Truth and Rumors

February 24, 2003


1- Featured Article:
Why are creatine and caffeine a bad combination?

2- Anthony’s Training Tip:
Clearing up common misconceptions about gaining muscle mass.

Welcome to the 19th issue of the Creatine Newsletter. The line between truth and rumor is sometimes difficult to discern, especially between sets in the weight room where well-meaning, though absolutely wrong, advice prevails. Learning the difference between fact and fantasy is the focus of this month’s newsletter. First, we discuss why it really is that caffeine and creatine are a bad combination. Secondly, Anthony Ellis addresses some key misconceptions about how to most effectively increase your muscle mass. Click here for more of Anthony’s expert muscle-building advice.

Don’t miss out on future articles! Sign up and get the latest post straight to your e-mail inbox or RSS reader.

This Month’s Featured Article:

Why are creatine and caffeine a bad combination?

Caffeine is a commonly used in conjunction with fitness programs. Many weight loss supplements come loaded with caffeine. Additionally, athletes often use caffeine during training for its stimulatory effects. Ironically, chronic caffeine use will also lessen the boost in strength you receive from creatine. One recent study has shown that extended caffeine use COMPLETEY ABOLISHES the physical benefits typically afforded by creatine use (ref. 1). By contrast, a single dose of caffeine immediately before exercise either has no effect (ref. 2), or even enhances the improvement in strength observed with creatine (ref. 3). Therefore, at least as far as creatine is concerned, chronic caffeine consumption appears to be much more counterproductive than an occasional cup of coffee.

This result initially came as a complete surprise to the scientists conducting the research. They had originally expected caffeine to ENHANCE creatine’s benefits since caffeine should create a more permissive environment for creatine transport into muscle. In fact, creatine is transported into skeletal muscle equally well with, or without, caffeine. The most likely hypothesis, therefore, is that caffeine is exerting its inhibitory effect directly on the contractile machinery of muscle.

Certain wrong explanations, however, can be discounted from the start. First, the fact that caffeine is a diuretic has nothing to do with its counterproductive effect. Diuretics increase the amount of fluid that is excreted from the body in the urine. By apparent contrast, ingesting creatine monohydrate powder causes our muscles to retain more fluids thereby reducing urine production. These opposing effects of caffeine and creatine have inspired rumors that caffeine counteracts the benefits of creatine by preventing muscles from retaining fluids.

Making this mental link is erroneous and assumes that water retention by skeletal muscle, otherwise known as muscle volumizing, is the source of creatine’s physical benefit. Although increasing the girth of our muscles, muscle volumizing has no proven effect on strength. In other words, size alone isn’t the basis for strength, rather augmented energy stores (ATP and PCr) and increased contractile proteins (increased protein synthesis) are the true source of strength. Our muscles get bigger when we train because the amount of proteins they contain increases. Blood flow to our muscle also increases causing them to swell. With reference to training, therefore, size and strength do go hand in hand. On the other hand, inflating our muscles with water without the benefit of these other biochemical processes accomplishes very little, athletically speaking.

A more feasible explanation is that caffeine interferes with the contractile properties of muscle.

Would it surprise you that relaxation and power are one in the same? In truth, strength is the outcome of the coordinated interplay between muscle contraction and relaxation. For example, when performing a biceps curl the triceps must relax at the same time as the biceps contract for the bar to rise. If both muscle groups remain contracted (or relaxed) the bar goes absolutely nowhere! In other words, without the coordinated relaxation of antagonistic muscle groups there is no power. On a mechanistic level it is the presence of calcium that triggers contraction. Calcium must therefore be stingily hidden away into special storage compartments when muscle relaxation is required and only released from these intramuscular storage sites when contraction is desired.

It is thus relevant that one of PCr’s primary roles in muscle is to provide the energy to return calcium into these reservoirs. In this manner creatine (PCr) assists in muscle relaxation and enhances our athletic performance. Interestingly, caffeine has the opposite effect of allowing calcium to escape from these intracellular calcium storage sites. Caffeine would thus hamper muscle relaxation. In agreement with these findings a recent study has shown that caffeine interferes with creatine’s ability to facilitate muscle relaxation, especially during moments of fatigue (ref. 2). Caffeine might thusly confound the ability of PCr to store away calcium and in doing so nullify part of creatine’s benefit.

Take Home

If you’re serious about getting the most from creatine, avoid chronic use of caffeine. Scientific studies show that the equivalent of three cups of coffee per day for as little as three days is sufficient to completely negate the benefits typically afforded by creatine (ref. 1). On the other hand, an occasional cup of coffee doesn’t seem to render much harm (refs. 2, 3).

