Creatine is the most researched supplement in the world. Approximately 200 years ago, Michel Chevreul isolated the compound from red meat and the rest is history. Not long after, scientists discovered the anabolic effects of creatine by providing it as a supplement. Nowadays, pretty much every athlete has heard of creatine and its effectiveness in building muscle and strength.
With a lot of praise, you can be sure to expect backlash and questions about the supplement. There is no doubt that creatine is safe, but there’s still a lot of controversy regarding proper consumption.
I’ve been asked several questions about creatine throughout my time as an athlete, but among the most common are:
Should I take creatine while cutting?
How big of an issue is creatine bloating?
What’s the difference between monohydrate and HCl
Is the loading phase necessary?
If you’ve ever debated purchasing this supplement, then you’re in luck. Throughout the remainder of this article, I will tell you everything you need to know about creatine before you buy it.
Mechanism of Action
Creatine works by increasing the amount of energy in your body. Specifically, creatine turns ADP into ATP which is the body’s main energy source. After you finish a workout, the ATP in your body will be depleted and creates ADP as a by-product. Even without creatine supplementation, your body will convert ADP back to ATP via the enzyme ATPase.
Simply put, creatine provides you with more energy so you can get more work done. For this reason, you might notice that you’re able to perform better in the gym after taking this supplement.
The Loading Phase
One of the main suggestions people offer regarding creatine is the loading phase. When you first start taking creatine you take 15-20 grams for the first five days.
The idea here is that your muscles will become saturated with creatine at a faster rate. By incorporating a loading phase, you will reach peak creatine saturation in about a week.
Contrary to popular belief, the creatine loading phase is not necessary. Even if you’re taking the recommended 5 grams each day, you will reach saturation in two weeks.
There is a lot of debate about the loading phase, but muscle saturation is a guarantee regardless. Some people say that the loading phase is encouraged by companies so that customers have to purchase creatine more frequently.
Creatine HCl vs Monohydrate
If you have ever browsed for creatine on amazon, you might notice that there are two variations. Creatine monohydrate is the most common variation of the supplement, while creatine HCl is more obscure.
But what’s the difference between the two?
On a molecular level, the only difference between chemical formulas is the addition of a hydrochloride (HCl) group. You can easily see the difference in chemical makeup by looking at the two formulas.
From a price standpoint, creatine monohydrate is often cheaper than HCl, and also more widely available. The price difference is mainly because creatine HCl is thought to be more effective than the latter.
There are studies that show creatine HCl is absorbed 38 times more effectively than monohydrate. Some researchers, therefore, recommend HCl because of its solubility factor.
Because of the increased solubility, there are also claims that creatine HCl causes less bloating. There is no research proving this to be true, but the better absorption rate could theoretically reduce bloating.
It’s impossible to say which form of creatine is better because they are both effective. One thing is for sure though, creatine monohydrate is the most researched.
Creatine While Cutting
There is a tendency for people to question whether or not you should take creatine while cutting. You might worry about bloating and looking less aesthetic than you are. Realistically, if you’re taking creatine before you start a cutting cycle, then you should continue.
Your muscles will appear thicker and fuller after creatine saturation occurs. For this reason, it’s a better idea to continue taking creatine when cutting as opposed to stopping it completely. The effects of creatine will be noticeable regardless of whether you’re cutting or bulking.
Bloating And Water Retention
Contrary to popular belief, consuming creatine will not make you look like the Michelin man. Creatine bloating is a common concern, but it normally occurs when your water intake is too little.
A good rule of thumb is to drink nearly a gallon of water each day when you’re on this supplement. Increased water consumption helps prevent the accumulation of creatine in the intestines, and also encourages proper kidney function.
Creatine bloating is the most common if you decide to do a loading phase. Most of the time, the bloating is minimal and you might not experience it at all. Nonetheless, it’s a proven fact that creatine makes your muscles hold more water, thus resulting in fuller looking muscles.
The best way to combat bloating is by drinking ample water and adopting a healthy nutrition plan. There’s also speculation that creatine HCl causes less bloating because of its absorptive qualities, but there’s minimal research on this topic.
Best Time To Take Creatine
Creatine should be taken every day until you plan on stopping. It does not matter what time of day you choose to take it, but post-workout makes the most sense. A lot of energy is expended during a workout and creatine will help by generating more ATP.
Remembering to take creatine on a day-to-day basis is far more important than the time you take it. You will not give your muscles enough exposure to become saturated if you consistently skip days.
Consider taking creatine before bed if you want to make sure that you’re consuming it post-workout.
Increased DHT And Balding
Many people seem to think that creatine causes balding. Before you make any assumptions, let me assure you that creatine cannot cause hair loss by itself.
Balding or thinning of the scalp hair is completely due to your genetics. More specifically, it depends on how sensitive you are to the testosterone derivative known as DHT.
Dihydrotestosterone is an androgenic hormone that positively correlates to increased masculinity. Regular testosterone is converted into DHT as a natural bodily function.
Creatine causes the body to convert slightly more testosterone into DHT. For this reason alone, many people think creatine causes balding.
Realistically, you will not experience any sudden hair loss when you start taking creatine. Creatine does not increase DHT enough to have a substantial effect.
