Last week, while I was mixing my post workout shake, some dude approached me and asked what I just dropped in there. Once I spoke the dreaded word creatine I saw the life leave his face.
It's almost as if I said it was heroin mixed with steroids mixed with nuclear waste because he was literally having a panic attack explaining to me the science behind how bad it is for you.
Yeah, well my friend told me it causes water retention and you could blow up like a balloon.
I love hearing these responses. Especially the ones about creatine being a steroid. That's like saying whey protein is a steroid and every small child drinking cafeteria milk is on a cycle.
But, believe it or not, creatine is the most researched, most effective, and the safest supplement on the market.
So why do most think it's unhealthy? Read on to find out all the answers.
MYTH #1 CREATINE WATER RETENTION IS BAD FOR YOU
Truth: False. Creatine is deposited within the skeletal muscle cells where it essentially gets trapped. This then draws water into the cells causing the overall size to increase. This is NORMAL. When this happens there's an activation of stress response proteins which then influence muscle protein synthesis and your muscles eventually grow. The 5 pounds of water weight gained is negligible when the benefits outweigh it, significantly.
MYTH #2 CREATINE DAMAGES YOUR KIDNEYS
Truth: Wrong. For those that have two healthy functioning kidneys, definitely not. Most of what you've heard is anecdotal with several other variables being excluded. One study had a man with only kidney supplement creatine for over a month (20 g/day for 5 days followed by 5 g/day for the next 30 days). Blood work was done and it showed no problems at all. Another study wanted to determine the long-term effect of creatine supplementation on kidney function. They took 23 NCAA Division II football athletes and divided them into a control and a creatine group. The creatine group was given 5 to 20 grams every day for over 5 years. Once completed, blood work showed there were no significant differences between the creatine group and the control.
MYTH #3 CREATINE LOADING IS MANDATORY
Truth: No, you don't need to load creatine. Many studies didn't even use a loading phase and still had positive outcomes. This study showed there were no strength differences in one-rep max when loading creatine vs not loading. So there really is no point in loading creatine then since all that matters is the end result, especially when half of what you take in gets excreted anyway. According to researchers at St. Francis Xavier University, when supplementing with dosages of 0.1 g per kg of body weight, approximately half of that gets urinated out. So stop wasting money and just follow the 5 grams per day protocol.
MYTH #4 CREATINE CAUSES MUSCLE CRAMPS
Truth: Negative. Creatine muscle cramping is anecdotal and has zero clinical evidence to support this myth. It is a fallacy driven by the media and still supported by the general public. Recent studies have shown creatine to be beneficial in hot and/or humid environments. How so? It aids in thermoregulation, maintaining hematocrit levels, reducing exercising heart rate, and even influencing plasma volume during the onset of dehydration. Arkansas State University did a study where they found that creatine use by 61 Division I athletes during three years of football training camp and competition showed no effects on the incidence of muscle cramps, injury or illness. These athletes used 15.75 grams per day for the loading phase for five days, and another 5 to 10 grams per day as maintenance. The creatine group was the same and even lower in terms of muscle cramps and injuries reported.
MYTH #5 NEWER FORMS OF CREATINE ARE BETTER
Truth: BREAKING NEWS: Creatine Monohydrate is the cheapest and is the only form to have published studies done to prove its efficacy. No other form has enough evidence to claim it is better. And since we know that about half of whatever you ingest gets excreted anyway it's best to just stick with what has been proven by research time and time again. A study out of Texas A&M University showed that even the buffered form of Monohydrate (Kre-Alkalyn®) has no evidence to support the claims of fewer side effects and improved efficacy. What's more surprising is the muscle creatine content was actually greater in the Monohydrate group. So you're basically spending more money to get less creatine. That's not how you maximize your gains, bro.
