DOSAGE AND ABSORPTION OF CREATINE
To ‘load’ creatine into your muscles, a ‘loading phase’ of 5 to 7 days is often recommended, where you take 0.3 g of creatine per kg of body weight. Although ‘charging’ is not necessary for the final result [ ii ] . After that, it is sufficient to take 0.03 g/kg/day, or ‘just’ 5 g per day. But in practice, much more is often taken (> 5 g), especially since creatine is safe [ iii ] and relatively cheap.
But does that also have an effect, taking high doses of creatine? The fact is that there are differences between people in the maximum amount of creatine that the muscles can store [ iv ] . The ratio of muscle fiber types plays a role here, as does the amount of muscle mass. High doses of creatine, up to 10 g, could therefore be useful for people with a large amount of muscle mass and those who are very active, according to Examine.com [ xii ] .
Whether you actually benefit from creatine supplementation depends on your natural creatine levels. The higher those levels, the less well creatine supplementation will work (and vice versa). And there are also people for whom taking creatine has no effect whatsoever, the so-called non-responders [ v ] . It would be one in four. The muscle cells are then already full, as it were, as far as creatine is concerned. By the way, if you don’t notice any effect from creatine, that doesn’t mean you’re a non-responder.
CREATINE INTAKE WITH CARBOHYDRATES AND PROTEINS
There is apparently a personal maximum to the effect of creatine supplementation. Below that maximum there seems to be some play. In it, as we have already seen, you could experiment with the dosage. But there may be other factors that influence the absorption and thus the effect of creatine. Although it is not entirely clear whether it concerns better absorption within the aforementioned tolerance, or to increase the personal maximum.
One of the factors that could influence (and thus increase) the absorption of creatine is the timing of intake. However, remarkably little research has been done on this. It probably makes little or no difference, especially if you use creatine for a long time. But as a novice user, you may benefit slightly more from creatine intake after training. It is all the more striking that creatine is more or less a standard ingredient of pre-workout supplements.
Another factor is whether you take creatine alone or in combination with other nutrients, such as carbohydrates. This topic has been explored more often, first by Green et al. in 1996 [ vi ]. According to that oft-cited study, creatine absorption is increased by as much as 60 percent when you take 5 g of creatine four times a day with 93 grams of simple sugars dissolved in water. The sugars cause an insulin spike and insulin transports creatine to the muscles, the likely explanation says. But apparently you need a lot of sugar to achieve that insulin peak: almost 400 calories per creatine intake and that four times a day! Even during a (clean) bulk, that seems too much of a good thing to us, even if it only concerns the loading phase of creatine (5 to 7 days).
A perhaps better alternative is to halve that amount of fast sugars and supplement with protein. Taking 5 g of creatine with 50 g of protein and 47g of carbohydrates increases insulin just as much as 5g of creatine with 96 g of carbohydrates. The study that showed this was less optimistic about the increase in creatine intake: in both cases 25 percent [ vii ] , although this time it involved three doses per day.
A more recent study also concluded that creatine (5 g) + protein (14 g) + amino acids (14 g) + fast carbohydrates (53 g) has the same enhancing effect on creatine absorption as creatine (5 g) + fast carbohydrates (95 g) [ viii ] . Note that 53 g of fast carbohydrates, in this case dextrose, is still close to 200 calories. The study was based on four doses per day, so it is still about 800 ‘superfluous’ calories.
But you may end up with significantly fewer carbohydrates. A 2003 study by Greenwood et al. suggests that 5 g creatine + 18 g dextrose four times a day is sufficient for an increase in creatine retention (and thus an increase in creatine absorption) of as much as 48% [ ix ] . That means that in the loading phase you have to add 72 g of dextrose or a thick 250 calories.
Not all studies suggest that creatine absorption improves if you supplement with carbohydrates (and proteins). A 2016 study [ x ] noted no differences in strength gains between creatine intakes with and without carbohydrates. A 2005 study conducted among swimmers led to the same conclusion [ xi ] .
So more research is needed to conclusively establish or perhaps disprove the benefit of carbohydrate creatine intake.
If creatine intake with carbohydrates and proteins already increases creatine absorption, it remains to be seen whether this actually has a long-term effect. You may soon reach your maximum creatine level and those extra carbohydrates will no longer offer any added value. Any added value is then only there in the short term, if you want to get the optimal effect from creatine as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the studies discussed were only carried out over a few days and therefore do not provide any clarity on this point.
CONCLUSIONS AND ADVICE
It is still doubtful whether the absorption of creatine in the muscles is enhanced when you take the substance with carbohydrates, or with carbohydrates and proteins. Studies contradict each other;
Some studies suggest it is. You have to add a lot of fast carbohydrates (sugar) to the creatine, so you get quite a few extra calories. The absorption of creatine could be increased by 25 to 60% in this way.
You can also add egg whites if desired. You then need to take in fewer carbohydrates, while the effect on creatine absorption is the same.
Even if the carbohydrates (and/or proteins) enhance the absorption of creatine, it is questionable whether you really benefit from that in the end. You may just be getting your maximum creatine level faster.
Do you want to have the optimal effect of creatine supplementation as quickly as possible, for example because you want to ‘pop’ a number of workouts? Then it may be worth taking 3 to 4 doses of 5 g creatine + 20 to 50 g fast carbohydrates (for example dextrose) + 20 to 40 g proteins (for example whey protein) for a few days . One dose can then also serve as a post-workout shake.
With prolonged use of creatine, intake with carbohydrates and proteins probably offers no added value.
- [ i ] https://examine.com/rubric/effects/view/e5b1982aceddbdc18407270d37a52046/f6cfed9dba2b80222e8ec46bc0916461/all/
- [ ii ] https://examine.com/nutrition/do-i-need-to-load-creatine/
- [ iii ] https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z
- [ iv ] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1327657
- [ v ] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15320650
- [ vi ] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8899067
- [ vii ] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10956365
- [ viii ] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20035494
- [ ix ] http://opus.bath.ac.uk/30004/
- [ x ] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26313717
- [ xi ] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15903360
- [ xii ] https://examine.com/supplements/creatine/