Concerned about creatine? I go over the many myths that surround this well-researched supplement and separate fact from fiction.
Creatine Myth #1 – “Creatine Causes Hair Loss"
I've decided to do today's creatine lecture because of my hair. I actually—the scab is gone, so I'm going to shave my head today—but if you notice, I haven't shaved my head for a few days, which reminds everyone that I don't shave my head—I can't really see if I'm in the camera, again, because you can't read words and allow me to see where I am on camera, so pardon me—but as you can see, I have no male-pattern baldness, and I turn 50 January 13th.
I shave my head just out of convenience. It's the easiest thing for me and my lifestyle—I can sleep on a plane, anywhere, I look like I just got out of the shower. No one can tell if I'm having a bad hair day. It also leaves more space for tattooing—and I'm running out of space. So, that's really the reason I shave my head. It's not because creatine causes hair loss. This is a very common question I get—but it's a good question. It's a legitimate question, let me tell you.
Now, no—as you can see, I've been taking creatine since creatine came out. I was one of the first—at the University of Connecticut, in the mid-90s, I was a doctoral student then, and I was known as one of the doctoral students who actually was studying weightlifting. And so I would get a lot of questions from the students about creatine, and the effectiveness. Back in the mid-90s, there were only a couple of studies on creatine, but those of us in the gym knew how effective it was. So I've been taking creatine consistently since the mid-90s. It does not cause hair loss.
Now—can it at least increase your likelihood of hair loss, or how early you actually experience hair loss? Well, some of the concern stems over—well there are some anecdotal reports, but again anecdotal reports—depends on who's really reporting and how it's reported. I get a lot of anecdotal reports based on my programs, but these are in people who consistently train a certain way, consistently follow a certain diet and supplements. So when they switch over to one of my programs and then they take measurements—bodyweight, body fat—the data, although it's not a true controlled study, is fairly reliable data. So you have to be careful about the anecdotal reports.
But there are a lot of people out there saying, "Oh, hair loss..." and a lot of people—that's why I'm doing this today, because a lot of people see me with a shaved head and they think, "Oh, he shaves his head because he has male-pattern baldness." No, I just shave my head to shave my head. I'm not going bald, despite all the creatine that I've been putting down. So it won't necessarily cause hair loss.
However, here's where it gets interesting: When you go into the research—and there's not much research on this—what the research shows—and there was a 2009 study and it was only three weeks long; this was a three-week-long study. Doesn't mean people who are consistently taking it are going to experience the same results. But what they found—and this was a South African study on rugby players, on high-level rugby players—and what they found was that—this was during, they a creatine loading phase, this was with monohydrate—and then the maintenance phase, but only like two weeks of the maintenance phase.
So there was a week of loading—so three weeks—and two weeks of maintenance. What they found was that after the loading phase, DHT levels—DHT, I hope you guys can see this; again, I apologize if I'm blocking the board, but I cannot tell you where I am on-screen here—DHT, which is dihydrotestosterone, which is a form of testosterone that has more androgenic properties than testosterone; so this form of testosterone is what your normal testosterone gets converted to.
Normal testosterone being the more anabolic, the more important for muscle mass and fat loss; DHT, however, is involved in more androgenic properties. So things like sex drive, aggression in the gym—this can be a good thing to have some higher DHT levels, it's not necessarily a bad thing to have higher DHT levels. The problem with DHT is that there's an association with DHT and prostate cancer, and hair loss in males.
Now I'm not going to pretend I know anything about hair loss. I'm not concerned about it. I shave my head, so I really don't study much on hair loss and the new theories on how much DHT really plays a role in male-pattern baldness. However, there is some theory that it does have an association—your DHT levels, earlier hair loss in males. So if you're concerned at all about your ancestors, your heritage, your genetics—now I will say, my genetics, my father has a full—you guys have seen my dad, Jim Stoppani Sr.; a lot of you have seen him online, he's very active—he's the master of grip strength—now, he has a full head of hair. White as hell. He'll turn 74 January 4th, just before my birthday on the 13th where I turn 50—he'll turn 74, full head of hair. My mother's side, the Renaldis—practically all the guys went bald early. So if you're saying that you're looking at the mom's side for your likelihood of male-pattern baldness, I've somehow avoided that despite all the creatine I've taken.
So I will stand on my anecdotal report, at least—it doesn't cause hair loss. However, like I said, it may increase—may increase—DHT levels. However, that may be one of the reasons it increases strength: More aggression; more strength. So creatine, in increasing DHT levels, not necessarily a bad thing unless you're concerned possibly about hair loss, or prostate issues; could be problematic for those with prostate issues.
