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Creatine is one of the few dietary supplements that have a very solid scientific support for its efficacy in increasing strength, explosive performance and muscle mass. So the question in not whether it is effective, but rather how to supplement it to reap maximal effectiveness?

There are several theories on how to take creatine; some say your should load and then lower the dose, while others say you can get good results by a low dosage regimen without loading. Yet others say you should cycle the creatine and take breaks from it in between cycles. And then we have the issue of dosages and how to ingest it. In addition there is a lot of confusion about the myriad for creatine forms that claim to be superior over the golden standard creatine monohydrate. Are the new fancy creatine-super-duper formulations really worth their price? Let’s review it all here and see what the research is saying.

Creatine forms

When creatine first came out on the market it was creatine monohydrate. This is also the form of creatine that has been used in all the scientific studies that showed its performance enhancing and muscle growth stimulating effects. Because creatine rapidly became so popular, manufacturers came up with different creatine variants and started to make specific claims that their creatine formula is superior. Not so! Don’t let yourself get fooled and ripped off! Stick to the golden standard creatine monohydrate.

For more info on different creatine forms and formulation, check out

Will Brink’s article “The Creatine Grave Yard

Creatine supplementation protocols

There are basically three creatine supplementation protocols. Here’s an overview of them with recommended effective dosages:

Loading followed by Maintenance protocol

Loading phase:         Supplement with 0.3 g creatine/kg body weight/day (0.14 g/lb/body weight/day) for 5-6 days to maximize muscle creatine stores.

Maintenance phase:  Supplement with 0.03 g creatine/kg body weight/day (0.014 g/lb/body weight/day) thereafter to maintain elevated muscle creatine stores.

Low-Dose protocol

Supplement with 3-5 g creatine per day for at least 8 weeks to increase muscle creatine stores.

Cycling protocol

Load/maintain for 12-16 weeks, and then take a break for 3-6 weeks. After the break, start another cycle with the loading phase followed by a maintenance phase followed by a break for a desired numbers of cycles.
Most studies that have shown performance enhancing effects used the creatine loading protocol. The purpose the creatine loading is to maximize creatine storage in the muscles. The magnitude of the increase in muscle creatine content is important because studies have reported that performance improvements are dependent on the increase in muscle creatine (1, 2). In a typical creatine loading phase, a dose of 20-30 g creatine (5-6 g taken four times per day) is taken during 5-6 days (3, 4).

To find out your optimal loading dose, multiply your body weight in pound (lb) with 0.14 (or multiply your body weight in kg with 0.3). Thus, for a male weighing 220 lb (100 kg) and a female weighing 140 lb (63 kg), the appropriate loading dose is 30-31 g (220×0.14 or 100×0.3) and 20 g (140×0.14 or 63×0.3), respectively.

Thereafter,a maintenance dose is taken with the purpose to maintain the elevated muscle creatine stores. A maintenance dose corresponding to 0.03 g/kg/body weight/day (0.014 g/lb/body weight) is enough to maintain elevated muscle creatine levels (4).

To find out your optimal maintenance dose, multiply your body weight in pound (lb) with 0.014 (or multiply your body weight in kg with 0.03). Thus, for a male weighing 220 lb (100 kg) and a female weighing 140 lb (63 kg), the appropriate maintenance dose is 3 g (220 x 0.014 or 100 x 0.03) and 2 g (140 x 0.014 or 63 x 0.03), respectively. Some people might prefer a slightly higher maintenance dose of 5 g per day. Cessation of creatine maintenance doses after loading causes muscle creatine stores to return to baseline within 4-6 weeks (4-8).

An alternative supplementation protocol is to ingest 3-5 g creatine per day (with no loading phase) for at least 28-30 days (4, 9). Studies have shown that this method can increase muscle creatine levels as effectively as the creatine loading (4). However, this low-dose creatine supplementation will result in a more gradual and slower increase in muscle creatine levels compared to the more rapid loading protocol, and it will therefore take longer before any performance enhancement will be noticeable. Thus, the constant low-dose creatine supplementation protocol is only beneficial for people who cannot do the loading phase because of for example a busy working schedule. Also, while loading dosages of 20-30 g creatine per day are well tolerated in the majority of individuals, some can experience gastrointestinal upset (for example diarrhea) when large daily dosages of creatine are consumed(10-12). For those people, the constant low-dose creatine supplementation protocol is the way to go. Some discomfort can occur if creatine is incompletely dissolved before ingestion (12). Thus, make sure to dissolve the creatine powder properly, especially if you are taking larger doses.

Listen to Will Brink’s take on loading versus not loading.

