The Dosing Dilemma

How to get the most out of your creatine
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You gotta take creatine, bro. Talk to any meathead, and they’ll tell you this ad nauseam, but when you ask why, or how much you should be taking or how often, you won’t get any concrete answers. Instead, you’ll get the same dosing schedule that’s been used for nearly 20 years. That’s the very definition of “bro science,” and as we’re learning, bro science is essentially useless at best— and dangerous when mistakenly applied.

What most people don’t know is that, despite decades of study on creatine’s use as a sport supplement, the research regarding the most beneficial ways to use it simply doesn’t exist.

THE WELL-WORN GROOVE

The problem with all the information we’re getting about creatine is that researchers started out with a protocol for creatine supplementation after the fi rst reports of successfully augmenting intramuscular creatine levels—and they’re still using this protocol today.

What they found, back then, was that 20 grams per day of creatine, taken for fi ve days, successfully raised muscle creatine content by 30–45%. These studies, however, lasted only fi ve to seven days—and since then, there hasn’t been any further information that’s useful for the rest of us who supplement with creatine for months on end.

Of the 47 studies I found over a broad spectrum of purposes, only four tested or employed a protocol lasting longer than two weeks and attempted to use a maintenance dosage of creatine. The idea was to load for fi ve days at a high level—the standard 20g per day—and then to maintain that supraphysiological concentration with 2–3g daily after that. This protocol was fi rst tested in 1996 with positive results. Trouble is, it’s been used ever since with no real ef ort to improve it.

SIZE MATTERS

A 150-pound (70-kilogram) male will burn through about two grams of creatine naturally every day. Since 95% of creatine exists within muscle tissue, the average resistance-trained athlete would require greater amounts of creatine just to maintain his normal cellular levels. That’s where the original maintenance level loading starts to sound a little fi shy.

It wasn’t until 2003 that researchers tested this maintenance protocol using more advanced methods of finding intracellular creatine levels. They found that after two weeks of using the standard maintenance protocol—the one from 1996— intracellular creatine levels returned to baseline. This means that the maintenance protocol that’s been the gold standard for so long doesn’t maintain anything at all.

Unfortunately, the research behind all of this is very thin, and there are no guidelines regarding what it takes to actually maintain the supraphysiological values of intracellular creatine.

THE NEW RULES

On average, humans carry about two grams of creatine per kilogram of lean muscle mass, which is about a gram for each pound. The maximum amount we can put in our muscles is about 3g/kg (1.4g/lb). To get to this level, a 150-pound man would need about 25g of creatine.

When we use these numbers, we see that in order to increase the amount of creatine we carry to a level above the 1g/lb baseline, we need at least 2g each day for maintenance, plus 0.4g for every pound of lean muscle. If a 200-pound male carries at least 60 pounds of skeletal muscle, the calculation would look like this:

  • ■(0.4g/lb x 60 lbs)/0.95 + 2g ≈ 27.3g

This would be the minimum amount of creatine that this 200-pound male needs on a daily basis to maintain maximum intracellular levels. I divided the fi rst term by 0.95 to account for the amount of creatine absorbed by the rest of the tissue in the body. I’m proposing that this is the minimum daily amount needed because the well-controlled research shows that using the standard 2g per day dosing returns intramuscular levels of creatine back to normal within six weeks.

THE NUMBERS, SIMPLIFIED

If you’re going by these numbers, there’s no need for a loading period. If you’re already fairly lean, this yields a simple formula to calculate your daily creatine intake:

  • ■In pounds: Body weight x 0.15 = grams of creatine monohydrate to ingest
  • ■In kilograms: Body mass x 0.3 = grams of creatine monohydrate to ingest

Even though I began from the actual difference in what muscles can hold, you’ll notice that these calculations give numbers that approximate the 20g studies, since many of the participants in those studies weighed in around the 150-pound threshold. Unfortunately, researchers didn’t extend their studies to include those who weigh more than 150 pounds.

Although these formulas appear to overestimate needs, one gram of creatine monohydrate is only 88% creatine—so the overage takes this into account. Use these formulas to determine your daily requirements

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