During my many years in the gym and sports, I have taken advantage of practically every type of legal supplement available on the market.
I paid attention to each aspect of a particular supplement, such as the effect on the organs and the possibility of long-term intake, and not just the immediate impact it has on performance and muscle size.
Creatine is one of the supplements I have used the most effectively.
So let's find out more about this supplement, its benefits, and a topic on which there is no consensus - Creatine Cycling.
- What is Creatine?
- The Benefits Of Creatine Supplementation (What It Does)
- Are You Supposed To Cycle Creatine Or Not? (Expert Advice)
- Creatine Cycling: How-To Load & Cycle Appropriately
- When Is Creatine Cycling Not Necessary?
- Frequently Asked Creatine Cycling Questions
- Can I Take Creatine Daily Forever? (Our Verdict)
What is Creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid found naturally in the muscle cells of vertebrates. Your muscles are stores of creatine phosphate, which is a natural substance into which creatine is transformed in the body.
There are different types. Creatine monohydrate is the most famous and best form of creatine, but creatine nitrate and creatine HCL are increasingly popular.
Creatine phosphate is key to the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and ATP is the source of energy at the cellular level.
Creatine can be ingested naturally by consuming protein-rich foods such as meat or fish. Your liver, pancreas, and kidneys also produce a certain amount of creatine every day, but it is a very small amount, on average one gram.
Due to the small storage of creatine in your body and the low potency of the body to produce creatine, supplementation is recommended. While carnivores tend to ingest and produce 2 to 3 grams of creatine daily, vegans have an even lower amount.
Creatine is probably the most popular supplement, but it can slightly raise your blood's creatinine levels, especially if you consume the maximum amount. That does not mean you suffer from renal dysfunction.
The Benefits Of Creatine Supplementation (What It Does)
Most of the benefits of creatine supplements have been known since the 1970s. During the following decades, it became more and more popular, especially among regular gym-goers, but even among professional and endurance athletes.
It reached its peak of popularity in the 1990s, and the situation is the same today because, to this date, no more effective synthetic or natural supplement has been found.
I will list just the three most essential benefits, and there are many others.
Improved Exercise Performance and Muscle Mass
To understand how creatine improves performance, you don't need to be a biochemistry expert. To simplify things - after ATP releases energy, it becomes adenosine phosphate or ADP.
However, ADP does not contain energy, and it needs to become ATP again. That's where creatine comes in, which turns ADP back into ATP, helping you with high-intensity workouts and power output even though it is not stimulant (time stimulant usage such as pre-workout regardless of creatine.)
You'll notice how you can do more sets, reps, and exercises using this supplement. It is known that volume is key to building muscle mass. Even increased insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) is observed.
Volume and raised anabolic hormones build muscle mass, and your muscle mass will grow additionally due to water retention, so you will look bigger than you actually are. Reduced risk of injuries is another reason to use it as well as strength gains.
You will probably hear someone in the gym saying that creatine can cause dehydration and cramps. This is not true. Although it affects cell hydration, it does not cause problems.
Changes in cellular water amount are not significant enough, and if you hydrate, as usual, everything will be fine. Not only that, but the study proved that it alleviates muscle cramps.
It would be best to not rely only on creatine but follow your hydration and electrolyte intake routine. Then, you can certainly be sure that it will not create any adverse effects.
May Help With Numerous Conditions
In recent years, it has been discovered that creatine can be used for many purposes, which go far beyond muscle growth and exercise.
Parkinson's disease, other neurological diseases, and diabetes are just some conditions where creatine supplementation can potentially help.
Research is still ongoing, but the results are encouraging.
A creatine supplement can significantly reduce the drop in dopamine and phosphocreatine levels, which is very important for neurological diseases.
When we talk about diabetes, it has been observed that it increases the functionality of glucose transporter type 4 (GLUT-4). If you suffer from any of these diseases, do not take supplements on your own but consult a specialist.
Are You Supposed To Cycle Creatine Or Not? (Expert Advice)
When I started going to the gym, creatine cycling was practically not questioned. Every experienced bodybuilder and exerciser I talked to told me that creatine cycling is by far the most superior way of using this supplement.
I will explain in more detail how to cycle it and the three different phases. What generally differentiates cycling from regular intake of this or any other supplement is taking different doses during a certain period and then taking a break.
Learn More - How Much Creatine Should I Take? | Garage Gym Pro
Today, if you seek advice on whether you are supposed to cycle creatine, you will often get the answer that you don't need to do it. This is because new studies have shown that the average and best results are practically the same.
Creatine Cycling: How-To Load & Cycle Appropriately
If you think a creatine cycle will bring you more noticeable progress and help reduce the risk of side effects of creatine, feel free to go ahead.
I have had the most diverse clients, including professional athletes and beginners. The effect of creatine is generally very similar for everyone, regardless of fitness level.
