How to Take Creatine

Complete Guide for Effective Supplementation

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: February 27, 2024

Creatine supplementation has become a staple for fitness enthusiasts and athletes looking to enhance their performance and muscle mass. As one of the most researched supplements, creatine is highly regarded for its efficacy and safety.

When you decide to include it in your routine, it’s essential to understand the hows and whys to maximize its benefits.

How to Take Creatine

Understanding how to use creatine effectively can seem daunting at first, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. There’s a bit more to it than just tossing a scoop into your water bottle and hoping for the best.

It involves timing, dosage, and a little knowledge about how it works with your body. Whether you’re looking to boost your gym performance or want to supplement your diet for overall health, knowing how to take creatine properly can make all the difference.

Understanding Creatine and Its Role in the Body

Before diving into the specifics, it’s essential to understand that creatine is a substance naturally found in your body, primarily in muscle cells. It plays a significant role in energy production during high-intensity exercises.

Creatine is a molecule produced in your body that your muscle cells use to produce energy. Specifically, it helps to regenerate a high-energy molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is often referred to as the body’s energy currency.

During high-intensity exercise, ATP is broken down to produce energy, and creatine serves to replenish ATP levels more quickly.

  • Sources of Creatine:
    • Your body synthesizes creatine from amino acids—specifically glycine, arginine, and methionine.
    • Red meat and fish are dietary sources of creatine.
    • Supplements are a concentrated source of creatine in powder or capsule form.
  • Creatine in Skeletal Muscle:
    • About 95% of the creatine in your body is stored in skeletal muscle as phosphocreatine. The remaining 5% is found in your brain, kidneys, and liver.
  • Role in Energy Production:
    • When you perform quick bursts of exercise, creatine donates a phosphate group to help restore ATP from adenosine diphosphate (ADP). This process is critical during activities like sprinting or heavy lifting.
  • Impact on Exercise:
    • Supplementing with creatine can increase the phosphocreatine stores in your muscles, which may improve performance during repeated bouts of brief, high-intensity exercise.
creatine energy system

Image Courtesy of Joseph Calihan – Biochemistry PhD

The Benefits of Creatine Use

Creatine is one of the most popular supplements, and for good reason. It can really help you with your performance in workouts or sports. Here’s a breakdown of how creatine can be beneficial:

  • Muscle Growth: Creatine supplements have been shown to support increases in muscle mass, especially when used in conjunction with resistance exercise.
  • Muscle Strength: The use of creatine allows you to lift heavier and push harder in your workouts, translating to long term strength gains.
  • Body Composition: Creatine can play a part in changing your body’s composition by helping you increase muscle, which makes it easier to burn fat.
  • Athletic Performance: Taking creatine supplements is known to improve power output and athletic performance across the board.

Different Forms of Creatine

There are various forms of creatine on the market today, and knowing which you should use can be confusing. Here are the definitions of each type of creatine.

  • Creatine Monohydrate is the most common and most studied version. It’s the standard to which all other variations are compared. Monohydrate itself comes in two varieties: anhydrous and micronized.
  • Creatine Anhydrous is a form in which the monohydrate component has been removed, making it 100% creatine by weight. The higher concentration makes it easier to package in smaller volumes, such as pills. But it has no real benefit in terms of effectiveness.
  • Micronized Creatine undergoes a mechanical process that reduces the particle size. The benefit is that the smaller particles are more soluble in water. But with regards to effectiveness, it’s equivalent to regular monohydrate.
  • Creatine Ethyl Ester is thought to have a higher absorption rate due to the ester attached, potentially leading to reduced dosing. However, research on its efficacy compared to creatine monohydrate is less conclusive.
  • Creatine HCl is creatine bound with hydrochloric acid. This form is touted for its superior solubility in water, but that doesn’t necessarily lead to better absorption. For a detailed look at the differences, review this comparison of Creatine HCL vs Monohydrate.
  • Creatine AKG is attached to alpha-ketoglutarate. The idea is that attaching a molecule involved in the Krebs cycle may improve its effectiveness, but like other variations, concrete evidence supporting this is still emerging.

So, which form of creatine is best? When it comes to proven results, plain old creatine monohydrate reigns supreme. It’s also cheaper than the modified varieties, so you get much more bang for your buck.

Which Form of Creatine to Take

Getting Started with Taking Creatine

Initiating a creatine supplement routine typically involves two key phases: loading and maintenance. Proper dosing is critical for efficacy.

How Much Creatine to Take

The amount of creatine you should take depends on your body weight and fitness goals. A common recommendation is to consume 5 grams of creatine per day.

