How to Supplement with Creatine

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Creatine monohydrate is one of the most heavily researched and scientifically validated ergogenic aids in sport. We’ll review its safety and supplementation strategies shown to improve athletic performance.

What is creatine?

Creatine is an amino acid, stored primarily in muscle tissue, that fuels short bursts of physical activity, including jumping, repeated sprinting, and weightlifting. In appropriate doses, creatine supplementation can increase the creatine content inside muscle [1-4], leading to performance improvements in these explosive, short-duration tasks. For more on creatine’s effects on performance, please take a quick peek at our review on this topic. We suggest taking a peek at how creatine affects performance before reading on so you can determine whether or not creatine supplementation can help you reach your goals. Below we will cover creatine safety and supplementation strategies.

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Is it safe?

Despite being one the most extensively studied and scientifically validated ergogenic (performance-enhancing) aids for athletes, creatine has a history riddled with misconceptions and fallacies. The few reported cases of muscle cramping, dehydration, kidney and liver damage, and stomach disturbances, on which the mainstream media focused, had no scientific basis [5, 6]. It’s certainly possible for an individual to display one or more of these symptoms, supplementing with creatine or not. However, scientific literature suggests that individuals supplementing with creatine may actually have a lower risk of experiencing one of these symptoms than those not supplementing with creatine [5-10].

Unless you’re already suffering from kidney issues [11], both short-term and long-term creatine supplementation appears to be safe at varying dosages [6-10, 12-22, 48], especially in young healthy individuals [23]. However, gains in body mass are expected. Gains between 2-5 pounds within the first week of supplementation are common [5] due to increases in total body water content [24, 25-27]. Over time, these weight gains typically result in gains in lean mass [12, 18, 25, 26, 30].

How do I take it?

One way to effectively supplement with creatine is to “load” up with high doses for a few days followed by a “maintenance” phase of low doses throughout the supplementation period. This method has been shown to elevate muscle creatine stores efficiently [24, 31-36]. Researchers suggest beginning with 2-5 days of “loading” with 20g per day (4 × 5 g creatine doses throughout the day) followed by a “maintenance” phase for continuous supplementation thereafter with one serving of 3-5g creatine per day. While this is a fine method, we prefer using quantities relative to your body weight, which has also been shown to be effective while potentially minimizing kidney strain [5, 37-46]. Try ingesting 0.25 g/kg of body weight/day during the “loading” phase (the first 2-5 days) and switching to 0.05 g/kg of body weight/day during the “maintenance” phase of creatine supplementation. In the research, “load” doses between 0.1-0.3 g/kg/day and “maintenance” doses between 0.03-0.075 g/kg/day have been used effectively.

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Another common creatine supplementation strategy is to simply take between 3-6 grams, or 0.03 – 0.1 grams / kilogram of body weight / day, without a “loading” phase [1, 47]. However, this method takes longer for creatine to accumulate in muscle and for performance-enhancing effects to become evident [5]. If you’re seeking rapid performance improvements, this method is not ideal.


ShakeBot Bottom Line

  • Proper creatine supplementation improves performance in a variety of athletic tasks, but particularly those requiring high-intensity, short-duration bouts of activity.
  • Both short-term and long-term creatine supplementation appears to be safe for healthy individuals.
  • An effective supplementation strategy begins with a “loading” phase where you take 0.25 g/kg/day for 2-5 days followed by a “maintenance” phase where you take 0.05 g/kg/day for the remainder of your supplementation period.
  • Consult with a qualified healthcare professional prior to beginning creatine supplementation or making any other drastic changes to your diet.

Want to know more about how creatine can affect your athletic performance? Check out our in-depth review to find out!


Reference

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  2. Hespel, P. and Derave, W., 2007. Ergogenic effects of creatine in sports and rehabilitation. In Creatine and Creatine Kinase in Health and Disease (pp. 246-259). Springer Netherlands.

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  38. Candow, D.G., Little, J.P., Chilibeck, P.D., Abeysekara, S., Zello, G.A., Kazachkov, M., Cornish, S.M. and Yu, P.H., 2008. Low-dose creatine combined with protein during resistance training in older men. Med Sci Sports Exerc40(9), pp.1645-1652.

  39. Greenhaff, P.L., 2001, September. Muscle creatine loading in humans: Procedures and functional and metabolic effects. In 6th International Conference on Guanidino Compounds in Biology and Medicine. Cincinnati, OH.

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  42. Cooper, R., Naclerio, F., Allgrove, J. and Jimenez, A., 2012. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition9(1), p.33.

  43. Andre, T.L., Gann, J.J., McKinley-Barnard, S.K. and Willoughby, D.S., 2016. Effects of Five Weeks of Resistance Training and Relatively-Dosed Creatine Monohydrate Supplementation on Body Composition and Muscle Strength, and Whole-Body Creatine Metabolism in Resistance-Trained Males. International Journal of Kinesiology & Sports Science4(2), p.27.

  44. Candow, D.G., Vogt, E., Johannsmeyer, S., Forbes, S.C. and Farthing, J.P., 2015. Strategic creatine supplementation and resistance training in healthy older adults. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism40(7), pp.689-694.

  45. Chilibeck, P.D., Candow, D.G., Landeryou, T., Kaviani, M. and Paus-Jenssen, L., 2015. Effects of creatine and resistance training on bone health in postmenopausal women. Med Sci Sports Exerc47(8), pp.1587-1595.

  46. Cooke, M.B., Rybalka, E., Williams, A.D., Cribb, P.J. and Hayes, A., 2009. Creatine supplementation enhances muscle force recovery after eccentrically-induced muscle damage in healthy individuals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition6(1), p.13.

  47. Willoughby, D.S. and Rosene, J., 2001. Effects of oral creatine and resistance training on myosin heavy chain expression. Medicine and science in sports and exercise33(10), pp.1674-1681.

  48. Kreider, R.B., Kalman, D.S., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T.N., Wildman, R., Collins, R., Candow, D.G., Kleiner, S.M., Almada, A.L. and Lopez, H.L., 2017. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition14(1), p.18.

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