Creatine – one of the most well known and debated sports supplements available.
There are hundreds of scientific research papers covering the safety and effectiveness of creatine monohydrate. In fact, no other bodybuilding supplement on the market is backed by such in depth scientific research. This is a great thing, because we can see proven facts that the use of creatine monohydrate is safe, and delivers improved gains in muscle mass, strength and muscular performance.
Creatine is an organic substance synthesised in the human body by the liver from 3 amino acids called methionine, arginine and glycine. The body naturally makes around 1 gram per day. We also take in additional creatine from foods such as beef, salmon and pork, with 95% of creatine being stored in skeletal muscle tissue.
Creatine is an energy source for anaerobic exercise such as intense weight training. It’s taken in supplement form because of its proven ability to increase power and strength, leading to greater gains in lean body mass.
Today, I will just be covering how and when to take creatine, so I won’t be going into great detail about its function in the body. However, I previously wrote a very detailed post on what creatine is and how it works which you can read HERE.
So, let’s cut through the crap and find out which type of creatine to take, how to take it, and when for best results.
The problem with creatine and its popularity is the sheer volume of conflicting information out there on how to use it for best results. Bodybuilding forums and websites all across the internet are bursting with bro-science and poor information on how to use creating properly.
There are a number of different types of creatines available such as creatine monohydrate, Ethyl Ester, Serum, Citrate and Malate. Basically, all types of creatine do the same job, but that’s not what a lot of supplement companies will have you believe.
You see, when a new type of creatine product hits the shelves its marketed as the new “latest and greatest” breakthrough supplement, superior to all others. This creates lots of buzz and hype around the new product, which is just what the supplement companies want because this dramatically boosts their sales.
But really, it’s all just creatine, with the only real difference between them being solubility and absorption speed. Not a single study exists that definitively shows any other type of creatine to be superior to monohydrate.
All the major studies out there have been done on Creatine monohydrate, time and time again they have proven it’s effectiveness at safely increasing strength and muscle cell volume.
…If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Put your money away and stick to the proven, easily available and low cost creatine monohydrate powder.
How Much to Take
There are a variety of successful dosing protocols, but the most common and well studied is to front load with a large dose followed by a maintenance dose.
The goal with supplementing creatine is to saturate your muscle creatine stores. The fastest way to achieve this saturation is to load with a higher dose of 20-25 grams over 5 -6 days. Spread the dose out with 4 or 5 servings taken throughout the day.
For example, if you choose to load with 20g of creatine a day, take 5g servings spread out 4 times a day.
After the 5 – 6 days loading phase your muscle creatine stores will be saturated and you can drop down to a daily maintenance dose of 5 – 10 grams.
How Long to Take Creatine Monohydrate?
Many studies show that long term use of creatine is safe. However, the quality of the product can be of concern when consuming for several months. Dihydrotriazine is a potentially harmful impurity created through the production process of some creatines. I therefore recommend you choose a highly reputable company that uses high quality raw materials, sufficient screening and manufacturing process.
Look for products that use creapure creatine. It’s manufactured in Germany and recognised as the industry’s ‘Gold Standard’ creatine. It’s the purest and best form of creatine available, and is consistently screened for impurities and unwanted by-products to produce 99.99% pure Creatine Monohydrate.
Example Creatine supplements that use creapure are Reflex Nutrition and MusclePharm.
Cycling creatine supplements for around 8 weeks at a time is common. Here is an example of a popular and effective creatine dosing and cycle plan.
8 week Creatine Cycle
Week 1: 20g creatine monohydrate loading (5g servings 4 times a day)
Weeks 2 – 8: 5g creatine monohydrate daily
No creatine for 1 month followed by another 6 week creatine cycle
As previously mentioned, there are no studies that indicate creatine cycling is necessary or that you need to stop using it after a certain length of time. If you’re using high quality creatine such as creapure, I don’t see any reason why you can’t run a maintenance dose year round. Please check with your doctor if you plan to use creatine for a long time.
When to Take
When you are in a loading phase you will want to space 4x 5g servings throughout the day. Taking one large dose may cause some users gastrointestinal distress, so it may be best to spread a 20g dose into smaller 5g doses taken throughout a day.
One 5g in the morning with breakfast, 5g early afternoon with lunch, 5g late afternoon and 5g in the evening with dinner.
There is no real evidence that shows taking a daily maintenance dose of creatine at a specific time of day results in any greater gains. One study showed that creatine remained effective in the system several weeks after consumption stopped. Creatine levels will remain high and readily available in muscle after the loading phase so it’s fine to take your 5g maintenance dose whenever is convenient for you.