So you’ve read the research, seen the hype, and are ready to start supplementing with creatine.
Wise choice my friend – it’s an epic supplement!
But how do you know if creatine is working for you?
Here are 7 classic signs that tell you whether or not your creatine is working.
1. You’re Getting Stronger
Creatine works by increasing levels of phosphocreatine in the body, which helps convert ADP into ATP.
The more ATP your muscles have, the more energy you have when working out.
(ATP is the ‘currency’ which cells use for energy.)
The outcome of this is being able to lift heavier weights.
Don’t just take my word though!
A review of 22 studies compared the increase in muscle strength of creatine + resistance training vs resistance training alone.
The results showed that on average, the increase in muscle strength was 8% greater in those who supplemented with creatine while working out.
So if you notice you do feel stronger when taking creatine, it’s a sign that it’s working.
2. You Can Squeeze Out More Reps
Let’s say you can typically bench 200lb for 10 reps.
(Just to be clear, that’s without creatine.)
This means that once you’ve completed 10 reps, your muscles don’t have enough energy to complete another.
(Otherwise, you would’ve completed another!)
Since creatine increases ATP, your muscles will have more energy after taking it.
So after taking creatine, your muscles won’t fatigue after 10 reps and should have enough energy to complete another 1 or 2.
If this is the case for you, then you know that creatine is doing its job.
3. You’re Gaining Muscle
As we’ve just covered, creatine helps you crank out more reps than normal.
This makes your workouts more intense, which results in more micro-tears in your muscle fibres.
The body responds to this stress by repairing the muscle fibres and making them bigger.
(This process is called hypertrophy and explains why you gain muscle when resistance training.)
Now just to be clear, you’ll still experience hypertrophy without taking creatine.
But the more stress you place on your muscles (by cranking out more reps), the more hypertrophy you’ll encounter.
This has been backed up by many studies.
For example, a meta-analysis of 22 studies compared the difference in muscle mass of those who took creatine when working out and those who didn’t.
According to the results, those who took creatine gained an extra 1.37kg of lean muscle on average compared to those who didn’t.
So if you’re gaining more lean muscle than normal, then it’s a good sign that creatine is working its magic!
4. You’re Gaining Water Weight
Supplementing with creatine can result in rapid weight gain.
In one study, 7 days of creatine loading resulted in an average of 1.1kg of weight gain.
Another study showed that 4 weeks of high-dose creatine resulted in an average of 1.7kg of weight gain.
Now, the interesting thing about these studies was that most of the weight gain was in fact water weight.
This is because creatine draws water into your muscles’ cells.
So if you step on the scales after a few weeks of taking creatine, and you’re a few pounds heavier…
…First, don’t panic – it’s very unlikely to be fat!
And second, don’t get your hopes up – unfortunately, it’s unlikely to be pure muscle in such a short time frame.
5. You’re Showing Signs Of Bloating
A side effect of the water weight we’ve just discussed is bloating.
This can make your arms, legs and tummy look puffy and swole.
Well, if you do experience bloating after taking creatine, then don’t panic.
It’s natural and a sign that it’s working!
But if bloating makes you uncomfortable and self-conscious, then here’s a few tips to reduce it.
Go Low Carb
Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in the body.
This stored form of energy is used up when working out and is replenished after eating carbs.
But each gram of glycogen is stored in the muscle with at least 3g of water. (Source)
In other words, your body needs to retain a lot of water to store glycogen.
So by eating a low carb diet, your muscles will hold less glycogen and so less water.
The outcome being a less bloated you!
Drink More Water
Drinking water increases the need to pee, which helps your body flush out excess water.
Consume Less Sodium
Sodium also causes your body to retain fluids. And so, it’s a good idea to consume less if you want to reduce bloating.
(Related Reading: Does Pre Workout Make You Bloated?)
6. You Feel Mentally Sharper
While creatine is mainly taken to improve physical performance, research shows it can improve mental performance too.
For example, a review of 6 studies found that creatine improved short term memory and intelligence/reasoning in healthy adults.
In another study, 32 elderly subjects were split into 2 groups before undertaking some mental tasks.
Group 1 took 20g of a placebo per day for a week followed by 20g of creatine per day for a week.
Group 2 took 20g of a placebo per day for 2 weeks.
The results showed that creatine improved the performance on number tests, spatial recall and long-term memory.
So if you do feel more switched on, then it may be due to the effects of creatine.
7. You Have More Stable Energy Levels
High blood sugar levels can lead to brain fog, mood swings and low energy.
When you’re low on energy, you have less will power so you’re more likely to stuff your face with junk food.
You may have difficulties focusing and concentrating too.
Well, the good news is that creatine can lower blood sugar levels by increasing the function of GLUT-4. (Source)
The result of this is more stable blood sugar levels throughout the day and a calmer, more energized you.
If you notice these effects after taking creatine, then it’s a tell-tale sign that creatine is functioning as expected.
How Long After Taking Creatine Will You See Results?
Well, this depends on the results you’re looking for.
In other words, the time it takes creatine to improve your brain health is different to the time it takes to improve your strength.
So with that in mind, let’s compare the time taken for creatine to take effect for different benefits.
How Long Does Creatine Take To Increase Muscle Mass?
The process of gaining lean muscle mass is a slow and painful one.
(Even with creatine…)
In the review of 22 studies that I referenced earlier, the studies took place over the course of 7 to 52 weeks.
So I wouldn’t expect to see any serious gains until you’ve taken creatine for at least 7 weeks.
How Long Does Creatine Take To Increase Strength?
Creatine will have the biggest impact on your strength when your muscles’ creatine stores are full.
This typically takes a few weeks after you start taking creatine, so I’d expect to see strength improvements after a few weeks or so.
How Long Does Creatine Take To Improve Mental Performance?
In the study referenced, the elderly subjects improved on tasks after taking creatine for only a week!
So you can expect creatine to improve mental functioning after as little as week.