There is no arguing that the basic fundamentals of bodybuilding training and nutrition work. Progressively adding more weight to the barbell, meticulously counting calories and fuelling training with high-quality food is always going to achieve results.
Supplementation is no different. Sure, investing in the best pre-workout or testosterone booster can help your results from time to time, but as far as fundamentals go, beginning with a combination of a high-quality whey protein combined with some simple sugars like dextrose is a great place to start. But what’s next?
Without question, it has to be creatine.
It is the most researched bodybuilding and performance supplement in history, with over 300 independent studies evaluating the effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations. With the exception of whey protein, creatine is the most popular nutritional supplement amongst bodybuilders and performance athletes and for good reason.
Unfortunately, the popularity of creatine supplements combined with the readily available scholarly articles and the continual media bashing of the side effects of creatine have perpetuated many myths regarding the effects and safety of creatine.
Here is some insight into the 5 Creatine Myths you NEED To Forget.
Myth 1: Creatine Causes Body Fat Gain
Correlation does not imply causation. Typically individuals reporting excessive increases in body fat percentage following the use of creatine do not associate these increases with a very obvious ‘lurking’ variable; increased calorie consumption.
An individual looking to gain strength and size will begin to supplement with creatine and also dramatically increase their food consumption to a point where they are eating in a severe caloric surplus. After 4-6 weeks they begin to notice an increase in size but also significant increases in body fat, so are quick to blame the supplemental creatine as the cause. They immediately cut back on their calories and also remove the creatine, and ‘Voila’ their body fat begins to drop. It must have been the creatine for sure!
Supplementing with creatine will cause the body to hold more water and therefore more weight, but this is nothing to be alarmed about. Increasing the body’s creatine content increases intracellular osmolarity. Consequently, water enters into cells increasing the volume of intracellular water and increasing the total body mass (1).
In a double-blind randomized study (2), American football players underwent a structured 28 day resistance training program and were assigned to supplement their diet with a phosphagen placebo (P) or 15.75 grams of Pure Creatine Monohydrate (HP). At the conclusion of the study, the group supplementing with creatine experienced significantly greater gains in total body mass and fat-free mass. Interestingly there were no significant differences observed in the changes in fat mass or body fat between the two groups.
In addition, a meta-analysis by Cooper (3) of 18 studies between 1967 and 2001 reported that Creatine was continually found to increase net lean mass and strength gains in subjects, with no notable increases in fat mass.
The data is very clear, there appears to be no correlation between creatine supplementation and increases in body fat, with studies supporting improved body composition via increased muscle mass and unchanged net body fat mass.
Myth 2: You Must Load Creatine
Creatine loading is essentially the process of taking creatine every day in a dose that is far beyond what is required by the body; typically 20-25 grams divided into 4-5 doses is taken for a period of 7 days to quickly saturate creatine stores in skeletal muscle. Creatine loading is certainly an effective method for reaching saturation and reaping the benefits of creatine supplementation, however, it is not necessarily the only method and does not appear to provide any additional benefits.
According to Cooper (3), more modest protocols of consuming 5-10 grams of supplemental creatine in what has been termed a ‘maintenance dose’ are just as effective in providing the improvements to training and cellular adaptations, albeit saturation will typically take 3-4 weeks. Loading is essentially only necessary for a bodybuilder or athlete if they wish to cause faster saturation and potentially reap some greater acute increases in strength in preparation for a show or competition.
In addition, protocols that promote periods of ‘loading’ often recommend cycling off creatine for 3-4 weeks. Not only is this unnecessary, but having a period of ‘cycling off’ can potentially result in the loss of the anabolic effects of intracellular water retention and strength increases that make creatine such an effective supplement.
Myth 3: You Can Get All Creatine From Whole Food
The body naturally stores around 100 grams of creatine across every human cell and uses around 2-4 grams per day for normal activity, half of which can be re-synthesized by the body itself with the rest coming from food.
To obtain an optimal supply of creatine from whole food only, a minimum of 500 grams of raw meat or fish needs to be consumed each day (and this is only to support normal activity levels let alone high-intensity training).
