Yes, it really does make a difference when it comes to how to properly take creatine, a supplement for building muscle.
Creatine (monohydrate) is a supplement that comes in powder or liquid form, and research has shown that it improves strength and expedites increase in lean muscle tissue.
Supplementation increases the amount of this substance in muscle tissue. Creatine works to increase lean mass by increasing the water volume in muscle cells. More hydration predisposes a muscle cell to hypertrophy: growth.
Did our cave-dwelling ancestors have access to creatine? Absolutely yes, they did, although not in the supplemental form it is found in today.
The human body actually produces creatine; 95 percent of it is in muscle (called creatine phosphate), and the other 5 percent is in the brain and heart. Creatine is found also in meat and fish—two staples of the Paleo diet.
How much creatine should be taken to facilitate growth of muscle mass? First realize that creatine supplementation has no effect on cardio- and endurance-based exercise or sports. There are two popular ways to take creatine.
The first way is to take 3-5 grams a day, from the first day, and then simply stick to this regimen. It takes a few weeks, with this dosing protocol, for the compound to saturate the pre-existing creatine stores in muscle cells.
The other method is to “load” the supplement by taking 20 grams a day, for four or five consecutive days. This is done with four doses of 5 grams per day. The only advantage to this is that the saturation will occur much faster.
The downside is that four days of this kind of dose-tracking would be a hassle for many people, and hence, some individuals will forget a dose or two. The first method is a lot easier, with only one easy-to-remember dose a day right from the get-go.
When is the best time to take those 3-5 grams, whether one starts out that way or loads for several days first? There are mixed opinions on this.
One camp says to take doses right after a workout, since pre-workout, muscles already have a good supply of creatine. Post-workout, muscles have depleted creatine phosphate levels, and thus, an opportune time to take the supplement is after intense exercise, to restock the muscle cells.
The other camp says it makes no difference because the intake will drench muscle cells regardless of time ingested.
Recent studies, such as by Eckerson et al, indicate a third option: Load two days only (20 grams), and then go on maintenance of 3 grams a day.
Finally, when a person switches to a new training regimen, it’s wise to stop creatine supplementation to allow the body to respond to the new training stimulus without the “crutch” of creatine. After about a month, one can then resume supplementation.
If you skip several days of supplementation (illness, vacation, travel), there is no need to reload as long as you resume within 30 days; creatine levels will stay elevated for up to 30 days after supplementation ceases.
Note, too, that the loading and maintenance phases of creatine supplementation are the same for men and women. It’s an equal opportunity muscle builder.
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