What is creatine on a scientific level?
Creatine monohydrate is a nitrogen-containing compound that is a “non-protein.” Organically, it can be eaten in the form of meat and fish or formed in the body from amino acids.
Creatine has two forms in the body: free form creatine and phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine is a part of how our bodies create and re-create ATP, the energy source for our bodies. When ATP is used up, something called ADP is formed as a by-product, which can then be turned back into ATP when connected with phosphocreatine. In short terms: creatine replenishes energy sources to improve endurance and recovery.
Creatine supplementation is known to increase natural creatine stores in the muscles by 10-40%. It is also effective in increasing lean body mass by enhancing the quality of training by increasing power and performance.
How to take & load creatine
Loading creatine is when you saturate the body with an overload of creatine for a week and then maintain it with proper doses. To load creatine:
- Basic loading ratio is 0.3g per kg of bodyweight per day.
- For a 165lb athlete, that would be about 20g a day.
- Take in 5g increments.
- Load at this rate for 5-7 days.
To maintain creatine: consume 3-5g of creatine per day.
Loading creatine can decrease the amount of time that it takes to see improvements in workouts to 24-72 hours. Starting and staying with a maintenance dose will need a longer time to see results, about 4-7 days, while the creatine builds up in the body.
Creatine needs to be maintained throughout the muscled to make an impact on your workout quality. Therefore, it’s important to take it consistently every day, but it doesn’t necessarily make a difference what time of day you take it. On a related note, taking creatine once won’t make nearly as big of a difference as taking it consistently will.
What are the side effects of creatine?
Creatine has been villainized by the media due to poorly conducted, small sample sized studies (namely “n=1”). Those studies claimed that creatine supplements caused dehydration, injury, GI distress, and kidney or liver damage. However, formal, wide sample size creatine studies have shown that this is not the case.
The only clinically verified side effect of creatine is weight gain due to water weight, which most creatine users like as it helps with muscle mass and size.
When taken in large 20g+ doses, there is some evidence that creatine can cause GI distress. In this case, reducing your intake to a maintenance dosage of 3-5g can reduce gastro irritation. Drinking more water and ensuring your creatine is pure and clean will also help reduce irritated GI tracts.
There is no evidence to show adverse effects of creatine on teen or senior athletes. To avoid GI distress, a maintenance dose may be better for these age groups than loading creatine.