Bulking Series: The Skinny on Creatine

Bulking Series: The Skinny on Creatine

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When nutrition comes up in a discussion between athletes, a thick line is drawn.  Two separate groups emerge: those who’re ready to slam the Ben and Jerry’s, and those who believe adamantly that eating junk food is a dietary sin (even if it works).  I think I can help the first bunch, but the second faction may as well “unlike” this page.  I’m of the opinion that the “clean eating” people have erected a psychological bulwark between themselves and their long-term goals that no amount of cajoling will tear down.

Someone sold them the flawed ideology that “natural” is always better, and rather than considering that there may be more than one way to crack an egg (or bake a turnover), they’ve become so sick of not being able to eat chocolate chip cookies that they want the whole world to miss out on the privilege as well.  To top it off, they often avoid “unnatural” substances that can be extremely beneficial to their development.  This obstinate, dogmatic approach to nutrition and supplementation flies in the face of scientific principle and ultimately prevents us from finding the best path forward.

Although I’ve been there before, nowadays I live by these two phrases:  “I don’t know.” follows “Let me find out”.  I feel that the “me” writing this blog, at least mentally (but possibly physically as well), is set up for long-term discovery and advancement.

A big part of optimizing performance is the inclusion of “add-on” supplements throughout the day and after the workout.  These extras augment your performance during training, speed up recovery and ensure that you’ve refueled for your next encounter with the iron.  Hands down, creatine is one of the most beneficial (though also misunderstood) supplements you can add to your diet.  In the following sections, I am going to make some general recommendations for taking creatine.

I’ll also offer some suggestions as to how (and when) you should modify the standard protocol.  This is important, because one of the biggest mistakes I see people making is going too far over/under the line and outright ignoring their body’s signals.  Remember that for most of this stuff, if it feels uncomfortable to take the full suggested dose, you should listen to yourself and ignore me.  Start small, see if it works for you, and make gradual changes.  No need to be all in, in fact, I believe that can lead to more pain (emotional) in the long run.

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Different Types of Creatine:

Con-Cret capsules are my preferred method of creatine supplementation.  The main ingredient of Con-Cret is micronized Creatine HCL, which should theoretically be more easily absorbed by the intestines, potentially resulting in less bloating and stomach discomfort (which I cover later in this post).  People have argued (and will continue to argue) that creatine monohydrate HCL is just as effective, and they may be right.

While dozens of peer reviewed studies have established the effectiveness of creatine monohydrate, none have been conducted to conclude a true benefit when comparing creatine HCL to the monohydrate form, and the price difference between the two may be an issue (monohydrate is commonly cheaper).  For that reason, I have added some monohydrate options from a supplement producer I trust.  I personally think that Con-Cret works best for me because the suggested amount on the container ultimately equates to a lot more than 5g of monohydrate (which for the most part didn’t feel like it was doing very much for me).

Although I must admit that there may be a bit of placebo effect going on, I rationalize that if it takes me from being nailed to the floor with 315 pounds on my back one week, to making the lift the next, I’ll just say this: “If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right”.

When Should You Take Creatine?

Although simply taking creatine every day will yield benefits, the time at which you dose may be important for achieving maximum results.  There does seem to be some advantage to taking creatine when your GLUT4 pathways are most active (read about GLUT4 here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GLUT4 and watch this video:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwE1osnb5qc&w=560&h=315]

That means dosing when you first awaken, and then again around intense bouts of training.  Taking your creatine in the morning will down-regulate the activity of myostatin (a gene that inhibits muscle growth and preservation).  A big part of muscle building is retaining the muscle you currently have, so this is a big deal.  Taking creatine before and after your workouts will make it available for loading as soon as the GLUT4’s become active.  This will aid in hydrating your muscles with water and glucose, which will speed up glycogen synthesis and help you refuel for future training sessions.

Who Should Take Creatine?  What about Negative Side-Effects?

