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Creatine: dizziness or basic supplement?

Kreatin: Schwindel oder Basissupplement?

Creatine was the most impressive supplement of the 20th century, but now there are a lot of experienced strength athletes who no longer use it. Why? Has it gone out of fashion just like those circus clown training pants? Or is it because new supplements are always better than old supplements? Or has creatine turned out to be just a mediocre supplement or even a scam?

It's time to take another look at this iconic supplement and see what we've learned about creatine since its launch and, more importantly, whether this old weapon is still worthy of being part of your supplement arsenal.

1 - What will creatine do for me strength-wise?

Creatine is stored in muscle cells in the form of phosphocreatine and provides a phosphate group to regenerate ATP during high-intensity contractions, increasing your capacity to perform high-intensity anaerobic repetitive work by around 15%. This means that for any given set you should be able to perform one or two extra reps with extra weight, which is anything but cold coffee.

2 - What will creatine do for me in terms of muscle mass?

About two-thirds of all users will gain about 0.8 to 2.9% body weight after the first few days of creatine supplementation. Of course, results vary enormously from person to person. In his research, Tarnopolsky found that some subjects gained about 2 pounds, while one subject - using the same creatine dosage and doing the same workout - reportedly gained 17 pounds.

In addition to increasing work capacity, creatine builds muscle mass by increasing levels of anabolic hormones (IGF-1), decreasing myostatin levels (increased levels inhibit muscle growth), improving cell signaling of satellite cells (this helps with repair and new muscle growth), and reducing protein breakdown.

3 - Isn't weight gain mainly water?

Most people gain weight so quickly after starting creatine that logic tells you that this weight gain is almost all water. This may be mostly true after you start taking creatine, but even then the weight gain seems to be proportional to the overall weight gain. Muscle is 73% water - if you gain ten pounds by taking creatine, about 7.3 pounds of that will be water.

Creatine does indeed cause cellular volumization and this is an important determining factor in protein breakdown and protein synthesis in skeletal muscle (and other cell types). Exercise activates protein synthesis while also breaking down protein, but creatine shifts the balance towards protein synthesis. Yes, creatine provides an additional phosphate group to help regenerate ATP during high-intensity contractions, but cell volumization is an even more important cause of creatine's muscle-building effects.

Long-term use presents a slightly different scenario, as in this scenario creatine increases lean mass without an accompanying increase in total body water. Muscle fiber diameter increases along with strength, and the long-term effects of creatine appear to be largely due to increased muscle mass.

4 - Does creatine also help with recovery?

It would appear so. A recent study found that strength athletes (in this case, men who performed curls to muscle failure) who used creatine suffered less muscle soreness than those in the control group. The scientists did not know exactly why this was the case, but they hypothesized that this effect was likely due to a combination of creatine's multiple functions.

5 - Does creatine also help with endurance training?

Not so much. It's best for intense, repetitive efforts that last less than 30 seconds, which is a pretty good description of training with weights.

6 - Why doesn't creatine work for everyone?

Some people - especially people who eat a lot of meat and fish - already have large amounts of creatine in their bodies and therefore may not respond as well to creatine because their cells are already saturated with creatine. Other people, such as vegetarians, who do not consume as much creatine in their diet, can achieve phenomenal results.

The muscle fiber ratio also plays a role. Those who have a fairly even distribution of fast- and slow-contracting muscle fibers will respond fairly well to creatine, while those who have about 70% fast-contracting muscle fibers will respond really well to creatine.

7 - What is the best type of creatine?

For a while it seemed like someone was launching a new form of creatine every month. There was creatine ethyl ester, dicreatine malate, effervescent creatine, micronized creatine, and even gummy bear-like creatine, among others. If ingenuity hadn't died down, we might even have beef jerky creatine or "I can't believe it's not creatine" creatine today.

These products were supposedly absorbed faster by the body or had higher uptake into the muscles or allowed the user to use less than other forms of creatine, but there was no scientific data that could convincingly show that any form of creatine worked better than creatine monohydrate. However, there was something that these forms of creatine could do faster than regular creatine: Empty your bank account.

8 - What is the best way to load creatine?

