The list of bodybuilding and muscle building supplements that are actually worth your dime is sadly a short one.
The simple fact of the matter is that you don’t need any supplements at all in order to build muscle. If you eat a diet high in protein and train hard, then you can build muscle naturally with no problems.
Unfortunately, supplement companies don’t like this fact and so they try to make us feel as though we need lots of supplements in order to grow. That’s why we get BCAAs, pre-workouts, myostatin blockers, testosterone boosters, post-workouts, GABA boosters, l-carnitine, nitric oxide… you name it!
And it’s not that none of these work. Some of these work great and can give you a real edge! But a lot of them are overhyped and really don’t do what they claim.
Creatine is different. Creatine is the one bodybuilding supplement that you really should be taking. Creatine makes a big difference to your gains and actually is very good for your overall health. Read on and we’ll answer the question of what does creatine do to your body and explore how to take creatine.
Creatine is a supplement quite unlike any other. This is a substance that is produced naturally in the body (the liver specifically) and found (in very small quantities) in red meats. Its job is to ‘recycle’ ATP. ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is the body’s primary energy source and it’s what glucose gets converted into.
When we use ATP, the energy is released by breaking apart bonds to create two separate by-products adenosine monophosphate and adenosine diphosphate. Ultimately, three phosphates have been broken into a two and a one.
What creatine does is to give the body the capacity to take the AMP and ADP and recombine them to form a new ATP. This allows the ‘ATP-CP’ energy system to last just a little longer, before the body switches to the lactic acid system.
Those that know their bodybuilding physiology will know what this means but for everyone else, it essentially means that you can go ‘all out’ and exert yourself maximally for just a bit longer before you start gasping for air or feeling major burn. When creatine is saturated in your system, you’ll get about a couple of seconds of extra maximum exertion. Not much then, but enough to make a difference in your training!
In the gym, this means that you can lift heavier weights for longer and that of course means you get more metabolites building up and stimulating growth and you get more microtears, leading to reparation and growth too.
On the track, it means you can sprint further and faster – which is why most professional athletes like sprinters also use it. This is perhaps the biggest testament to the effectiveness of creatine – if it didn’t work well, then Olympic athletes wouldn’t be using it!
But this isn’t all that creatine can do for you! One of the other big benefits of creatine is that it can increase the size of your muscles by about an inch… immediately.
That’s right, simply by taking creatine, you can expect your muscle to look larger. This is something that can’t be said for any other weightlifting supplement and it’s why everyone should be using creatine.
The reason for this is simple: creatine increases water retention in the muscle cells. The muscles store some of the creatine along with more water. This is enough to instantly make you look larger – although not everyone will respond the same way it is normally a safe bet to expect to increase in size with a little creatine.
On top of this, creatine is also a nootropic. Nootropics are ‘smart drugs’ that make people more focussed, more alert and better at remembering facts. The reason that creatine does this is that brain cells of course need ATP and energy too.
And by increasing the amount of ATP the brain can use, it allows you to concentrate just that little bit longer and to be a little more alert. All this essentially means that in studies, creatine has demonstrated the ability to increase the IQ by several points!
So now you know what creatine is, the next question is how you should take creatine. You might assume the answer is going to be straightforward (just swallow it!) but unfortunately, supplement companies have made this more complicated than it needs to be and introduced various cycles.
The argument for this is that you need to do a ‘loading phase’. This is intended to saturate the liver with creatine by taking large amounts for the first 5 days or so and to provide a base-line. Many supplement companies also recommend cycling on and off of creatine (like a steroid).
But the reason you cycle steroids is to reduce side effects. Creatine has no side effects (no, it really doesn’t) and so there’s no need to cycle. Meanwhile, it has been strongly implied that the only reason supplement companies want is to load is so that we buy more of their product and spend more money. Cynical but probably true. Most athletes these days take creatine like any other supplement.
As for the creatine dosage, the best advice is to follow your packaging – but a good starting point is usually thought to be around 0.3g per kg of lean mass. Try this and you should start seeing results fast!
Creatine is not a silver bullet and won’t transform your workouts overnight. But it is very effective at helping you to pump out just one or two extra reps, it has other benefits for your brain and your general health and it can add muscle mass without you needing to do anything. Alongside protein shake, this is one of the very best workout supplements on the market!