Creatine: The Ultimate Guide To Using Creatine To Build Muscle
Creatine is the ultimate muscle building supplement – and today I’m going to give you a comprehensive guide to maximize your results with it!
If you’ve got questions about creatine, they’ll likely be answered here.
Because whether you’re an experienced lifter, or perhaps brand new to your first gym, this guide is designed to help you to build more muscle and greatly improve your strength, by walking you through a step-by-step guide showing you how to get the MOST out of creatine supplementation.
So where do we begin?
Well, I’m going to presume you’ve never used creatine before, so I’ll start at the top.
What Is Creatine?
Most people know creatine from its reputation as a bodybuilding supplement, but it’s actually a naturally occurring compound inside the body.
It is produced in the liver, and provides energy to muscle cells during exercise.
Creatine is made up of three amino acids combined: l-arginine, l-glycine, and l-methionine.
Full list of amino acids:
- L-Aspartic Acid
- L-Glutamic Acid
What Does Creatine Do?
To fully understand what creatine does, and how it helps us to build muscle, we must first take a quick look at how the human body works.
We have three different energy systems to call upon during exercise: ATP-PC, Glycolytic, and Oxidative.
Of the three, the ATP-PC system is responsible for short bursts of intense activity lasting between 10-60 seconds. It is powered by creatine phosphate.
Most of our ATP reserves are gobbled up in the first 6-10 seconds, which is why you’ll notice a steep decline in explosiveness from this point on (Example: sprint as fast as you can for as long as you can).
However, a three minute rest period is enough to recover by as much as 85%, so providing you get enough rest between sets we have the potential to be able to perform multiple high intensity bursts…
… but this is where things take a downturn.
Unfortunately, our natural reserves of creatine are very limited. So while there is huge potential in this energy system, we are unable to reap them.
This is why top athletes choose to boost their supply by supplementing additional creatine in their diet.
So how does creatine help you build muscle?
Well, imagine being able to perform many more short bursts of maximum intensity than you can right now, because you have the reserves to do so, and you can see the potential benefits right there.
More intense workouts = more muscle growth, more strength, more calories burned, and BETTER RESULTS.
How Effective Is Creatine For Building Muscle And Strength?
Now we are going to look at some studies showing the kind of results you can expect from using creatine.
There are many benefits of creatine supplementation, but I want to spend most time focusing on the three you’re likely most curious about; building muscle, gaining strength, and looking ripped!
And you’re in good hands, too, because as well as being the best-selling bodybuilding supplement of all time, creatine is also the most well-researched!
In fact, we have DECADES of academic research showing us how it can be applied to bodybuilding programs for maximum results.
But instead of drowning you in data, I’d like to draw your attention to a 2010 review study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Rather than being a standalone trial, a review study looks at the results of the entire body of research on a particular topic; in this case, creatine! Combining the results of 22 well-conducted peer reviewed studies, they found that continued creatine supplementation pushes strength gains up by 8%, combined with a 14% improvement in reps to failure.
Trainees also saw increases in their bench press max rise between 3% – 45%, and their one rep max in the barbell squat rose between 16% – 45%. (1)
So what is this data telling us?
Well, you’ll be able to lift heavier weights when you use creatine (because you’ll have more strength), and you’ll be able to perform more reps, too.
This gets back to what I was telling you about in the previous section of this article: energy systems. By having adequate reserves of creatine, we are capable of increasing the number of high intensity bursts we can do.
So you get MORE STRENGTH & MORE MUSCLE GROWTH!
Creatine also has another interesting side effect, in that it forces water into cells, which gives your muscles a fuller, harder appearance.
But while the gains made in strength and lean muscle are 100% real, this is more of a temporary benefit, because ceasing creatine supplementation would see water flushed from cells. With additional water being pushed towards muscle cells, you’ll also need to drink more to avoid becoming dehydrated.
This aspect of creatine supplementation is responsible for the “newbie gains” you often hear about regarding creatine supplementation, with some users reporting gains of 2-4lbs in the first 2 weeks of use. (15, 16)
Is Creatine Bad For You?
Given the crazy benefits you’ve seen above, creatine can seem “too good to be true.”
So this is a question I’m regularly asked by worried gym members. The answer is no, creatine isn’t bad for you. (2, 3, 4, 5)
However, like any supplement, you’ve got to be careful! Avoid misusing it (see my advice on the recommended dosages below), and watch out for these potential side effects of creatine:
- Dizziness: Creatine forces water into your muscle cells, so it’s important to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. This may seem like common sense, but many gym users also take caffeine (another diuretic), so REALLY, drink your water!
