Sports supplements 101: Creatine and Muscle Gain

Ask what’s in the sports supplements stack of any strength or power athlete, physique competitor or bodybuilder and there’s one thing sure to be there: creatine powder.

What is creatine, why does it build muscle and what are the best creatine supplements?

Creatine is one of the best muscle building supplements available. It’s safe, cheap and widely researched (in 2013, PubMed had close to 1800 creatine-related articles). Creatine monohydrate is the best and most popular form of creatine powder supplement, but what is it? It’s actually a natural compound which we get through our diets (meat and fish), but it’s tough to take in optimal levels through diet along. That’s why most bodybuilders, physique athletes and strength athletes supplement with creatine powder.

What are the muscle building benefits of creatine powder?

Supplementing with creatine has major benefits for strength training, recovery and muscle gain. Boosting your dietary intake through creatine powder means you’ll have a stored source of energy for the body (a good strategy if you’re involved in high-intensity training or explosive lifting). Creatine really comes into its own when adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the body’s preferred energy pathway, can’t keep up with the demands of your hardcore training.

Busting the myths

The gym floor and locker room is rife with misunderstandings about sports supplements (ever heard anyone ask “will creatine make me hold water?” – thought so!) The truth is that creatine will draw water into muscle cells, but worries about holding water are over-exaggerated. Most physique athletes and bodybuilders like it, because intracellular water adds to muscle hypertrophy (“the pump”). Are there any creatine side-effects? You might hear anecdotal reports of muscle cramps and slight stomach issues, but the main side effect is fluid uptake and associated weight gain. So if you have to make weight for your sport, you might want to cut back close to competition time.

Can women use it?

Yes, women can and should supplement with creatine – for exactly the same reasons as men should. If a female is involved in strength or power training then creatine will almost certainly help build muscle and keep muscles full.

How much should I take and when should I take it?

3-5g is an optimal daily dose. The best time to take it is after training, or at a separate time of day. Don’t take it just before you train, because creatine draws water from muscle tissue into the GI tract, potentially leading to mild muscle cramps.

Creatine for vegans and vegetarians

Meat eaters will get minimal dietary creatine from the meat and fish they eat. If you don’t eat animal products at all, you’ll be hard pushed to get any from your diet, so vegans and vegetarians should definitely use creatine powder.

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