The best supplement you’ve never heard of

by Mary C. Weaver, CSCS on January 4, 2013

creatine supplementation

As my friends and clients know, I am not a raving fan of most supplements, shakes, pills, and powders.

I err on the side of caution and typically recommend trying to get most of your nutrients from whole food and throwing in a multivitamin and perhaps some fish oil just for insurance.

But there are two add-ons I always recommend for everyone who works out:

  • high-quality protein powder and
  • creatine monohydrate.

I’ve written tons of posts on the topic of getting adequate protein (to find them, just type protein into the search box at the bottom of this page), but today I’m going to talk about why if you work out, you need creatine.

What’s so special about creatine?

Several years ago I posted to a popular bodybuilding forum and commented that I thought creatine was “almost magic.”

One young person who responded to my post let me know that she thought that was a ridiculous thing to say.

But here’s why I said it.

I’ve been in and out of gyms since my first weight-training experience in, like, 1976 or ’77. Back in those days and in my heyday, the mid-1980s, we didn’t have supplements that accomplished jack.

Our protein powder was unbelievably nasty stuff (made from soybeans, and I don’t even want to tell you what that does to a person’s digestive system), and the supplements the magazine ads touted were more or less snake oil. And in those days we did not have creatine.

Unlike those crappy old supplements (and many of the new ones touted today), creatine really works–and in my book, that translates to “almost magic.”

Here are just a few of its benefits:

  • it improves strength
  • it enhances muscle growth (and more muscle = burning more calories 24/7 as well as having a firmer, better-looking body)
  • it increases the amount of time you can perform exercise without becoming exhausted and
  • recent research indicates that it improves cognitive function.

Creatine is a naturally occurring substance in the muscles of animals, including the human kind. Because it’s found in muscles, you do take in some creatine by eating meat. For that reason, vegetarians tend to have much lower levels of creatine in their bodies.

Unfortunately, you’d have to eat many pounds of meat on a daily basis in order to get the recommended dose: 5 grams per day, or approximately one rounded teaspoonful.

Myths about creatine

At this point creatine is the most studied nutritional supplement in history. Athletes have been taking it for several decades now, and hundreds of research studies on its effects—and its safety—have been conducted.

In the early days, some academics feared that creatine would cause digestive disorders, cramping, and even the likelihood of muscle tears. You can ignore all of those worries. The scientific consensus is that creatine is extremely safe for people who do not have liver or kidney disease.

A handful of people are non-responders, but most folks will see noticeable improvements in their strength and body composition (that is, more lean mass) within a month or so of beginning a 5-gram daily dose.

Another myth is that creatine causes the same symptoms as steroid abuse: becoming gigantic almost overnight, going into rages, developing terrible acne. Folks, there’s no way creatine can cause such effects unless it’s laced with anabolic steroids.

Just yesterday a client’s husband worried aloud to her that if she took creatine, she might become, well, someone much less pleasant to live with and look at. To assuage his fears, I e-mailed her a copy of Will Brink’s excellent free report on creatine (you can probably find a copy by searching on his website).

But that does bring up a significant concern: you need to make sure your creatine is pure. In the past, some brands have been tainted with impurities. The simple way to avoid that is to buy a brand with Creapure on the label.

The Creapure trademark indicates that the product was manufactured by the German company AlzChem AG, and you’ll know it’s pure, high-quality stuff. I typically buy creatine from a company called VitaCost, which sells a 2.2-pound container (200 daily doses) for less than $20.

Give it a try!

These are the good old days of supplementation, no question. It’s just so cool to do a creatine cycle and see one’s muscles getting fuller.

Creatine dissolves readily in liquid, so it’s easy to take. I toss a teaspoonful into a shaker with 8 ounces of low-fat chocolate milk (plus some protein powder) after a strength workout. And on non-lifting days, I combine my daily creatine with a glass of milk and sugar-free Nestle’s Quik or even a glass of water with orange-flavored sugar-free Metamucil.

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