CREATINE. The Simple Truth: It Works!

Phil Kaplan shares some of the realities behind creatine use for muscle gain.

I was about to do my third set of lat pulldowns when a voice from behind me interrupted, "Phil. Can I ask you a question?" I nodded and held up my hand to indicate that Iíd prefer the question wait until I find benefit in the spark of motivation Iím experiencing. I growled out 9 or 10 reps and turned to take on the question.

"I remember about five or six years ago you did a radio show about creatine. Now, it seems as if all of a sudden everyoneís taking it! Is it the same stuff you were talking about back then?" I nodded as I anticipated the next question. Itís the one I always get in reference to supplements. "Does it work?" I continued to nod as I went into automatic pilot reciting the oft-repeated pro-Creatine Monohydrate monologue Iíve developed strictly by repetition of the "Does It Work" question. Hereís the short version:

"Creatine (monohydrate) works! It absolutely works. If you want to perform at higher levels demonstrating greater strength and power legally, safely, and with greater muscle volume, then yes, it works!" Does it end there? No. The questions just begin. "Do I get better gains if I use more?" "Should I take it with fruit juice?" "Do I need to "load?" They go on and on. Let me take you back to the radio show from over half a decade ago where I first endorsed this breakthrough supplement on the air.

I remember the particular radio show clearly because it threw my office into a frenzy. The phones rang for days with listeners in search of muscle magic asking, "where can I get some?" It was a weekly episode of my Mind & Muscle Fitness Hour. Anthony Almada, then a biochemist out in California and part owner of a company named California Body Club was a guest along with his partner (at the time), Ed Byrd. I even remember the details leading up to the show. It started when I received a phone call from a subscriber to my Newsletter. Iíd never spoken to this Personal Trainer from the West Coast before, but he knew I was in the habit of separating "scam" from those things that offered true promise. He was excited in telling me that he found a supplement that worked! Really worked! He went on and on telling me about his strength increases, his muscle gains, and the similar results his high profile clients were receiving using this new Creatine compound. If anything was getting anybody this excited, I knew it demanded at least some investigation. Through a chain of telephone calls I found Anthony and Ed. These guys were more excited than the Personal Trainer was. They explained the science behind Creatine, quoted the results of a study in Europe with cyclists, and then began to throw out the now familiar strength and muscle gain stories. The conversation ended with three words. "Send me some."

A funny thing happened. Two bottles of Creatine Monohydrate showed up in my mailbox a day apart. The California Body Club creatine was the second to arrive. As excited as I was, when the first product showed up, I wasnít going to wait. I tried the fist brand to arrive. I did exactly what Ed and Anthony suggested. I mixed a heaping teaspoon of the white powder into a small amount of water and drank it four times a day for five days. I then continued the mixing and drinking ritual twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. After two weeks I called Anthony Almada. He was ready to hear me jump on the "more strength, more muscle" bandwagon and was sincerely shocked when I reported, "Nothing." I was ready to assume this was the next short-lived overhyped supplement soon to be written off as soon as another "miracle" showed up in its place.

"Did you "load" for five days?"


"Are you sure youíre using a heaping teaspoon?"

"Yes, I am."

"Are you eating and training?"

"Of course!"

"Youíre the first person who has been disappointed. Did you use the whole bottle I sent you?"

"Nope. In fact, I didnít even open it. The day before it arrived I received a bottle from another company."

There was a short silence which I now realize was Anthony being polite. He couldíve filled the silence in with "you idiot, how could you assume that other company sent you anything resembling Creatine Monohydrate?" His silence spoke for itself. Before allowing him to utter another word I ended the conversation with, "Iíll call you in two weeks."

I should have known, after spending years exposing false label claims and fitness fraud that it's quite possible words on a label are less than honest. I knew nothing about this other company. Somewhere between the time that the bodybuilder called me and I reached Ed and Anthony, my chain of phone calls alerted people that I was on a Creatine hunt. Someone was quick enough to beat California Body Club to my mailbox. That didnít mean they used the same product in their Creatine labeled bottles.

After five days of using Anthonyís Creatine Monohydrate I was asking questions. "Did the creatine do it, or was I just stronger today? Two extra reps on the bench? Hmmmm. My weight had gone up a couple of pounds. Was it the creatine, or was I just more conscientious with my eating and training? Three days later I was almost convinced, and by the time I spoke with Anthony again I had increased my body weight by five pounds measuring at the same % bodyfat as I was two weeks prior. My bench and squat had substantially increased, certainly more dramatically than in any fourteen day period in the past. I was sold.

