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Creatine use has evolved from a gym “secret weapon” to widespread mainstream acceptance, but does creatine help build muscle?
It’s proven to enhance performance, and acceptable to use by nearly all of the major sports leagues. Before starting to use the product, there’s some best use practices you need to be aware of. Especially if you’re intention is to use creatine to bulk up, and help build muscle.
The Science Of Creatine
So what is this stuff? Creatine is naturally produced in amino acids, and is also acquired when eating red meat and fish. It’s not a foreign substance you’re introducing that’s new to your body. Creatine is already in your system and plays a huge role in athletic performance.
Your primary energy source is a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The more you have of this, the more energy you’ll have and the better you’ll perform. As these energy stores become depleted, you hit “the wall” and are completely drained of energy.
Creatine helps replenish these ATP stores. The more creatine in your system, the faster you’ll replenish your ATP, and the better you’ll perform.
The bottleneck with this scenario, is limited to how you acquire creatine. You would have to eat an unreasonable amount of red meat every day to see a significant increase in creatine stores.
That’s why supplementation becomes more effective, compared to just getting creatine through natural food sources.
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How To Use Creatine
If you’re a bodybuilder or a competitive athlete you’re likely on some type of “cycling program”. Meaning you do something for 6-8 weeks, take a few weeks off, then resume the program again. This is often used to counter your body’s adaptive mechanism that limits progress.
Creatine is one of the few supplements that doesn’t need to be cycled. Once you start using creatine you can use it for as long as it’s beneficial without needing to pause supplementation.
Here’s how to take creatine:
Loading Phase: When you first start using creatine you want to saturate the muscles in the first week. For your first 5-7 days you would take 20 grams of creatine each day. You can split the amount however is most convenient for you. Taking creatine in 5 or 10 gram doses throughout the day is most common. You only need to load creatine once, and taking 20 grams per day is no longer beneficial after the first 5-7 days.
Maintenance Phase: After creatine loading, you would enter the maintenance phase. After the first week of use you would consume 5 grams of creatine per day for the remainder of your supplementation. Taking more than 5 grams per day in the maintenance phase has not shown an increase in performance. So don’t waste your creatine powder by taking more than what’s needed.
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Does It Build Muscle?
Yes, you’ll notice an almost instant increase in performance most notably in tests of strength. Your muscles will have more fuel, allowing you to push more reps while weightlifting compared to previous weeks. As your strength and endurance improves your muscles will grow and respond accordingly.
It’s important to note, many have experienced the opposite reaction once they stop creatine supplementation. Once you remove this boost to ATP, you’ll quickly notice a drop in strength and performance. As your strength decreases, so will your muscle size.
Creatine is best used when trying to enhance quick burst activity. Bodybuilders, football players, swimmers, and most athletes benefiting from more power, in short bursts, enjoy the added benefits of creatine supplementation.
Creatine, however, has proven less beneficial to endurance athletes. Any activity lasting longer than 90-120 seconds is less likely to benefit from creatine.
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