By Chad Kerksick, PhD ProSource
How, When, and Why to Take Creatine for Maximum Benefit
For over 20 years now, creatine has been helping us get stronger, bigger, and recover faster. Creatine monohydrate is the undisputed king of nutritional supplementation for athletic performance. Scores of research studies from all corners of the globe have been published and they collectively tell us that creatine works (Kreider 2003). It is hard to imagine anyone training today who has not heard of it, but the very short version of the story is that creatine is an amino acid that our body needs to help it rebuild ATP. Supplementation typically occurs in dosages ranging from three to five grams per day, which increases the amount of creatine stored in our muscles. More creatine in our muscles means an enhanced ability to generate ATP. In the past ten years, researchers have started to move past determining if it actually works and started asking questions about how its effects could be improved.
How Much Creatine Should I Take?
Any individual who desires to manifest relatively rapid improvements in strength and performance should consider first loading with creatine (Buford, Kreider et al. 2007). However, people who are taking creatine over a prolonged (on the order of months) training window do not necessarily need to load. Why? Because typically after three to four weeks muscle creatine levels have become saturated.
Considering the loading period wipes out 100 grams in five days, if you do not need the rapid increase then spare yourself the creatine. A typical absolute dose is five grams (a heaping standard kitchen spoonful). Since creatine is stored primarily in our muscle, researchers have determined that a dose amount relative to someone's fat-free mass is relevant; a dose of 0.03 grams per kilogram of fat-free mass is commonly used (Buford, Kreider et al. 2007).
Does WHEN I Take My Creatine Matter?
The concept of nutrient timing has become extremely popular (Kerksick, Harvey et al. 2008). People often look at nutrient timing as a recent, innovative, cutting-edge approach, but in reality nutrient timing has been utilized since the 1970s with carbohydrate loading before endurance events (Jentjens and Jeukendrup 2003). More recent research has begun to explore the timed use of protein and amino acids with and without carbohydrates. Most of this research has only involved one bout of exercise and one day of timed feedings, with studies illustrating that consuming nutrients as soon as possible (at least within two hours) upon workout completion can aid in recovery (Esmarck, Andersen et al. 2001; Ivy, Goforth et al. 2002; Kerksick, Harvey et al. 2008) and one excellent study reported that consuming a combination of carbohydrate and protein immediately before and immediately after a workout for several weeks resulted in greater improvements in strength and body composition when compared to instances when the same supplements were taking in the morning and the evening (Cribb and Hayes 2006).
If this makes you think, "Does it matter WHEN I take my creatine?", researchers very recently examined that study with a four week study of college-aged students. The researchers had the participants supplement with 6 grams per day and they either took their creatine before or after the workout. Results seemed to indicate that ingestion before a workout was slightly more favorable, but the researchers said their work needed to be followed up with longer studies (Antonio and Ciccone 2013).
Should I Combine My Creatine With Anything?
For optimal exercise performance, following nutritional strategies that can maximize both muscle creatine levels and muscle glycogen levels are needed. European researchers have found that combining a loading period of creatine with 80 - 100 gram doses of carbohydrates is an effective strategy to maximize the amount of creatine your muscle can store (Green, Hultman et al. 1996). In this study, blood, muscle and urine samples were collected and across the board, results indicated that significantly greater amounts of creatine were found in the muscle when creatine ingestion was combined with carbohydrates. A later study also found that combining creatine use with moderate doses of both protein and carbohydrates could also maximize increases in muscle creatine levels (Steenge, Simpson et al. 2000).
Does It Matter If I Take My Creatine More or Less Frequently?
Life can be crazy and hectic, so what if you forget to take your creatine? Can you get the same benefits if you take creatine more or less frequently each week? A recent study by Canadian researchers examined this question of a six-week period (Candow, Chilibeck et al. 2011). They had 38 college-aged men and women supplement with either creatine monohydrate or placebo while taking the same total dosage of creatine two versus three days per week while following the same resistance training program. At the end of the six-week study period, the researchers measured several changes such as strength, muscle growth, etc. and concluded that it did not matter if you took the same weekly dosage of creatine spread out over two or three days per week.
What Form of Creatine Should I Take?
A large majority (over 90%) of all of the published literature supporting creatine use has been completed using the monohydrate version (Buford, Kreider et al. 2007). Other versions of creatine have been marketed and produced, ranging from creatine phosphate to creatine citrate to alkalinized (buffered) forms and most recently creatine ethyl-ester. Currently, no consistent body of evidence supports other forms of creatine above and beyond the monohydrate form.
Peeters et al. were the first to use creatine phosphate (Peeters, Lantz et al. 1999) and while they reported favorable outcomes relative to performance they were not different from monohydrate (both increased performance) and the monohydrate version is much less expensive. Other popular forms have included a buffered format that is marketed to improve absorption and minimize stomach discomfort, but a 2012 study compared the major product in this category against monohydrate (Jagim, Oliver et al. 2012). No statistical differences between groups were found for any of the performance variables and researchers also found no evidence that it led to greater levels of creatine or a reduction in side effects (Jagim, Oliver et al. 2012).