Finally, we have the cycling protocol of creatine supplementation (13-15). One argument behind creatine cycling is that it will keep the body’s ability to synthesize creatine, intact. However, while the body’s endogenous synthesis of creatine (which amounts to about 1 g per day (16, 17)) is decreased during creatine supplementation (8), cessation of creatine supplementation merely causes the creatine levels in the body to return to baseline (4, 5). If creatine supplementation were to permanently decrease the body’s capability to synthesize creatine, the creatine levels in the body would have dropped below baseline (pre-supplementation) levels, which would have caused an increased fatigue and loss of strength. This does not happen (5, 6, 8, 14, 18, 19). Thus, cycling of creatine supplementation has no scientific foundation and is completely unnecessary. It confers no advantage over loading + chronic maintenance. Continuous creatine supplementation without cycling actually might confer multiple health benefits (which I will cover in a separate article).

For more check out Will Brink’s great video on creatine cycling.

The Importance of dissolving your creatine before ingestion

This is the most common mistake people who take creatine do; they put it in their protein shakes and scoop it down. However, this isn’t a very smart thing to do because creatine has to be dissolved in order for the body to absorb all of it. This will also prevent stomach upsets. And to dissolve creatine, it has to be put into warm (not boiling!) water and stirred. If you cannot get really warm water from the tap (or if you are drinking bottled water), heat up the glass in the micro and then dissolve the creatine in it. I personally dissolve my creatine like this before going to the gym (I add in beta-alanine as well) and drink it when I get back home from the gym. By then it has cooled down to room temperature. I mix in 2 packets of stevia for flavor, as I don’t like to drink plain lukewarm water. Of course, you can mix in some protein powder if you want (just don’t put it in the fridge, see below).

Will has done a great video on the importance of dissolving creatine.

Usually, 5 g creatine should dissolve in about 2/3 glass of water. if you take more creatine, you have to add more water.

Note that you cannot put the glass with your dissolved creatine in the fridge, as it will cause the creatine to precipitate, which ruins the whole point of dissolving it in the first place. The reason for this is that, stated in scientifically terms, the solubility of a solute (creatine) is a function of the temperature of the solvent (water). Thus, dissolve your creatine AND drink it dissolved.

Bottom Line

When supplementing with creatine I therefore recommend the classic loading / chronic maintenance supplementation protocol. To get maximal effects ingest your creatine with high GI carbs and protein (13, 20). Also, take the majority of your creatine during the loading phase after your workouts, and during the chronic maintenance phase take the whole 3-5 g dose in the meal right after your workouts. The reason for this is that co-ingestion of creatine, protein and carbohydrates increases muscular retention of dietary creatine (13, 20). And when creatine is ingested after workouts the uptake of creatine into muscles is further increased, and results in even greater muscle thickness (3, 21-23). And remember to dissolve your creatine before you ingest it, which will prevent stomach upset and help your body absorb more of it.

 

About Monica Mollica – www.trainergize.com

 

Trainergize.com is an unbiased informational and motivational resource, presenting the latest health, performance and anti-aging related research findings to the public, in an easy to understand way.

While still under development, trainergize.com is committed to providing credible, objective, and reliable health information on a wide range of topics that impact your health and wellness and that of your family. The information is derived from scientific research studies published in top tier medical journals and/or presented at professional medical meetings.

Trainergize.com was founded and is maintained by Monica Mollica, who has a Bachelor and Master degree in Nutrition from the University of Stockholm / Karolinska Institue, Sweden, and has studied at renowned Baylor University, TX. Today Monica works as diet/health counselor, medical writer, health journalist, and website developer. She is also a fitness model.

As a young athlete, Monica realized the importance of nutrition for maximal performance at an early age, and went for a major in Nutrition at the University of Stockholm. During her years at the University she was a regular contributor to the Swedish fitness and bodybuilding magazine BODY, and she has written a book (in Swedish) “Functional Foods for Health and Energy Balance”, and authored several book chapters in Swedish publications.

After having earned her Bachelor and Master degree in Nutrition, she completed one semester at the PhD-program “Exercise, Nutrition and Preventive Health” at Baylor University Texas, Department of Health Human Performance and Recreation.

Having lost her father in a lifestyle induced heart attack at an age of 49, she is specializing in cardiovascular health, and primary/primordial prevention. She is a strong advocate of early intervention in adolescence and young adulthood, and the importance of lifestyle habits for health promotion at all ages.

