Should I Cycle Creatine + 21 Other Creatine Questions Answered

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This article answers over 20 of the most frequently asked questions about creatine, including the popular “Should I cycle creatine?”.

I made a list of as many creatine questions I could think of, then dug into creatine’s extensive sports science and strength & conditioning knowledge base to find the facts and write out the answers.

I thought it’d be cool to have a creatine FAQ page on heydayDo, so here ‘tis.

 

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Science resources included

As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science & medical resources, clinical studies, and nutritional data used in this article.

 

What’s next

We’ll jump right into the creatine Q&A in a sec.

First though, I have a couple of program notes I want to mention.

And I want to share my brief Cliff Notes version of the history of creatine research, as it pertains to athletic performance enhancement.

 

It’s all about creatine monohydrate

This article is focused only on creatine monohydrate.

There are a few different forms of creatine floating around the supplement marketplace these days, each with their own claims.

But make no mistake: creatine monohydrate is by far the preferred form for sports performance enhancement, and has been so for decades.

Courtesy of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN):

 

“Creatine monohydrate is the most extensively studied and clinically effective form of creatine for use in nutritional supplements in terms of muscle uptake and ability to increase high-intensity exercise capacity.” (1)

 

How the creatine questions are grouped

These 22 questions are organized (sort of) into three broad sections:

  • general introductory creatine information
  • creatine supplementation guidelines
  • miscellaneous creatine facts

While putting this together, I discovered that the questions people have about creatine come from a lot of different angles.

Most questions are about how to use it for sure, but there were a bunch of random “Is creatine…?”, “Does creatine…?” types too.

 

So I sorted them into these 3 categories this way to try & keep the reading flow going, without causing too much bouncing around.

 

About the sources for the answers

Just like my other articles & research-backed essays here on heydayDo, the links after the answers will open up the source reference in another browser tab.

As usual, I lean heavily on the world’s leading sports science & nutrition authorities for any info I pass along.

I do not make shit up.

 

Creatine is very well-understood

A great thing about creatine is that there’s A TON of solid factual evidence about what it is, and on what it can & doesn’t do.

So much so that it’s considered the most-researched athletic performance-enhancing supplement there is, according to the ISSN & other experts like them. (2)

 

 

A nutshell history of creatine in sports

 

Creatine’s been shown to build muscle & improve exercise results for well over 50 years.

Sports science studies conducted as far back as the mid-1960s proved that creatine provided a big boost to strength training & athletic performance. (3)

But when I started weightlifting in 1982, creatine was not yet for sale in any of the (what we called) health food stores that sold whey & other fitness supplements.

There weren’t any GNCs or similar vitamin/supplement type of franchise stores around yet either.

 

So what happened to make creatine become one of the most popular supplements among dedicated athletes & weightlifters?

 

The 1992 Olympics

Two athletes (a female & a male) who both won gold medals in track & field at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, credited their success in part to creatine supplementation prior to the Games. (4)

 

Creatine hits the market in 1993

Within a year, EAS — who I remember as one of the top fitness supplement companies back then — was the first to introduce creatine to the masses in a product they named Phosphagen. (5)

 

Most elite athletes were taking creatine by 1996

And by the time the next Olympics rolled around in ‘96, sports science experts stated that

“an estimated 80% of athletes at the Atlanta Olympics were using creatine too.” (6)

 

It was off to the races at that point. Fast forward to the 2020s, and here we are.


 

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CREATINE FAQ

Part 1: Intro & Creatine General Info

 

How to pronounce creatine?

There are two ways to say creatine in English.

The American accent version is:

kree · uh · teen

 

And the British (& ‘science’ English) pronunciation is:

kree · uh · tn

The “tn” sounds like the word tin.

 

The link below opens Google’s voice box in a separate tab, where you can hear it pronounce both the American & British versions of creatine.

It even has a moving cartoon mouth. 😄

Google voice machine: “creatine”

 

Creatine vs. whey protein differences?

Where they’re from / How they’re made 

Creatine’s made by our bodies in our liver, and the supplement form is made in a lab. (7)

Whey protein is a by-product of the cheese industry, and comes from the milk of cows. (8)

Here’s a 3-minute video showing how the very highly-regarded Creapure® creatine is made.

