and because it isn’t a greedy bastard, happily gives one up to allow the much-more-complicated-than-you’d-imagine cascading series of events to take place so that you can bench press every Monday (regular gym goers know what I’m talking about). Ok, so now that ATP has donated that phosphate group, it is now known as Adenosine Diphosphate in light of the fact that it only has 2 left. Now, obviously the more times ATP can be allowed to donate a phosphate group so that contraction can occur (there are lots of other limiting factors but I’m not gonna get too deep today) the more weight will be able to be moved and at a greater rate. Sounds like a good thing to me. Well, it just so happens that creatine believes that sharing is caring. The creatine molecule has the ability to donate a phosphate group to ADP so that it can be it’s happy self back being ATP. Once back to ATP, it can again donate one of it’s phosphate groups to the ‘Muscluar Contraction Cause’ (sounds like a charity huh?). Ideally we’d like to repeat this as many times as possible while we are performing a lift, sprint, or jumps. And supplementation with creatine can help do just that.
So should YOU supplement? The answer, as it almost always is, is “it depends”. If your goal is to build more lean muscle mass, get stronger, sprint faster, and perform short explosive movements mo betta, then it might be something to consider. If your goal is to knock 10 minutes off of your marathon time, save your cash. Creatine is not intended for, nor does it do any good for, endurance events and training.
So while the endurance athletes have jumped to another part of their “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, you strength folks have taken the other path and have landed here to continue and learn what kind of creatine to pick up and how to take it. Well when it comes to the form, there is little argument in the fitness world that Creatine Monohydrate is hands down the choice. Period. It is by far the most researched and studied of the various forms. So why would you take anything other than the most researched and documented creatines out there? Now, with that being said, I’ll say this: Not everyone responds to creatine supplementation. We call those folks non-responders. Pretty clever huh? I’m actually not aware of any studies that have looked into the percent of people who are non-responders so if anyone knows about or comes across that I’d appreciate you sending me that link.
Now that you know to pick up creatine monohydrate, how should you take it? As with carbohydrate loading for glycogen supercompensation, there are a couple of ways to go about it. The original recommended method required a 5 day “loading phase” in which you take 5 grams of creatine monohydrate 4 times a day for a total of 20 grams. The idea behind this is to fully saturate the muscle. After the loading phase is complete, a maintenence phase is introduced at a rate of 5 grams per day. Editors note: I once tried to do this and had extreme nausea. Therefore, I went with the other method that has you skip out on the loading phase and just take 5 grams a day. In my opinion, I think they both work great. Also on that nausea note, I switched to micronized creatine monohydrate and was able to better tolerate it. Just something to think about.
And finally, I’ll bring in the whole safety side of creatine. As far as I know from the research out there (and there is A LOT), taking the aforementioned dosages poses no health risk assuming that you are not taking in a crap load of caffeine and ephedra every day. And if you are, in my best Ditka voice, STOP IT! I also recommend that you not just go on creatine forever. As with most things in life this should be done so in moderation, or in cycles. If we continually provide our body with a substance in mass amounts, then it may stop producing it or it may slow its production. I have no scientific evidence at all to back that, but it’s just my own opinion. So go on it for a couple of months and then take a month off.
Ah what the hell, one more note here. You might find it hard to get really lean looking due to a bit more water retention. This is normal and actually one of the reasons why in one study, creatine did not improve performance in repeated sprints in swimmers. They concluded that the additional body weight outweighed the benefit of the creatine.
So with all that, I hope you liked it and learned a bit. If someone smarter than myself is reading this and finds errors, please feel free to clarify. I know a fair amount about all of this, but I may have missed something or typed incorrectly.
Peace out, yo