I’ve used my fair share of supplements over the years and I’m convinced that creatine is the best muscle building supplement. That being said, my personal experience pales in comparison to the vast number of studies that have been done touting myriad creatine benefits. In fact, Brad Pilon analyzed many such studies in How Much Protein and concluded creatine resulted in more muscle gains than post workout nutrition. By supplementing with creatine, you can increase strength, increase higher intensity exercise performance, and increase muscle volume and growth.
Creatine is a natural component found primarily in the body’s skeletal muscle. The most prevalent sources of ingested creatine are meat and fish. After ingestion, creatine is transported to muscles to increase their energy levels by increasing the availability of ATP. The increased ATP provides an extra kick during repeated bouts of intense exercise which helps the body build more muscle.
Benefits of Creatine
While creatine does help growth in muscle fibers due to the ability to lift heavier and more intensely, it primarily results in muscle volumization. Muscle volumization is caused by fluid retention. As muscles become saturated with creatine, they attract and retain water giving the muscles a fuller appearance. When you first start taking a creatine supplement, you are likely to gain 5-10lbs in a month because of this water retention. It doesn’t represent true lean muscle growth in my opinion but the gains are legitimately fat free. Sadly, these gains in muscle volumization will disappear if you take a month off from creatine. However, any gains in muscle fibers and muscle strength will be maintained.
Creatine Side Effects
The great thing about creatine is that it has been extensively studied and no major side effects have been found. That being said, there are some minor considerations. One potential drawback is that your weight will increase due to water retention. This can be a concern for certain types of athletes. Additionally, some people experience gastrointestinal issues such as stomach cramps or nausea. Dehydration is also a problem. Both gastrointestinal and dehydration problems are solved by ensuring adequate fluid consumption when you are taking creatine.
A more adverse potential side effect is kidney problems. This is possible if you abuse creatine by taking too high a dose for too long a time. Finally, I’d recommend checking with a doctor if you are on any other medications to make sure creatine supplements do not conflict, especially those on high blood pressure drugs.
To Load or Not to Load
Most creatine supplements recommend taking 20 grams of creatine for the first 4-5 days. This is known as loading. The theory is that you saturate your muscles with creatine as rapidly as possible. However, at the end of 30 days, the results won’t be much different than if you just had the 5 grams per day maintenance level. You will merely see results faster by loading. One point of caution related to the side effects is that you are more likely to have an upset stomach if you take too much creatine in too short a time period without adequate fluids.
Creatine Supplementation: Before or After Workouts
Some people think it makes sense to have creatine before a workout because of the aforementioned strength building qualities. However, most studies have found that creatine is most effective when taken after a workout. There are also concerns with taking creatine before a workout, mainly dehydration. After a workout, your body is primed to absorb creatine. Some tout the benefits of taking creatine with a high glycemic liquid like grape juice, but simply mixing with water works just fine in my experience. Don’t go out of your way to ingest extra sugar unless it happens to be part of your post workout nutrition. On days when you don’t exercise, you can take creatine any time.
In general, you might want to take a month off from creatine supplementation to cleanse your system. Additionally, cycled strategically, creatine can help you “shrink wrap” your muscles. Click below and watch video #3 where Rusty Moore of Visual Impact Muscle Building describes a workout routine designed to do just that:
Creatine = Best Muscle Building Supplement
If you want to increase the strength and size of your muscles, look no further than creatine. Creatine benefits are well documented and side effects are limited. I would recommend using 100% pure micronized creatine monohydrate (I like Optimum Nutrition). Mix it with water or a high GI drink. Whether you load or don’t load, over the long run, you’ll still receive all the benefits of creatine. Used correctly, creatine is the best muscle building supplement and can help you add 5-10lbs of fat free muscle.
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