For a lot of individuals it simply isn’t practical, nor cost-effective, to prepare and consume this amount of animal protein per day, and it certainly isn’t an option for vegans or vegetarians who still want the performance benefits of creatine. Using a creatine supplement such as pure creatine HCl provides the full performance and physique enhancing benefits and is far more convenient and cost-effective than attempting to obtain all your creatine from whole food alone.
Myth 4: Creatine Is Not Suitable For Women
As far as most serious male bodybuilding and fitness enthusiasts are concerned, creatine is an absolute must in supplementation. As far as most women are concerned, it is one of the most feared and misunderstood supplements.
A lot of this fear is generated from creatine’s association with building muscle size and its association with increased water retention. Almost certainly women would have no issue supplementing with creatine if they truly understood its benefits for improving overall body composition.
A study conducted by Miller (7) examined the difference in strength and muscle fibre distribution in men and women, although men typically have larger and stronger muscles than women as by nature males tend to be larger in stature, there was no significant gender differences in the strength to cross-sectional area ratio. Therefore creatine’s ability to stimulate muscular adaptation and increase ATP production is the same in females as it is for males.
Ultimately creatine will enable females to increase their training workload which may indirectly increase the amount of calories burnt during each training session. In addition, creatine will promote an increase in lean muscle mass for females, resulting in an increased basal metabolic rate helping women to burn more total calories throughout the day, enhancing weight loss results.
Creatine has been shown to be an incredibly safe supplement and beyond its performance benefits has shown to improve cognition, decrease muscular pain, promote firm skin and may even provide benefits to lowering cholesterol.
Myth 5: Creatine Supplements Are Dangerous
There are a number of misguided claims in the supplement industry and the safety of creatine is one of the biggest. The fact of the matter is that there is little to no evidence suggesting that supplementing with creatine has any negative side effects.
A specific study conducted by Yoshizumi (4) established that creatine has no progressive effect that would cause negative consequences to renal function or kidney health to individuals following the recommended dosage of 5-10 grams per day.
In addition, some athletes have ‘reported’ muscle cramps as a side-effect of creatine supplementation but there also appears to be no studies supporting this. The study by Kreider et al (2) investigated creatine’s effect on athletic performance during heavy resistance training and reported no evidence of muscle cramping. Similarly, a study on sedentary females involved in a 10 week resistance program with creatine supplementation reported no muscle cramping or negative side-effects (5).
Creatine has also been reported to cause considerable gastrointestinal distress including stomach upset and diarrhea, again these ‘reports’ are not supported by scientific evidence. A study by Vandenberghe et al (6) reported 3 out of 9 subjects experienced minor gastrointestinal distress following 3 days of creatine supplementation, however, this was in conjunction with 400mg of caffeine per day, so there is really no surprise some subjects experienced this laxative effect.
Creatine is an extremely safe supplement that works very well. Users who are concerned about any potential side-effects would be best to stick to the recommended 3-5 grams per day using a high-quality creatine product.
1. Francaux, M., et al., Effects of training and creatine supplement on muscle strength and body mass. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 1999.80(2):p 165-168.
2. Kreider, R., et al., Effects of creatine supplementation, strength and sprint performance. Journal of Medical and Science in Sport and Exercise, 1998.30(1):p73-82
3. Cooper, R., et al., Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2012.9(33)
4. Yoshizumi, WM., Tsourounis, C., Effects of creatine supplementation on renal function. Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy, 2004.4(1):p1-7
5. Vandenberghe, K., et al., Long-term creatine intake is beneficial to muscle performance during resistance train-ing. Journal of Applied Physiology, 1997.83:p2055-2063.
6. Vandenberghe, K., et al., Caffeine counteracts the ergogenic action of muscle creatine loading. Journal of Applied Physiology, 1996.80:p452-457.
7. Miller, AE, et al., Gender differences in strength and muscle fiber characteristics. Eurpoean Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 1993.66(3):p254-62