Hopefully this creatine FAQ can help you determine creatine facts from creatine fiction. These are some of the most common questions I get asked and see asked concerning the supplement and its use. Despite its popularity, creatine remains largely misunderstood.
Note: Some of the answers in the creatine FAQ are provided on other pages in the creatine section. Use the back button on your browser to get back to the FAQ if so desired.
- What is creatine?
- What does creatine do?
- What do creatine research studies show?
- What is the main benefit of creatine supplementation?
- Is creatine a steroid?
- Is creatine banned by sports?
- What foods contain creatine?
- Should I take creatine supplements?
- Is cheap or discount creatine the same as any other? Or are those who say that German creatine is the best correct?
- When should I first consider using creatine supplements?
- What is the best way to take creatine?
- When is the best time to take creatine?
- Is loading creatine necessary to get the best results?
- Do I need to supplement everyday or do I just take creatine on workout days?
- What is best to mix creatine with?
- What is the best type of creatine to take?
- Are the creatine serums (liquids) as good as or better than the powders?
- How much creatine should I take (creatine-dosage)?
- Should I cycle my creatine use and how do I go about cycling?
- Should I drink more water while supplementing with creatine?
- Is it okay to consume caffeine while taking creatine?
- I’ve heard that the citric acid in orange juice will interfere with creatine assimilation. Is this true?
- Is it important to consume creatine quickly after mixing it with a liquid?
Muscle Building Effects Questions
- Does creatine work for everyone? What about non-responders?
- What muscle building effects of creatine are experienced by the user?
- Is one of creatine’s effects weight gain?
- Is creatine equally as effective for women?
Safety and Side Effects
- In the final analysis, is creatine safe?
- What are the known side effects of creatine use?
- Does creatine cause damage to the kidneys and liver?
- Does creatine cause dehydration?
- What side effects of creatine supplementation are exclusive to women? Will it make them take on masculine characteristics?
- Does creatine cause pimples (acne)?
- Does creatine cause hair loss (alopecia)?
- Is it safe for teens to supplement with creatine?
Is creatine banned by sports?
Different sports have different rules. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) does not specifically ban creatine but has an umbrella clause which bans ergogenic aids. Creatine qualifies as such in that it is a proven performance enhancer but to disallow it based on this clause would necessitate disallowing many other nutritional practices (i.e. carb loading) aimed at enhancing performance. It would necessitate the International Olympic Committee prescribing acceptable diet guidelines. Testing would be problematic and, as of now, there is no test that can definitively prove creatine supplementation.
Most competitive sports have rules similar to the IOC. There is sometimes confusion that the NCAA has specifically banned creatine use (anti-creatine evangelists often state this). They have not. In August of 2000, they banned member universities from distributing it to their athletes (a move prompted to prevent larger, better financed universities from gaining a competitive advantage NOT over safety concerns). The athletes though, are free to procure and use their own creatine.
While there is consensus that anabolic steroids are “cheating” and illegal in most athletic competitions with testing conducted in an attempt to disqualify the users, this is clearly not the case with creatine.
What foods contain creatine?
Most food sources from animals contain creatine. Some of the biggest providers are salmon, tuna, beef and pork which all contain around 2 grams of creatine per pound. If you’re eating for creatine, the champion food appears to be herring which comes in at more than 3 grams per pound. But eating a pound of herring daily seems a bit more of a hardship than a little tasteless powder mixed in with some grape juice.
Do I need to supplement everyday or do I just take creatine on workout days?
The effects you are after with supplementation are based on the accumulation of creatine within your muscle tissue. If you do not load it can take as long as 28 days for your muscles to reach their maximum levels, the point where you derive the maximum benefits of use.
Supplementing only on workout days, while a common practice, will not be the most effective way to use creatine. Whether it has value at all is questionable. This practice is based on the belief that creatine will be readily available in muscle tissue post-supplementation. Therefore trainers take it only before a workout in an attempt to influence that workout. In fact, there is little evidence that taking it before a workout will immediately improve that workout.
