Women and Creatine 101

Like a lot of women, even though I’d strength trained for years I was still afraid of using creatine. I’m careful about what I put in my body and had more than a few questions: Would this “natural” supplement cause my already sensitive stomach to balloon? Would it turn me into the Incredible Hulk? Is it even safe?

Women and Creatine 101

After some research, I decided to give creatine a try to see just how far it could take me with my muscle-building goals. Plus as a personal trainer, I wanted to know if I should recommend creatine to my clients. If you’re a woman who wants to ratchet up your strength-training game to the next level, here’s what you need to know about this muscle-building tool (and deets about my own results!).

The Scoop on Creatine

Creatine is a naturally occurring substance – a combination of three amino acids – found in high-protein foods such as red meat and some fish. However, most people only get about 1g of creatine per day from their diet, and cooking food tends to destroy the substance. Creatine is also produced in the human body in very small amounts. This brings us to creatine monohydrate, which is a natural, inexpensive supplement used to enhance physical performance.

Creatine has been studied widely; it’s accepted that it’s one of the safest supplements you can buy for most people. Research has shown that heavy strength training and regular creatine use can increase the body’s ability to produce energy rapidly, enabling you to eke out more reps and contract the muscle more powerfully with the same amount of weight. Both strength and performance have been shown to improve (and even concentration, among other benefits), but creatine also has been shown to benefit high-intensity sprinting and endurance activities (the benefits diminish the longer an exercise session continues). But creatine is most commonly used to increase strength and energy during workouts and enhance muscle growth.

My Experience

It was about three weeks after I started using creatine that I noticed an extra push during my workouts (I even noted it in my training log – “Feelin it!”). I was clearly able to push harder – I felt more rested after each set and had more energy than usual.

In the following three months, I gained half an inch in my glutes, shoulders, and biceps. This may not seem like much, but when you’ve been training for many years the gains come much more slowly. I also went from three unassisted pull ups to seven and had overall strength gains in my lifts.

Now I doubt creatine was the cause of ALL these gains; I implemented a number of changes during the last three months. I started using pull-up bands, changed my shoulder program, and became more structured about my workouts. In effect, I started applying some of the principles I use with my personal training clients to myself.

Would I have progressed to seven pull ups without creatine? I’m not sure. I definitely have more energy during my workouts and can push harder. This is bound to translate into strength and muscle gains. And I love the feeling of tighter shirt sleeves and seeing those measurable changes.

How to Take Creatine

There is a great deal of misinformation out there about creatine. Here are the facts!

How Much

You only need around 5g of creatine per day. You might hear that you should “load” creatine for the first week by taking 20g per day to saturate your muscles, but most experts say this is not necessary. I personally took about 4g from day one. I felt an improvement in my performance after three weeks.

What Kind

Powdered creatine has been shown to be more effective than liquid. Some say to buy micronized creatine (a commercially manufactured form of creatine that may absorb faster). I didn’t use micronized creatine but I did buy a brand featuring Creapure®, which guarantees the product’s purity and quality. Buy plain creatine monohydrate without added sugar or other ingredients.

How to Mix

Mix creatine with water, chocolate milk, a protein shake, or whatever you want. It doesn’t have to be a high-sugar drink as some claim.

When to Take

The time of day you take creatine doesn’t matter, according to most experts. I’ve seen claims that taking creatine post-workout may be beneficial, but I don’t know of any evidence to support it. There is conflicting advice out there about whether to cycle creatine – that is, giving it a rest because your body has adapted. Personally, I plan on taking a break only because my winter building push is coming to an end and I’m more focused on leaning out for summer.

What to Expect with Creatine

  • Look for an increase in performance in three to four weeks, if you aren’t loading.
  • While creatine may cause gastrointestinal discomfort in some people, it did not cause water retention/weight gain/stomach issues for me (and I have a sensitive stomach). Some say micronized creatine causes more water retention; I didn’t use this type.
  • When you feel crazy energized and want to go hard, there’s the potential to injure yourself. Do push hard but allow your body to recover sufficiently, too.

Creatine may be just what you need if you’ve hit a plateau or want to go hard and improve your results. Have you thought about taking creatine, or have you already? Share your thoughts below.

This article originally appeared on www.workoutnirvana.com.