Scientific References:

1. Vandenberghe K, Gillis N, Van Leemputte M, Van Hecke P, Vanstapel F, Hespel P. (1996) Caffeine counteracts the ergogenic action of muscle creatine loading. Journal of Applied Physiolgy Volume 80(2), pages 452-457

2. Hespel P, Op’t Eijnde B, Van Leemputte M. (2002) Opposite actions of caffeine and creatine on muscle relaxation time in humans. Journal of Applied Physiology Volume 92, pages 513-518

3. Doherty M, Smith PM, Davison RC, Hughes MG. (2002) Caffeine is ergogenic after supplementation of oral creatine monohydrate. Med Sci Sports Exerc Volume 34, pages 1785-1792

Anthony’s Training Tips:

Clearing up common misconceptions about gaining muscle mass.

Getting good advice is sometimes the most difficult part to gaining muscle mass. Here are examples of questions I’m frequently asked by visitors to my website. Getting these right can make all the difference in the world in achieving your fitness goals.

Question: Anthony, I know you recommend eating six times per day, but how do you do it? I simply don’t have time to eat that often! What about people who are busy?

Answer: Yes, I will admit that eating every three hours will take some getting used to, but it is definitely possible. Many of use are busy also, but we make it work by planning. You must plan your meals in advance. Know what you are going to eat and when. This will allow you to plan quick portable meals during times when you can’t sit down or take a break to eat “real food”. Some great portable meals are MRP’s, Ready to Drink products, and Protein bars. Even an egg or chicken sandwich will help. These foods can provide you with the needed protein and carbs to help you get more calories. Here’s a sample meal plan for all you busy guys:

  • 8am: Breakfast: 3 Egg sandwich (in car)
  • 11am: 2 Whey Protein Bars (at school)
  • 2pm: Lunch: 1/2 of a Rotisserie chicken, corn, potatoes (cafeteria)
  • 5pm: Ready to Drink MRP and some walnuts (at school)
  • 6pm: Workout
  • 8pm: Dinner: Lean steak, rice and string beans (restaurant)
  • 11pm: MRP with some Flaxseed oil (at home)
  • 12am: Bed!

One more thing, don’t wait until the last minute to scramble for a meal. This will ultimately lead to skipping meals, which is what you don’t want to do. Eating a high calorie diet day in and day out is difficult. Don’t give yourself an excuse not to eat.

Question: Anthony, at the gym the other day some big guy told me that to get big I needed to train hard EVERY day and perform a lot more sets and reps. Somewhere in the range of 15-20 reps per set. I’m confused because you say the opposite… He’s really huge though, what do you think?

Answer: Stop listening to every piece of random advice in the gym. I know this is sometimes difficult because your mind thinks “this guys is big, so he knows what’s he’s talking about”. Unfortunately this is not necessarily true. Some people are just big by default. They can do anything, eat anything and still be big and get bigger. If you are not one of those people, how could any advice they have help you?

I know you are making great progress on your current low volume program, so why would you let some random comments overshadow your progress and make you reconsider your training? You must have some faith in what you are doing, especially if it is working.

Never judge the validity of what a person says by how they look. Just because the guy is huge doesn’t mean he is spewing pertinent advice for you. Many people that have big physiques are big despite of their training, not because of it. I know some huge guys that know very little about training and dieting correctly. They can do whatever and still gain muscle; unfortunately we are not that way, so we much approach things in a more intelligent way.

Question: Anthony, I really don’t have an appetite, and don’t like to eat much – but I do like to workout. Would I still be able to gain weight if I just went to the gym more instead of eating more? Will this work?

Answer: No. Resistance training stresses and damages muscle tissue. Your body responds to this stress by building larger and stronger muscle fibers. Your body needs food to repair and build muscle tissue after you workout. No amount of training can make up for your lack of calories. Adding more workouts will increase the stress and damage, INCREASING the need for more calories, not reducing it.

Click here for more of Anthony’s training tips.

Still have questions about creatine? You'll probably find the answers in my ebook!

Creatine: a practical guide will teach you how to use creatine safely and effectively for greatest muscle growth. You'll learn: how to design your own personalized dosing protocol, what to eat (and what not to eat) and other methods to make the greatest muscle gains, at the lowest price. Also, find out whether expensive creatine formulations are really worth the money!

All for less than the cost of your monthly creatine!

More information