- Weight gain: Not fat gain. This is due to creatine forcing water into your muscle cells. You’ll carry more water weight, and it doesn’t matter.
- Diarrhea: If you take too much.
- Cramps: If you don’t drink enough water.
Along this line of questioning, another thing I’m regularly asked is, “Is creatine steroids?”
The answer is no – but with some studies showing strength gains of up to 45%, I can totally understand why it often gets this label.
In reality, creatine has no connection to anabolic steroids.
It’s the combination of three amino acids (l-arginine, l-glycine, and l-methionine), and has more in common with a multivitamin. You’ll find it in several food sources (red meat, tuna, salmon) but you’d need to eat an awful lot to obtain a clinical dose, so makes better sense to supplement with instead.
Finally, here’s another popular question, “Is creatine safe for teens?”
I’m often asked this by worried parents of gym-going teenagers, and it makes perfect sense to ask, given all the claims we see on creatine supplements relating to the effects it can have on strength and muscle size.
A 1996 study from Canada reported no negative side effects in a group of young adults taking creatine over the course of two years, with some participants using double the dose required for maximum results. (6)
The following year, a study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition tracked the effects of creatine supplementation with young competitive swimmers, finding that the male & female trainees experienced no negative side effects, and they reaped the performance enhancing benefits it offers. (7)
What’s The Best Type Of Creatine?
Let’s take a look at the different types of creatine, and I’ll show you which work best for packing on lean muscle tissue.
There are actually more than this, but I’ve limited the list to the best performing blends for convenience.
This is the original form of creatine made available over 30 years ago.
Creatine Ethyl Ester
CEE was the first of a “new breed” of creatine supplements, hitting the market in 2005, It’s creatine monohydrate with ester, aimed at increasing the absorption.
Creatine Magnesium Chelate
Also known as MagnaPower, this form of creatine arrived shortly after CEE and claimed to have a superior absorption rate.
Creatine bound with citric acid, to help with solubility and absorption.
Creatine HCL is creatine monohydrate with an added hydrochloric acid molecule, aimed at improving solubility and absorption.
Creatine bonded to a nitrogen base, this is the latest trendy creatine supplement with clais of increased solubility and better uptake into muscle cells.
So which type of creatine is best?
This may be surprising news, but CREATINE MONOHYDRATE is best. Yes, the original form of creatine; over 30 years old, and cheap as f**k!
Despite the fancy claims of some of the new creatine formulas to hit the market (some of which cost 8x as much!), none of them have ever outperformed creatine monohydrate in a clinical trial. (13)
Of the others on the list, creatine HCL offers a potential alternative to monohdrate for anyone who suffers stomach issues from creatine supplementation, as it produces the same results with half the dose. (14)
The others are a waste of money.
How To Use Creatine For Maximum Results
So now we get to the real nitty gritty…
By now, you already know what creatine is. You know how it can help you to build more muscle and improve your strength. And you know about its safety and side effects.
You’re more clued up than most gym-goers!
But it’s important to remember how quickly creatine became the world’s #1 bodybuilding supplement – it happened literally overnight, after sprint coaches mentioned using it with their athletes in the build-up to the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona – because a lot of the early guidelines on usage were put in place due to their being no scientific data yet. Unfortunately, many people are still following this outdated advice on how to use creatine.
So in this section, I’m going to show you how to use creatine for maximum results. We will cover a few things here:
- Creatine Loading
- How To Cycle Creatine
- Optimal Dose For Best Results
If you look at the packaging of any creatine supplement, it advises you must “load” the supplement when you first begin using it.
This means consuming higher doses (sometimes up to 20g per day) for the first week of supplementation, before switching to a standard dose from that point forward.
But do you need to do a loading phase with creatine?
Turns out, you don’t.
The job of a loading phase is to saturate the muscles cells with creatine faster, but all this really does is make you run out of creatine sooner. Plus, some people struggle with the super high doses of those first few days, and experience some of the side effects I mentioned earlier.
So here’s the facts…
Research shows that if you begin supplementing with the much smaller daily dose of creatine your muscle cells will still reach that same saturation point (it’ll just take slightly longer) and you will still be able to reap 100% of the benefits from creatine. (8, 9)
Performing a loading phase certainly won’t hurt your results, but it’s not necessary.
HOW TO CYCLE CREATINE
I often hear people in gyms talk about how you should only take creatine for 6-8 weeks, before taking at least 4 weeks off.
Is it really necessary to do this?
No, its not.
