At CP, and through my online consulting, I get a lot of questions from clients and parents about the use of creatine. Is it safe? Is it steroids? Does it just make you gain water weight?
There are a lot of misconceptions about this rather innocuous substance. Let’s start off by defining what creatine is, and what creatine isn’t.
What is creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid made by the body on a daily basis. It is made in the liver from 3 different amino acids (arginine, methionine, and glycine) taken in from our diet. Creatine is also taken in directly from meat as animals contain creatine in their skeletal muscle as well. The sources are split quite evenly, unless you are a vegetarian, in which that you case you may be creatine deficient. Creatine is an energy substrate used for high-intensity activities – such as sprinting, jumping, throwing and lifting weights. Basically supplementing with creatine has been shown to safely allow athletes to work harder, longer by maximizing their skeletal muscle stores.
Is creatine safe?
Creatine is the most studied supplement in the history of the world. If you go to pubmed and type in creatine into the search engine you will get over 42,000 responses. That is a lot. The definitive answer is if taken according to recommended dosages (ie – 3-5 grams per day) creatine is completely safe. No study, long or short term has shown adverse effects of creatine. The most widely accepted side-effect of creatine supplementation is the gain in lean body mass. For athlete’s and recreationally active people, a little extra muscle is usually a good thing.
The key things to keep in mind here are that there is no need to load (ie – 20 grams per day), regardless of what the label tells you. 3-5 grams per day is completely acceptable and has been shown in research and with thousands of athletes to be effective and safe. Also make sure you are purchasing a highly pure creatine monohydrate. It should say it is either micronized or Creapure brand. These are highly pure and held to the loftiest of standards.
According to the European Food Safety Authority, “Provided high purity creatine monohydrate is used in foods for particular nutritional uses, the Panel considers that the consumption of doses of up to 3g/day of supplemental creatine, similar to the daily turnover rate of creatine, is unlikely to pose any risk.”
As perhaps the greatest testament to its safety, it is completely legal in the NCAA, International Olympic Committee, FIFA (soccer), and ATP (tennis) -traditionally the four most stringent governing bodies in sports when it comes to supplement use. The NFL, NBA, and MLB all permit it as well.
Is creatine steroids?
Steroids are anabolic exogenous hormones injected or swallowed. These are not substances consumed in large amounts in our natural enviorment and they have drastic effects on the endocrine system. Creatine is none of those things. It is not a hormone in anyway and does not affect our endocrine system. We consume creatine on a normal daily basis, we do not consume large amounts of steroids on a daily basis.
Does creatine make you gain water weight?
In short, yes it does. Creatine does cause the body to hold more water due to increased water uptake by skeletal muscle. This is a good thing, as volumizing the muscle cells can help increase their size, and it is only a few initial pounds. In the long term though, the added weight from creatine is not just from water, as the supplementation helps athletes to gain lean muscle tissue. The key oint is the added weight is not just from water.
Do you need the newest, fanciest, and most expensive form of creatine?
Creatine ethyl-ester, Kre-alkalyn, conjugate creatine and who knows what else are completely unecessary and may contain harmful ingredients. They are also significantly more expensive with a complete lack of extra benefits. Speed of absorption of creatine is irrelevant. Once you take 3-5 grams per day for a month your muscles will be saturated, and from there it is just maintaining that saturation. These products may help you saturate sooner (or they may not) but overall they do not increase benefits whatsoever. You need pure, simple inexpensive micronized or Creapure creatine monohydrate.
Interesting benefits of creatine.
Besides the physical performance enhancing benefits of creatine, it has some other studied and documented benefits. Creatine has been shown to improve cognitive abilities. Studies have shown that it can increase performance on tests of cognitive abilities. In one example the researchers concluded that “supplementation with creatine significantly increased intelligence compared with placebo.”
There have also been several successful studies on animals in the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders such as: Parkinson’s, Huntingson’s, ALS, and muscular dystrophy. Due to the success of many of these animal trials, human trials for many of these diseases are underway. Pretty impressive stuff.
Creatine is safe when taken properly from a pure source. You do not need some crazy new version that they will try to push on you at many supplement stores. Take 3-5 grams per day everyday for greatest results.
Everyone knows the saying “work smarter not harder”, and it is often translated in lifting circles to “train smarter not harder”. OK, great saying, but people have taken training smarter as training so carefully they aren’t even breaking a sweat. Even worse, people have taken to believe in the crap put out by so many tv “experts” and pseudo-celebrities to be training smart. Watching some of the exercise videos put out by pseudo-celebrities and even worse, those trainers of celebrities, makes me embarrassed to even be associated with that aspect of the industry.
In one recent video the demonstrator was wearing high heels! Tell me how is that working smart or hard? It is dumb, dangerous and also completely useless as a training methodology. The training smart part of the equation means having sound technique, training for your goals, and knowing your limits and when to back off. It does NOT mean training with 2lb pink dumbbells.
There are also the people who think training hard trumps everything. While it is true that I will take someone busting their ass on a crappy training program over someone training at a moderate intensity to the greatest designed program of all time, intensity isn’t everything. I’ve seen people train superhard that are just all over the place. Their technique is piss-poor, their exercise selection is atrocious and they generally just look like they are going to hurt themselves at any moment.
