Creatine has long been vilified in bodybuilding and physique competitions for its water retentive properties and perceived associated “soft” look that comes along with the water weight. It is very true that creatine causes water retention. Water retention, in and of itself, however is not the enemy. The enemy is water under the skin, in and around the subcutaneous fat layer. Indiscriminately cutting water is not necessarily a good move. Reason being, muscle is actually made up of 75% water, whereas fat tissue is only about 10% water. So for every ounce of water stored in fat, there are 7.5 ounces in muscle. So when we universally cut 5lbs of water weight, only 13% of that is coming from fat, but it comes at a cost of a big volume loss to your muscles. In order to look your best on stage, you want full, hard muscles filled with glycogen and their accompanying water with as little subcutaneous water as possible. We want to keep water in the muscles and purge it from under the skin. Creatine can help us do this. The good news about creatine is that it’s probably the most extensively researched bodybuilding supplement. Most of this research is done for its strength and endurance enhancing benefits, but we will leave that alone for the purposes of this article. We also know a ton about how it volumizes muscles. As such, we know a great deal about how it behaves in the body, and it has an enormous predisposition to store itself in muscle tissue and not in fat. We can use its’ water retentive properties to push water in to the muscles and out from under the skin to look fuller, harder and leaner on stage.
Why does creatine have a reputation of making you soft and watery?
It’s 100% accurate that creatine makes us hold water. For every gram of creatine we store in the muscle, it brings with it several times more its own weight in water. So, upon starting creatine supplementation, it’s not surprising that we gain a significant amount of weight, quickly. It is not uncommon for a 200lb bodybuilder to gain 5-7lbs within a few days. The good news is, creatine has a huge predisposition to settle into muscle cells. However, most people do what is called a “loading phase” where they take a huge amount of creatine for a few days to “load” the muscles before settling in to a maintenance dose, which is generally about 5 grams per day. While this is effective for quickly loading the muscles with creatine, it also causes a spillover into the rest of the body. That is, we generally overshoot by a bit with how much creatine we take and, in turn, the muscles can’t find room for it all, so it ends up floating around the body in other areas until it can be processed and excreted. Often, this is in the subcutaneous fat layer and hence the softer look. Next we will look at how to avoid this.
How does creatine make you look leaner?
As stated above, when creatine is stored in muscle, it brings water with it. For performance, it’s generally recommended that you drink lots of water with it so you have plenty to fill the muscles. But what if you didn’t? If we take creatine with a shortage of water, the body will scavenge for water to escort the creatine to its home inside muscle. With no water coming in from external sources, it has to look within the body, and under the skin and in the fat, it will find water. The result is more water in the muscles and less under the skin and in fat than would normally happen. This is similar to the effect of carb loading, which does essentially the same thing, however creatine is an entirely different mechanism of action, so we can essentially multiply our results and look even harder, even fuller, even dryer.
How can I take creatine in peak week to look my best?
As a general protocol, peak week involves drinking a ton of water and often, then at some point late in the week, abruptly stopping. The theory behind this is that the body, used to a glut of water coming in, continues to flush water after intake is stopped, leaving us dryer and harder. (Before you jump on me, I’m not saying this is the best strategy for every situation, but is effective) So, say you are carbing and drinking water through Friday afternoon, then stop. Within a couple hours after ceasing all water intake, taking 5-10grams of creati
ne while water is still present and plentiful in the body means that the creatine will both have water available to pull into muscles but not too much so it can cause a spill over into other tissue. Essentially, it’s another competitor for what to do with that last bit of “unclaimed” water still floating around our system after we stop drinking. Instead of urinating it out, we can pull some of it into the muscles with creatine……now we are harder…fuller…tighter. Overall, peak week is a complicated chain of intertwined events to manipulate the body to do things it wouldn’t normally do so we can look how we wouldn’t normally look. Everything we eat and do this week and in the days and weeks leading up to it effect everything else we do. With that said, there is no “one size fits all” strategy or any right or wrong way to do it. It all depends on the individual and how their particular body reacts to things. Using this strategy is one way to achieve that look that can be used with great success, but isn’t necessarily the way everyone should do it. Listen to your body, learn your body, experiment a few weeks out from a show and keep an open mind in your prep. You are the only one just like you.