Creatine Part 2 – Creatine + HMB and Creatine Supplement FAQs
Written by: Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN
Creatine continues to be one of the most popular supplements among athletes, and creatine usage is increasing in other populations as well. If you missed Part 1 of this series, be sure to go back to learn more about what creatine is, who it’s for, and all the incredible health benefits it offers for athletes and non-athletes alike.
Today’s article will go into the nuts and bolts of using creatine as a supplement. You’ll learn more about creatine dosage, creatine timing, side effects, and more.
First, however, let’s dive into HMB, a strength and muscle support supplement that is less well-known than creatine but offers additional benefits, especially when combined with creatine.
Benefits of HMB
HMB, or beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate, is derived from leucine, a branched-chain amino acid. HMB acts as an important metabolite for protein metabolism, insulin action, and muscle health in the body.
Supplementing with HMB has similar and complementary benefits to creatine. HMB works to:
- Inhibit protein and muscle breakdown
- Increase protein synthesis and muscle growth
- Stimulate growth factors
- Enhance muscle stem cells
Because of these actions, those who supplement with HMB may notice:
- Increased muscle recovery
- Increased lean body mass/muscle mass
- Improved strength
- Increased capacity for high-intensity exercise (strength and endurance)
As you can see, HMB has many of the same benefits as creatine, but it is less well-known. HMB has an excellent safety profile, and a typical dose is 3 grams daily. As always, this information is not medical advice. Please discuss supplementation with your provider for personalized guidance.
Let’s cover some of the most asked questions about creatine and in doing so, bust some common creatine myths and increase your confidence with this supportive supplement.
What is creatine good for?
Creatine is typically used to improve muscle mass and muscle strength by supporting energy production in the muscles.
What is the recommended creatine dosage?
The typical dose for creatine is 3 to 5 grams per day for most people. Elite athletes and people with a larger build may need more, so you can also dose 0.1 grams of creatine per kilogram of body weight.
Do I need to creatine load?
You’ll find some recommendations for “creatine loading,” which means taking larger doses (typically 20 grams per day for 5-7 days) to “saturate” the muscles with creatine.
However, this practice doesn’t appear to be necessary per the research. Three to 5 grams per day for most people is sufficient for increasing creatine storage in muscles, muscle recovery, and physical performance.
When should I take creatine?
There is some leniency in when creatine should be taken; however, it’s recommended to take around exercise. You can take creatine before, during, or even after a workout.
Some wonder when creatine starts working. It has an effect as soon as it makes its way into the muscles and other tissues.
For those taking creatine for reasons other than strength or who don’t exercise for whatever reason, you can take creatine supplements at any time of day, preferably with food.
How should I take creatine?
Evidence suggests that taking creatine with carbohydrates or carbohydrates + protein enhances creatine levels and muscle retention.
You can add a creatine supplement to a pre-workout or post-workout smoothie or take it alongside a snack or meal.
Is creatine safe? Are there any side effects?
Taking creatine over both the short- and long-term is safe. Most of the health benefits are achieved from a low-level intake of 3 to 5 grams per day. Research on higher dosages (30 grams per day) was shown to be well tolerated for 5 years in healthy people. However, this level of supplementation is not necessary or recommended for most.
Creatine side effects are minimal or non-existent. You may have heard reports of creatine bloating or water retention. Some early research on high dosages suggested a bloating effect, but this isn’t seen at the recommended dosages.
In addition, the rumors that creatine causes hair loss, dehydration, increased body fat, increased testosterone, or kidney damage are not supported by research when creatine supplements are used appropriately at recommended dosages.
Discussing new supplements with your provider is always recommended, especially if you take any medication, have a medical condition, or are pregnant or nursing. Creatine is not recommended during pregnancy or lactation.
Will creatine make me gain weight?
When combined with resistance training, creatine may help to increase muscle mass. Increases in muscle may translate to increased weight on the scale initially. Still, you will be shifting toward a leaner body composition.
Remember that the number on the scale isn’t the whole story. Also, pay attention to how you feel in your body, how your clothes fit, your energy, mood, performance, and other factors.
Are creatine gains permanent?
Once creatine levels in the muscles increase with supplementation, when supplementation stops, it will take 4 to 6 weeks for creatine levels in the body to return to baseline. However, the muscle and strength that you built will remain if you work to maintain it by eating enough protein and continued strength training.
Should I take creatine on rest days?
This is up to you, but there is no downside to taking creatine on the days when you don’t work out. Creatine benefits the heart, brain, and reproductive organs in addition to its benefits to muscles and performance.
Should I take creatine while cutting?
For bodybuilders that cut weight before a competition, creatine may help preserve muscle mass while reducing weight. It’s important to eat enough food and protein during this time to stay healthy.
Creatine vs. protein
Protein is the building block of muscles, and creatine helps the muscles make energy. They have separate roles but are both necessary for muscle health and function.
Learn more about your protein needs here.
How do I increase creatine levels?
There are several ways to support healthy creatine levels in the body:
- Support the body’s ability to produce creatine. This means eating a diet that supplies enough of the creatine building blocks arginine and glycine from protein-rich foods like dairy, eggs, seeds, meat, fish, and nuts.
Also include folate and vitamin B12, which are required for creatine production. Folate is found in green veggies, avocados, and lentils. Vitamin B12 is found in all animal foods or a quality supplement.
- Eat creatine-rich foods. Since creatine is concentrated in muscles, eating muscle meat is the best source of creatine. Beef, pork, poultry, and fish are good sources.
- Supplement with creatine. Supplementation increases creatine levels.
What creatine should I use?
While there are many forms of creatine on the market, creatine monohydrate is the most studied supplemental form of creatine and the most effective. Micronized creatine monohydrate is even more effective because the molecules are smaller for better absorption and utilization by the body.
Magnesium creatine chelate is creatine bound to magnesium that supplies about 85% creatine and 15% magnesium. Magnesium is an important cofactor for energy production in the muscles and a nutrient that many of us don’t get enough of in the diet.
What is the difference between creatine and creatine + HMB?
We started this article with a discussion of HMB, which as a supplement, has many of the same benefits as creatine, yet it is less well known. While both creatine and HMB have individual advantages and work on different pathways in the body, combining them has shown positive improvements in sports performance and body composition.
Twenty2 Nutrition Creatine Complex combines micronized creatine monohydrate, magnesium creatine chelate (MagnaPower), and HMB, making it one of the most innovative formulas on the market. It also contains calcium and vitamin D to support bone health and muscle function. It comes in a convenient unflavored powder that mixes easily into a smoothie or other beverage.
When weighing the creatine pros and cons, there are mostly pros. Many of the downsides we’ve been led to believe about creatine supplements doesn’t hold up in the research. The studies on creatine powder are overwhelmingly positive for men and women, young and old, and athletes and non-athletes. It is very safe, and we continue to learn more about the benefits all the time.
Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN is a functional nutritionist, writer, and recipe creator. Ryah helps clients use a natural, food-as-medicine approach to improve fertility, pregnancy, hormone balance, autoimmunity, and discover a healthy relationship with food and body. Learn more about Ryah and her private practice at econutrition.co.