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?
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.
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!
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.
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.