This dates way back to when creatine first hit the market, when it quickly became a huge seller and there wasn’t any scientific data to answer questions regarding adaptability, or safety of long-term use.
Originally, some people believed that taking a break would elevate results as it would prevent adaptation (like caffeine). But, as you now know, when you stop using creatine your body will begin to flush water from muscle cells. Upon restarting usage, you’ll once again push water back into those cells. This can create an illusion that taking time off “kick-started” results, when that’s not really the case.
And, of course, then there were safety concerns.
GIven its ability for boosting strength and power, it’s not surprising comparisons were made to anabolic steroids at the time. Many people worried that continued use of creatine may have a negative impact (i.e. the way continued use of steroids will damage the body’s ability to produce its own testosterone).
However, we now know that there are no such issues.
A 2005 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition looked at the effects of long-term creatine usage in a group of basketball players who supplemented without any breaks for three seasons, noting that they experienced zero negative side effects, and it actually helped with avoiding injuries. (10)
These results were re-confirmed in a 2017 meta-analysis published in the International Society of Sports Nutrition, which looked at a total of 269 clinical studies on creatine, concluding that there are no negative side effects to long-term use, and it does not impair the body’s own ability to produce creatine. (11)
Simply put; the only reason to stop using creatine is because you’ve decided you’re tired of gains…
OPTIMAL CREATINE DOSE FOR BEST RESULTS
How much creatine should you take per day to build muscle and achieve ALL of the strength benefits creatine offeres?
It’s less than you’d think.
Just 5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day (that’s one teaspoon) will do the job. If you’re carrying a large amount of muscle mass, and lead a very active lifestyle, you may benefit further from increasing this to 10 grams.
Regarding timing, it doesn’t seem to matter when you take it, just that you do.
Many supplement companies argue that creatine should be part of your pre workout, with others claiming it works better when consumed post-workout, but there is very little evidence to suggest either party is correct. In fact, one meta-analysis published in the Journal of Exercise and Nutrition found that the existing body of research is inconclusive, with a slight lean towards post-workout being superior. So just take it when you want to take it. (12)
The Ultimate Guide To Building Muscle With Creatine
I hope you’ve enjoyed the read!
It truly is a wonderful bodybuilding supplement. So much so, that the International Journal of Sports Nutrition had this to say:
“Creatine monohydrate is the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplement currently available to athletes in terms of increasing lean body mass during training.”
High praise indeed.
In this comprehensive guide we have covered several aspects of creatine supplementation that will help you to build more muscle: from optimal dosage, to loading and cycling, to the best type of creatine overall.
It is up to YOU to use this new knowledge to POWER UP your results! Go grab some creatine monohydrate and get cracking.
Leave me a comment down below if you have a question which isn’t covered in the article.
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- Groeneveld G. J., et al. Few adverse effects of long-term creatine supplementation in a placebo-controlled trial. Int J Sports Med. (2005)
- Greenwood M., et al. Creatine supplementation during college football training does not increase the incidence of cramping or injury. Mol Cell Biochem. (2003)
- Lopez R. M., et al. Does creatine supplementation hinder exercise heat tolerance or hydration status? A systematic review with meta-analyses. J Athl Train. (2009)
- Shao A., et al. Risk assessment for creatine monohydrate. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. (2006)
- Stöckler S., et al. Creatine replacement therapy in guanidinoacetate methyltransferase deficiency, a novel inborn error of metabolism. Lancet. (1996)
- Grindstaff P. D., et al. Effects of creatine supplementation on repetitive sprint performance and body composition in competitive swimmers. Int J Sport Nutr. (1997)
- Pearson D. R., et al. Long-Term Effects of Creatine Monohydrate on Strength and Power. J Strength Cond Res. (1999)
- Hultman E., et al. Muscle Creatine Loading in Men. J Appl Physiol. (1996)
- Schroder H., et al. Risk assessment of the potential side effects of long-term creatine supplementation in team sport athletes. Eur J Nutr. (2005)
- Kreider R. B., et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2017)
- Forbes S. C., et al. Timing of Creatine Supplementation and Resistance Training: A Brief Review. J Ex Nutr. (2018)
- Jager R., et al. Analysis of the efficacy, safety, and regulatory status of novel forms of creatine. Amino Acids. (2011)
- Miller D. et al. Oral bioavailability of creatine supplements: Is there room for improvement? Annual Meeting of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. (2009)
- Butts J., et al. Creatine Use in Sports. Sports Health. (2018)
- Jatoi L., et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized trial of creatine for the cancer anorexia/weight loss syndrome (N02C4): an Alliance trial. Ann Oncol. (2017)