What is Creatine?
If you’re reading this article I can probably presume that you already have a rough understanding of what creatine is. If you don’t, it is a compound that helps to replenish the muscle’s energy store. One of the most profound effects of creatine supplementation is a noticeable increase in strength and lean mass. For more information please refer to “Creatine – the Basics”.
How to Take Creatine
Unfortunately for beginners, the most effective way to take creatine can be quite complicated, so this article is going to try to guide you along. Before we get into the details, there are two main characteristics about creatine that you need to know in order to understand the whys. Firstly, creatine must find its way into your muscle tissue and build up in high concentrations before you will experience benefits. In other words, creatine is not a stimulant like caffeine, where you will notice benefits 30 minutes after your first dose. Secondly, for creatine to make its way into your muscle more effectively, it helps if it is completely dissolved (Harris et al, 2002) and it needs insulin (Greenwood et al, 2003), a hormone that is traditionally associated with transporting glucose. This means that having creatine with a high carb meal/supplement is very effective in improving creatine absorption.
When it comes to actually taking doses of creatine, there are two distinct phases that need to be discussed. These are the loading and maintenance phase, and are covered in detail below.
How to Dissolve Creatine
If you have used creatine before, you may realise that it is not the most soluble compound known to man. Creatine usually just sinks to the bottom of the cup and settles like sand. This is not ideal for absorption. Using micronised creatine (such as Creapure) is recommended as it shows dramatically improved solubility compared to regular creatine monohydrate. The solubility of creatine also increases with increasing acidity and increasing temperature (Jager et al, 2011). In theory, a warm glass of orange juice would be ideal, though stomaching this is a different issue. Failing this, just a cold glass of OJ would suffice. This has the added benefit of also providing some carbs in the form of sugar.
How to Load Creatine
Creatine loading (loading phase) is a great way to very quickly saturate your body’s creatine levels to ensure you experience benefits as soon as possible. To do this, it is recommended that you take 20 g of creatine (monohydrate) for five consecutive days. Because creatine is not the best absorbed compound, taking a huge 20 g serve in one hit is not recommended (or practical) instead, you should divide up these doses into 4 serves of 5 g.
A possible protocol could be:
- 1 serve with breakfast
- 1 serve with lunch
- 1 serve immediately after training together with a protein and carbohydrate rich shake
- 1 serve with dinner
Loading is not 100% necessary, as taking smaller doses for longer will also eventually give you the same benefits in the long run.
How to Maintain High Creatine Levels
Once you have performed your loading phase you need to maintain your elevated muscle creatine levels (maintenance phase), otherwise they will creep back down. To do this, you only need 5 g/day. This can be taken with your protein and carbohydrate rich post workout shake, or together with a meal on non-training days.
If you are familiar with creatine, you would have noticed that there is more than just one type hanging around. Creatine monohydrate is the classic form of creatine and is the bench mark with the most scientific backing for its efficacy. However, it is also the form that is most complex to take and the vast majority of information on this article applies to it. Some manufacturers have therefore taken the guess work out of taking creatine, and made almost fool-proof products that combine carbohydrates with creatine so it can be effective without the need to time it strictly with meals and so forth. Some examples include:
In response to the relatively poor solubility of creatine monohydrate, manufacturers have made more soluble forms. The latest and one of the best known forms include creatine HCL. Examples of this include:
Greenwood et al (2003). Differences in creatine retention among three nutritional formulations of oral creatine supplements. JEPonline, 6: 37-43
Harris et al (2002), Absorption of creatine supplied as a drink, in meat or in solid form. J Sports Sci; 20: 147-51.
Jager et al (2011), Analysis of the efficacy, safety, and regulatory status of novel forms of creatine. Amino Acids; 40:1369-83.