Creatine, a compound derived from amino acids, is predominantly produced in the liver and kidneys. Notably found in animal-based foods like meat, creatine contributes significantly to our dietary intake. Most individuals have between 120-140g of creatine stored within their skeletal muscles. Numerous studies vouch for creatine's role in boosting strength, endurance, overall performance, & muscle size (1).
However, not everyone benefits from creatine supplementation. Roughly 20% of people are termed "Creatine non-responders.", an individual who experiences minimal to no benefits from creatine supplementation, despite consistent intake.
Creatine Non-Response: Theories
Various theories explain the inconsistency in responses to creatine supplementation. Those with a meat-rich diet, & consequently higher creatine levels, might not notice significant changes post-supplementation. Factors such as a low proportion of type II muscle fibres, reduced fat-free mass, & a smaller muscle cross-sectional area have been associated with non-responders (3).
A study titled "Acute creatine monohydrate supplementation: a descriptive physiological profile of responders vs. nonresponders" by Syrotuik & Bell examined the physiological response of individuals to a 5-day Creatine load.
The study classifies participants into responders (R), quasi-responders (QR), and nonresponders (NR). It was deduced that responders generally had the lowest pre-supplementation levels of creatine, the highest percentage of type II fibres, & the largest preload muscle fibre Cross-Sectional Area (CSA).
In contrast, nonresponders had higher pre-existing levels of creatine, fewer type II muscle fibres, & a smaller muscle CSA, indicating a potential biological profile that could influence creatine uptake & its consequent effects (Syrotuik & Bell, 2004).
Creatine Non-Response: My Personal Experience
Many creatine users, including myself, have undergone unique experiences with the supplement. Initially, I saw a remarkable increase of 4kg in muscle mass over a month. Weighing 77kg then, it was a significant gain attributed to creatine supplementation.
However, attempting to maximise the benefits, I started overusing creatine, taking 20g daily continually, only to realize the benefits plateaued. Then for many years, consistent creatine supplementation didn't yield any significant benefits, until I made certain changes.
From this experience, I advocate for moderate creatine usage, approximately 2-3 grams daily, & periodic cycling to optimise its benefits.
Guidelines for Creatine Non-Responders: Do's and Don'ts
Do's for Maximizing Creatine Intake
- Assess Your Baseline: Before starting supplementation, understand your current dietary intake of creatine, especially if you consume a meat-rich diet.
- Start with Standard Dosing: Begin with the recommended dose, typically around 2-3 grams daily, before considering any increase.
- Don't Take Too Much: Exceeding recommended doses for long periods may solicit a creatine non-response.
- Hydrate Properly: Ensure you drink enough water daily, as creatine may increase the body's water retention capacity.
- Consider Cycling: Use creatine in cycles (e.g., 8 weeks on, 2 weeks off) to potentially boost its effectiveness.
- Combine with Carbs: Take creatine with a source of carbohydrates to potentially enhance its uptake into muscles.
- Re-evaluate Periodically: Monitor your progress & adjust your creatine intake as necessary.
- Stay Consistent: Ensure you're taking creatine regularly, as skipping doses can reduce its potential benefits.
Don'ts for Effective Creatine Supplementation
- Avoid Overloading: Refrain from consuming excessively large doses, like 20g daily, for extended periods.
- Limit Caffeine Intake: While the research is mixed, some believe that high caffeine intake may counteract some of creatine's benefits.
- Skip Alcohol: Alcohol may inhibit muscle growth & hinder the benefits of creatine.
- Rely Solely on Creatine: Remember, while creatine is a useful supplement, a balanced diet, proper exercise regimen, & adequate recovery are essential for muscle growth.
- Ignore Side Effects: If you experience digestive discomfort or other side effects, consider adjusting your dosage or the timing of your intake.
- Use without Research: Always opt for high-quality creatine monohydrate like German Creapure® Creatine, & avoid formulations with additives or fillers.
- Assume Non-Response is Permanent: Just because you didn't initially respond to creatine doesn't mean you won't benefit from it in the future.
In conclusion, while creatine supplementation has proven benefits, it's essential to understand individual responses vary. By acknowledging one's unique physiological profile & adhering to the above dos and don'ts, creatine non-responders can potentially maximise the benefits of their creatine intake & optimise muscle growth and performance.
(1) Bemben MG, Lamont HS. Creatine supplementation and exercise performance: recent findings. Sports Med. 2005;35(2):107-25.
(2) Demant TW1, Rhodes EC. Effects of creatine supplementation on exercise performance. Sports Med. 1999 Jul;28(1):49-60.
(3) Syrotuik DG1, Bell GJ. Acute creatine monohydrate supplementation: a descriptive physiological profile of responders vs. nonresponders. J Strength Cond Res. 2004 Aug;18(3):610-7.
(4) Vandenberghe K1, Gillis N, Van Leemputte M, Van Hecke P, Vanstapel F, Hespel P. Caffeine counteracts the ergogenic action of muscle creatine loading. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1996 Feb;80(2):452-7.
(5) Doherty M, et al. Caffeine is ergogenic after supplementation of oral creatine monohydrate. Med Sci Sports Exerc. (2002)
(6) Lee CL, Lin JC, Cheng CF. Effect of caffeine ingestion after creatine supplementation on intermittent high-intensity sprint performance. Eur J Appl Physiol. (2011)
(7) Parr EB, Camera DM, Areta JL, Burke LM, Phillips SM, et al. (2014) Alcohol Ingestion Impairs Maximal Post-Exercise Rates of Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following a Single Bout of Concurrent Training. PLoS ONE 9(2): e88384.
(8) Olsen, S.; Aagaard, P; Kadi, F; Tufekovic, G; Verney, J; Olesen, JL; Suetta, C; Kjaer, M (2006)."Creatine supplementation augments the increase in satellite cell and myonuclei number in human skeletal muscle induced by strength training". The Journal of Physiology 573 (2): 525–34.
(9) Ganguly S1, Jayappa S, Dash AK. Evaluation of the stability of creatine in solution prepared from effervescent creatine formulations. AAPS PharmSciTech. 2003;4(2):E25.
(10) McCall W, Persky AM. Pharmacokinetics of creatine. Subcell Biochem. 2007;46:261-73.