By: James Kerrison
If you’ve been following my advice for any length of time you’ll know that I don’t push supplements.
There are a lot of people that will have you led to believe that in order to change your body, your health, your lifestyle that supplements are necessary.
They can be helpful in some circumstances (as you’ll see in this review) but it needs to be identified when this is so that you’re not just wasting your money on things you don’t need!
All to often people will put ‘the cart before the horse’ with way to much focus on supplements instead of getting getting the basics nailed first:
- Consistency with fundamental nutrition
- Intense and progressive exercise
- Mobility, rest and recovery techniques
- Sleep quality and quantity…a good night’s rest!
- A healthy, positive mindset with stress management
The other big issue, the elephant in the room if you like, is that quality control on supplements is terrible. You could argue that it’s non existent…who is checking the ingredients vs whats on the label…?
The one brand that I am happy to recommend to people is Bulk Nutrients. Not only do they produce the highest quality products but they also stand behind each and every product with their Purity Guarantee and lead the way with product testing. That and they’re a Tassie company that has great prices 🙂
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is a protein (made up of the three amino acids arginine, methionine and glycine) that is naturally produced by our bodies. It is also found in animal proteins such as red meat, fish and poultry.
It helps to produce ATP which is the gateway for energy in the gym and life in general. Specifically in the gym this energy system is responsible for the lower rep sets you’d be doing, although as you’ll see it can also help with longer forms of training.
If you’re already eating a diet that is rich in animal proteins you might be asking what is the need for supplementation?
Creatine supplementation is a super concentrated form which will allow your body to have much larger stores of creatine than when using diet alone.
This is the basis of using any supplement. It should be in addition to a solid, consistent nutrition plan and not used to try and make up for large holes in your diet.
This increased level of creatine in your body will add an extra source of ATP which will give your body (and brain) a boost.
Creatine and Increased Performance
It’s worth noting that creatine is one of the most researched supplements on the planet. You can check out the amazing work on creatine (and pretty much every other supplement) at Examine.com
If you’re looking to improve your performance in the gym or at any sport then creatine is a great place to start.
There’s evidence showing improvements in power output, strength, increases in lean muscle, fitness and even a decrease in body fat percentage.
One of the best ways for people to increase their fitness is to increase their strength, their weakness is in fact their weakness.
A good example of this with the training options at Citywide Fitness is that the stronger you get with the strength work in Transformation Training then the more you’ll be able to do (heavier weights, more reps) in our bootcamp sessions.
It’s like adding extra horsepower to a car engine, the stronger you are, the bigger the engine, the faster you can move.
Creatine supplementation can increase maximum strength anywhere from 5-15% which will carry over to every exercise you’re doing.
This increase in strength and speed also carries over to the endurance or cardio fitness side of things as well, it’s not just for people wanting to lift heavy things!
Increased sprint performance as well as endurance during repeated efforts (which covers basically all of our training modalities) has been shown repeatedly with creatine supplementation.
This can hep endurance based athletes looking to improve their 5km through to marathon (or further) times and allow you to go faster and harder on those difficult ‘Finishers’.
Creatine can also be used to add lean muscle quite effectively. A one to two kilo increase can quite often occur when training consistently, with intensity and progression over four to 12 weeks.
There are a number of mechanisms at play here and the last thing I want you to think is that taking creatine will make you ‘big and bulky’.
The increase in muscle weight can also correlate with a decrease in circumference. Many times we see people get heavier (or stay the same weight) on the scales but their measurements (and clothes) show that they’re getting smaller.
Muscle is more dense than fat (often put forward as muscle weighs more than fat) and this increased muscle allows you to train harder and recover faster meaning your achieving your goals sooner rather than later.
Total caloric intake, being in a surplus versus a deficit or maintenance, will be the overriding factor in weight gain and/or weight loss.
If your measurements are going up then we would look at the overall picture (training, recovery, nutrition, supplements) instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater!
Creatine and the Brain
One thing that sparked my renewed interest in creatine a few years back was the research on cognitive function, your brain.
Creatine has been shown to improve memory, reduce mental fatigue and also increase intelligence. So much for meatheads at the gym…creatine is also geek friendly 🙂
This is a great outcome for anyone with a brain…
You’ll be able to remember more details and maintain your focus for longer which is important not only with work but also at the gym. Focus and mental fatigue impact just about every workout so a small boost here can make a big difference long term.
There’s more and more research coming out all the time and the areas of research are expanding.
Is Creatine Safe?
Aside from media hype and famous sporting deaths being linked to creatine there is no research to support any of this.
Common anecdotal issues such as dehydration, soft tissue injuries, stomach distress or kidney damage have never been shown in the studies on creatine.
Short and long term usage (up to five years) has found no negative effects on kidney function but has been shown to improve brain and spinal injuries, muscular dystrophy. diabetes and high cholesterol.
Amongst a growing list of fad, useless and dangerous supplements, creatine is a proven and safe option for upgrading your performance and health.
How Much Creatine Should I Take?
There are two main ways to supplement with creatine.
The simplest way is to take 3-5 grams per day. This will have you at peak levels within a few weeks and is an easy habit to implement. Given that you can use creatine ongoing, long term, developing this habit is a good idea as well.
The other methods often prescribed is to have a ‘loading phase’ of 25-30 grams per day for five days and then back to the maintenance (3-5 grams) per day ongoing.
This will have you at ‘peak’ creatine levels faster but can be more of a hassle having to take it five or six times a day.
At the end of the month there will be no difference so choose whichever works easiest for you. One of the best things with creatine is that it is cheap (super cheap when you consider what it does AND IT ACTUALLY WORKS!) so getting through extra powder in week one won’t break the bank.
There are a number of different variations on creatine out there claiming to do XY and even Z, but the stock standard CREATINE MONOHYDRATE is all you need.
You can have it before or after a workout but it doesn’t work on a acute level per se, so having it when you remember, on a daily basis, is just as important.
I’d recommend using it for eight to 12 weeks and see how you perform, recovery, feel and track the changes in your appearance and measurements.
There is no need to ‘cycle’ on and off creatine so ongoing use is ok as is taking a break every few months.
You may want to use it in the lead up to a big event so that you’re training and recovery are improved and then not use it afterwards.
As with any supplement creatine isn’t a magic bullet, it’s not a miracle quick fix.
It will help when you are adding it to a diet that focuses on real, whole foods, you’re training continently with intensity and progression and you’re well rested with good sleep.
If your diet and lifestyle have huge holes in them, creatine (or any other supplement) isn’t really going to help.