The October 13 column about creatine focused on the product's versatility. Once a staple for hardcore bodybuilders and weightlifters who wanted to add muscle, the supplement is now used by many endurance athletes and also to treat depression.
In fact, a study published by the American Journal of Psychiatry online this August found that women who were suffering from serious depression got relief from antidepressant medicine twice as fast when they also used 5 milligrams of creatine daily, a finding Doctor Perry Renshaw, professor of psychiatry at University of Utah Medical School called "the Holy Grail of treating depression."
He did so because antidepressants generally take up to six weeks to start working, yet research indicates the rate of success decreases the longer that it takes a treatment to work.
The e-mails and the questions that I received after the publication of this article, however, did not come from people suffering from depression or endurance athletes. They came from readers who lift for general health with no desire to compete.
They wanted to know if using creatine would really make a difference for them, and, if so, how to best use it.
I can't imagine a situation where creatine use isn't beneficial for the typical "Fitness Master" reader who is a weight lifter. You lift weights because you want to look better, feel better, enjoy it, or some combination of the three.
Creatine use will aid all of these areas.
Within a week you'll look better. That's how long the loading phase takes, which generally creates the most muscle increase.
This fall, for instance, I added four pounds of muscle in one week and I was using only half of the recommended loading dose during the week immediately after my last race, a week where I'm not really tossing about heavy weight.
The feel-better effect takes place on two fronts. Not only has the supplement been tied to an improvement in mental health, but for me it also seems to cure those little aches and pains that occur after years of working out.
Finally, if you lift for enjoyment, what's more enjoyable than seeing progress? If I gained four pounds in one week using half the suggested amount on a lifting program designed to improve cycling performance more so than add muscle mass, just imagine the improvement you can make when your goal is to develop bigger muscles.
If this sales pitch has piqued your interest, here's what you do next: buy some of the stuff. Be sure you purchase creatine monohydrate and avoid the brands that add other ingredients.
Pure, unadulterated creatine monohydrate is more than enough to get the job done, and it's also more reasonably priced.
Use 5 milligrams four times a day for the first week. Most instructions tell you to mix the creatine with water or a fruit juice, but you can also add it to foods like yogurt, oatmeal, or your pre- or post-workout protein drink.
Obviously, your results will be enhanced through proper diet and plenty of rest. If you do these things, reduce your aerobic exercise in volume and intensity a bit, and hit the weights hard four times that first week, I'm sure you'll immediately see a difference in the mirror, the scale, and the weight room.
In fact, some companies that produce creatine claim the amount you lift for most exercises will increase in a week or two by 10 percent.
After the first week, reduce the dosage to 5 milligrams twice a day. Since the muscles are already saturated with creatine from the loading phase, this amount should allow for more improvement albeit more gradual to take place.
If you reach a point where you feel you're getting too big but you don't want to lose any of the muscle you already gained, experiment with the dose that's been found to be helpful to endurance athletes: 3 milligrams once a day.
Creatine will certainly add muscle to your body if you allow it. But don't be like a guy I trained many years ago. He couldn't figure out why the absolutely brutal workouts we were doing together weren't adding muscle to his body even though he was staying out well past midnight many nights and occasionally skipping meals.
And don't expect success if you are not willing to lift heavier weights than you're accustomed to.
But that heavier weight should actually feel light to you if you start the workout well rested, well fed, and with your body's cells saturated with creatine.