What is it?
This flavourless white powder may be unassuming, but it punches well above its weight when you’re lumbering beneath the steel.
It’s made from a combination of three naturally occurring amino acids: glycine, arginine and methionine.
Taking it for 10-12 weeks while doing resistance training will deliver dramatic increases in strength, body mass and fat-free mass, according to research at Penn State University.
Exactly how much you’ll gain will vary depending on how easily you add muscle and how hard you push yourself, but you can expect a two- to five-kilogram gain after a 6-8 week cycle.
How does it work?
These amino acids boost your energy reserves, more specifically Adenine Tri-Phosphate (ATP), which helps with anaerobic exercise that lasts 2-120 seconds, such as sprinting, lifting weights or cycling away from angry dogs.
This extra oomph helps you pump out more reps in every set while increasing your power and speed over short distances.
It also causes your cells to retain water, which helps increase muscle-protein synthesis, meaning you build bigger biceps from every chicken breast you eat.
When should you use it?
There’s plenty of debate about the best time to take creatine, but research in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found having a dose post-workout is only mildly more effective that taking it before your workout.
Hedge your bets by taking it before and after exercise, preferably with your pre- and post-workout protein shake to maximise your chances of renovating your pencil neck into a eucalyptus trunk.
The biggest gripes creatine users report are the occasional upset stomach and little more flatulence than usual.
While the latter might not win you many friends, it’s unlikely to dissuade your muscular ambitions, and for good reason too, because research in the European Foods Safety Association Journal found taking three grams a day in the long term is entirely risk free.
Further studies have shown it can also fight depression, improve your thinking power and bump testosterone levels, making it the renaissance man of supplements.
Nearest competitor: beta-alanine
Creatine is not without rivals.
A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared creatine to beta-alanine and found that exercisers could squeak out slightly more reps with the latter.
It was a tight race, making it a worthy substitute.
How much is enough?
Most manufacturers suggest taking 2-5g every day, but you can tweak the dose according to your precise body weight using these guidelines set out in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition:
Daily creatine loading dosage = target body weight in kilograms x 0.3
Divide this figure into four equal parts and take one part ever four hours for five days.
Daily creatine maintenance dosage = target body weight in kilograms x 0.03
Take one dose of this maintenance dose before and after training.