Despite the countless suggested variations of loading, and despite all the gnashing of teeth, the original loading method first suggested by Richard Kreider in the nineties still works best:

  • 0.3 grams of creatine per kilogram of body weight spread over four doses daily for 5 to 7 days (however, it's not necessary to be so precise with the dosage. Just round it down to 5 grams four times a day).
  • After you have loaded your body with creatine, you only need to take 3 to 5 grams of creatine per day to maintain full capacity.

There is also a study that has shown that you can skip loading altogether and just take 3 grams of creatine per day for 28 days instead, but it's not entirely clear if this low dosage increases training capacity.

9 - Do I need to take creatine with carbohydrates to increase my insulin levels?

The standard creatine supplies suggest that you need to take creatine with a large load of glucose (80 to 100 grams) or a carbohydrate/protein mix consisting of 50 to 80 grams of carbohydrate and 30 to 50 grams of creatine. Certainly this technique will cause a strong insulin spike that will lead to increased glycogen storage in skeletal muscle, which could result in increased cell volume, but taking creatine in combination with carbohydrates will not necessarily result in your muscles storing more creatine. There is also a lot of research suggesting that sodium may be more important than insulin for creatine transport, but this can be a little tricky as sodium uptake is mediated by insulin.

In addition, this dependence on sodium levels in the body may invalidate the age-old recommendation to take creatine after exercise. During exercise, you naturally lose a lot of sodium through sweat, so post-workout sodium levels will not be optimal and could interfere with creatine transport. You could of course tackle the sodium problem. Some users combine creatine with sodium bicarbonate to increase transport. Recent views suggest that there is absolutely no reason to use creatine before or after training, which would negate the potential sodium problem. Creatine works via saturation and not timing. As long as your muscles are filled with creatine, creatine will be there to help you with your workouts - regardless of when you take it, be it in the morning, sprinkled over your cereal, in the afternoon with your tea or before bed. Similarly, there is probably no real reason to continue taking creatine with high doses of carbohydrates after the 5 to 7 day loading phase has ended.

10 - When is the best time to take creatine?

Just in case you skipped the previous question, it's worth mentioning again that it doesn't matter when you take it. As long as you have followed the loading protocol and your cells are saturated with creatine, you do not need to take the following doses before or after your workout. Creatine does not listen to the clock. The saturation of the muscle cells (and not the timing) is what counts.

11 - Do I have to take creatine cyclically?


12 - Does caffeine or acid affect the absorption of creatine?

The vast majority of initial creatine studies were conducted with creatine dissolved in coffee or tea, so it should be clear that coffee does not affect absorption. As for acidity, this is lower with coffee, grape juice and orange juice than with stomach acid and creatine survives digestion intact.

13 - Is long-term use of creatine safe and harmless?

Creatine also appears to be safe for long-term use. It has been used on a small scale since the sixties and on a large scale since the nineties. Sure, during the early days some people worried about creatine contributing to dehydration or rhabdomyolye, but those myths were debunked a long time ago.

14 - Is there anything I can do to maximize the effects of creatine?

Considering that the main effect of creatine is cell volumization, you need something to increase the volume of the cells, namely water. A rule of thumb is to drink about 40 ml of water per kilogram of body weight per day.

15 - How soon will I know if creatine is working for me?

You should see or feel something within a few days, but give creatine a month before drawing any conclusions.

16 - Will I lose muscle if I stop taking creatine?

You will lose some fluid from your cells, which will of course reduce muscle volume, but you will not lose any muscle mass that you have built up.

17 - Will creatine worsen your definition?

A little bit. Creatine makes muscle bellies rounder, but it might also make your definition a little worse. Fans of visible veins might be well advised to use creatine only during the time of year when they are wrapped up in thick clothing and then avoid creatine during the belly-free summertime. Of course, you must already be pretty damn defined to see this minimal effect.

18 - Why have some strength athletes stopped using creatine if it's so effective?

This is pure speculation, but it probably has to do with the fact that for a while creatine was just another ingredient in dozens, if not hundreds, of bodybuilding supplements. After a while, creatine lost attention. Combine this with the fact that creatine in these products was often underdosed or of poor quality and therefore had little effect and you have the perfect recipe for forgetting about this supplement or paying little attention to it out of indifference. The truth is that creatine was and is a valuable, super effective supplement.

19 - What should I look for when buying a creatine product?

Make sure the product comes from a company with a good reputation. Buy a micronized product if possible. And good old creatine monohydrate is really all you need.

From TC Luoma

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