MYTH #6 CREATINE MUST BE TAKEN AT A SPECIFIC TIME
Truth: Wrong again. When you supplement it, you increase your body's supply of creatine phosphate. This creatine phosphate is stored in your body so it doesn't matter when you take it. Whether it's the morning, afternoon, or evening it won't make any significant difference. You can, however, maximize your creatine uptake and improve muscle hypertrophy by taking it with a 1:1 ratio of protein to carbs, but still, no real evidence suggests that there's the best time to take creatine.
MYTH #7 YOU CAN GET ENOUGH CREATINE FROM EATING FOOD
Truth: It's possible, but you'd have to eat 2.2 pounds of uncooked beef in order to get the clinical dose of 5 grams of creatine. According to the NHANES III survey of American adults, the average man consumes 1.08 g and the average woman consumes 0.64 g of creatine per day from their diet. When you cook meat, you destroy a big part of the creatine. That's one of the main reasons why there is supplementation and why it needs to be recognized as safe and effective.
1. Effect of short-term high-dose creatine supplementation on measured GFR in a young man with a single kidney. Gualano B, Ferreira DC, Sapienza MT, Seguro AC, Lancha AH Jr. Am J Kidney Dis. 2010 Mar;55(3):e7-9. doi: 10.1053/j.ajkd.2009.10.053.
2. A buffered form of creatine does not promote greater changes in muscle creatine content, body composition, or training adaptations than creatine monohydrate. Jagim AR, Oliver JM, Sanchez A, Galvan E, Fluckey J, Riechman S, Greenwood M, Kelly K, Meininger C, Rasmussen C, Kreider RB. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Sep 13;9(1):43. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-9-43.
3. Effects of long-term creatine supplementation on liver and kidney functions in American college football players. Mayhew DL, Mayhew JL, Ware JS. Int J Sports Nutr Exerc Metab. 2002 Dec;12(4):453-60
4. The effect of 7 days of creatine supplementation on 24-hour urinary creatine excretion. Burke DG, Smith-Palmer T, Holt LE, Head B, Chilibeck PD. J Strength Cond Res. 2001 Feb;15(1):59-62.
5. The effects of creatine monohydrate loading on anaerobic performance and one-repetition maximum strength. Zuniga JM, Housh TJ, Camic CL, Hendrix CR, Mielke M, Johnson GO, Housh DJ, Schmidt RJ. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Jun;26(6):1651-6. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318234eba1
6. Effect of two and five days of creatine loading on anaerobic working capacity in women. Eckerson JM, Stout JR, Moore GA, Stone NJ, Nishimura K, Tamura K. J Strength Cond Res. 2004 Feb;18(1):168-73.
7. Effects of High-Dose Creatine Supplementation on Kidney and Liver Responses In Sedentary and Exercised Rats. Souza RA, Miranda H, Xavier M, et al. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 2009;8(4):672-681.
8. Putting to rest the myth of creatine supplementation leading to muscle cramps and dehydration. Dalbo VJ, Roberts MD, Stout JR, Kerksick CM. Br J Sports Med. 2008 Jul;42(7):567-73. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2007.042473. Review.
9. Creatine supplementation during college football training does not increase the incidence of cramping or injury. Greenwood M, Kreider RB, Melton C, Rasmussen C, Lancaster S, Cantler E, Milnor P, Almada A. Mol Cell Biochem. 2003 Feb;244(1-2):83-8.
10. A creatine-protein-carbohydrate supplement enhances responses to resistance training. Cribb PJ, Williams AD, Hayes A. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 Nov;39(11):1960-8.
11. The concentration of creatine in meat, offal, and commercial dog food. Harris RC, Lowe JA, Warnes K, Orme CE. Res Vet Sci. 1997 Jan-Feb;62(1):58-62.
12. Estimating protein quality of meat products from the content of typical amino-acids and creatine. Dahl O. J Sci Food Agric. 1965 Oct;16(10):619-21.
13. Serum creatinine levels in the US population: Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
Jones, CA et al. American Journal of Kidney Diseases, Volume 32, Issue 6, 992 - 999