Creatine: does it work?
Before I begin let me just state that this is my opinion, based on my own experience of it and using it on and off over the years. In case you didn’t know, creatine is one of the most talked about and debated supplements in recent times, with dividing views on both ends of the spectrum.
For some, it’s the most effective and useful supplement out there, and the key to getting to your training goals faster. Others will say it has limited effectiveness.
Chances are these days you speak to anyone who is even a casual lifter and they will have heard all about it and might even be using it themselves.
What is it actually?
Creatine is naturally found in our bodies and it plays a role in providing energy- it is important in the supply of ATP (Adenosine-triphospahte) which fuels muscle contraction.
It is also found in food sources such as red meat and fish, although in quite small quantities.
The hype behind creatine supplements is that you can get the benefits of increased energy, recovery time and therefore more strength and muscle mass without having to eat a ton of red meat.
Google ‘creatine’ and you’ll come across a thousand articles extolling its amazing properties; why you ‘must’ take it to get the most out of your training and plenty of other reasons why regular supplementation will help you lift ‘more intensely’ leading to ‘greater muscle fibre recruitment’ and ‘more muscle’.
My experience with it
I first took creatine about 2 years into my proper lifting career, so I was around 20 with a reasonable level of training experience and the beginnings of some strength and muscle gains.
This was probably the height of my ‘supplements’ phase, when I believed the hype and I was looking for anything (besides steroids) to get me to the size and strength of my professional rugby idols.
At that time creatine was probably a bit less well-known than it is now and as such there was a certain ‘mystique’ about it. When you did the research you would find a lot of cautionary advice about using it only for 1 month at a time then ‘cycling off’ to give your liver time to recover or being careful to take only the prescribed amount.
What was my reaction to reading stuff like this? This is perfect, sounds like some potent and effective stuff!
I even remember reading (and believing) how its effects were almost ‘steroid-like’.
It goes without saying, I eagerly forked out for a tub and got right on it, ready to reap these rewards.
So, I got massive, right?
After a couple of weeks my T-shirts definitely felt tighter. I felt like I had a bit more energy in the gym.
Had I found the answer to rapid, potential-maximising muscle and strength?
As you’ve probably guessed by my tone, like hell I had.
When you take creatine your cells retain more water. So you DO actually get bigger, but it’s not muscle size or muscle tissue, it’s just water weight.
You actually get bloated and soft-looking.
Looking back at pictures of myself from that time I realise that combined with the over-eating bullshit prescribed by the supplement companies (you gotta eat big to get big son!) I did not look that fit and healthy, and my ability to fill out an XL t-shirt was down to being bloated on water.
Did I get stronger? Not discernably. Maybe I could hit a few more reps than before. But it’s not like progress came on in leaps and bounds. Maybe I just ate two bananas before my session.
It’s maybe not completely legitimate to compare my strength levels now without creatine to back then because I’m a lot further down the training road.
But I actually took creatine again a couple of years ago for a few months, just to see if it really was worth it (after some doubts were piqued from reading some on-line propaganda).
It confirmed to me that creatine supplementation doesn’t really do anything.
My strength and actual muscle mass didn’t change when I was on or off.
I just got that water bloat again, and the mental placebo that I was bigger and stronger, when I was just the same but looked worse.
I stopped, the bloat went away. My strength, muscle size, energy levels stayed the same.
All supplements are just essentially hype
If you’re someone who reads fitness forums, muscle magazines and fitness advertising you might be thinking, “yeah well that was your experience, it works different for everyone, I KNOW someone who has developed loads using it, what do you know?”
I would have been you a few years ago. Marketing and advertising can be seductive and coercive to the extent that it clouds our logic.
In fitness the bogeyman is steroids. It is the elephant in the room, the dark side, the antichrist.
But they work fantastically well. If you want to be big and very lean or elite level athletic you NEED them.
If you’re looking for the secret to rapid and continued muscle gain or leanness, or rapid increase in strength and endurance then steroids are it.
Not only that, they are the ONLY secret to these kinds of results.
Everyone who has trained seriously for a while knows this. The companies all know this. The Olympic coaches all know this.
But they can’t sell steroids to you can they? Instead they’ll market the hell out of some powders that cost peanuts to make, backed up with basically true but hugely exaggerated science and biology.
Creatine is a great example of this. Some of the articles and advertising out there praising them is so persuasive and rational I almost find myself doubting myself again.
Maybe I should try it again? Maybe I did something wrong before? Maybe I just wasn’t eating enough, or training hard enough….?
But then I remember: I don’t fall for this bullshit anymore.