It doesn’t matter what training program you are doing, Cross-Fit, Warp Speed Fat Loss, Maximum Strength, etc, you need to find that balance between training hard and training smart. Long term health isn’t just about working hard and making yourself sweat. It is about doing the exercises properly, utilizing them for their intended benefit and making yourself sweat in the process. A perfect example is any type of rowing variation. Rows are awesome not only for back development, but for postural correction as well. With our always-seated, forward-head position and kyphotic upper back posture population, proper rowing can go a very long way to improve that posture, but only if properly executed. Go to any commercial gym and you will see all types of people working really hard on rowing way more weight than they can possibly handle with good form, or people just going through the motions. Neither will elicit the intended effect. Eric has some awesome videos demonstrating how NOT to row:
Doing a row with technique like these will not actually improve proper scapular function or upper body posture, it could actually exacerbate it. For muscle heads out there, it won’t develop the back properly either. Learning how to properly depress your shoulder blades is essential for long-term shoulder health. Doing it incorrectly with far too much weight is only going to cause problems (I am looking at the men reading this). Doing it correctly with an appreciable amount of weight, relative to the lifter, is also the only way for it to work, as it actually has to be difficult (yes I am looking at you ladies). I am not trying to be sexist or stereotypical, but I have been in enough gyms and trained enough people to know that those stereotypes do apply to the majority.
The correct technique for a cable row (and all rowing really):
Chest out, chin straight, squeezing the shoulder blades together down and back. The point is that people need to learn to harness that intensity (or find it) and apply it with control to a well thought out long-term plan to maximal results for health, weight loss, muscle gain or athletic performance. I say rather than training smarter not harder, do both.
As long time readers surely know, I am not exactly what you would call a fan of the MSN Health & Fitness page. It is usually full of junk advice that is a thinly veiled attempt to get consumers to purchace some unnecessary 100 calorie snack pack or other nutritionally worthless crap. I blogged a few times about their lack of actual good advice, check it out HERE and HERE.
Just the other day though I was checking out msn.com, and I came across a headline called The Healthiest Foods on Earth. I obviously couldn’t resist to see what bullshit they came up with now, maybe they were going to start hyping acai juice as the secret to curing cancer or creating world peace, or maybe they were going to actually surprise me and have some good content.
Surprise me they did. As I am scanning through the article I decided I had to scroll back up and see who the author was. Lo and behold it was none other than Jonny Bowden. Jonny is a great nutritionist who has been a huge influence on me, and this artcile was just simple brilliance. Here is an excerpt for those too lazy to click the above link:
Hold on to your shopping carts: There is no perfect diet for human beings. At least not one that’s based on how much protein, fat or carbohydrates you eat.
People have lived and thrived on high-protein, high-fat diets (the Inuit of Greenland); on low-protein, high-carb diets (the indigenous peoples of southern Africa); on diets high in raw milk and cream (the people of the Loetschental Valley in Switzerland); diets high in saturated fat (the Trobriand Islanders) and even on diets in which animal blood is considered a staple (the Massai of Kenya and Tanzania). And folks have thrived on these diets without the ravages of degenerative diseases that are so epidemic in modern American life—heart disease, diabetes, obesity, neurodegenerative diseases, osteoporosis and cancer.
The only thing these diets have in common is that they’re all based on whole foods with minimal processing. Nuts, berries, beans, raw milk, grass-fed meat. Whole, real, unprocessed food is almost always healthy, regardless of how many grams of carbs, protein or fat it contains.”
That brief bit was just awesome. People are always arguing about which dietary strategy is better. Low carb? Low fat? Ketogenic? The list goes on and on. I get asked daily if a particular food is good for you. My answer is always it depends. How was that food grown? Was it grown covered in pesticides and herbicides (which may not have much of an impact on me personally, but as a whole they destroy the environment). Was it injected with antibiotics and growth hormones? Was it allowed to consume it’s normal diet? Everything is context dependent.
For general health those are the most important questions to ask. When dieting the calories and macros are more important so in that context the questions might get a slightly different answer, but you still want to eat real food. Regardless of goal, real whole food should be what you are consuming, you can worry about the macronutrients and such after that has been mastered.
One important caveat is that not every food is good for everyone. Some people have allergies and intolerances to foods, so just because raw milk may be great for some people, it probably isn’t so good for someone lactose intolerant. Same goes for lots of foods, so always keep that in mind.
For more great stuff from Jonny Bowden definitely check out his book The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. I know I pimp it a lot, but it really is that good. It is easy reading chock full of some absolutely incredible content. It is one of my favorite nutrition books ever.
Hey folks I am back! I was on vacation in Maine (it was beautiful), but I have returned to resurrect my blog. I feel like I haven’t written in forever!
