Does Creatine Cause Weight Gain?
“The theme remains the same, the gap between the optimal and sub-optimal methods of ingestion are so minimal that even the best choice comes down to personal preference.”
The Great Debate
To get an understanding of where confusion and misinformation come from in the supplement industry, we must pay respect to the ageless adage; business is business. Fitness supplementation is an industry that thrives from misinformation, confusion, and the beloved placebo effect. The less you understand, the more likely you are to buy a product, the more likely you are to purchase a product, the cheaper the advertisement costs, the cheaper the advertisement costs, the more money the company gets to keep. Since misinformation and consumer confusion lead to increased cash flow for supplement companies, the desire for them to interfere with the circulation of misinformation registers at about a -37 on a scale from 1 to 10. Does this mean all supplement companies are deceitful? Not at all. Does this mean all supplements cater to the placebo effect and don’t produce tangible results? Again, not at all. It means the creatine company you just bought monohydrate from is in a financially beneficial position because the average gym goer thinks they need a loading phase to achieve results. Loading increases the amount of powder used per day, the faster you use their product, the faster you need another container. That’s a perfect example of misinformation leading to an increase in a company’s cash flow. They aren’t lying to you. Technically they’re giving the consumer exactly what they think they need while opting not to incorporate the indisputable scientific evidence that would negatively affect total sales in their marketing campaign. A marketing campaign focused on pushing unbiased scientific evidence would generate a more educated consumer. A better-informed consumer would result in a substantial increase in the overall accuracy and efficiency of product consumption, leading to a steep decrease in product usage. Keeping cash flow in mind, we can see why supplement companies play to misinformation and keep the hard science in the R&D department and out of the marketing campaigns. This ideology is why even creatine, the single most studied supplement in fitness, still has so much confusion behind it about what it does and how it works. After all, business is business.
What Exactly Is Creatine?
Well, don’t take it from me, let’s ask examine.com instead. “Creatine is a molecule produced in the body. It stores high-energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine releases energy to aid cellular function during stress. This effect causes strength increases after creatine supplementation, and can also benefit the brain, bones, muscles, and liver. Most of the benefits of creatine are a result of this mechanism. Creatine can be found in some foods, mostly meat, eggs, and fish. Creatine supplementation confers a variety of health benefits and has neuroprotective and cardioprotective properties. It is often used by athletes to increase both power output and lean mass.” To summarize, creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid that is produced in the liver and used to supply energy to the areas that need it most. Because creatine is a naturally produced substance, supplement companies cannot make “new creatine.” They can, however, include additives and extras in hopes of “increasing” the absorption rate, absorption percentage, or even aiding in energy via added stimulants. Keep this in mind when shopping around for creatine monohydrate.
HOW SHOULD YOU TAKE IT?
Regular creatine monohydrate or micronized creatine monohydrate? To load or not to load? How often should you cycle, or should you even cycle at all? The truth is the answer to every single one of these questions comes down to personal preference because the threshold between optimal and sub-optimal is so thin with this supplement. Regardless, let’s take a look at the science to identify the optimal process of taking creatine, even if the differences are marginal at best. Micronized creatine is widely thought to be superior to regular monohydrate due to increased water solubility and absorption rates. If stomach pain is an issue you deal with when using regular monohydrate, switching to a micronized version of creatine will help ease that pain by its ability to not form an insoluble precipitate in the stomach (clumping). If you’re hoping for any other benefit outside of decreasing stomach pain, the science doesn’t support your thought process. Examine.com reviewed over 770 scientific studies on creatine and concluded that no form of creatine has proven to be more powerful or potent than creatine monohydrate. “Assuming Creatine Monohydrate (most frequently used in studies) is the standard by which to compare, no form of creatine has shown to be more powerful or potent.” They also concluded that there is no real difference between the different forms creatine comes in. “There are no significant differences between powders, tablets, or capsules. Capsules and tablets are just vessels for the powder.” It should be noted that these conclusions were reached under the assumption that equal amounts of creatine were being used to compare the differences in results in these studies. The science speaks, and the results are clear. Aside from helping curb stomach pain, it doesn’t matter which creatine you take or the method you choose to ingest it. I prefer micronized creatine because it dissolves in my water and I don’t have to chew on monohydrate crystals with my breakfast, the choice is yours. Moving on, perhaps the most debated creatine-focused topic to date concerns loading, should we do it or should we not? The first issue with this question is that the answer to it completely depends on the time frame within the context of whoever is asking the question. In other words, loading creatine (which is usually done by taking around 0.3g/kg (20-30g) per day for a week) will indisputably result in faster saturation letting you reap the benefits of the supplement a little quicker. Skipping the loading phase and starting off by taking a steady “maintenance” amount (5-10g per day on average) will result in the same level of saturation over a longer period. The most important factor is the end-result, studies show the differences in results at the end of a cycle between those who loaded and those who began with a maintenance dosage was minimal. You can look at this conclusion one of two ways; if you’re patient and don’t need the instant gratification, you can extend the use of the supplement by skipping the loading phase. Or, you can load, reap the benefits a bit faster (which can be justifiable for placebo reasons), and then proceed to justify that due to creatine being one of the cheapest supplements on the market. The theme remains the same, the gap between the optimal and sub-optimal methods of ingestion are so minimal that even the best choice comes down to personal preference. Last but not least, to cycle or not to cycle? The most important thing to acknowledge when discussing this topic is the fact that the type of long-term study required to answer this question in its entirety simply hasn’t happened yet. With that said, the available science doesn’t give us any logical reason to cycle off of the supplement. You, like us, can take that information and reach the conclusion that cycling off of creatine would be a waste of time until proven otherwise. With that said, if cycling off of the supplement helps you mentally, by all means, do it.
The science has spoken in a tone that refuses a hard “yes” or “no” to the questions commonly asked surrounding creatine. What does that leave us? Freedom. As long as you’re taking the supplement in it’s recommended dosage, you will reap the benefits. If optimizing your experience using the supplement (in a minimal manner) is of your interest, you can implement some of the strategies we covered above to try and squeeze out every ounce of benefit possible. The single most important thing to take away here is this, the supplement works. Take it.
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