I did not observe a significant difference in progress after the loading phase between entirely different groups of clients.
You must know that some people are 'non-responders' to the creatine supplement. Although it has not been scientifically proven why some people do not respond to creatine like others, the reason is probably a higher percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers.
I am certainly closer to 'non-responders' than those who experience the huge effects of using creatine, so from personal experience, I can confirm that it is not a myth.
Now let’s move to the three phases you should go through when cycling creatine. I will help you learn how to properly cycle it and boost your performance almost overnight.
Learn More - How Long Does Creatine Take To Kick In And Work?
The Loading Phase
The creatine loading phase is the crucial phase when you cycle creatine supplementation. This period lasts about a week. Generally, it should not be shorter than five days or longer than ten days.
The point is to load creatine muscle stores to the max. The body stores of any substance are not unlimited, including creatine. That's why 20 grams a day is considered the optimal daily dose. More experienced exercisers can try with more, but my recommendation for loading protocol is to stay under 30g.
Side effects such as bloating, upset stomach, nausea, and diarrhea are most common when taking high doses. The greater the amount you ingest, the greater the possibility that side effects will occur and the symptoms will be more severe.
Those with a sensitive stomach can try a slightly different approach to the loading phase, which will last about two weeks, and the daily intake of creatine will not exceed 10 to 15 grams.
During this phase, pay attention to nutrition and hydration, and rest even more than you normally do to rapidly saturate muscles to the maximum.
The Maintenance Phase
As the name suggests, now is the time to maintain the creatine levels you achieved during the previous phase.
It is difficult for me to say exactly how much creatine you need during the maintenance phase without knowing your weight, age, fitness level, diet, and goal, among other things.
On average, recommended doses are between 2 and 5 grams once a day. Take lower doses if you eat a lot of seafood and red meat. Otherwise, I like to stick to 5g daily.
This phase lasts approximately one to two months.
The Cycle Off Phase
Many believe that after your body has been exposed to creatine for 8+ weeks, you may begin to see less and less benefit. Then it's time to take a break.
After you start retaking creatine, the performance increase should be very noticeable. How long you will clean your body from creatine is up to you to determine.
About a month should be enough, and certainly not all creatine will disappear from your system during those several weeks and even long-term periods.
Muscle creatine levels will remain higher compared to pre-supplementation levels after prolonged use. Creatine takes months to leave the system.
When Is Creatine Cycling Not Necessary?
Creatine cycling is never necessary. Instead, I recommend to most of my clients to take about 5g per day without a loading phase and without a break since no adverse health effects are observed.
There are two primary reasons why 99% of regular gym-goers don't need to bother with the creatine cycle.
The first reason is safety - health risks of long-term creatine use do not exist. You can take small amounts, like one scoop, for years and don't have to worry about your kidneys or the rest of your body.
The second reason is that we do not build a tolerance to creatine. Antibiotic and painkiller tolerance are well-known phenomena that often occur, but creatine is an entirely different substance. Since it is natural for our body, it will always have the same effect on you.
Over time, your body will be able to store more and more creatine. The pause will not increase sensitivity, so everything implies that you do not need to cycle creatine.
Frequently Asked Creatine Cycling Questions
There is a difference between muscle mass and muscle tone or fullness. You will not lose the muscle mass you have gained because creatine supplementation has improved your performance. Since the water retention will decrease and the performance will not be 100% the same, that will bring a slightly smaller muscle pump. You will probably notice that you have shrunk a bit after you stop supplementing. However, it will certainly not be as significant as in people who stop taking anabolic steroids.
Weight gain is individual and will vary depending on many factors. Some factors that will have the most significant impact on the amount of weight you gain are age, workout intensity and training volume, sports nutrition, amount of nutrients, and rest. Another difference is whether you will go with the loading phase. You are expected to gain a few percent of your current body weight, usually 2 to 5 lbs. Also, creatine works differently for everyone, which is not the case with many other supplements like pre-workouts.
To supplement with creatine during the loading phase, take 20 to 30g daily to see benefits faster. After 5 to 10 days, reduce the amount by almost ten times to 3 to 5 g per day.
Extensive research has shown that creatine supplementation is entirely safe for most people. However, all those with kidney disorders should avoid it. Also, consult your doctor if you have any other chronic disease or are concerned that creatine may harm you. The same applies to pregnant women and younger people who are still developing.
Can I Take Creatine Daily Forever? (Our Verdict)
Along with whey protein and amino acids, creatine is the most well-researched and the safest supplement, so you can use creatine monohydrate practically forever, keeping your creatine stores filled.
It is safe for all healthy individuals and will significantly improve your performance and thus speed up gym progress.
Even if you are a 'non-responder,' it makes sense to take creatine because of its many other benefits.
There is no need to cycle creatine, but if you want to, it will not be harmful. That is a good approach for those who are impatient and want to take advantage of creatine usage faster, especially if you don't encounter side effects.