Written by Ben Carlisle
Last updated on: Sep 17, 2022
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Creatine monohydrate has long been a gold standard supplement; it is in every supplement store and sells! While creatine is often associated with bodybuilders and gym junkies, athletes of all types can benefit from this supplement. Some say that all it takes is popping a few pills or adding a scoop of powder to your protein shake - how true is this statement?
Creatine monohydrate is a combination of three amino acid types and hydrogen molecules. This simple compound prevents ATP depletion, stimulates protein synthesis, increases muscular power, force, and mass, decreases lactic acid and reduces fatigue in repeated activities.
Creatine monohydrate is not a secret weapon or shortcut to a muscley, lean physique. We strictly believe that no individual should take any supplement, including creatine, before weighing the pros and cons properly. So, to help you, we're answering the most common questions on creatine monohydrate to resolve previous conflicting answers.
With over 2,000 studies conducted on creatine monohydrate supplements to date, it is one of the most trustworthy and effective performance-enhancing supplements on the market.
Creatine is a substance that naturally occurs in your muscles' cells. Broadly speaking, it helps your muscles produce sufficient energy for muscle contraction, such as during heavy lifting and high-intensity exercises. However, taking creatine as a supplement is a popular trend among bodybuilders and athletes to improve performance, boost muscle growth, and enhance strength (1).
On a chemical level, creatine monohydrate is nothing more than a mixture of three different amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine (2).
Your body can naturally produce creatine by combining glycine, arginine, and methionine.
Glycine and arginine are two conditional amino acids only vital in times of stress and illness, and methionine is essential as the body cannot self-produce it (3).
Creatine shares various similarities with these amino acids.
Shortly, amino acids are a combination of molecules that form proteins (4). Our body uses amino acids to make proteins to help the body:
• Break down food
• Repair body tissue
• Perform other body functions
• Supplies energy to the body
While around half of the body's creatine supply derives from endogenous production in the liver and kidneys, the second half comes from a carnivorous diet and supplements (exogenous consumption).
Approximately 95% of creatine is stored in your body's skeletal muscles; the remaining 5% lies in your heart, brain, and other body tissues (5).
Creatine monohydrate consists of creatine and water molecule. By weight, creatine monohydrate consists of around 90% of the creatine compared to creatine anhydrous, containing 100% creatine by weight (5).
Although creatine is simply a combination of three amino acid types and hydrogen molecules, this simple compound is responsible for many bodily processes and functions.
First, creatine is a fundamental component in the natural process of how your body creates its primary form of energy in the muscle cells - adenosine triphosphate (ATP) (2).
The muscles in your body require ATP to function and to power contractions. However, during muscle activity, the muscles' limited supply of ATP quickly depletes, making the regeneration of ATP essential.
In the regeneration process, phosphocreatine - a phosphate ester of creatine - acts as a temporal energy buffer by storing phosphates for muscle contraction and transferring these high-energy phosphates into adenosine diphosphate (ADP). In turn, the body "borrows" a phosphate molecule from phosphocreatine and combines it with ADP to produce ATP and creatine (6).
Phosphocreatine is essentially your body's primary choice of energy during an anaerobic activity like weight lifting and HIIT routines. A simple explanation is that when your muscles contract explosively or briefly- no longer than 8 to 12 seconds - phosphocreatine is responsible for providing the energy necessary for the muscles to do so.
When you ingest exogenous creatine through food or supplements like creatine monohydrate, it elevates your intramuscular creatine, cerebral creatine, and phosphocreatine storage.
Increasing these stores may offer therapeutic benefits like preventing ATP depletion - the "energy currency" of cells. In addition, the creatine and phosphocreatine stores stimulate protein synthesis and reduce protein degradation (7).
Evidence shows that athletes benefit from creatine supplementation by increasing muscular power and force, reducing fatigue in repeated activities, and increasing muscle mass (8).
In addition to boosting strength, creatine monohydrate can increase the water content in your muscle cells, hydrating them and leading to beneficial effects on muscle growth as it sends signals related to cell swelling (9).
The bottom line: The more phosphocreatine in your body, the more you can accomplish before you reach fatigue. So, an added creatine monohydrate supplement allows you to run the extra mile and achieve higher reps.
Creatine monohydrate's reputation among athletes and bodybuilders regarding strength and muscle gain is well-earned! However, contrary to what most individuals believe, you do not have to be a powerful athlete to reap the remarkable benefits of this supplement.
Here are the full benefits of creatine monohydrate:
Creatine monohydrate supplements increase the muscles' phosphocreatine stores that aid in forming ATP - the vital molecule your cells need for energy and essential life functions (7).
So, while the depletion of ATP limits your body's ability to perform at maximum intensity, the creatine supplement will boost the production of ATP energy; this will fuel your muscles during weight lifting or high-intensity exercises (10).
Creatine monohydrate is the world's most effective nutritional supplement for lean body weight and muscle mass, taking as little as 5 to 7 days for results (11).
Creatine supplements alter cellular pathways that encourage new muscle growth and boost the formation of proteins that form new muscle fibers (12). A study shows that short-term creatine supplementation of about 20 g/day for 5 to 7 days can increase your body's total creatine content by 10 to 30% and phosphocreatine stores by 10 to 40% (8).
