Creatine monohydrate is one of the most well-researched, and proven supplements on the market today. Just about anyone who’s ever walked into a supplement store, or read a fitness and health magazine, has probably heard of the magic of creatine. While it won’t deliver miraculous results, it does provide a very effective boost to your training, and it has many benefits outside of strength training as well. There are literally hundreds of studies showing the benefits of creatine, and very mild side effects, if any.
Sources of Creatine
To start, let’s talk about what it is and where it comes from. Creatine can be found in meats, fish, and egg products, and is also produced by the body in the form of creatine phosphate. Without getting too deep into the science, just know that creatine supports the ATP system of the body, which is an energy system used for high-intensity, short duration activities - sprinting, weight lifting, things like that. Creatine can rapidly provide ATP to the body, used for explosive energy, so it can improve performance in weight lifting and athletics, as well as support brain function and the cardiovascular system.
Type of Creatine
While it’s possible to get creatine from various food sources, it is a very cheap supplement to purchase. The best kind is a simple creatine monohydrate supplement; there are many other forms, with very flashy marketing, but there is no evidence to show they are any more effective than creatine monohydrate. It’s best taken daily, and as it’s a naturally occurring molecule, not a hormone or stimulant, there is no benefit to cycling on and off creatine. You can take creatine on a daily basis for as long as you want.
A common debate is whether it is necessary to “load” creatine. This is a common practice that involves taking higher than recommended doses for a few days, when you first start taking creatine, to saturate your cells faster. It’s effective, but not necessary. Simply taking a small, 5g serving each day is enough to fully saturate your cells, it just may take a little longer. If you do choose to follow a loading protocol, spread it out over the day, in small 5g doses - don’t take it all at once, or you may experience stomach discomfort.
Stout Et al, (2008). ESSENTIALS OF CREATINE IN SPORTS AND HEALTH, p11.
Dosage and Hydration
Generally speaking, 5g per day of monohydrate is the dose research has shown to be effective. As mentioned earlier, your cells eventually become saturated, so once you reach that point, there is no benefit to taking more than 5g. When you do take creatine, be sure to drink plenty of water. If taken at high doses, some users have reported stomach cramping if there is not enough water intake, as it can cause dehydration due to increased water uptake in the cells.
Once you’ve taken creatine, you should notice you feel stronger when training. It may only be an extra rep or two on each set, as you have more ATP available, but all of that adds up over time. In addition, we are seeing some neuroprotective benefits of creatine, as well as cardiovascular support. This means that even if you aren’t a strength athlete, or involved in a sport that requires a lot of sprinting, you can still benefit from using creatine.
It’s important to note that creatine does increase water retention in your muscular cells. So if you see the scale weight go up a few pounds when you first start taking it, or you lose a few pounds when you come off it, don’t be alarmed. You aren’t gaining or losing muscle that quickly, it’s just water being held or released.
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