Creatine is probably one of the most talked about fitness supplements available due to not only its benefits, but also concerns about its possible long-term side-effects. But is it good or bad for your six pack? Having researched it for myself, and with many years experience of where I have and haven’t used it, in this article I’m going to tell you everything you need to know to decide whether or not it’s right for you.
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is made up of 3 amino acids so put simply, it’s a protein like any other. It is found in red meat and fish, though much of it is destroyed by cooking, plus it is made naturally by the body. It’s stored mostly in skeletal muscle where it’s available for instant, high-intensity, explosive activities such as sprinting, power lifting or weight training. It hasn’t been shown to benefit aerobic or endurance activities such as marathon running because the effects of creatine only last about 10 seconds. After that time, a different energy system, the lactic acid system, is then used. It does however, help to reduce the amount of lactic acid produced. This is a good thing as lactic acid is a waste product that causes muscle fatigue and the burning pain you feel at the end of a good set.
The other main effect of creatine is an increase in muscle mass. Where this differs from other, less legal supplements, is that with creatine this comes mostly from water. This is because creatine draws water from other areas of the body and as it’s stored in skeletal muscle, it makes them look slightly bigger. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as you can imagine this does also have the effect of decreasing definition, which is always a bad thing.
The controversy around creatine comes from it’s possible side effects, particularly damage to the kidneys, as they deal with its waste product known as creatinine. While this is in theory a possibility, the well known guidelines on the maximum amount of creatine to use and how to take it are there for good reason. Only doses taken well in excess of these produce a very small number of cases where creatine was suspected as being the cause, though this was never proven.
Creatine is actually one of the most tested supplements available, and more realistic possible side effects are stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhoea, muscle cramps and weight gain. And even these are rare. Some of them come from simple dehydration as creatine takes water from other areas of the body, so drinking more fluids will prevent muscle cramps. While stomach cramps and diarrhoea can just be a reaction to a certain brand, especially one that has a carrier (see below) already mixed in. Simply trying a different brand can solve the problem.
How Much Creatine To Take
The precise amount of creatine you should be taking depends on how much you weigh. The general guide and the one that most reputable creatine supplement companies suggest is 20 grams a day when loading and 5 grams a day for maintenance. What this means is when you first start taking it, take 20 grams a day in measures of no more than 5 grams each time. This will ensure that you get the maximum amount of creatine stored in your body as possible. After this, the general guide is to take 5 grams a day to replace the creatine used during workouts for 4 – 8 weeks, then take none at all for about 4 weeks before returning to the loading phase.
The reason for this is to allow the body to have to produce its own creatine so that natural functioning still occurs, plus many people find that the first couple of weeks of taking it is the best.
What Is A Creatine Carrier
I mentioned earlier that some creatine supplements come with a carrier, in other words dextrose or some other simple carbohydrate. This helps to increase uptake into the body. Not only are these more expensive however, they often don’t taste too good (to say the least) and are unnecessary. As long as you’re taking creatine with some form of carbohydrate, even a cheap fruit juice, you will get the same effects.
Personally I have found that taking creatine increases my weight by 4 or 5 pounds after a week or two, so obviously this is due to extra water being stored in my muscles. Being a hard gainer means that for me this is a good thing. But as I have a body fat percentage that is always below 10 percent I see no loss of definition, in my six pack or anywhere else. I do notice a slight increase in strength, but mostly I notice an increase in muscle endurance. For example, where I can only do 8 reps with a certain weight without creatine, with it I can get to 10 reps. So as I can train harder with it I keep my body fat down and increase my muscle mass. I take creatine for 6 – 8 weeks and then have 4 weeks without it, and I’ve never noticed any side effects.
So Is Creatine Good Or Bad For Your Six Pack?
Well that depends. If you don’t have any side effects it could help you train harder, and while in the short term it might cause your six pack to look a little softer, in the long term it will help the muscles develop. That means that when you stop taking it, your stronger, more impressive six pack will be revealed. If you’re curious about what creatine will do for you though, the only way to find out is to try it. As long as you stick to the guidelines for how much and how often you shouldn’t have any problems but if you’re unsure, ask your doctor first.
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