The creatine supplement acts as an osmolyte that pulls water into the muscles. While the initial muscle growth is from the high water content in your muscles as the monohydrate signals cell swelling and contributes to hypertrophy, the supplements also specifically aid in muscle fiber growth over a long-term period (13). In addition, it can raise insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) levels that promote an increase in muscle mass (14).
During a 6-week training regimen study, the creatine supplement participants added an average of 2kg more muscle mass than the control group (15).
Lastly, research indicates that creatine can decrease myostatin levels, the molecule responsible for stunting muscle growth. In turn, reducing myostatin helps build muscle faster (16).
Creatine is an end product of contraction unique to the muscles; it controls and stimulates muscle protein synthesis.
It is shown that creatine selectively stimulates the rate of actin and myosin heavy chain synthesis- two major contractile proteins - in cultures of differentiating skeletal muscles. More so, creatine only affects the rate of synthesis, not degradation (17).
Creatine monohydrate supplementation increases the aerobic (requiring oxygen) breakdown of glucose and reduces lactic acid production (18).
While the supplement does not alter your glucose metabolism, it activates AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), a sensor of low ATP and a master of metabolism regulation. In response, the AMPK alters the activity of other genes and proteins to help keep cells alive and functioning despite running low on fuel. More so, it shifts your basal glucose metabolism towards oxidation and reduces lactate production in your skeletal muscle cells (18).
Lactic acid accumulation in working muscles is a significant reason for muscle fatigue and failure. Therefore, creatine monohydrate supplements can enhance energy production in working muscles.
A study on cyclers indicates that creatine supplementation can decrease lactate during incremental cycling exercises while raising their lactate threshold. Therefore, consuming creatine supplements can potentially benefit endurance athletes (19).
Creatine monohydrate is the most effective nutritional muscle mass and strength supplement; it's not without great reason that it's a fundamental supplement in the fitness world.
Creatine monohydrate can increase fat-free mass when orally ingested and improve exercise performance (20).
Research shows that training along with a creatine supplement can double your lean muscle gain and strength compared to exercise alone (21).
Creatine is the most effective, scientifically supported supplement that directly encourages muscle growth when combined with exercise (22).
An eight-week study found creatine to increase muscle mass when combined with an exercise regimen. In addition, the creatine supplement caused a reduction in myostatin, the protein that inhibits muscle cell growth (16).
Creatine can also increase IGF-1, a vital hormone for muscle growth (14). These changes trigger the formation of new proteins and subsequently create new muscle mass (23).
Creatine monohydrate is a nutritional supplement for all athletes, from professional to amateur and recreational athletes. It gives these individuals a competitive edge by enhancing their overall performance, promoting lean body mass, and enhancing power and strength (24).
Potential ergogenic benefits of consuming creatine supplementation include (25):
• An increase in single or repetitive sprint performance
• An increase in performance during sets requiring maximal effort during muscle contractions
• An increase in muscle mass and strength adaptations during training
• An increase of the anaerobic threshold
• Enhanced glycogen synthesis
• Enhanced aerobic capacity
• Enhanced recovery
• Greater training tolerance
Despite the rumors about the adverse side effects accompanied by creatine monohydrate use, like being unsafe for teens or women, causing liver and kidney damage, or leading to rage outbursts, none of these fears appear to be in existing research. Creatine's lousy reputation is nothing more than a lack of understanding.
Creatine monohydrate is the most extensively studied creatine supplement to date. In addition, it is the most clinically effective creatine type in terms of muscle uptake and ability to improve high-intensity exercise capacity (25).
Creatine monohydrate supplements are not only safe but beneficial regarding injury prevention and managing certain medical conditions like muscular dystrophy, osteoarthritis, Parkinson's, Huntington's disease, diabetes, fibromyalgia, etc. when taken within appropriate guidelines (25).
More so, there isn't any scientific evidence that supports that the short- or long-term use of creatine monohydrate has any detrimental effects on healthy individuals (26).
The supplementation protocol of creatine is mainly described as the "loading" protocol.
Creatine monohydrate isn't readily assimilated into your muscles. Instead, it takes a while of consistent consumption before it saturates the muscle. For this reason, you'll have to take the supplement consistently for significant results in the gym.
According to the loading protocol, undergoing an intensive five-day "loading phase" of consuming approximately 5 grams of creatine monohydrate four times daily for 5 to 7 days may accelerate results slightly. Still, it can cause bloating and tummy aches.
The best route to avoiding short-term gastrointestinal discomfort is to use a lower-dose protocol. Keep it straightforward and consume 3 to 5 grams per day. Research shows a 10 to 40% increase in muscle creatine and phosphocreatine stores following this protocol (25).
Skipping the "loading phase" may mean it take a bit longer to maximize the creatine stores in your muscles - about four weeks - but you are less likely to experience short-term weight gain or bloating.
Individuals with naturally low muscle creatine stores like vegetarians, vegans, or those who seldomly eat meat or fish, are more likely to experience a 20–40% muscle storage increase. In comparison, people with high muscle creatine stores may only experience an increase of 10–20% (25).
Lastly, stick to the protocol even you aren't planning on working out that day.
Contrary to belief, you don't have to be a bodybuilder or athlete to reap the benefits of creatine monohydrate. It is truly a remarkable supplement that aids in improving strength, power, muscle size, and overall body composition when paired with regular training.
If you think the benefits of creatine monohydrate supplements cease once you step out of the gym, think again - it protects against neurological diseases like Parkinson's and Huntington's disease and reduces the risk of diabetes.