Interesting Facts About Creatine Supplements for Women
Creatine – can women use this?
With so many ‘weight loss’ pre-workout products on the market, it pays to do your research before you part with your hard earned cash. Over the next few weeks, I’ll look at the different types of supplements available to help you get an understanding of what you can use, what to look for and how to get the best results.
Should you use a pre-workout supplement?
I see a lot of people trying to use supplements to get results without addressing the basics. The strategy of taking a pill without training or eating properly is about as effective as nailing jelly to a tree. Supplements are just that – supplementary. They aren’t responsible for getting results – you are.
No supplement will provide any benefit unless you already have a solid foundation of consistent training and proper nutrition in place.
On the plus side, there’s no question that there are supplements that can boost your results. If you use something that offers even a small nutritional benefit, every little advantage here and there, over time and with consistency, will add up to substantial returns for you. We’ll be looking at what works, what’s hype and what’s bogus over the next few weeks starting with pre-workout supplements.
Today, we’re looking at creatine.
Creatine – isn’t this for guys? Should women use it if they don’t want to bulk?
Typically, we tend to see creatine marketed for men looking to increase muscle. I’m not sure why because this supplement is fantastic for women too. Men aren’t the only ones who want to get stronger and improve their performance so perhaps supplement marketers could take note? Strength for women is still talked about in hushed tones along with muscle. This just perpetuates the cycle of misinformation.
Creatine is one of the safest and most effective supplements for improving exercise performance in all genders. And women are enthusiastic about embracing the use of supplements. However, a survey of Canadian female college athletes, researchers found that 80 percent were using caffeine to enhance exercise performance, but not a single one used creatine. Somewhere along the line, or maybe the whole way along the line, information is replaced with misleading advertising.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is produced by the body naturally. In fact, your body produces around half of all the creatine it needs and the other half typically found foods in like meat, eggs and fish. The good news is that unless you’re vegetarian, you’re already safely supplementing. Creatine is a non-essential dietary tripeptide compound made up of three amino acids (L-arginine, L-glycine, and L-methionine). Its’ role within your cell is to store high-energy phosphate groups – it serves as a short-term energy source to raise your ATP production (adenosine triphosphate – the energy currency of your cells).
When you’re training and lifting weights or doing explosive movements like sprinting or plyometrics, you have to expend ATP so creatine supports this by increasing output. Creatine is not a steroid. This myth seems to have come into play because creatine can help users get amazing results.
Benefits of Creatine Supplementation for women
Improved strength. Not size. Several studies have shown women improving their strength by up to 25% when supplementing with creatine. You won’t bulk (unless you’re training too).
Enhanced power: Creatine has been shown to significantly improve sprint performance and agility tasks in elite female soccer players
Increased aerobic performance: Studies have been shown to reduce the work done by the cardiovascular system for women too. Creatine is also currently being researched as a supplement to benefit certain heart problems and other health conditions.
Pregnancy: Creatine synthesis within the muscles naturally increases when women become pregnant, and it’s been suggested that increasing creatine muscle levels is beneficial for a woman’s body during pregnancy.
** NOTE: Vegetarians tend to have lower levels of creatine simply because they don’t have access to it in their diets. And because more women than men tend to be vegetarian, this makes this supplement vital to women.
How to Use Creatine
Creatine will not do the work for you. When you stress or overload your body (positively, with weights or power work), creatine comes into play. Specifically, phosphocreatine plays a key role in the energy transport from your mitochondria to the specific muscles being stimulated. Improvements in lean muscle mass and power come about from increases in the output of these muscles when you’re supplementing with creatine. Why haven’t women been using this?
Bloating, stomach aches and diarrhoea
There are a few myths and misconceptions around creatine that I think may limit its’ popularity with women.
Firstly, there’s the pervasive rumour that creatine causes gastrointestinal upset, stomach aches and diarrhoea. We do know that discomfort arises using incorrect dosing and those that tend to overdose on supplements are more likely to be younger men who are looking for big gains quickly. So don’t let this rumour put you off as there doesn’t appear to be anything substantial to support it.
Next, is bloating. Increasing muscle creatine levels increases cellular hydration in the muscle (the cells are holding more water). This means your body is hydrated. You may notice a small increase on the scales – but it’s temporary water! Hydration improves energy plus performance and helps to prevent injury when training, so a little extra water is fine – especially when training in summer.
Note: weight ‘gain’ from creatine is more common in men than women. In fact, studies reviewed shows that women can reduce body fat percentages and drop ‘weight’ while supplementing with creatine.
Avoid or minimise bloating by taking creatine when you train – up to an hour before or directly after. You can take it on non-training days too – but do this first thing in the morning. Creatine carries water with it, and water retention is more likely to be experienced when your muscles aren’t absorbing creatine – hence the timing is critical. Deliver nutrients when your body needs them. Stick to the dosage recommended. If you have any issues like diarrhoea, just reduce the amount you’re taking.
What form of Creatine should I use?
Reviews of studies show that Creatine Monohydrate is not only the most common form used in research, it is also the most powerful or potent form, giving you the biggest bang for your buck.
Other forms include:
- Creatine Magnesium Chelate – waiting for further larger studies confirming usage at small doses without water weight or bloating.