Today, Monica is sharing her solid academic knowledge, real-life experience and passion by offering diet/nutrition/exercise/health consultation and coaching services, and working as a health journalist and medical writer on topics related to fitness, health promotion and anti-aging. She is currently in the process of writing a book “Successful Aging – it’s your choice”, and developing the related website www.SuccessfulAging.me

 

References:

1. Greenhaff PL, Bodin K, Soderlund K, Hultman E 1994 Effect of oral creatine supplementation on skeletal muscle phosphocreatine resynthesis. The American journal of physiology 266:E725-730
2. Greenhaff PL, Casey A, Short AH, Harris R, Soderlund K, Hultman E 1993 Influence of oral creatine supplementation of muscle torque during repeated bouts of maximal voluntary exercise in man. Clin Sci (Lond) 84:565-571
3. Harris RC, Soderlund K, Hultman E 1992 Elevation of creatine in resting and exercised muscle of normal subjects by creatine supplementation. Clin Sci (Lond) 83:367-374
4. Hultman E, Soderlund K, Timmons JA, Cederblad G, Greenhaff PL 1996 Muscle creatine loading in men. J Appl Physiol 81:232-237
5. Vandenberghe K, Goris M, Van Hecke P, Van Leemputte M, Vangerven L, Hespel P 1997 Long-term creatine intake is beneficial to muscle performance during resistance training. J Appl Physiol 83:2055-2063
6. Febbraio MA, Flanagan TR, Snow RJ, Zhao S, Carey MF 1995 Effect of creatine supplementation on intramuscular TCr, metabolism and performance during intermittent, supramaximal exercise in humans. Acta Physiol Scand 155:387-395
7. Lemon P, Boska M, Bredle D, et at 1995 Effect of oral creatine supplementation on energetics of during repeated maximal muscle contraction. Med Sci Sport Exer 27:S204
8. Williams MH, Kreider RB, Branch JD 1999 Creatine: The Power Supplement. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers
9. Burke DG, Silver S, Holt LE, Smith Palmer T, Culligan CJ, Chilibeck PD 2000 The effect of continuous low dose creatine supplementation on force, power, and total work. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 10:235-244
10. Juhn MS, Tarnopolsky M 1998 Potential side effects of oral creatine supplementation: a critical review. Clin J Sport Med 8:298-304
11. Juhn MS, O’Kane JW, Vinci DM 1999 Oral creatine supplementation in male collegiate athletes: a survey of dosing habits and side effects. J Am Diet Assoc 99:593-595
12. Poortmans JR, Francaux M 2000 Adverse effects of creatine supplementation: fact or fiction? Sports Med 30:155-170
13. Buford TW, Kreider RB, Stout JR, Greenwood M, Campbell B, Spano M, Ziegenfuss T, Lopez H, Landis J, Antonio J 2007 International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 4:6
14. Kreider RB, Leutholtz BC, Greenwood M 2004 Creatine. In: Wolinsky I, Driskel J eds. Nutritional Ergogenic Aids. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 81-104
15. Kreider RB 2007 Creatine. In: Driskell J ed. Sports Nutrition: Fats and Proteins. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 165-186
16. Walker JB 1979 Creatine: biosynthesis, regulation, and function. Adv Enzymol Relat Areas Mol Biol 50:177-242
17. Wyss M, Kaddurah-Daouk R 2000 Creatine and creatinine metabolism. Physiol Rev 80:1107-1213
18. Kreider RB, Greenwood M, Melton C, Rasmussen CJ, Cantler EC, Lancaster S, Milnor P, Almada AL 2002 Long-term creatine supplementation during training/competition does not increase perceptions of fatigue or adversely affect health status. Med Sci Sport Exer 34:S146
19. Candow DG, Chilibeck PD, Chad KE, Chrusch MJ, Davison KS, Burke DG 2004 Effect of ceasing creatine supplementation while maintaining resistance training in older men. J Aging Phys Act 12:219-231
20. Steenge GR, Simpson EJ, Greenhaff PL 2000 Protein- and carbohydrate-induced augmentation of whole body creatine retention in humans. J Appl Physiol 89:1165-1171
21. Preen D, Dawson B, Goodman C, Beilby J, Ching S 2003 Creatine supplementation: a comparison of loading and maintenance protocols on creatine uptake by human skeletal muscle. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 13:97-111
22. Robinson TM, Sewell DA, Hultman E, Greenhaff PL 1999 Role of submaximal exercise in promoting creatine and glycogen accumulation in human skeletal muscle. J Appl Physiol 87:598-604
23. Chilibeck PD, Stride D, Farthing JP, Burke DG 2004 Effect of creatine ingestion after exercise on muscle thickness in males and females. Med Sci Sports Exerc 36:1781-1788

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About

 

Monica Mollica holds a Master Degree in Nutrition from the University of Stockholm and Karolinska Institue, Sweden. She has also done PhD level course work at renowned Baylor University, TX.

 

Monica is a medical writer, body transformation coach, diet/supplement consultant, and a regular contributor to www.BrinkZone.com.

 

Check out Monica's website www.trainergize.com

 

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