The greatest fanfare has surrounded creatine ethyl-ester and yet again when examined under rigorous scientific approaches, the best approach seems to be using a monohydrate version. One report indicated that upon ingestion creatine ethyl ester rapidly breaks down in the stomach and is excreted (meaning only limited amounts have a chance to get to muscle) and another study again compared the two and found that creatine ethyl ester offered no additional benefit above a monohydrate version when compared over the course of several weeks while resistance training (Child and Tallon 2007; Spillane, Schoch et al. 2009).
The Creatine Monohydrate Gold Standard
Of course, not all forms of creatine monohydrate are created equal, either. Inferior forms of creatine from China and Russia typically contain high amounts of creatinine and other impurities, rendering them useless for proper cell volumization. Many disreputable manufacturers load their supplements up with these substandard creatines in order to cut costs and maximize profits.
For years now, one source of creatine monohydrate has been firmly established as the world's gold standard: CreaPure German Creatine Monohydrate from AlzChem. When purchasing a creatine supplement, make sure you read the label carefully and look for the AlzChem trademark. ProSource's Creatine Monohydrate contains 100% CreaPure creatine, thus providing the 99.95% purity and phenomenal increases in size, strength, and power that CreaPure is justly famous for.
Every strength and power athlete who wants to maximize changes in strength and power should consider supplementing with creatine. When considering how much to take, the easiest and best advice appears to be a daily four- to five-gram dose. One preliminary study did seem to indicate that creatine before your workout might afford slightly greater adaptations to a resistance training program. Adding moderate to large doses of carbohydrates and protein can increase muscle creatine levels, but the added creatine levels may or may not necessarily improve performance or body composition changes. Missing a dose or two of creatine does not seem to be critical as long as your weekly total dose is maintained. In other words, if you miss a dose you might want to increase your next dose or add an additional one. Finally, no replacement appears to exist for the monohydrate version. Several other forms have been introduced, but none seemed to do a better job.
How do you take your daily creatine? Do you mix it with water or juice or a protein shake? Do you combine it with carbs? How often do you take creatine? Are you pleased with the results? Let us know in the comments field below!
Antonio, J. and V. Ciccone (2013). "The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength." J Int Soc Sports Nutr 10(1): 36.
Buford, T. W., R. B. Kreider, et al. (2007). "International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise." J Int Soc Sports Nutr 4: 6.
Candow, D. G., P. D. Chilibeck, et al. (2011). "Effect of different frequencies of creatine supplementation on muscle size and strength in young adults." Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association 25(7): 1831-1838.
Child, R. and M. J. Tallon (2007). Creatine ethyl ester rapidly degrades to creatinine in stomach acid. . 4th Annual Meeting of the International Socity of Sports Nutrition. Las Vegas, NV.
Cribb, P. J. and A. Hayes (2006). "Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy." Med Sci Sports Exerc 38(11): 1918-1925.
Esmarck, B., J. L. Andersen, et al. (2001). "Timing of postexercise protein intake is important for muscle hypertrophy with resistance training in elderly humans." J Physiol 535(Pt 1): 301-311.
Green, A. L., E. Hultman, et al. (1996). "Carbohydrate ingestion augments skeletal muscle creatine accumulation during creatine supplementation in humans." Am J Physiol 271(5 Pt 1): E821-826.
Ivy, J. L., H. W. Goforth, Jr., et al. (2002). "Early postexercise muscle glycogen recovery is enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement." J Appl Physiol 93(4): 1337-1344.
Jagim, A. R., J. M. Oliver, et al. (2012). "A buffered form of creatine does not promote greater changes in muscle creatine content, body composition, or training adaptations than creatine monohydrate." J Int Soc Sports Nutr 9(1): 43.
Jentjens, R. and A. Jeukendrup (2003). "Determinants of post-exercise glycogen synthesis during short-term recovery." Sports Med 33(2): 117-144.
Kerksick, C., T. Harvey, et al. (2008). "International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: nutrient timing." J Int Soc Sports Nutr 5: 17.
Kreider, R. B. (2003). "Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations." Mol Cell Biochem 244(1-2): 89-94.
Peeters, B. M., C. D. Lantz, et al. (1999). "Effect of oral creatine monohydrate and creatine phosphate supplementation on maximal strength indices, body composition and blood pressure." J Strength Cond Res 13(1): 3-9.
Spillane, M., R. Schoch, et al. (2009). "The effects of creatine ethyl ester supplementation combined with heavy resistance training on body composition, muscle performance, and serum and muscle creatine levels." Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 6: 6.
Steenge, G. R., E. J. Simpson, et al. (2000). "Protein- and carbohydrate-induced augmentation of whole body creatine retention in humans." J Appl Physiol 89(3): 1165-1171.