In addition to protein powder, creatine is the most studied dietary supplement, and numerous studies on its effectiveness have been published in recent years.
Very few dietary supplements are really necessary to achieve a healthy lifestyle, however, they often facilitate the proper intake of essential nutrients which can help you achieve your goals if used correctly.
Creatine is no exception, you can also find it in foods such as fish and meat, but to eat a dose that improves your performance, you would have to eat kilos of fish or meat every day.
Research has shown that taking creatine, in addition to a balanced diet, can have several benefits.
However, the effects depend on some basic conditions (training method, intake, diet, etc.).
Here we want to present the most important facts on the subject.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a substance composed of three amino acids (glycine, arginine, and methionine), which is stored in 90 to 95% of the muscles. 40% as free creatine and 60% as creatine phosphate.
It is synthesized in the liver, kidney, and pancreas. The body naturally produces between 1 and 2 g of creatin per day. Depending on your physical activity, this amount may not be enough and should be augmented through the diet.
Red meat, such as beef or pork, and fish (herring, tuna, salmon, cod) are very rich in creatine. Therefore, vegetarians may have trouble meeting their daily needs, especially in the context of intense physical activity.
A third way to meet your needs is through supplementation.
The creatine effect
Creatine offers us the energy to perform explosive training, or in other words, a short but high-intensity training. Only when the body converts it into creatine phosphate, a highly energetic compound is created, which drives additional processes.
This is formed in the muscles by the coupling of creatine with phosphoric acid.
From this high energy compound, ATP can be synthesized. ATP (adenosine triphosphate) provides the muscle with energy for contraction by releasing a phosphate.
The body consumes high levels of ATP, so it must produce more. At this point, creatine phosphate proves to be of great help.
Phosphate cleavage gives adenosine diphosphate (ADP) the building block necessary to form new ATP. However, this energy recovery process is only possible for a certain period, since creatine phosphate stores run out quickly, lasting approximately 30 seconds.
This process is called anaerobic metabolism of alactacidal energy (without oxygen and lactate). Subsequently, the body gives priority to other possibilities of energy production (glycogen, lipid metabolism).
How does creatine help you in your training?
Supplementation with creatine monohydrate produces an increase in the creatine phosphate present in the muscles, thus promoting the re-synthesis of ATP.
This allows the muscle to rely on readily available energy reserves and, at best, to provide higher and longer sports performance.
Especially in the range of submaximal to maximum loads, it can increase its performance and, consequently, increase muscle mass.
What are the creatine side effects?
Some studies have analyzed the side effects of creatine monohydrate. Controlled intake for a total of six to eight weeks, with a ‘loading phase’ (3 to 7 days) taking approximately 20 g per day and then until the end approximately 5 g daily (maintenance phase), no dangerous side effects were determined.
In short-term studies, it was shown that renal values showed no abnormalities with a continuous intake of 5 g per day. You should still assume a greater burden on the kidneys, because the body, especially at a high dose, cannot absorb all the creatine supplied.
This amount can be eliminated by the kidneys and excreted in the urine. In people with renal dysfunction, there is a risk of further deterioration of renal function.
The incorporation of creatine into muscle cells leads to an additional osmotic influx of water and, therefore, an increase in intracellular pressure. Therefore, weight gain during supplementation is largely due to this water retention.
Unproven subjective side effects include muscle spasms and strains, increased muscle tone, bad breath, diarrhea, and dehydration.
As with all supplements, the quality and, therefore, the purity of the product is also important. Be sure to pay attention to recognized and certified manufacturers and suppliers.
What is the proper creatine ingestion?
What is the creatine loading phase?
“Creatine loading” is the period of time for which creatine is consumed in a higher amount. There are several opinions about the design of this cure.
Most of the time the consumption time will be between four and six weeks, the first week is known as the loading phase and the remaining weeks as the maintenance phase.
How much creatine do you take per day?
The loading phase lasts between three and seven days. During this period, creatine is consumed in large quantities. Depending on body weight, it will consume between 20 and 25 g.
An accurate determination will be made by multiplying the body mass by 0.3, and the value obtained is the amount to be taken in grams.
For example, if your body mass is 70 kg, you should take approximately 21 g (70 * 0.3 = 21) of creatine per day during the loading phase.
At this stage, it is recommended to take several single doses of 3 to 5 g per day to optimize absorption.
In the maintenance phase, the intake of up to 5 g daily is recommended.
The studies showed the same effects even at lower doses of 2 to 3 g per day. To obtain your individual need to multiply the body mass by 0.03.
In our previous example, it would be 2.1 g. so with 3 g. you are on the safe side.
It has been scientifically proven that muscle creatine levels, consuming 3 g per day for a period of one month, without loading phase, have the same effect as loading phase supplementation.
