Ever since creatine first burst onto the scene during the 1992 Olympics—when Linford Christie took it before winning the 100-meter sprint—this mysterious supplement has raised many questions:
- Is creatine some sort of natural steroid?
- Will taking it make me stronger, or is it simply a placebo effect?
- Are there are any health risks associated with taking creatine?
I was first exposed to creatine in college. My meathead roommate shoveled this white powder into his mouth between meals and another friend told me he got jacked in just two weeks after taking creatine.
Since then, creatine has evolved from a white powder into a tasty shake and my experience with it has helped me answer the questions I had when I first heard about it.
In this post, we’re going to look at what exactly creatine does to your body, explore the benefits and drawbacks of taking it, and ultimately decide if you need creatine to get jacked.
Let’s start with a quick science lesson. Don’t worry, I’ll keep things simple.
What is Creatine and How Does It Work?
Creatine is a natural supplement that’s produced in your body.
It’s also found in foods like meats, eggs, and fish.
In your body, it’s present in almost all cells and acts as an energy reserve.
Creatine is comprised of several amino acids and accelerates a process through which cellular energy is generated. This acceleration increases the amount of work your cells can do.
On a micro level, creatine is like an energy booster for your cells. When the chain reaction it causes is complete, your muscles have more energy.
So creatine isn’t some mystery drug put together by “scientists.” It’s a naturally occurring compound with several key benefits to your body.
Benefit #1: More Muscle Endurance in Your Workouts
Multiple studies have positively correlated creatine intake with increases in strength and performance during movement activities like weightlifting and sprinting.
One study showed that one, three, and ten rep max lifts were 8% higher for subjects taking creatine compared to the placebo group.
If you’re stronger in your workouts, you can push harder to work your muscles more.
Over time, increased efficiency in your workouts will lead to greater strength gains.
Benefit #2: Better Muscle Recovery
Creatine has been proven to speed up muscle recovery post workout.
The faster your body recovers, the better you can perform in your next workout.
This truth applies to individual body parts as well as your entire muscular system. So if you squat Monday, your body won’t give out on Wednesday when you deadlift.
Again, the effect of faster recovery time is greater strength gains over the long run.
Benefit #3: Your Muscles Pop More Than Usual
Research shows that taking creatine increases the amount of water held in muscle cells.
I’ve experienced this myself. During creatine cycles, my muscles look swollen.
When your bulking, bigger muscles are what you’re after, so this effect is positive. If you’re cutting and want to look shredded, creatine isn’t necessarily the supplement for you.
Benefit #4: Slows Down Muscle Loss
Creatine has anti-catabolic properties that protect your muscles from being broken down.
More specifically, creatine reduces the rate of protein degradation, which means your muscles get fed protein over a longer period of time, thereby increasing your over muscle gains.
When you’re trying to bulk up, slowing muscle loss is essential.
(To learn more about why protein is essential to fitness, check out this blog post.)
The Drawbacks of Taking Creatine
Since creatine is processed in the liver and kidneys, those with a risk of kidney disease or high blood pressure are advised not to take creatine.
Truth be told, when taken under proper supervision and in the right dosage, creatine has not been shown to lead to any short-term or long-term health issues.
I’ve also heard people complain of stomach cramps and indigestion as side effects, but have never personally had any of these issues.
One thing to note is that while on creatine your body’s water retention increases leaving you more dehydrated. So drink more water if you’re going to take it.
All in all, the benefits of creatine outweigh the few drawbacks.
If You Take Creatine, Here’s How to Take It
First off, you want to buy creatine monohydrate. Any other form of creatine is inferior.
During your first week of taking creatine, you want to “load,” or take it twice a day.
The reason for loading is simple: Your body naturally produces a small amount of creatine, and you need to supplement it enough to rise above that baseline level.
Now, if you’ve been creeping bodybuilding forums on Reddit, there’s tons of debate on what time of day you should load and how much you should take. Here’s the truth:
- Manufacturers recommend taking 5 grams of creatine per day.
- No matter what the meatheads say, it doesn’t matter what time you take it.
Because I practice intermittent fasting and don’t eat in the morning, I take creatine with a meal at lunch. I’ve never seen benefits from taking it around the time I work out.
When you’re supplementing your creatine, the level in your body doesn’t go down at day’s end. It stays constant. That’s why the timing of your load isn’t important.
If you’re going to take creatine, just take it. Don’t stress about it too much.
The Final Verdict on Creatine
I’ve made good progress taking creatine. I’ve also made good progress without it.
In the end, I’ve concluded that creatine is a helpful but non-essential supplement.
If you want to go all in during your bulk and gain as much muscle as you can as quickly as possible, give creatine a try. Like me, I bet you’ll see a difference when you take it.
One thing to note: Despite what you may think, creatine is not a stimulant.
You’re not going to feel jittery after you take it. What you will notice is that your muscle fibers have enough energy for you to bang out one or two more reps before you fail.
If you’re looking for an edge, creatine is the only legal supplement with numerous scientific studies to support its effectiveness. It’s miles ahead of any other supplement out there.
That’s why so many people take it. Do you need to take it? The answer is totally up to you, but I believe you’ll be fine either way.