Everyone should take creatine, even if their goal isn't to build mountains of muscle. Here's why and how to use it.
Creatine > Multivitamins
Despite little evidence to support their use, untold millions take multivitamins every day. Contrast that with creatine. Laypeople categorize it as a steroid and something used only by guys who always smell like a gym sock, but there's plenty of evidence that regular people could benefit from it.
Let me put it in stronger terms: Not only should creatine be in a lifter's protein drink, it should also be added to Dad's Budweiser, Mom's soy milk, Nana's chamomile tea, and grandpa's gruel. Hell, we might even find some day there's a case for adding it to Junior's sippy cup or juice box.
Creatine and Old Bastards
Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle tissue as part of the natural aging process. Muscles wither and the ability to do simple tasks vanishes. It's when old people truly become infants.
Weight lifting is an obvious answer, but as anyone who's ever had an aging relative can attest, convincing them to lift weights after a lifetime of inactivity will likely be met by grandma refusing to make you lemon bars or grandpa gazing sullenly at the TV for hours and refusing to take his meds.
However, at least a few studies have found that creatine supplementation alone – without resistance training – was enough to reverse sarcopenia to some degree.
Obviously, this creatine-induced reversal of muscle wasting worked a lot better when used in conjunction with resistance training, but the fact that it worked to any degree by itself is pretty remarkable.
Creatine and Longevity
There are several known mitochondria-friendly compounds. Among them are Coenzyme Q10, acetyl-l-carnitine, Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), and pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ). All of them, to one degree or another, help mitochondria produce ATP.
That leads to more energy, but it also makes for happier mitochondria, whose overall health determines not only how long a particular cell lives and thrives, but also how long the organ that the cell belongs to lives and thrives.
You get enough unhappy and unhealthy mitochondria and you start experiencing organ failure, and if enough organs fail it gets to be too much trouble and they scrap you instead of swapping out the malfunctioning parts. In other words, you die.
Oddly enough, creatine isn't generally given a seat at the table of these other mitochondria-nurturing supplements, even though it seems to be more effective than any of them in raising ATP levels.
Creatine and Heart Function
As anyone who's ever read an article on creatine knows, it leads to increased production of ATP, the body's energy currency. Among the types of cells that rely on adequate levels of ATP are heart cells, but these levels are invariably low in people with heart failure. This is typified by low energy levels and tiring quickly.
But when researchers give creatine to heart patients, they get stronger. Their energy increases. They slap bingo tiles onto their cards with renewed vigor.
While studies haven't shown creatine to affect the ejection fraction (how well blood is pumped out of the heart) of patients either way, creatine appears to be a cheap, easy way to make the lives of heart patients better and maybe, just maybe, a little longer.
Creatine and Miscellaneous Maladies/Benefits
- Creatine can lower blood sugar, particularly when combined with exercise. This suggests it may have a nutrient partitioning effect, i.e., it may help preferentially store carbs in muscle as opposed to fat.
- Creatine can increase the formation of osteoblasts (cells that make bone), which can help with bone formation, bone repair, and even osteoarthritis formation.
- Creatine can help reduce fat accumulation in the liver for people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- Creatine can help people with fibromyalgia (who have chronically low creatine phosphate levels, and ipso facto, low ATP levels).
How Best to Use Creatine
There are as many creatine-loading schemes as there are grains of creatine on the floor of my supplement pantry, but the best one is also one of the oldest:
- Take 0.3 grams per kilogram 4 times a day for 5 to 7 days. (There's no need to be so precise with the dosage, though. Just round it off to 5 grams four times a day.)
- Once you've loaded up, you only need to take 3 to 5 grams a day to maintain full capacity.
If this multiple times a day dosing thing is too inconvenient for you, so just take about 5 grams a day, every day. By the time 30 days are up, you'll have reached maximum cellular storage capacity, at which point you can just continue with taking 3 to 5 grams a day.
Just make sure you use micronized creatine where the grains are absorbed better than versions from the big box stores.
Is There a Best Time to Take Creatine?
As long as your cells are saturated with creatine (after the loading protocol or after 30 days of taking 5 grams per day), it probably doesn't matter when you take it.
However, there was a recent study involving 19 lifters split into two groups. Both groups did the same workout five days a week for 4 weeks. One group took 5 grams of creatine before their workout and one group took 5 grams of creatine after.
After a month, the men in the after-workout creatine group gained TWICE as much lean body mass as the pre-workout creatine group. The after-workout group also lost about 2 pounds more fat than the pre-workout group, in addition to being able to bench a couple of pounds more than the pre-workout group.
The researchers thought that maybe the workout somehow sensitized the cells to creatine uptake, or maybe the post-workout meal led to an insulin surge that also facilitated creatine uptake.
Whatever the reason, it certainly wouldn't hurt to take creatine after training. On non-training days, just take it anytime.
- Persky, A. M., & Brazeau, G. A. (2001). Clinical pharmacology of the dietary supplement creatine monohydrate. Pharmacological Reviews, 53(2), 161-176.
- Gualano, B., Novaes, R. B., Artioli, G. G., Freire, T. O., Coelho, D. F., Scagliusi, F. B., ... & Lancha Jr, A. H. (2008). Effects of creatine supplementation on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity in sedentary healthy males undergoing aerobic training. Amino acids, 34(2), 245-250.
- Antonio J, Ciccone V. "The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength." J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Aug 6;10:36.