 

 

What they do for us

Both creatine & protein can help build muscle, but do it in different ways.

 

Creatine does it by increasing our capacity to exercise

Creatine boosts the energy level in our muscles (particularly when we’re working out) which helps them grow, and as they do we get stronger. (9)

Creatine also boosts our intensity level while we exercise. (10)

Combined, these two creatine benefits help us get a lot more out of workouts, growth-wise & strength-wise.

 

Protein does it via muscle protein synthesis (MPS)

MPS occurs when protein stimulates our body’s muscle gain process. (11)

Protein in sufficient quantity helps trigger greater muscle growth when used in conjunction with strength training. (12)

 

 

Is creatine a protein?

Science doesn’t consider creatine a protein, but rather its own unique molecule. (13)

Interestingly, a similarity creatine & protein share is that they’re both made up of amino acids, which science considers as the building blocks of protein. (14)

Whey & all other complete proteins contain all 9 essential** amino acids. (15)

Creatine is made up of just 3 amino acids. (16)

 

** – Essential simply means you need to get it from your diet, since your body can’t make it on its own.

 

 

Should women take creatine?

I have an article here on heydayDo dedicated to this topic, where I also share proper creatine loading protocol, and the references used for the (very) brief summary below can be found in that article.

 

Several sports science studies have shown that women involved in strength training &/or athletics improve their exercise performance by taking creatine.

It’s important to note: creatine has no gender bias; it provides strength & endurance gains to females & males alike. 

 

 

 

 

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Part 2: Creatine Supplementation Guidelines

 

When to take creatine?

I’ve researched creatine timing in depth, and I posted an article summarizing the results I came across.

Here’s its link, and it’s unsurprisingly titled When To Take Creatine For Best Results

In it I looked at (I think) every legitimate research study to date that has been done where sports science tried to find out “when’s the best time to take creatine”.

 

Briefly summarizing some of its high points (& see the article for the sports science references used):

* Sports science studies have not conclusively proven that taking creatine before a workout is better than taking it afterwards, or vice versa.

* Research has shown that taking creatine several hours away from your workout is not as effective as taking it immediately before or after you train.

* This isn’t scientific, but on workout days I take creatine within 20 minutes both before & after. I know other successful strength trainers who do too.

 

 

 

When to take creatine + whey protein together?

You may have heard of potential performance gains coming from mixing creatine together with whey.

There is some research evidence that the ISSN has gathered that shows that some athletes & lifters do get enhanced workout benefits when taking a  post-workout supplement combo of:

  • whey
  • creatine
  • a high glycemic carb, like sugar or fruit (22)

 

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How to load creatine?

The International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests a loading phase of 5-7 days long, where you’re taking 20 grams of creatine per day, broken into at least 4-5 small doses. (23)

After that, maintain your creatine muscle stores with a recommended daily maintenance dose of 3-5 grams per day. (24)

A brief explanation about creatine loading can be heard in the video below with Dr. Jose Antonio, the head of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

 

(He goes into the loading discussion at 0:30.)

 

Do I have to creatine load?

You don’t have to use a loading phase when starting on creatine, but it’s important to understand what skipping the loading phase causes.

 

Loading creatine as prescribed simply speeds up the time it takes for creatine to start working on your muscles.

 

As you’ll read below, the difference between loading first or not is about 3-4 weeks’ time.

 

A note on creatine cycling vs. loading

A quick primer here in case you’re unfamiliar with what these two very different supplementation protocols mean.

 

Cycling

Cycling comes from the dank & dirty world of steroids, at least as far as applying the term cycling to ingesting performance-enhancing supplements.

 

“Cycling refers to taking a steroid for a period, stopping for the body to rest, and then restarting again.” (25)

 

The reasons for doing this:

  • fool the body so it doesn’t adapt to the steroid, weakening its effect
  • avoid getting busted by a drug test (26)

 

Loading

On the other hand, loading describes a method where you start on the supplement by taking a larger dose than normal for a short period of time. (27)

After that you switch to your daily maintenance from there on.