This dosage supports muscle creatine stores without the need for excess creatine intake. Taking more than you need could be wasteful as extra creatine is excreted in the urine.

The best way to determine your specific needs is with my free creatine dose calculator.

Loading Phase vs. Maintenance Phase

You may have heard various fitness experts or social media influencers talking about creatine loading. This loading protocol is a short period of taking large amounts of creatine to saturate your muscles, followed by a more extended maintenance period.

  • Loading Phase: Creatine loading involves taking higher doses—around 20 grams of creatine split into four daily doses—for 5-7 days. It’s a strategy to saturate your muscles with creatine quickly.
  • Maintenance Phase: The maintenance phase involves lower doses, typically around 3-5 grams of creatine daily. This phase maintains the elevated levels of creatine in your muscles over time.

While a creatine loading phase can be beneficial for seeing the ergogenic effect sooner, it’s not necessary. And loading will not impact your results in the long run.

In addition, higher doses of creatine may cause unwanted gastrointestinal distress or excess weight gain in some people. Therefore, you might want to start with the maintenance dose.

Cycling, or periodically stopping use, is sometimes advised to prevent the body from building a tolerance. But this is also an unnecessary practice, and you can take creatine continuously if desired.

How Much Creatine to Take

This scoop represents a typical dose of 5 grams of creatine monohydrate.

The Best Time to Take Creatine

When to take creatine is much debated. But the exact timing isn’t as critical as the amount of creatine in your body’s stores. Like a savings account, the total balance determines how much you can withdraw, not when the last deposit was made.

That said, it’s generally agreed that taking creatine around resistance training workouts can have benefits.

Before or After Workout

Taking creatine about 30 minutes before a workout can potentially prep your muscles with the energy they need for high-intensity exercise. However, caffeine might decrease the efficacy of creatine.

On the other hand, taking creatine with carbohydrates within an hour after a workout may have a synergistic effect on glycogen uptake and protein synthesis. For muscle gain, a post-workout shake with creatine powder mixed with dextrose or fruit juice is a great way to maximize retention.

If you’re on the fence, check out my related article on taking supplements in the “anabolic window.”

Creatine On Rest Days

Taking creatine even on your days off is crucial to maintain elevated muscle creatine levels. Again, the most important thing here isn’t the specific time but rather ensuring you’re consistent with your daily dose.

Make taking creatine a part of your regular supplement routine, and you’ll keep those creatine levels steady. The timing is more a matter of personal preference.

When to Take Creatine

Creatine Side Effects and Safety Considerations

Most medical institutes have found no significant side effects, and creatine is generally considered a safe supplement. However, being aware of possible adverse effects is good, particularly with high doses.

Potential side effects of creatine may include:

  • Weight Gain
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Upset Stomach
  • High Blood Pressure

Most of these symptoms are likely associated with increased water retention within the body and muscle cells and should subside when you stop taking creatine. Also, some weight gain is associated with lean muscle mass, which is actually a good thing.

Ensuring your kidney function stays healthy is also critical when taking creatine over the long term. While studies don’t typically show negative effects on kidney function for healthy individuals, you should still be cautious if you have pre-existing kidney issues.

Consult with your doctor before starting long-term supplementation, especially if you have health concerns.

How to Take Creatine With Shaker Cup

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, you’ll find clear answers to some common queries about taking creatine. Let’s dive into those other questions you might have.

How should beginners take creatine?

If you’re taking creatine for the first time, starting with a lower dose of 3–5 grams per day is a good idea. This can help assess your tolerance and determine if you experience any side effects. If you feel good after a few days, you could consider a loading phase to accelerate muscle saturation.

Can I mix creatine with protein powder?

Absolutely, you can combine creatine with protein powder. It’s a practical way to integrate creatine into your supplementation routine, especially post-workout when your muscles are primed to absorb nutrients.

Is it okay to mix creatine with coffee?

Yes, it’s okay to mix creatine with coffee. While caffeine might slightly counteract creatine’s muscle hydration effects, it won’t significantly reduce the overall benefits of creatine supplementation.

Does creatine expire?

Creatine does have an expiration date, typically listed on the package. It is usually stable for several years if stored properly in a dry, cool place. Beyond its expiry date, creatine may lose its effectiveness.

Does creatine make you bloated?

You will likely gain weight when you start taking creatine because creatine pulls water into your muscle cells. The water weight is usually temporary and may subside as your body adjusts to the supplement.

It’s important to note that bloating or accumulation of water under the skin is associated with extracellular water. Creatine mainly increases intracellular water inside the cells and is technically not bloating.

​See how much weight you can expect to gain on creatine.

Creatine Water Weight

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By |February 27, 2024|Supplements|0 Comments
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