- Creatine pyruvate – has been shown to produce higher blood levels of creatine but this hasn’t improved performance in any way.
- Creatine Citrate and Creapure (Micronized Creatine), although just as potent as Creatine Monohydrate, are more water-soluble and may be of interest to avoid the clumping in water. If you have a sensitive stomach or know you already react to Creatine Monohydrate, these versions may be worth considering instead.
- Creatine Nitrate, which currently does not have any legitimate scientific evidence to support the claims of superiority over Creatine Monohydrate.
Don’t waste your money on these:
- Buffered Creatine (Kre-Alkalyn– available in one of the top women’s creatine supplements).
- Creatine Hydrochloride (Con-Cret– also sold as the active form of creatine in another of the top women’s supps) When ingested, both buffered creatine and creatine hydrochloride’s special effects are negated by stomach acid. They turn into the basic creatine molecule. They’re not better or worse – just more expensive for virtually the same product. There is some suggestion that Creatine Hydrochloride is more water soluble.
- Creatine Ethyl Ester– degrades almost entirely in the intestines into the metabolite creatinine.
Watch for: Proprietary Blends:
A proprietary blend is a brand’s blend of a variety of different supplements. These blends are made at the brand’s discretion.
For example, this is the nutrition panel from the BPI Sports Best Creatine. The container gives you 50 servings at 4g per serve. But that 4gr of creatine is made from a proprietary blend of undisclosed proportions of differing forms of creatine plus betaine and salt. How much creatine monohydrate are you taking? I recommend avoiding these kinds of products because they aren’t clear about what you’re buying.
There are no significant differences between powders, tablets, or capsules. Capsules and tablets are just vessels for the powder. So use what suits you!
How Much Creatine?
If you don’t want to supplement, you can increase your creatine levels through diet – an 115grm (4oz) piece of salmon, tuna or beef provides roughly 500gm. You need to eat meat or fish daily to try and raise your muscle creatine levels to 120mmol/kg threshold. It’s a lot of work, and it’s not an exact science. You have to balance your nutritional intake and your calories too.
And this is what makes supplement so easy. When supplementing, take the creatine monohydrate form at a dose of between 3gr to 5gr of creatine a day to maximise muscle creatine stores.
Take creatine with either carbs or protein to raise insulin which will optimise creatine uptake into the muscles. You can take creatine either pre or post-workout, but it’s recommended to take it within one hour of exercise.
Drink plenty of water to ensure adequate liquids for cellular hydration.
If you get a powder that you need to dissolve in water, warming the water slightly helps your creatine to dissolve completely. Anecdotally, this has also been suggested as a method to prevent or minimise bloating.
What to buy?
As a woman, the world of supplementation is shrouded in mystery, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choices all in pretty, gendered packaging. The marketing on the front tells you what you want to hear and they all give the impression they’ll deliver the results you’re after.
Before you buy anything, your first step is to understand the nutrition panel. Some of these products contain ineffective ingredients and minuscule dosages of otherwise quality elements leaving you with a supplement that’s either a cheap, ineffective stimulant or complete dud in pleasing packaging.
I have chosen a range of creatine monohydrate products. There are powders and tablets in all ranges. But with prices ranging from $13 and up, these are by far the most cost effect way to take creatine.
The other benefit is you can balance your supplements yourself. Personally, as a self-confessed control freak, I like to know what I am taking and to have control over what I put in my body. I find blends too tricky, or they just include ingredients that are rubbish. But it’s up to you of course.
You will notice there are no pink packages in this little selection– they were either more expensive or had additives in them I wasn’t looking for. I hope you like blue instead…
Creatine Monohydrate products
These products are available in a wide range of stores. Or just jump online and have them delivered. Now you have the basics down pat; you can find your own as well. Click through for ideas on what’s available and where – prices start at around $9.
There are many other products available – I have chosen simple, inexpensive and effective brands that deliver what you need without proprietary blends.
Is Creatine safe?
Yes, very. I first investigated creatine for my son, who is 10 and has a health condition. He takes it to boost his energy production as part of a supplement cocktail. I wouldn’t give him anything at all without finding out the complete picture of pros and cons.
There is no substance to the rumour that creatine is damaging to kidneys. However, if you have a health condition, it’s always a wise idea to communicate your desire to use a supplement with your doctor. She will know if you’re contraindicated or if the supplement interferes with a medication you’re currently taking.
And even if you’re perfectly healthy, it’s always a wise idea to tell your doctor what you’re up to.
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Fukuda, D., et al. The effects of creatine loading and gender on anaerobic running capacity. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2010. 24(7):1826-33.
Burke, D., et al. Effect of creatine and weight training on muscle creatine and performance in vegetarians. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2003. 35(11):1946-55.
Cox, G., et al. Acute creatine supplementation and performance during a field test simulating match play in elite female soccer players. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2002. 12(1):33-46.
Blwer, C., et al. The effect of creatine on treadmill running with high-intensity intervals. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2003. 17(3):439-45.
Nelson, A., et al. Creatine supplementation alters the response to a graded cycle ergometer test. European Journal of Applied Physiology.
Decker, M. The Effects of Hydration on Athletic Performance, Undergraduate Research Journal of Human Sciences,
Also published on Medium.