I wanted to discuss something light today. I figured I would ease myself back into things. Lately I have been getting a lot of questions from clients about supplements. What to take, what not to take, what is safe, what is dangerous, what will make them swole and/or ripped. You know, stuff like that. The problem is that most people who ask questions about supplements eat like crap. Supplements are all well and good, and can provide some helpful benefits, but if you do not have your day-to-day nutrition lined up, they won’t do a damn thing. If you want to learn which supplements I do like, check out this article I wrote for The FitCast HERE.
Don't be this guy
There is absolutely no need to purchase every new product that comes out promising to make you jacked. Most supplements are completely worthless, and you are just pissing your money away. From the nutrition side of things, your consistent eating habits determine 90% of your results. I am talking about proper food choices and portion sizes. You master that, and you are 90% of the way there. Mastering the basics is the single greatest key to making health, training and body composition goals. That other 10% is just the fun stuff to play around with. All the supplements on earth won’t really increase that 10% threshold. The best nutrient timing on earth won’t either. You could have the best post workout shake, with the best ingredients at the most optimal time after the world’s greatest training session, but if at the end of the day you didn’t consume more calories than you expended, you aren’t going to grow. Period. End of story. Same goes for fat loss.
The most effective method of changing your physique is to master your nutrition basics, train hard and recover. This means eating real food, not something made in a lab, doing a program that is tailored for your needs and goals, and doing it balls to the wall, and getting your 8 hours. It isn’t sexy, and it isn’t revolutionary, it just plain works.
So before you head off to GNC to purchase some new, fancy, over-priced and completely worthless supplement, just remember that $80 could buy you a weeks worth of amazing, delicious, and physique changing food.
Today I got an email from my good friend Cassandra Forsythe. Cass is brilliant so anything she sends my way I take very seriously, and this email was no exception.
She forwarded to me a newsletter from the Metabolism Society (yes, we are geeks) about a new documentary being made called “In Search of the Perfect Human Diet.” It looks absolutely fascinating. Here is an excerpt from the newsletter:
“The film is an unprecedented global exploration for the solution to the epidemic of overweight and obesity, rapidly becoming the #1 killer in America. What I’d like to do is tell you a bit about why we’re making this film, how it began for me, and the “behind the scenes” moment that occurred over and over again taking us places we never expected. These unexpected developments have made the search for the “perfect human diet” an incredibly fascinating treasure hunt, one that will be a real eye opener for audiences everywhere.
CJ Hunt - The movie creator
At this moment in history we are losing the war with obesity, and losing badly.
Between 300- 400,000 American’s die every year from complications related to diet and obesity. Sadly, this crisis is not ours alone. The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that by 2015, 700 million adults will be obese worldwide.
As independent journalist-filmmakers looking for buried treasure, we had to go where others in our profession had not. If we were to genuinely dig to find the answers, the place to explore was outside of the present dietetic groupthink. So in the summer of 2006, it began. Over the last several years we filmed interviews with many of the world’s top scientists, authors, clinicians and researchers in archaeological science and medicine, paleo and forensic anthropology, nutrition and metabolism, and the emerging field of “human dietary evolution.” And what we’ve found are not new scientific theories and speculation- but definitive, scientific, fact-based answers; answers that, if taken advantage of, could solve our weight epidemic.
The first interview we conducted was with Professor Loren Cordain of Colorado State University, author of “The Paleo Diet.” Professor Cordain is a leading U.S. expert in evolutionary human nutrition. At the conclusion of our time with him, he added, “You know who you should go talk to is Mike Richards at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany…” And this kind of mention at the end of each interview is what ended up directing the course of filming. What I had in mind originally only had a few subject matter experts and authors here in the U.S. But these unexpected moments and mentions took us from excavations containing remains of Neanderthals and early modern humans in Jonzac, France, to the biomolecular anthropology analyses labs at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and more. Every destination provided more groundbreaking evidence of a “perfect” human diet that can’t be ignored.
What we’ve uncovered during this journey to solve the obesity epidemic is remarkable. I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone, but what I can tell you is this – the solutions to our epidemic of overweight and obesity lie not in focusing on reworking the USDA Food Pyramid every 5-years, but in a vast area of overlooked understanding in nutrition – evolution.
If you would like to know more about the documentary or sign up on the DVD notification list you can do that at perfecthumandiet.com. If you wish to contribute – any amount helpful in assisting in the completion of the film. For business and strategic distribution alliances, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org”
Here is a youtube video of CJ Hunt (the creator) talking about this amazing documentary.
If you watched the video you probably noticed that this documentary notes that problems started around 10,000 years ago (if you are a regular reader of my blog you might already know where this is going). What happened at this point that changed the game? My answer (without actually seeing the movie): The Agricultural Revolution. The ability to farm grains and have ready access to it changed us from hunter-gatherers to farmers. Now this had the result of creating human civilizations, science, art, culture, religion, organized warfare, basically life as we know it today, so it certainly had its benefits. The downfall is that this drastic change in dietary intake, this great increase in grain consumption, caused some severe negative metabolic effects that we are suffering from today. Granted there is more than grains that are the problem: increased sugar intake, increase refined vegetable oil intake, decrease activity levels, etc., but it all started with farming.
I highly encourage you to check out this movie and sign up for the info. It will be an awesome experience.