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How to Use Creatine to (Potentially) Build Muscles

Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in the muscle tissue of red meat and seafood. But it is best known in fitness communities as the supplement used to rapidly regenerate energy in muscles during intense activities such as sprinting and weightlifting. 

By
Brock Armstrong
5-minute read

Cramping and Creatine

As I said earlier, you can get some creatine from red meat and seafood but most studies have shown that supplementing with creatine can provide more benefits. I personally experimented with taking five extra grams of creatine per day (on top of my red meat and seafood diet) and sadly found that the only effect the extra creatine had on me was some very uncomfortable muscle cramping. 

Creatine is what we call a hydrophilic molecule, meaning it draws large amounts of water to itself. When you take high doses of purified creatine, you greatly increase the body's demand for water. If you don't respond to that demand then the creatine pulls large amounts of water from the rest of your body and that has been shown to cause imbalances in hydration and electrolytes, which can result in cramping (likely what happened to me). Taking creatine, especially in hot environments and during intense exercise programs, can increase levels of dehydration and require that you stay a little more focused on your water intake than perhaps I was. 

To enhance absorption, take creatine with carbohydrate sources like fruit, berries, or starchy foods.

If you want to give creatine a try, the good news is that in all studies to date, creatine appears to be safe, unless it is taken at high doses. If you greatly exceed the recommended (and studied) doses then there is the potential for serious side effects such as kidney damage or inhibition of the body's natural ability to make its own creatine.

Quick and Dirty Tips for Using Creatine

Tip 1: Start high, then decrease. Load your body with creatine, taking approximately 20g per day for a week, then decrease to 2-5 grams a day during periods of intense physical activity or weight training. You can skip the loading phase and just take three to five grams each day but that will take longer to saturate the muscles, so it will also take longer to see results.

Tip 2: Take with carbs. To enhance absorption, take creatine with carbohydrate sources like fruit, berries, or starchy foods.

Tip 3: Consume with water. To avoid the potential for cramping, take your creatine with water and electrolytes during exercise. Avoid high doses of creatine before long exercise sessions, especially in hot or humid environments.

Tip 4: Cycle your creatine. The benefits of creatine start to wear off after you use it for a while, so try creatine cycling. To do that, take creatine for several weeks during your high-intensity activity and then stop taking it during your periods of relatively light activity (or recovery periods).

The Bottom Line

Before you try creatine for yourself, remember that while it might benefit athletes such as sprinters and weightlifters, if you are already getting adequate creatine from your diet, taking extra will not give you a further boost. Aside from getting your doctor to order a very specific blood test, the easiest way to see if you will indeed get any benefit from taking creatine is to give it a try. 

Remember that although taking creatine may not give you a performance boost, the evidence suggests that it generally won't hurt you—if it is taken as directed. But if you have any concerns, you should talk to a doctor before taking creatine because you certainly don't want to damage your kidneys in the pursuit of slightly larger muscles.

For more creatine info, supplement tips, and to join the amino acid conversation, head over to Facebook.com/GetFitGuy or twitter.com/getfitguy. Also don't forget to subscribe to the Get-Fit Guy podcast on Apple Podcasts, StitcherSpotify, Google Play or via RSS.

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong Get-Fit Guy

Brock Armstrong was the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast between 2017 and 2021. He is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute.