Wondering if that new creatine supplement you started taking is actually working or just a waste of money?
Creatine is one of the most widely used and researched sports supplements, known for its ability to boost strength, muscle gains, and exercise performance. But how can you be sure it’s exerting its effects for you?
There are several signs to look for that will indicate if creatine is “working” and you’re receiving all the touted benefits. Creatine supplementation has been shown increase strength by 8%, help muscles grow bigger more quickly, reduce post-workout muscle soreness and speed recovery. You’ll likely experience an enhanced muscular endurance and performance for more reps, and an increased thirst. Some people have also reported cognitive benefits like improved focus, clarity, memory and mental performance.
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Gains in raw strength and power are common with creatine supplementation, especially during the first month.
Pay attention to the following strength markers:
- You’re suddenly able to lift heavier weights than before starting creatine. This newfound strength will feel obvious as soon as you hit the gym.
- You see an increase in the number of reps you can complete using the same weight. Those sets feel easier.
- Your muscles seem to contract harder during exercises. The mind-muscle connection is stronger.
- You experience easier muscle activation when initiating lifts. Fewer warm-up sets are needed.
- There’s an overall feeling your muscles can push harder and output more force during exercises. That translates into hitting new personal records.
Strength is a foundational goal for most gym goers. If your lifts are steadily improving, that’s solid evidence the creatine is working.
A review study found an 8% increase in muscle strength when combining creatine supplementation with resistance training vs resistance training alone.
One of the hallmark effects of creatine is its ability to help muscles grow bigger quickly. There are a few indicators that show creatine supplementation assists with faster muscle growth:
- Muscle size visibly increases. Keep an eye out for obvious size gains in your biceps, triceps, quads, chest, and other frequently trained areas.
- You’ll see a measurable increase in muscle mass over a 1-3 month period. Use a tape measure to track size gains in arm, thigh and chest circumference.
- Your muscles start feeling fuller and more pumped during workouts. You’ll notice a solid muscle pump and ‘vein-pop’ while lifting weights.
- Your clothes fit tighter due to the added muscle mass. Short and pant sleeves become more form-fitting around your arms and thighs.
If you’re training hard and seeing any of the above effects, it’s a positive sign that creatine is enhancing your body’s muscle-building abilities.
This analysis study found an average increase of over 1kg of lean muscle mass for participants taking creatine supplements vs those who did not.
Less Muscle Soreness
Intense exercise causes microscopic tears in muscle tissue, resulting in next-day soreness and stiffness.
Here’s how creatine can reduce post-workout muscle pain:
- You experience faster recovery after heavy lifting sessions.
- You notice a reduction in muscle tightness and pain in the 1-2 days following a tough workout compared to pre-creatine.
- You don’t feel nearly as crippled from soreness and can function fine the days after brutal workouts.
- You’re able to lift weights or do cardio frequently without debilitating muscle soreness. Pre-creatine, repeat sessions hurt.
This study concluded that ‘creatine supplementation shows promise in facilitating recovery following exercise-induced muscle damage and potentially as an aid during post-injury rehabilitation’.
As creatine boosts your ATP production, you may suddenly find yourself able to complete more reps during sets using the same weight as before:
- Your muscles are able to contract harder and longer before fatiguing out, allowing 10-20% more reps.
- You feel a stronger muscular output during each lift. The creatine fuels this enhanced performance.
- You’re surpassing previous records on major lifts like bench press and squats due to improved rep counts.
- That feeling of muscles being “spent” toward the end of a set is diminished or delayed.
Increased reps usually come before an increase in weight. A faster increase in rep count leads to a faster increase in weight lifted, which in turn leads to an increase in muscle growth. The increased stress on your muscle leads to micro-tears in the muscle fibres. Your body responds by repairing the fibres but making them bigger and more robust.
One known side effect of creatine supplementation is the potential for dehydration.
Creatine pulls water into your muscle cells. This action can leave you feeling thirstier than normal as water is “redirected” from other areas. Signs include needing to drink more water daily, frequent urination, and easily downing 3+ litres most days.
Creatine will make you very familiar with your water bottle! Use your day-to-day thirst and urination habits to gauge whether your creatine intake is making a difference.
Creatine supplementation has been shown to increase memory and recall as shown here. Some creatine users also report cognitive benefits like:
- An increased ability to focus or concentrate for long periods without mental fatigue.
- A reduction in brain fog or grogginess throughout the day. Overall clearer thinking.
- Improved memory recall and cognitive performance on demanding mental tasks.
- Enhanced clarity and quickness of thought. You’re firing on all mental cylinders.
Due to creatine’s role in cellular energy production, the brain perks up right along with the muscles. Look for mental clarity as a bonus sign it’s working.
What Happens To Your Body When You Use Creatine?
In summary, several markers indicate that creatine supplementation is exerting its purported effects. Keep a close eye out for measurable gains in strength, muscle mass, workout performance, and mental cognition.
Within the first month, you may notice hitting PRs on big lifts as creatine boosts your power output. Your muscles should start feeling more pumped and growing rapidly. Many users gain up to 1kg of lean mass over a couple months when combining creatine with resistance training.
You’ll also likely notice less pain and a tighter turnaround between intense sessions. Creatine helps you recover faster by reducing post-workout muscle damage and soreness.
Additionally, the extra reps you’ll be able to grind out is a clear sign that creatine is enhancing muscular endurance. Completing more reps with the same weight precedes increasing the load.
Finally, some brain-boosting effects like improved focus, memory, and mental clarity have been reported with creatine supplementation.
Give creatine at least 8 weeks while closely tracking metrics like lift numbers, body measurements, workout recovery, and cognition. If you’re seeing measurable progress in these areas, you can be confident that creatine is working its magic. Let the results speak for themselves.
Disclaimer: This article is for general educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. The information provided is based on published research, but the safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation has not been fully established in adolescents under age 18. Teen athletes interested in taking creatine should consult with a doctor first, especially if they have any preexisting health conditions or are taking any medications or other supplements. Proper medical supervision is highly recommended for teens using creatine. Creatine may interact negatively with certain health conditions or other substances. Parents, coaches, and healthcare professionals should carefully consider the risks vs potential benefits before recommending creatine to athletes under age 18. The author and publisher disclaim any liability based on the educational information provided in this article.