With creatine you do the loading to shorten the time period it takes for creatine to actually start helping your muscles.

 

 

Should I cycle creatine?

There is no evidence in the fact-based world of sports science that shows there’s any benefit of cycling on & off creatine.

Trying to apply the idea of cycling to creatine is in essence treating like its an anabolic steroid, although they’re not similar at all. (28)

 

And now a word from the minds of sports nutrition & strength training experts:

 

“(Cycling) is not as effective in maintaining increased levels of muscle creatine levels”

                – Dr. Jose Antonio, Ph.D., Chairman Intl. Soc. Sports Nutrition (29)

 

“There is no scientific reason to cycle creatine.”

               – Dr. Ralf Jäger, PhD., world-leading creatine expert (30)

 

“Cycling is also pointless…Buildup doesn’t occur beyond a hard limit, and isn’t harmful. Should you decide to stop creatine for any reason, you will experience no side effects.”

               – Rich Gaspari, strength coach & former pro bodybuilder (31)

 

“Do I have to cycle (creatine)? Not at all.”

               – Schwarzenegger.com (32)

 

“You do not need to cycle creatine.”

              – Examine.com (33)

 

How to cycle creatine?

Since there’s no proof on the planet that you need to cycle creatine, there is no legitimate sports science method established for cycling it.

 

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Should I take creatine while cutting?

Creatine use during a cutting phase is recommended for a few good reasons.

  • Creatine helps maintain muscle mass even as you put yourself into calorie deficit (34)
  • Creatine keeps workout energy up when carbs are cut (35)

A major source of workout fuel is the carbs you’d normally be eating if you weren’t in a cutting phase.

Creatine’s an important part of your muscle’s energy supply system, and can help alleviate any lack of carb fuel you’re not eating.

 

How long does it take for creatine to work?

If you do the loading phase first, creatine will start to work for you within 5-7 days. (36)

The ISSN says that if you start creatine simply by going straight onto a daily dose of 3 grams per day, it will take 28 days to saturate your muscle’s creatine stores. (37)

 

How long does creatine stay in your system?

If you stop taking creatine after maintaining the recommended dose for awhile, it takes in the neighborhood of 4-6 weeks for it to totally leave your body. (38)

Note your muscles’ exercise capacity will start to fall towards their pre-creatine levels after 2 weeks or so following going off of creatine.

 

Creatine monohydrate molecular diagram - heydayDo image

 

What happens when you stop taking creatine?

There are no health-related risks to stopping creatine at any time; no negative side effects will be experienced. (39)

Nor are there any negative health-related risks from taking it continuously on a long-term basis, e.g., 5+ years or more. (40)

After you stop, as the weeks go by your muscles’ creatine stores will gradually deplete; that can take a month or so. (41)

Your exercise effectiveness will eventually decrease back to your pre-creatine levels if you stay off creatine long-term, though your muscle gains should remain if you keep lifting. (42)

 

How much creatine to take per day?

To keep your muscle’s creatine stores at their ideal level, the daily maintenance dose of creatine recommended is 3-5 grams per day. (43)

The assumption here being that you have already filled your muscle’s creatine stores.

This would have been accomplished by either having taken 3-5 grams daily for a month, or by doing a 5-7 day loading phase at 20 grams per day. (44)

 

Should I take creatine on off days?

Take creatine on off days if you are in a strength & muscle-building workout phase.

While in intense growth-oriented training, your muscle’s creatine stores need to be maintained at their full level in order for you to get the most performance-enhancing benefit.

“It’s always simplest to just take 5 grams a day…” –  Schwarzenegger.com

 

 

How much water should I drink with creatine?

I dedicated an entire article to this exact question that you can read here on heydayDo.

 

The sports science references used for the following summary are provided in that article.

Informed recommendations vary, but are in the neighborhood of at least 8-10 cups per day.

Creatine works on your muscles by pulling water from your body and sending it to your muscles.

This will get them to look & feel bigger.

If you don’t supply the extra water, creatine can’t do its job.

Plus, not increasing your water intake while taking creatine can lead to gnarly dehydration symptoms, so avoid that & drink up.

 

 

 

How much is 5 grams of creatine?

One teaspoon.