When to stop taking creatine
After a ‘creatine loading phase’, a break of at least one week is generally respected.
Even longer rest times (for example, 4 weeks) are possible, especially with respect to the “low regulation mechanisms” of the body.
Therefore, based on supplementation, the body will go back to the body’s own production.
Taking a break seems to make a lot of sense. However, “low regulation mechanisms” are not scientifically proven in terms of creatine supplements.
After the complete interruption of the supplement, the values sink to the original value in the musculature in approximately four weeks.
The creatine phase at a glance
- The loading phase lasts approximately 1 week with an intake of 20 g to 25 g per day.
- The maintenance phase lasts approximately 3 to 5 weeks, with a consumption of 3 g to 5 g per day.
- The rest after the ‘loading phase’ of creatine should be at least 1 week and can go up to 4 weeks.
Taking creatine before or after exercise?
There are also several opinions about the time of intake, and most manufacturers recommend taking it after exercise, as the creatine stores in the muscles and liver are depleted. Therefore, the body can be quickly replenished.
The intake before exercise follows the assumption that the active substance is absorbed into the bloodstream after approximately 1 to 1.5 hours and, therefore, can be absorbed by the musculature immediately during training.
In this case, the supplement is taken approximately one hour before.
If your creatine stores are full, you will get the full effect, whether you take it before or after your workout.
It can also be taken for your breakfast.
How should you take it?
It is recommended to consume creatine (especially powder) with warm water to optimize solubility and effectiveness. The additional addition of carbohydrates, for example, in the form of dextrose or maltodextrin, can increase its absorption by the body.
During the course of treatment, you should pay attention that your fluid intake is sufficient (approximately 3 liters of water per day), to avoid dehydration. Due to the processes described above, the body has a higher fluid requirement.
Alternatives to the ‘creatine loading phase’
Alternatively, there is also the possibility of a permanent intake of approximately 3 g per day. Some athletes take creatine monohydrate continuously for months or even years.
The alternative without supplementation is that you consume protein and lots of meat and fish. This will make it possible to meet your daily needs, but however, it will not reach the same levels as with supplementation.
Which one is the best?
1. Creatine monohydrate
What are the benefits?
- There is a good quality-price relation.
What are the disadvantages?
- Gastrointestinal intolerances with a very high intake (see creatine loading phase)
Creatine monohydrate is produced synthetically and contains approximately 90% of creatine and the other 10% is water. It is considered very effective and is relatively inexpensive to obtain.
A disadvantage is the greater water retention in contrast to other types of creatine. However, it should also be mentioned that greater water retention in the muscle is desirable in most cases.
In addition, the problem of gastrointestinal intolerance can easily be overlooked. Instead of the classic phase, use the alternative intake recommendation without a loading phase.
- Good compatibility
- Stores less water under the skin
- Bad value for money
Kre-Alkalyn is alkaline creatine with additional sodium bicarbonate to serve as a buffer. It is very effective and well-tolerated. In addition, it should reduce water retention, so it is often recommended for the definition phase.
A significant disadvantage compared to monohydrate is the very high price with a comparable effect.
Often, the convenient phase of admission without the load of the manufacturers of Kre-Alkalyn is promoted. But by now you know that even with the intake of creatine monohydrate, no loading phase is necessary to obtain the full effect.
3. Ethyl Ester Creatine
What are the Benefits?
- Good compatibility
- Stores less water under the skin
What are the disadvantages?
- Poor value for money
The advantage of this creatine is the ethyl ester compound, according to various manufacturers. It has a better absorption rate and a longer life than Kre-Alkalyn. Of course, this variety is more expensive than creatine monohydrate with doubtful added value.
Better in powder or tablets?
In several forums, there are lively discussions about whether it should be taken in powder or in tablets. The difference lies in both the comfort of the intake and effectiveness.
The powder is easier to dose and is a little cheaper. A disadvantage is often poor water solubility and taste.
The tablets, however, cannot be dosed individually and are a bit more expensive. The advantage of creatine tablets, however, is the ease of ingestion (even on the go).
Who should take creatine and who can do without it?
The decision to take creatine ultimately depends on your training goals. Beginners should not dismiss it since experience has shown that the effects of training are quite high at first.
With an increase in muscle mass, of course, the need for creatine increases. In the context of intensive training, dietary supplements can be quite useful, especially if you do not consume enough nutrients through your daily diet (vegan, vegetarian or low-meat and low-fiber diet).
Endurance athletes do not necessarily need additional creatine, as this plays a minor role in energy metabolism and other energy recovery systems are used. In addition, additional water retention leads to greater body mass, which, for example, in the marathon becomes an additional burden.