"Iíd like you guys to come visit with me on my radio show. This is the first strength supplement Iím ever going to give a thumbs up to, provided you can send me research data, legitimate testimonials, and anything you have to lend credence to the safety of the product. The following morning there was a pile in front of my fax machine. A large envelope followed in the mail. I made more phone calls, gave some product to a few associates to try, and this Creatine stuff was proving to be all that was promised!

By the time the day of the on-air interview showed up, I was convinced of two things. One, Creatine Monohydrate is going to be a true supplement breakthrough, and two, youíve got to be certain that the creatine labeled product youíre buying truly contains pure Creatine Monohydrate.

One of the most consistent comments Iíve heard expounding the popularity of my radio show has been the fact that I help listeners to "make sense" out of issues that can be confusing. In a short time I had familiarized myself with much of the available science regarding this new supplement breakthrough. Iím about to share with you the simple understanding Anthony Almada, Ed Byrd, and I provided my listeners with on that long ago radio broadcast, but first, thereís a question you might have that I feel obliged to address.

If this all happened more than five years ago, why am I writing this article now? Simply because the science that held true then holds true now. When something grows as explosively popular as Creatine Monohydrate has, rumors, misinformation, and overblown product hype often fly confusing the supplement buying public as to the true efficacy of a product. The question I mentioned by the fellow who interrupted my lat routine was one of many Creatine questions I receive daily. Some are a bit more far fetched. "Is creatine a steroid?" "Is creatine like steroids?" "Can creatine kill you?"

Before androstenedione made the papers, creatine was rumored as the secret to Mark McGwireís home run hitting. It was rumoured responsible for the death of collegiate wrestlers. Let me take you back to the simple understandable science and allow you to use Creatine Monohydrate without question and without concern.

The way I explained it to my listeners was as follows.

Creatine Phosphate is a "phosphagen" responsible for intra-muscle energy generation. While muscle maintains a small and limited supply of Creatine Phosphate, it is used quickly during an anaerobic burst and then replenishes to allow the next "set." When you orally ingest Creatine Monohydrate, it appears to increase the amount of Creatine Phosphate you hold in muscle, thus, your "strength" and "performance" are increased. There also seems to be a cell volumizing effect. Each muscle fiber seems to attract and hold more water. Since muscle is primarily composed of water, put more water into each muscle cell and you wind up with greater muscle mass. Simple.

Anthony and Ed backed this up with research evidence, yet it all came back to the simplicity of, "more Creatine Phosphate = more strength, more intramuscular water = more muscle." Together they fielded questions from callers. "When you eat Creatine Phosphate it does not seem to be absorbed and transported into muscle in the same form, plus the monohydrate form is more economical." "You canít mix creatine in your blender with your post workout drink and carry it with you. It is not stable in liquid and will convert into creatinine nullifying the effects." "There may be some benefit to taking Creatine Monohydrate with a small amount of simple sugar as the insulin spike might facilitate better creatine transport." "The only thing taking more than recommended might bring is stomach upset."

I want you to understand that Creatine hasnít the least resemblance to a steroid and the only similarity rests upon its ability to increase the amount of muscle you carry. While some of the muscle "volumizing" effect will be diminished when Creatine usage is discontinued, the hope is that through more intense training resulting from the Creatine Phosphate boost, you will add lean body mass that remains. In other words, while some of the "water volume" that creatine brought about might be lost if you back off on creatine supplementation, the added intensity of your workouts should allow you to add muscle that you maintain with or without creatine.

Iím amazed it took this long for the general exercise public to become creatine crazy. Rumors, questions, and confusion now abound. The simple fact remains that while science has offered insight into better utilizing the creatine monohydrate we ingest through synergistic combinations of various micronutrient and macronutrient compounds, simply combining Creatine Monohydrate with your intense training and a concern for a supportive balance of proteins, carbs, and essential fats worked five years ago and it works today! Begin there. Sure, science moves forward, and there have already been some new synergistic products developed which utilize and enhance creatineís value. I encourage you to utilize those products and formulas which best meet your needs, but do it without the mystery. Understand what creatine is, what it does, and how to use it as a basic aid. Then you can go further, after all, isnít this whole bodybuilding process about progression? Begin with what you know works, and then build.

The challenge today lies in the great abundance of creatine compounds making the "it works" claim. Testing for purity and content has been a mission embarked on by a few who either stand to act as safeguards against fraud, or perhaps act to better sell their own products. If quality testing and the availability of honest information are going to help a company sell more product, I applaud that company for selling "quality" rather than "hype." Marketing built on honesty is refreshing and much needed and if those who clamor for consumer dollars go out there and expose fraud and deceit, the cream can only rise to the top. 


You now have a simple clear concise understanding of the "mystery" behind Creatine.  The bottom line . . . yes, I can say this one "works."

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