Now would I say stop taking creatine? It depends on, like I said, how concerned you are. There are other things you can take like Alpha JYM—I'm not here to promote any of my supplements, I'm just talking here about creatine in general—but Alpha JYM has ingredients that will help lower DHT levels, prevent that conversion of the more anabolic testosterone into the DHT.
However, remember you don't want to block all DHT, you still want some. If you're concerned about DHT levels, but you want to have some DHT benefits and you're concerned more on the prostate—I'm not sure about the hair loss—but lycopene—you guys know the tomato antioxidant, lycopene—lycopene has been found to sort of reduce the negative influence that DHT has on the prostate cells, and sort of blocks, helps to prevent some of that.
So that's where we are on hair loss and creatine. As I stand—you know, I use creatine HCl [the Con-Cret® patented form], and I've been—I'll have three Pre JYMs a day maybe, and a Post—that's four 2g so you can do the math right there, I'm getting 8g of creatine HCl which is more than enough; no issues for me, at least, in hair loss.
Creatine Myth #2 – “Creatine Causes Muscle Cramps and Injury”
Now let's get into some of the more serious concerns or questions, and that's the muscle cramps and the kidney issues—that creatine isn't healthy. And let me tell you something: it is mind-numbing how many people and supposed "experts"—doctors, researchers, and nutritionists—who have not gotten over—because they don't do any further research—what they read about creatine early in 1990-something and they're still promoting that it's dangerous.
As a matter of fact, a colleague of mine—you may know who I'm talking about—while he was a professor, his IRB—that's the internal review board for when you're getting research done—we were going to collaborate on a research study on creatine, and one of the members on the IRB board who was a medical doctor said no: it was too dangerous of a study. And he didn't provide any research studies but only what he basically Googled—what he read online. An MD. And so the study was literally prohibited from being done because of this idiotic bashing of creatine that makes no sense.
And so one of the main issues—and this has probably been a fifth myth here—is that creatine is like a drug. People think, "Oh, if you take creatine you're not natural. It's cheating." I'll get into that and what creatine actually is, but it's really an energy molecule that we all have in our bodies, and we all consume it in our diets. So, how it's a drug is beyond me. The reason that people think it's dangerous is, again, anecdotal reports—and you have to be careful about anecdotal reports because what else are they taking? What were the conditions? Was it hot? Yada yada...
Does creatine increase the likelihood of muscle cramping and/or muscle injury? First, let's get into that one before we get into the kidney issues. No, okay? I'll say it again—no. Absolutely, no. There are zero research papers—studied, peer-reviewed papers—on creatine showing an increase in muscle cramp or muscle injuries in anyone. However, there are research studies showing pretty much the opposite, and if you look up Mike Greenwood and Richard Kreider—a few very recognized creatine researchers—you will find their long-term studies on athletes showing there's zero increase—zero increase—in the likelihood of muscle cramps or muscle injuries, and it varied: baseball players, they've done this in football players, the list goes on. If anything, there's actually evidence for preventing muscle cramps and injury in those using creatine—not the other way around. Now I'm not saying that the studies found significant prevention of muscle cramps, but I'm saying if you look at the data there's nothing suggesting anything in muscle cramps other than maybe trends showing less, if you look at the data.
Creatine Myth #3 – “Creatine Causes Kidney Problems”
Now the same in kidney issues: Kreider has done long-term studies with athletes—they've even done studies with teenage athletes—showing no issues. The problem with the kidney misinformation out there is the fact that creatine breaks down into creatinine. It's basically just creatine—sorry, penmanship when I'm writing like this gets a little—I want to show you—creatine, right? And then you just slap an extra "in", creatinine.
Creatinine, you will see on your blood tests. Do you know why that is? Do you know why, when you go and get a blood test and the doctors say, "Your creatinine levels are elevated. That's a problem." Do you know why? Is it because it's going to shut your kidneys down? No—well, yes if they continue to rise, but blood creatinine levels when you get blood tests done are used as an indicator of something wrong in the body. Because a normal person shouldn't have elevated creatinine levels, unless they're experiencing something very wrong like—excessive muscle breakdown or damage of tissue. Heart tissue could be one. So high creatinine levels might indicate that there's some heart issue going on, or some other muscle issues going on.
That's what creatinine is used for: as a diagnostic tool. Creatinine isn't bad. Having high creatinine levels isn't bad,—if you know why they're high. It's hard to get people to really understand this point, but the medical community—and I'm not bashing on all doctors, because there are a lot of smart doctors; there are a lot of doctors in the JYM Army, and of course—and I'm not just saying this—they're the ones who actually think. They think about physiology, they think about how the body works, they're detectives. A lot of medical doctors who go to school are literally just—they have photographic memory; they memorize, "This, this, this, equals give that drug. This, this, this means he has that." That's how a lot of doctors work, versus thinking about the physiology of what's going on.
