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How To Take Creatine

One of the most important decisions for a creatine user is determining the right amount to take. Your daily dosage needs to be high enough to achieve the benefits you seek, yet should not be so high as to overload your body's ability to assimilate this nutrient. Clearly, there is no advantage to consuming so much creatine that part of your dose winds up flushing out of your plumbing. At the same time, creatine usually has no side effects when taken in moderate amounts, so there isn't any particular reason (other than cost) why you couldn't include a modest margin for error in your daily dose.

In the past, recommended dosages for creatine were simple. Users were told to take so many grams for so many days or weeks to load up on nutrient, then take a lower maintenance dose of so many grams from that point on. While these recommendations had the advantage of simplicity, they also resulted in some people getting to much creatine for their needs, while others would be taking to little to achieve the maximum possible gains.

One way to get part of the creatine you need is to consume the skeletal muscles of other animals. Just as human muscle contains creatine, so does the muscle of most mammals and fish. 

While you can get some of the creatine you need from these proteins sources, you shouldn't dramatically increase your meat and fish consumption in order to pump your muscles full of this nutrient. Remember that meat and fish contain a lot more than creatine. All animal flesh contains relatively high amounts of cholesterol, which has been associated with hardening of the arteries. Also, most meats, especially beef and pork, contain high quantities of saturated fats.
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The Loading Phase

The concept of a loading phase came from scientific studies done in the early 1990s. A 1992 study by Harris found that a low dose of creatine monohydrate (1 gram) produced only modest increases in the blood level of creatine, and no appreciable increase in muscle. Other studies with low dosages had similar results. On the other hand, Harris discovered that 5 grams given four to six times a day resulted in a sustained rise in blood levels, and a significant accumulation of creatine in muscle fibers. It was therefore determined that higher creatine levels in muscle could only be achieved if there are a consistent elevation in the amount of creatine in the blood stream over a prolonged period of time.(11) 

The question then became how long this loading period had to be. It turns out to be not that long at all. Harris gave his study subjects 30 grams of creatine per day, which by today's standards is a very high dose, even for the loading phase. Study participants weighed around 175 pounds and engaged in only light exercise during the course of the study. Harris found that the muscles could only absorb so much creatine. After the maximum level had been reached, the excess amount was converted into a waste product called creatinine and excreted in the urine. Harris discovered that on the first day of supplementation, 40 percent of the administered dose was excreted. This amount rose to 61 percent on the second day, and 68 percent on the third day. So by day three, two-thirds of the creatine consumed was wasted.

If you keep taking high doses of creatine after your muscles have been loaded, you're basically unloading; that is, unloading your cash.

The recommendations for the loading phase are 5 grams, so your daily loading dose would be two to four rounded teaspoons. Hopefully, at least some of the supplement companies will seek competitive advantage by providing consumers with a convenient measuring scoop in each already does with protein powders.

Your loading dosage should be divided into two to four servings. Servings should generally not be greater than 5 grams, since larger doses can produce diarrhea in some instances. You should also drink a pint (half-liter) of water with each dose. The loading phase should last from five to seven days if you are a meat-eater, and seven to nine days if you are a vegetarian.

These recommendations are based on two major factors. First, the total amount of creatine storage capacity in your body is directly related too your muscle mass. Ninety-five percent of the body's creatine is found in skeletal muscles. There is no creatine in bones or body fat, and only small amounts in the heart, brain and testes.

Second, the amount of creatine you need for your loading phase depends on your exercise program. Even a sedentary 155 pound person uses up to 2 grams of creatine each day. Rates of creatine metabolism for active individuals are much higher. Consequently, you will be “burning” part of your creatine dosage even while you are loading it. This means that not all of your loading dose goes into your muscles' storage bins. Part of it gets used up for fuel during your workouts.

The Best Way to Take Creatine

Creatine monohydrate is a white powder that looks like table sugar. It is odorless and virtually tasteless. It dissolves easily in liquids. As with most powders, it dissolves faster and more completely in warm and hot fluids, so heating the liquid will leave less creatine on the bottom and side of the glass. Some liquids are better than others for creatine consumption. Fruit juices are also good options. Although juices contain fructose, a sugar that is absorbed somewhat slower than glucose and dextrose. You can also mix your creatine with a combination protein/carbohydrate drink, although the protein content of the drink will slow the assimilation of the creatine, compared to glucose or fructose alone.
People are told to avoid mixing citrus juices, such as orange juice, with creatine. The reason given is that the acidity in these juices boosts the production of creatinine, which is the waste product of creatine metabolism. The citric acid in orange and grapefruit juices is insignificant compared to the concentrated hydrochloric acid found in the stomach.

One study by Vandenberghe shows that the benefits of creatine are counteracted when it is consumed with large amounts of caffeine (the equivalent of five cups of coffee). The study found that while caffeine did not reduce the increase in creatine-phosphate levels within the muscle fibers, dynamic torque production in caffeine/creatine users was 10 to 20 percent lower than in test subjects who took creatine alone. Torque production for the caffeine/creatine users was no different than that for the placebo group. Mixing creatine in caffeinated drinks, as least according to this study, may also reduce or even neutralize the performance enhancing effects of this nutrient in the short term. It's better to take your creatine with fruit juices or with a glucose based drink that will stimulate your insulin response and facilitate the uptake of creatine into the muscle fibers.

The Best Time to Take Creatine

Creatine remains in the blood stream for a period of 1 to 11/2 hours. The muscles have to draw creatine from the surrounding blood vessels and store it in their cells. If these cells are full of creatine, and the brain, heart and testes have all of the creatine they need, the excess will eventually be converted to creatinine, and excreted.

Timing is important. You want to make sure that the maximum amount of creatine is absorbed by your muscles and not wasted. Your loading and maintenance doses should be divided into two to four servings depending on the total amount of creatine you are consuming.

The ideal times to take creatine is before and after your workouts. Taking it before exercise allows the nutrient to circulate in the blood during your routine, so your muscles can quickly replenish the creatine metabolized during exercise. Consuming it after your workout improves recovery and helps to stimulate additional protein uptake and synthesis in the critical hour after the end of exercise. If you are dividing your daily maintenance dose into only two proteins, try taking at least one portion before or after your workout.

Caution Creatine supplements have been found to be remarkably safe. After all creatine is found in our foods and we consume about a gram per day on average. Yet still studies don't know for certain what might happen in the long run if people take high dosages (such as 10 grams) continuously for many months or years. Would there be undue stress placed on the liver or kidneys? Would high blood levels of creatine cause some harm that we don't know about yet? Is it possible that the body's creatine production system will shut off for extended periods if not allowed to exercise its function every once in a while? There is no full answers to these.

Research into creatine is in its infancy. As far as studies show, there are no negative side effects on internal organs. The effects are positive. Creatine is quite likely the most well researched sports nutrition supplement in history.

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