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Comments

  1. Great info, Suzanne!

    I started using a pre-workout on days that I know I am going to be going hard and it has creatine in it as well. I, took, thought it was just for the Incredible Hulk types, so was surprised how good I felt taking it! I was doing it daily, but opted to cut back and only use when I feel necessary, but definitely not a supplement I am afraid of.
    Jennifer recently posted....the weekend I worked a stripper poleMy Profile

  2. yes yes yes. Thank you SO MUCH for this post. Lots of good enough I’ve been needing to know but was too lazy to piece together on my own. Now I have a question: if my son took Creatine during track season, would this be considered an illegal performance enhancer? Any info on Creatine and athletes?
    Yum Yucky recently posted..…they shouted obscenities at the biohazard troops, demanding answers.My Profile

    • No, creatine isn’t considered an illegal enhancer, though I have no idea how kids’ sporting organizations view it. Not many studies have been done on its effects on children, so it may not be recommended for children. In terms of athletes, studies show a positive impact on aerobic activities. This article talks about everything creatine, including children and endurance uses: http://www.jissn.com/content/9/1/33

  3. I’ve tried various types in the past and didn’t really notice a difference. I also took something that was supposed to help recovery. Maybe if I tried it again now that I’m lifting a lot I’d notice a change…
    Lisa recently posted..MRIMy Profile

    • You may not have been taking it correctly or maybe it wasn’t creatine (there aren’t but a couple of different types). At this point, given your current goals and your injury, I don’t think you’d benefit (speaking as your personal trainer), but maybe later :).

  4. I have used it when I was younger & then the newer version a few years back & loved it! Newer stuff so much better than when I was young! I used the EFX brand in powder. I did not even take in water. Just took the serving size in my mouth before I left for the gym. I LOVED IT!!!!! If I could afford, I would still take it. I also cycled it….

    Great post!!!!
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted..Gratitude Monday & My SabbaticalMy Profile

  5. Great post and I’m glad you wrote about this because I have been curious about Creatine, and I must say, my greatest concern were two things you mentioned here: is it hard on your stomach (I have IBS too); and will it cause bloat and/or weight gain? I’m going to give it a go. The powder kind. 🙂
    Bethany Lee recently posted..Weightlifting: Four Lessons It Has Taught MeMy Profile

  6. Thank you for posting this information in an easy to understand fashion. I have been curious about Creatine for a while now but had trouble finding a women catered ‘Creatine 101’ article without the author getting extremely scientific with their supplement breakdown. I’m always looking for an extra boost when it comes to weight lifting days at the gym. 🙂
    Lauren recently posted..Truckin On TuesdayMy Profile

    • I hear you so I’m glad you found it helpful. There’s only so much scientific background a person needs when taking this easy-to-use supplement! You’ll love creatine :).

  7. This is such an informative article! Thank you so much for sharing it with all of us. I’m actually looking for something which would help me to push myself in performing my workout. I must give this a try, there’s just something that concerns me, regarding the side effect of this Creatine (intestinal upsets), I usually have an irritable stomach, that means whenever I take food or supplement which my stomach doesn’t want, it causes diarrhea. I just hope that this won’t happen in Creatine. (Fingers crossed)

    • This was my biggest concern too. I felt some minor bloating 5 days after starting, but it went away (could’ve been from something else). My stomach is very sensitive and I didn’t have any other issues, but it’s pretty individual. If you decide to try it, stick to non-micronized and keep a record of any changes. You can always stop if your stomach acts up.

  8. Hi Suzanne,

    I think that not drinking enough water is one of the problems that people have with the stomach/gas problems with creatine. To get the best out of creatine it is wise to drink a gallon or more of water a day. The problem with this is that at work and where ever you are it will require constant trips to the restroom for many. The bloating and sensitive stomach issues will go away once your body gets used to drinking water all of the time from my experience.

  9. Bethany Lee says:

    Hi Suzanne, I finally bought my powdered creatine and just started taking it. I came back here to read more about HOW to take it. Thanks for this post–very helpful. I will let you know if 3-4 weeks if I notice anything. 🙂

  10. Creatine is great, especially in a pre-workout supplement when you need that extra boost before you attempt to break a PR. Just make sure you drink a ton of water, all throughout the day you need to be drinking water. This is how I got my best results, although I used creatine to bulk up and I know many women don’t want to bulk up. So, it’s up to you and your goals really..

  11. Thank you for sharing this valuable information you’ve tested yourself! Nothing is more assuring than trusting information from someone who has actually tried it all! Wish you well on your endeavors, and certainly ready to hit the weights. I’ve gained endurance and lost the weight I need, to be able to gain some strength in the weight room!
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  12. victoria belasco says:

    Hello,
    I love this article a lot! It is reader friendly and keeps me interested in reading more. I currently have been supplementing creatine to my workout program since October of last year and have noticed dramatic changes in my training. My question is about on your off days, should you be taking it or is it ok to skip the days you are not working? I am really horrible at staying consistent in taking my supplements but my gains is a huge deal to me. I just want to make sure I am doing everything right!

    • Glad you enjoyed! Yes, you should take creatine every day to see results, consistency is important. Personally, setting a reminder in my phone worked for me, and keeping the creatine out on the counter :).

  13. aleica ramos says:

    At the end of the article you stated you were now leaning out for summer. I’d love to hear more about how you lean out….

    • For me, it’s really about activity. I try not to gain fat in the winter, but if I do, it comes off pretty easily with hiking, cycling, and walking. In the winter, I add in high-intensity interval training 1-3x/week or short HIIT finishers. To lose fat I’ll also track my calories for awhile and reduce them VERY slowly. But the goal is to continue eating clean year round and minimize fat gain.

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