There are really no populations I would exclude; it’s quite simply the best researched supplement on the market today.  As I’ve already stated, the effects of creatine supplementation on muscle growth and performance are well-documented, so athletes are all over it.  There is some research to suggest that it can help people with Alzheimer’s disease function better in their daily lives.  In addition, vegans and vegetarians (or people who don’t eat a lot of red meat for any other reason) may benefit from creatine supplementation in a similar fashion; studies show that these populations experience improved energy levels, memory and verbal fluency when on a creatine regimen.  To top it off, creatine happens to be one of the cheapest supplements you can buy, so if you’re looking for something that really works but won’t break the bank, look no further.

Like most any other substance, if you regularly force a ton of creatine into your body without listening to the signals, there is the possibility that you can cause damage to your kidneys, although you’d have to be pretty crazy to ignore the signs.  Creatine is extremely hard to overdose on; because it’s water soluble, even in instances where you take in too much, your body simply expels it.  Some people complain of diarrhea and bloating but I think most of this comes as a result of taking too much for their activity levels/size, and at slightly the wrong times.

To avoid these side-effects, I recommend that you start small and make sure to properly hydrate; drink more water than you normally would as diarrhea and bloating are commonly caused by dehydration.  Other than that, creatine is perfectly safe and you should at least give it a try.

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So How Much Should I Take?

*NOTE:  For Con Cret take the dosage recommended on the bottle possibly with one capsule or scoop post workout.

Start off loading 5g post-workout and see how that feels.  If it seemed to work well, you could add a second dose pre-workout.  This is preferable to simply adding another 5g post-workout; I mentioned earlier that taking creatine can result in bloating and stomach discomfort.  Although dehydration plays a big role, this can oftentimes result from simply taking too much in one sitting.  If 10g a day feels good and you want to try more, you can begin taking another 5g as soon as you wake up.

If you feel more alert, your workouts improve and you don’t experience any negative symptoms, then great.  If loading in the morning (or at any other prescribed time) causes an upset stomach, back off the amount you’re taking or simply stop loading at that point altogether.  Some experimentation is required if you want to find the sweet spot and achieve the best results.

Dosing Recommendations by Weight and Gender:

For men, a reasonable daily dose of creatine would be around 5g for every 50lbs of bodyweight, with an additional 5g dose post-workout (if it suits you).  For the ladies, I am going to suggest 5g for every 75lbs, with a potential for adding more for women that are particularly active (I am looking at you WOD killers).

As an example, I am a 160lb male leading an active lifestyle, so I load roughly the equivalent of 20g a day.  As the directions on my Con-Cret suggest, I take what amounts to 15g pre-workout and it seems to work well.  I also take an additional 5g post workout with no ill effects.  With this information, it should be easy for you to understand why you should be taking creatine and how you can integrate it into your daily regimen without experiencing any negative effects.  Remember, it’s better to start small and work your way up.  When in doubt, listen to your body.

Summary

  • Creatine is one of the most beneficial, well-researched supplements you can add to your nutrition, but some attention needs to be paid to how much and when you take it to maximize its effect.  When dosed properly, creatine can help you lift heavier weights for more repetitions.
  • There are different types of creatine; creatine HCL is slightly more expensive than creatine monohydrate HCL but either or will work.
  • A reasonable daily dose of creatine for men would be around 5g for every 50lbs. of bodyweight.  Women should shoot for 5g/75lbs. of bodyweight.  Start on the low side and gradually increase your dose.
  • The primary benefit of taking creatine is to store more creatine phosphate in your muscles.  This can help you get a few more reps on heavy exercises and recover more quickly between sets.  Taking 5g before training will ensure creatine levels are maxed out.
  • Taking 5g of creatine upon waking will help you retain muscle by inhibiting myostatin production.  This is important whether you’re trying to gain or lose weight.
  • Another 5-10g of creatine after training when your muscles are most sensitive will help hydrate your muscles with water and glucose from your post-workout nutrition.
  • Again, start on the low end and add doses of creatine at these strategic points during the day to get the most out of it.

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