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While the benefits of creatine are well-documented, harnessing its maximum potential requires more than just adding it to your daily regimen.

In this article, I’ll explore strategies, dosages, and timing to help you extract every advantage from creatine monohydrate.

What Is Creatine

Creatine is a molecule in an energy system (creatine phosphate) that can rapidly produce energy (ATP) to support cellular function, and this underlies the performance-enhancing and neuroprotective properties of creatine — a remarkably safe and well-researched supplement for most people.

Its use is catered mostly towards increasing the rate of muscle growth and increasing power output with somewhat lesser but present benefits on skeletal muscle endurance. It lets you lift a bit more.

Beyond these usages, creatine supplementation also appears to have neuroprotective properties. It may act as a cognitive enhancer (for vegetarians) or antidepressant (currently only shown in females). Although not directly demonstrated in human interventions, the mechanisms of creatine supplementation also suggest it can preserve cellular integrity (reducing apoptosis rates) and promote cellular longevity.

It has a lot of other side benefits.

How Does It Work

Creatine participates in the creatine phosphate system, a mechanism in which creatine and creatine phosphate interchangeably donate or receive a phosphate group.

This phosphate group has the remarkable ability to efficiently replenish molecules that have lost their phosphates and require replacements, with the most notable and pertinent example being the regeneration of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) from ADP (adenosine diphosphate). ATP serves as the primary ‘energy currency’ within a cell. Creatine facilitates the direct replenishment of ATP, bypassing the need for an extensive process involving the breakdown of other molecules to generate it.

In a nutshell, creatine supplementation merely increases the creatine pool in a cell and allows for a more significant total phosphate donation, resulting in more ATP replenishment.

Is It Safe

No known clinically significant side effects are associated with using creatine supplementation. In this context, “clinically relevant” refers to any adverse effects that may impact one’s health (such as kidney or liver damage, which have been definitively disproven).

Nonetheless, some “side effects” are linked to creatine supplementation.

Ingesting excessive amounts of creatine in a single dose due to restricted intestinal absorption at high doses and its capacity to attract water into the intestines can result in diarrhoea. Furthermore, the water-attracting properties may lead to an unsettled stomach or feelings of nausea.

These can be avoided by taking creatine with ample water and not taking excessive creatine at once.

How Much Should You Take

For individuals who are not highly active or only engage in mild physical activities, a daily creatine dosage of approximately 2-3 grams is sufficient.

However, for those who are actively involved in sports and experience a higher turnover of creatine in their muscle tissue (which serves as the body’s primary creatine “storage” area), a minimum daily dose of 5 grams may be advisable (although the 2-3 gram range remains effective for cautious supplementation).

Loading periods can help see if you are a responder to creatine supplementation (as water weight gain will be more noticeable), but are otherwise unnecessary.

Should It Be Cycled

Cycling of creatine is unnecessary. The conventional practice of utilising creatine cycles, involving a one-week loading phase followed by three weeks of maintenance and subsequent one to two weeks off, is superfluous mainly because creatine persists in the body for an extended duration.

Given that creatine does not interact with receptors and there is no established concept of ‘creatine sensitivity,’ there is no rationale for discontinuing creatine intake.

Products are usually cycled because your body develops a tolerance to them – this does not apply to creatine supplementation.

What Happens When You Come Off It

Upon discontinuing creatine supplementation, creatine levels typically take a few weeks to a month to return to their pre-supplementation levels.

The duration of this normalisation process varies based on factors such as exercise frequency (with more significant physical activity expediting the normalisation rate) and the initial amount of creatine stored in muscle tissue.

While it’s worth noting that creatine supplementation acutely inhibits the body’s production of creatine by suppressing the rate-limiting enzyme, this inhibitory effect is typically reversed within one to two days after ceasing creatine intake.

Notably, there does not seem to be any “rebound” period following the cessation of creatine usage, and the temporary hindrance of creatine synthesis might not necessarily be detrimental (it may even have certain health benefits, such as preserving S-adenosylmethionine for other bodily processes).

There will be an associated loss of water. There will be no loss of muscle – any musculature created while on creatine will remain if you cease supplementation.

Can It Cause Baldness

In the past, creatine has been associated with a potential increase in DHT levels, a more potent androgen known to impact power output positively but also linked to adverse effects like hair loss and prostate cancer in susceptible individuals.

It’s important to note that the elevation of DHT and its potential impact on hair loss is not concerning for individuals with a healthy head of hair. However, those already experiencing a receding hairline may find that their hair loss accelerates when using androgenic supplements that can raise DHT levels.

Despite the concerns surrounding creatine supplementation and its possible connection to hair loss, no clinical trials have explicitly addressed this issue.

It’s worth mentioning that while DHT itself can be a stressor, the accumulation of creatine in hair cells may offer some protection by enhancing energy production. Nevertheless, the overall effect of creatine supplementation on men with receding hairlines remains unexplored.

There will be an associated loss of water. There will be no loss of muscle – any musculature created while on creatine will remain if you cease supplementation.

When Should It Be Taken

Creatine can be taken at any time and will reside in skeletal muscle tissue until required (unlike pre-workout supplements like caffeine or citrulline).

Some evidence suggests (but does not prove) that taking creatine alongside caloric and nutrient intake would be more beneficial than taking it in a fasted state, so it may be prudent to take creatine with meals.

The Best Type Of Creatine

Creatine does not have a ‘best form’ at this point – for all intents and purposes, creatine monohydrate is as effective as any other version.

While other newer forms, such as creatine HCl or creatine nitrate, maybe more water soluble, they are not demonstrated to be more effective at building muscle.

Creatine And Fat Loss

Creatine is not known to have substantial interactions with fat loss; therefore, a reasonable inference is that creatine is unlikely to influence the rate of fat loss significantly.

Extended studies involving creatine supplementation do not reveal any discernible changes in fat mass compared to a placebo, particularly when exercise is not a part of the equation.

Including exercise, as creatine helps in power output, would have a slight effect in aiding in fat loss.

Creatine And Cognition

In a healthy person with sufficient sleep, creatine is still neuroprotective and beneficial for the brain. However, there are unlikely to be any noticeable effects on cognition.

In sleep-deprived people, creatine supplementation can somewhat attenuate the adverse effects of this state on performance.

In vegetarians or vegans, creatine supplementation can be called a cognitive enhancer because, in this population, which is somewhat deficient in creatine due to not eating meat products, creatine reliably increases memory formation and attention.

Is Creatine Vegan

While creatine was initially identified in meat and early research involved extracting it from animal sources, contemporary methods have allowed synthesising creatine in laboratory environments using more cost-effective plant-based raw materials.

Consequently, obtaining a vegan creatine product is entirely feasible, although it is advisable to reach out to the intended supplement manufacturer for confirmation before making a purchase decision.

The Bottom Line

Creatine is safe and very effective. While it won’t miraculously transform you into a powerhouse overnight, it does enable you to lift heavier weights.

With consistent use, creatine gradually enhances your strength. Moreover, it boasts the potential to offer various benefits, such as supporting cell membranes and providing neuroprotective effects, among others.

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