So doctors are told "Creatinine levels are bad." So every MD is like, "Creatinine levels!" except for the ones who actually understand the physiology. Once they see somebody with high creatinine, "Oh my god, your creatinine levels are high, we've got to lower those—" No, we know damn well why a 220lbs bodybuilder's creatinine levels are high. Because he's taking creatine—and yes some creatine breaks down to creatinine. It happens, that's a fact. The kidneys—normal, healthy kidneys—are there to do just that: Get rid of it. Get rid of the waste product.
It's not a problem for normal, healthy kidneys. Only a problem on people with kidney issues—it doesn't cause kidney issues, it's only an issue if you have pre-existing kidney issues. So that isn't a problem if we know why—plus, most weightlifters probably are undergoing a lot of muscle damage from the training. So you have more muscle damage, you have more creatinine levels. It doesn't mean there's something going on in the body, because we know why the creatinine levels are high.
So it makes the tests useless, because the creatinine test is used to indicate a problem, not to say, "Oh my god, your kidneys are going to shut down!" Yes, if the problem continues, and the creatinine levels continue to rise, but when we're looking at an athlete who has higher creatinine levels, who's training intensely and taking creatine, we know why. And they're not going to get out of hand or bother the kidneys. But nobody knows this, because nobody thinks. And so this kind of garbage gets perpetuated, that creatine can cause kidney issues. There's zero indication for normal people.
Look, if you've had a donated kidney or you've had kidney issues before, you might want to avoid taking creatine because it might be problematic for you, the creatinine. However—and again I'm not trying to sell you guys on any form of creatine here, I'm just doing a thing on creatine myths—however, using creatine HCl is going to help you keep your dosing—you only need about 1.5-2g per dose, twice a day; so you only need 3-4g of creatine HCl. If you're using monohydrate, you need a good 5g dose pre- and post-, so 10g a day. If you're worried about more creatine breakdown you want to be going with the creatine that you need less of. That'll prevent higher creatinine levels if that's an issue for you—remember, only if that's an issue for you.
So, moving along—can we put this one to rest? Can everyone in the JYM Army remember: Zero kidney issues; no issues with muscle cramps or injury from creatine. Please, guys, all that garbage, "Oh make sure you drink water, plenty of water, or you're going to get—" No. I'll talk about it in muscle-building. Creatine draws water to it, but when it's in the muscle it's drawing water inside the muscle. That's where you want it. You want water in the muscle. Muscle's a high percentage of water. You want more water—the fuller the muscle looks.
Creatine Myth #4 – “Caffeine and Creatine Don’t Mix”
Here's another question I get that's a big myth: Caffeine and creatine. What's crazy about this one, to me, is that we have known that this is BS—this caffeine—since I started working at Muscle & Fitness, which is around 2000—almost 20 years ago. We knew that the caffeine-creatine myth is BS. And what it's based on is literally one very old study, guys. One old study, but this is back in 1996—and remember what I said: In 1996 I was a doctoral student at University of Connecticut, and I told you there wasn't much research on creatine then.
So when this one study—and, let me tell you about the study: it was only six days long, okay? That's all. They gave creatine for six days. Yes, it was a loading phase, but only six days. After those six days, one group loaded with creatine and no caffeine; another group loaded with creatine, and caffeine. You know the loading phase, where you're getting 40-50g of creatine—this is monohydrate—a day. So you're loading up. After those six days, they then tested them—their leg torque force.
And what they found was that only the group that took creatine alone had an increase in their torque force, somewhere like 20% increase. Which isn't that much; it was like 10, somewhere in that—not even. But after six days the group taking the caffeine didn't see that increase. And again, this can come down to statistics, how the groups are just put together, there's no perfect study—but what we do know is that six days really isn't—even with the loading phase—to truly see all the benefits of creatine.
So this is really flawed from the get-go, and does not suggest—in fact, they studied creatine levels in the muscle and found that the caffeine had no effect, no negative effect on the ability of creatine to get into the muscle. So caffeine didn't inhibit the uptake of creatine, the absorption by the intestine, or by the muscle—the uptake by the muscle. How, then, if the muscle levels are the same—that's all that really matters with creatine is getting those levels up higher—how would the caffeine suddenly not allow the ergogenic benefits, what we call that strength.
Prior research actually recommended drinking—and I'm talking about researchers like Greenhalf; these are world-renowned creatine researchers—recommended, prior to this study, were recommending mixing your creatine in a hot liquid—like coffee or tea, something that has caffeine in it. And they were seeing great results. Why was it hot liquid? Because—remember what I talk about with creatine HCl and monohydrate—monohydrate is poorly absorbed, and back then in the early-mid-90s it was like sand. It would not mix. The warmer the liquid, the better it went into solution, just like sugar. I've talked about this before.
