Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Women who consider supplementing with creatine for the first time often worry about getting big, bulky or bloated. Even devoted Oxygen readers who want lean, detailed muscle shudder at the thought of having too much of it. Rest assured, ladies, you won’t turn into The Situation by taking creatine. But supplementing with it before you train can help improve your results, leading to better workouts and a stronger, leaner you. When you get to know this well-researched product and how it can improve your performance and physique, you’ll become a convert. That’s the situation.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is produced in your body, primarily in the liver, from the precursor amino acids arginine, glycine and methionine, at a rate of about 1–2 grams per day. But even though it’s made from amino acids, creatine isn’t itself considered a protein. Creatine synthesis doesn’t involve the formation of peptide bonds, and unlike protein, its degradation doesn’t deplete nitrogen from the body. Many studies have confirmed the safety of creatine for healthy women, with no harm to kidney function whatsoever.
Creatine is also found in high concentrations in fish and red meats such as beef, lamb and pork. It’s also in chicken and turkey, but in lower amounts. Most of us who eat meat take in about 1 gram of creatine per day naturally, without supple- mentation. But if you want to maximize your performance and lean muscle gains, you should consider creatine supplementation whether you eat meat or are vegetarian or vegan.
See AlsoThe 5 Best Supplements For Women
The supplemental form of creatine — a tasteless and odorless white powder — is manufactured in labs. There are many versions, but the best one to choose is creatine monohydrate. It combines with phosphate in the body to improve cellular energy metabolism. This helps your muscles perform longer and harder, especially when you want them to work more explosively as during power-lifting, sprinting or CrossFit workouts.
Creatine contributes to the cycle of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the most basic unit of energy in the body. We store very little ATP in our bodies at any given time, and it’s quickly depleted. Supplemental creatine creates more fuel to support your exercise needs, allowing you to complete a heavier squat session to tone those glutes or run a few tenths of a second faster to best your personal sprint time in the 100.
While creatine fuels great workouts, it also boosts recovery. That’s particularly true when you take a second dose post-workout. That’s when creatine continues to work as a driver, delivering the nutrients you need to your muscles to help you increase lean tissue and burn more stored bodyfat.
Girls as Guinea Pigs
Sports supplement research has historically been conducted on men; studying women is less conclusive due to things such as greater hormonal variations and smaller muscular responses. But recent research demonstrates that creatine may help gals build muscle faster.
In one Canadian study, for example, women ages 21 to 28 took either creatine monohydrate or a placebo both before and after workouts 2–3 times per week. Measurements were taken for muscle thickness of their biceps, triceps, quadriceps and hamstrings. In the end, those supplementing with creatine saw a significant increase in muscle size and strength.
A similar study examined the effects of creatine monohydrate supplementation on collegiate female lacrosse players for 35 days during their pre-season conditioning program. Some subjects took a loading dose of 20 grams of creatine per day for seven days, followed by a maintenance dose of 2 grams per day; the other women took a placebo. While all the women completed a resistance training workout three times per week, those taking creatine enjoyed a greater increase in their maximum bench-press strength.
Try Creatine On For Size
If you want to give creatine supplementation a go, take 3–6 grams of the monohydrate version every day with meals. You can also take 3 grams with both your pre- and post-workout shakes.
A healthy person excretes approximately 2 grams of creatine each day, so taking in at least 3 supplemental grams daily will replace this loss and enhance your muscle creatine content.
It’s also a good idea to take creatine combined with simple sugar such as glucose or dextrose, or with a meal containing carbs and protein, before you train with weights. This initiates the release of insulin, driving more creatine and other nutrients into your muscle cells. Insulin rises with food intake, especially when those foods contain simple carbs and amino acids. And that’s exactly what you want before and after work- outs when your goal is to fuel your training, burn body fat and enhance lean muscle.
Note: If you’re really worried about water retention, don’t combine more than 50 grams of sugar with creatine. This can cause a huge insulin spike and ultimately a big bloat-o-rama!