You must feed your muscles a daily dose for them to both maintain and increase to high creatine levels.
Does creatine work for everyone? What about non-responders?
Unfortunately, creatine does not appear to work for everyone. By some estimates as much as 20-25 percent of the population show very little or no response to supplementation. The reasons that cause this lack of a significant response in certain people are not yet fully known but a common theory is that some people’s bodies naturally create or are supplied through diet more creatine than average and therefore are not affected by the supplements.
Creatine studies have shown that creatine effects are greater for those that have diets which would suggest lower levels of creatine (vegetarians) vs. those which would suggest the opposite (meat-eaters). There is no way to know whether you are a responder or a non-responder other than through trial.
In his ebook, Creatine: A Practical Guide (an invaluable guide to correct creatine use), Dr. Franco-Obregón theorizes that many non-responders could actually convert to responders by simply learning how to take creatine correctly. In my mind, this is most certainly the case. I continuously see people using creatine without any knowledge of what they are doing.
Sometimes creatine dosage, type and the ways it is used can have effects on response (for more info on these factors, go to the How to Take Creatine Page). In my own case, switching brands had a dramatic effect on my response. Remember, as is true with everything from aspirin to creatine and beyond, your body is unique and will not respond exactly the same as anyone else’s. Expect to do some experimenting to find out what works best for you.
All of this should serve to illustrate the importance of tracking your bodybuilding training program. If you do not track, you will never know what is working and what is not. Without even knowing it, you could be spending valuable bodybuilding budget dollars on creatine or other bodybuilding supplements and getting absolutely no results. By effectively tracking your program you can minimize spending unnecessary money and maximize your results.
Is creatine equally as effective for women?
While there have been far fewer studies on the effects of creatine on women as opposed to men, the ones that have been done have shown that creatine’s ability to help build lean muscle tissue in a woman is not as great as it is in a man. This doesn’t mean that it can’t be an effective supplement for women; it has in fact been shown to be an effective muscle builder for females. Due to various gender differences, however, it just doesn’t seem to have as great of effects on women as it does on men.
What side effects of creatine supplementation are exclusive to women. Will it make them take on masculine characteristics?
Women sometimes report being more affected (irritated) by the water weight gain associated with creatine supplementation. Other than that, the minor side effects reported seem to be similar between men and women.
No study has shown creatine to cause women to take on masculine characteristics (body hair, breast reduction, etc.). Furthermore, there is no reasonable scientific theory to suggest it would. Rumors suggesting differently likely stem from the false perception that creatine is closely related to steroids. Steroids have androgen hormones which can cause women to experience masculinization side effects. Creatine is just an amino acid and has no androgens.
Does creatine cause pimples (acne)?
No studies or reasonable scientific theory suggest creatine causes pimples or acne. Rumors to the contrary are undoubtedly related to the false perception that creatine is closely related to steroids. Steroids can cause acne, creatine can’t.
Increasing the quality of and quantity of your diet as well as intense weight training can (will) increase the body’s hormone production (testosterone). As a main cause for acne breakouts in some is believed to be increased hormone production, the person beginning a mass gain program may experience acne breakouts. Whether or not the trainer was supplementing with creatine wouldn’t have a major effect one way or the other.
Does creatine cause hair loss (alopecia)?
No studies or reasonable scientific theory suggest creatine causes hair loss (alopecia). Rumors to the contrary are undoubtedly related to the false perception that creatine is closely related to steroids. Steroids can cause alopecia – increasing testosterone which increases DHT – creatine will not.
Is it safe for teens to supplement with creatine?
The biggest concerns about teens supplementing with anything is that supplement’s potential to interfere with the growth process. There is no evidence that creatine will do this and no reason to think that it would. But, little if any research has been conducted regarding the safety of creatine use for teens and, again, no long-term studies on anyone have yet been completed. To be safe rather than sorry, teens would be well advised to stay clear of creatine and other muscle building supplements until their natural growth process has completed.