Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine Monohydrate

Overview

In a world where marketing reigns supreme, the humble, unexciting creatine often gets overlooked for supplements which are far sexier in appearance, name, ingredient profile and packaging. Given that there is such a concrete body of evidence supporting its use, however, creatine may be one of the most underrated supplements on the market. We encourage you to take it seriously, as there are very few supplements on the market which can truthfully claim that they can have a genuine effect, and creatine is one of them.

To start with, creatine is an amino acid, and it can assist in providing muscle fibres with an efficient fuel source by saturating the muscles stores of creatine phosphate. In doing so, creatine serves to increase strength and power outcomes, by buffering the rate at which muscle fibres fatigue. Creatine also has some intracellular swelling effects, which are speculated to help with various outcomes.

Note: Creatine monohydrate is the source we are referring to throughout this section. Other forms of creatine are available, and some have been shown to be safe and effective, however, old-fashioned monohydrate is the most well studied and is out recommendation.

What are the Benefits?

As we said, creatine has a large body of evidence behind its use. The following are some of the areas that creatine has been found to be useful:

  • Improving muscle mass
  • Improving strength, power and endurance
  • Decreases in fat free mass
  • Cognitive benefits*

*It has been shown that higher brain creatine levels have been linked to heightened neuropsychological performance. Furthermore, cognitive processing hindered due to sleep deprivation and natural impairment due to aging can be improved by creatine supplementation.

How Should Take It?

The general guidelines for creatine consumption recommend 0.1g/kg of creatine per day. This will result in the average individual having to consume between 5-10g a day, with the number 5 being the standard dosing which gets thrown around in most fitness circles.

It is important to acknowledge that the benefits accrued from creatine supplementation are not acquired from the acute consumption of creatine, but rather from the saturation of the skeletal muscle (and other) cells as a result of continual consumption. Accruing greater stores of creatine-phosphate from creatine consumption results in an increased ability to buffer metabolic by products which are generated through physical activity, thus leading to a greater length of time until the body fatigues. These performance increases are linked to the improvements in skeletal muscle hypertrophy and decreased fat mass which is often sought by those with body composition goals.

A “loading phase” for creatine is characterised by an initial phase where consumption of creatine is increased from 5g/day to 25g/day for approximately a week, in order to decrease the time required for skeletal muscle cells to reach saturation. If time is of the essence this may be beneficial (If you are only a few weeks out from competition), however, the trade-off is increased consumption of creatine, more micromanaging from a consumption standpoint, as well as greater potential for some gastrointestinal discomfort. Most individuals would be better served by simply nailing the 5-10g/day rather than attempting to optimise a loading strategy. If you plan to continue exercising and training for a long time, you may as well just take your creatine in a manner that matches that approach.

Common Myths and Questions

  • Kidney concerns: One of the most common myths is that creatine supplementation can be harmful to the kidneys. Specific studies into creatine supplementation and renal function conclude that although creatine does slightly raise creatinine levels (an inverse measure of kidney health) there is no progressive effect to cause negative consequences in renal function for already healthy individuals, when proper dosage recommendations are followed. However, if you have a prior history of elevated creatinine levels or renal dysfunction, consult with your GP or dietitian before beginning a supplementation programme.

  • Creatine in meat: Although creatine can be found in trace amounts in meat and fish, there will be insufficient creatine even in a high protein diet to yield the full benefits. Therefore, the recommendations for creatine consumption are 0.1g/kg of bodyweight a day. The benefits of creatine do not scale with consumption, some more is not better; excess creatine will simply result in creatine being metabolised and excreted.

  • Gastrointestinal discomfort and bloating: It are a possibility that creatine consumption may result in gastrointestinal discomfort and bloating. It has been reported anecdotally, however, there is no strong scientific evidence to suggest that this is a common side effect (this does not mean it doesn’t exist, though). More conservative strategies, such as not partaking in a “loading phase,” may help you mitigate this issue completely.

  • Weight gain and water retention: Although the exact mechanism is unclear, creatine is thought to increase one’s bodyweight due to the extra water that comes from extra glycogen storage. This is commonly viewed at a deterrent to taking the supplement, especially by those who are afraid of weight gain. This is somewhat misguided, however, as the “water weight” tends to be stored within muscle cells, which improves the appearance of one’s physique. For this reason, unless you are a weight-class restricted athlete, the possibility of weight gain from creatine should be a non-issue. Additionally, the degree to which water is retained will differ depending on the person and most individuals will not retain enough water/weight for it to be immediately noticeable anyway.

Conclusion

Creatine is an amino acid that helps to combat fatigue (both in the brain and the body). In order to be most effective, however, saturation must be achieved, and this almost certainly requires supplementation (for at least a week or more). Once saturation is established though, creatine amplifies the effects of resistance training and is useful in enhancing strength and hypertrophy as well as speed and other forms of athletic training. Finally, creatine is deemed to be overwhelming safe and efficacious for young and old alike.

 

Article written by @aaronhoey_