You can use this online converter page to see for yourself:

Grams > Teaspoons

 

 

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Part 3: Miscellaneous Creatine Facts

 

Is creatine banned by the NCAA?

A student-athlete can take creatine legally, or what the NCAA calls independently. (49)

What the NCAA has banned regarding creatine is the distribution of creatine to its student-athletes, whether from coaches, supplement companies, or whoever. (50)

 

Is creatine a steroid?

Creatine is not a steroid.

It is made by your body, and is found in food like meat & fish. (51)

It is legal for use in in pro sports, the Olympics, & NCAA athletics. (52)

Steroids are artificial testosterone chemicals that are banned by every sports governing agency you could think of.

“Creatine is not a steroid. It bears no relation to a steroid structurally or in its actions.”Examine.com

 

Is creatine safe for teens?

The Intl. Society of Sports Nutrition has a set of creatine supplementation guidelines for adolescent athletes. (53)

If all of those conditions are met, a teen taking creatine is OK.

A few of these stipulations include:

  • parental approval & supervision
  • parents & teen understand how creatine works
  • stick to the dosage
  • teen is involved in serious competitive athletics
  • coach supervision
  • food diet is focused on sports performance
  • quality creatine supplement is used

 

There is a woeful shortage of studies on creatine’s performance & health effects on adolescents, though what has been done shows great promise with minimal risks. (54)

 

Is creatine vegan?

Creatine supplements are vegan in that they’re not from animal-based sources, they’re synthesized in a lab.

Creatine in our food diet only comes from animals. (55)

Creatine supplements are made by combining the chemicals sarcosine & cyanamide in a salt base, and none of those compounds come from animals. (56)

 

 

How much creatine is in Bang?

We’ll look at both regular Bang® and their pre- & post-workout Master Blaster® drinks.

 

Regular Bang

It’s impossible to tell the creatine amount in the regular Bang® energy drink, and here’s why.

Regular Bang® has a proprietary blend in it called Super Creatine®. (57)

The FDA allows companies to hide the ingredient quantities when they group them together in a proprietary blend and give them a unique brand name like Super Creatine or Freakin Awesome Mega-Booty Complex. (58)

 

Bottom line: Bang doesn’t publish how much creatine is in its regular energy drink, nor do they have to.

 

Logical guess? There’s probably very little creatine in it. If there were, they’d be bragging it up all over their marketing literature…

 

Bang Pre- & Post-Workout Master Blaster

Both of these drinks have 5 grams of creatine in them. (59)

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What is super creatine?

Made by Bang® manufacturer VPX (aka Vital Pharmaceuticals, Inc.), Super Creatine is a proprietary blend containing 6 ingredients.

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We can see what’s in it but… 

…we won’t know the amounts, so it’s hard to accurately say exactly what Super Creatine is.

Bang Ingredients list w Super Creatine

 

I outlined this common supplement practice in my article What Is A Proprietary Blend and Reasons To Avoid Them.

As I said earlier, the Food & Drug Administration does not require a company with a proprietary blend to release how much of each ingredient is in it.

 

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Wrapping Up

Related creatine articles here on heydayDo

12 Natural & Supplemental Creatine Alternatives Explored

 

I hope that my big creatine FAQ article is useful to you, and I wish you well on your fitness journey.

Let’s go.

– greg

October 2020

 

<< Fitness Supplements page

 


About heydayDo

heydayDo author Greg Simon
Hi I’m Greg Simon. Fitness training & nutrition researching since 1982. Organic food & wine grower. Surfer. Congenital heart disease survivor (so far). Read more…
heydayDo is my “fitness after 50” website that’s about embracing the physically active lifestyle as we get older.
 
I write about the fitness and health research I’ve found concerning the quality of life benefits that exercise and good nutrition provide.
 
When I get curious about something, I’ll dig into whatever sports science & medical facts there are on the topic to learn what’s real & what’s only hype. I also post my experiences product-testing & evaluating home gym equipment & fitness supplements.
 
 It’s an information-sharing, personal opinion blog of mine.
 
So if you’re looking for medical or nutritional advice, please consult with your doctor or health professional for that, since heydayDo does not provide medical advice.