So the researchers would recommend—and that's how they would dose it to people, they would put it in warm liquids like coffee and tea, having caffeine—and they were getting benefits. And as you know, with Pre JYM you're getting 300mg of caffeine and 2g of creatine HCl. We know the effects are phenomenal. So no, guys, you don't have to worry about caffeine and creatine. Again, it's based on a study from 1996. That's a long time ago, when we knew very little about creatine. So put that one to rest.
Creatine Myth #5 – “Creatine is Just for Bodybuilders”
Now, last one I'll get into is sort of the myth that creatine is really just for bodybuilders and muscle-building, it has no other benefits. Which is completely wrong. Creatine should literally be taken as a supplement that everyone should consider taking—every adult, at least I'll say. Even teenage athletes; it'll definitely enhance their performance, and we've seen research showing that it's safe for them. But all the creatine is, guys, is an energy molecule. That's all it is.
Has other effects in the body, but it's a main energy molecule in muscle cells, and nerve cells as well—that's why research shows that there may be enhanced brain function from creatine, because it allows the nerve cells to function better. It also has been shown to help decrease brain degeneration and depression, particularly in females. So it has numerous brain benefits. It's even been shown to protect the skin from UV damage, and numerous other health benefits. There is some association between the reduction in heart disease—we can't make too many claims, obviously, but the last thing that creatine is is really a muscle-builder.
Like I said, we get it in our diet. And what happens is: You get the creatine. It gets in the muscle, and in the muscle it gains—it's called a "high-energy phosphate"—and it's that high-energy phosphate that's critical in all cells of the body. That's basically what we call the "energy currency", okay? It makes ATP—that's the P at the end of ATP. That's adenosine triphosphate, meaning "three phosphates". And it's this phosphate, this high-energy phosphate group, that creatine attaches—there's your creatine, it attaches a phosphate group, and then donates it to ADP—which means only two phosphates—donates it so that it can form a triphosphate, which is critical for muscle contraction.
So in the muscles, it's basically working to provide that quick energy that you need between sets. It allows you to recover faster, so that on set number 2 of your bench press—if you're using, say, your 10 rep max—you don't go from 10 reps on set one to 5 on set 2. You're able to hang in there for maybe 8 or 9. Also can increase muscle strength over time, but the real critical point is to get the muscle levels up before you're going to see those benefits; and also getting those levels up in the nerve cells, before you're going to see any of those brain benefits. But it is not a muscle-builder.
Creatine Myth #6 – “Creatine Causes Bloating”
And the other myth is that it causes bloating. Well, it pulls water with it. It attracts water. And if you've heard me talk about muscle glycogen and filling up your muscle glycogen stores, glycogen also pulls water—it's how muscle gets fuller. That's how creatine works: it pulls water into the muscle. People think this is like a water balloon. It is, it fills it up—but remember, it's all compartmentalized. It's not going to make your muscles like sloshing like a water balloon. It's hard; the muscle's a large percentage of water. And so it's going to pull water in the muscle, making it fuller. There are stretch receptors on the muscle that, over time, may actually increase muscle protein synthesis, as the research has shown with creatine as well—increasing muscle protein synthesis is one of the other ways it increases performance and muscle size.
So I'm going to end it there. I've got—it's almost 4 o'clock, which you know means it's time for me to switch out my black coffee to my Pre JYM and get a Pro JYM in and going to do a workout even though today is my active rest day. I'll probably do some kettlebell work, I'll stick it possibly right here in the gym. But make sure you guys, if you're following along with my Train with Jim series, remember it's free training.
My Train with Jim series is my personal workouts. I change it up—we just finished my Pendulum Full-Body Micro system, where we're using pendulum periodization. We're now going into my Small Angles starting tomorrow, where we're going to mix up the exercise versions to hit a majority of the muscle fibers. So we're going to be doing three different versions of each exercise to maximize muscle fiber involvement. After next week we'll switch it up again—I won't tell you what that is, it's a surprise.
But each week you learn a new technique, you get results—all for free—and you follow and look at the way I post my videos? Just post your photos of you doing the workouts, you don't have to get every one in there—post it to the JYM Army Facebook group page with hashtag #TrainWithJim, and I'm watching. I pick a winner every week to win a free JYM System or a JYM Support Stack. Every week, free JYM Supplements. It gets still better: Free training; free education; free motivation, inspiration—oh, and free JYM Supplements, guys. It's my Train with Jim series.
Now make sure—if you're just joining—that you check that I'm going to post today's Creatine Myths Whiteboard Lecture. Post your questions that you have, on your myths that you've heard, and I will get you an answer right here under the video in the comments section. Hope you guys are enjoying these live sessions, into my little JYM classroom here. Hope you guys have a great weekend, stay JYM Army strong. Thank you guys.