Chances are if you notice thinning after taking creatine, you were previously at risk for male pattern baldness and the timing is purely coincidental.
More Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the best beverage to mix creatine with?
A: Most supplement companies recommend mixing creatine with either water or fruit juice. You can always count on water because it’s a universal solvent. The choice is yours, I have seen people taking creatine with diet soda and even milk. Try to avoid consuming creatine with caffeine because the two do not interact well.
Q: Does creatine stunt growth?
A: There is no research that proves creatine stunts growth. The slightly increased DHT has nothing to do with the closure of your epiphyseal plates. Creatine has proven to be safe in children as young as 5 years old.
Q: Do I need to cycle off creatine?
A: You do not need to cycle creatine at all, but it’s good to give your body a break after consistent use. Consistent creatine use will place more pressure on the kidneys than normal, which is why lots of water is important. I recommend taking 2-4 weeks off for every three months of consistent creatine use.
Q: Is creatine a steroid?
A: Not in the slightest. Although creatine has anabolic properties, the chemical structure of creatine is far different from any anabolic steroids. You might hear people refer to creatine as a legal steroid because of it’s proven ability to increase strength and muscle mass. Despite being called a legal steroid, creatine is completely safe and has no steroid-like side effects.
Q: Will I lose my gains after stopping creatine?
A: Assuming that you continue to participate in resistance training, you’re not going to lose your gains after stopping creatine. A more likely scenario is losing the water surrounding your muscles, thus resulting in a flattering look. Intensity and strength may go down, but you will not lose any physical muscle mass that you added.
Q: Are there any legitimate side effects to worry about?
A: There are a couple of minor side effects that have been reported with creatine use. Not surprisingly, they all relate to your water intake. Muscle cramping is the most notable side effect and one that can be avoided by drinking ample water. Nausea and diarrhea have also been noted, but are far less common. If you’re drinking enough water and still prone to cramping, consider taking a potassium supplement.
More Consumption Guidelines
Creatine always seems to make it on the list of recommended supplements, and for good reason. Knowing this, there are a couple of things you should look out for before you start taking it.
Creatine as an ingredient in other supplements you’re taking. Before you add creatine to your supplement stack, take a look at the ingredients label on other products you’re taking. Many whey proteins and pre-workout powders contain creatine as an ingredient, and you don’t want to take more than necessary.
The recommended dose for creatine is 5 grams. Many companies do not include a scooper in the bottle to make sure you’re getting five grams. A good tip, particularly if you don’t have a scale, is to take one rounded teaspoon of creatine each day. One rounded teaspoon is equal to approximately 5 grams.
If you’re reading this article and have never heard of creatine, you’re probably blown away right now. A supplement that improves recovery while increasing muscle mass and strength, it almost sounds too good to be true.
Trust me, it’s not too good to be true. There’s a reason why millions of people supplement with creatine — it works!
If you’re ready to get started, check out my recommendations for the best creatine products on the market. All are available for purchase on Amazon and are relatively inexpensive.
5 Best Creatine HCl Options
Top Pick: Bulk Supplements. This is money well spent because you’re getting both quantity and quality. If the price does not concern you, I recommend Beyond Raw strictly for quality reasons.
5 Best Creatine Monohydrate Options
Top Pick: Once again, Bulk Supplements provides you with the best of both worlds- quality and quantity. If you’re on a budget, MuscleTech is probably the best choice for you. If quality is your only concern, I’ve personally taken Optimum Nutrition creatine for years and it’s fantastic.
The Importance of Training And Nutrition
There is no supplement that will mask a bad nutrition plan and training routine. Do not buy creatine with the expectation that it will turn you into a monster overnight.
Creatine provides great results, but that is provided you’re training hard and eating clean. If you live a sedentary lifestyle and expect to magically make gains taking creatine, then keep dreaming. With this being said, if you’re not actively training in some way, it makes no sense for you to take creatine.
Now, if you do participate in a sport or actively go to the gym, then creatine is ideal for you. There’s no doubt that you will see great results if you train with intensity and keep your diet clean.
Good Supplements To Take With Creatine
If you’re planning on adding to your supplement stack, there’s a lot of great options to pair with creatine. Whey protein, pre-workout, and BCAAs are three choices that work synergistically with creatine.
Whey protein helps promote muscle synthesis after a workout. Pre-workout and BCAAs, on the other hand, enhance exercise intensity. As you can probably tell, all three of these supplements go hand-in-hand with creatine.
As always, thoroughly research any supplements you plan on taking before purchasing them. With this being said, do not feel obligated to add more supplements to your stack just because they’re effective. Creatine alone with a good diet and intense training will do you wonders.
You will always hear about creatine because it is effective and one of the most researched supplements in the world. Hopefully, this article clears up any misconceptions or questions you may have.
Do not listen to the naysayers, creatine works great and it’s one supplement I recommend to anyone that trains. People will try to convince you of the negatives without any thorough proof, so tread carefully.
One thing’s for sure, all of the information you receive here is completely unbiased (aside from my recommendations for the best creatine brands). If you feel like creatine is a good choice for you, then what are you waiting for? The greatest gains are yet to come.