Creatine Monohydrate is the Granddaddy of strength supplements. If you ever meet anyone who tells you to avoid creatine, find a computer, google ‘moron’…and then smack them over the head with the keyboard.
I jest (but not really).
Once upon a time, I was asked to review a product – for the sake of anonymity, let’s call it Wet Fart.
Wet Fart was a “nitric oxide booster” in capsule form, and one of the “benefits” they listed in the marketing hype was “Creatine Free!!”
Not only would Wet Fart fail to raise the nitric oxide levels of a growth-stunted dung beetle, but the manufacturers thought its distinct lack of creatine was a selling point.
My review was honest. They didn’t send me any more free crap.
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Creatine and Phosphocreatine for ATP Cycle
Creatine occurs naturally in your body. It’s synthesized in your liver and kidneys at a rough rate of 1 gram per day.
It’s also partially replenished via your dietary intake, which can provide another single gram per day.
Those 2 grams play a pivotal role in the recycling of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) from ADP (adenosine diphosphate).
It does this by being converted to phosphocreatine once it reaches the muscles or brain, and donating phosphate groups when ADP needs to be phosphorylated back to ATP. It’s a phosphate donor.
Most of your creatine stores are in your skeletal muscle as phosphocreatine. Some is in your brain, floating around in your blood, or in other organs and tissues.
ATP is the principal energy molecule in your body, and for all life as we know it. It’s more like a broker though, acting as an intermediary between stored energy and processes that require it.
Creatine Monohydrate and Saturating Your Cells
Here’s the fun part about: you have room to store much more than you synthesize or obtain from your diet.
The two gram turnover that I talked about in the section above is satisfactory for people who don’t engage in anaerobic resistance training regularly.
However, if you lift, and your sets often go into the red, your creatine stores can be quickly depleted as phosphate groups are donated faster than they can be replenished.
So, if you take an appropriate dose on a daily basis, not only will it mitigate your energy deficit problem, it will eventually saturate your cells.
Saturation provides your muscles with a reservoir of phosphocreatine to recycle enough ATP for your daily gym shenanigans.
What Can Creatine Do For You?
Let’s put some numbers on this, shall we?
A meta-analysis of creatine studies found that creatine supplementation adds:
8% to the user’s Squat strength
3% to the user’s Leg Press strength
Another meta-analysis showed improvements in Bench strength and lean body mass.
The type of training it helps with is short bursts of force output that go into anaerobic respiration.
Anything less than 30 seconds is where creatine is at home, i.e. most mass/strength building sets.
Some efforts lasting between 30 seconds and 2.5 minutes can also benefit from creatine supplementation, like a volume set of squats for example.
Effects become unreliable for efforts lasting longer than two and a half minutes.
What About Different Forms of Creatine?
Creatine monohydrate (CM) is the cheapest form of creatine. Companies can no longer make oodles of profit from CM, so they had to shake up the business and make some fancy sounding creatines.
The thing is, CM provides the closest to 100% absorption out of any type of creatine.
Also, those creatine powders mixed with something for “ultra fast absorption” are missing the point. Creatine doesn’t need to be absorbed super fast.
All you have to do with CM is build it up to the point of cell saturation. When you work out, you use some of it, and the next time you take a dose, you just top up your creatine pool.
Absorption speed is irrelevant. And spending more money to get it is silly.
The only concession I have made is to buy “micronized” CM, because it mixes better with my protein shake.
Should I Cycle Creatine?
There’s no real point in cycling creatine. If you come off it, you’ll only have to re-saturate your cells again when you go back on it.
There’s no safety concern with using creatine long term at the doses recommended below.
How Much Should I Take and What About Loading Doses?
Between 3 and 6 grams per day appears work out for most people. Taking this amount will slowly saturate your cells but you should still have a surplus to requirements during the saturation phase.
Loading creatine by taking 20 to 25 grams per day (split into four or five separate doses to be easier on the stomach) for about five days will help you reach saturation quicker.
Loading can increase the water retention effect (creatine initially pulls water into the muscles), and high doses can cause mild stomach cramps…plus, there’s no real need to load.
Personally I throw 5 grams into my post-workout shake.
Is Creatine Safe?
Remarkable so. Some old studies were super cautious about creatine so you might read that the long term effects are unknown or that it might tax the kidneys.
Long term use of high doses of creatine are still unknown because nobody is dumb enough to take large doses for years, because it’s not necessary. Five grams a day is fine.
Some people should avoid loading creatine just in case. They include (and might not be limited to) people with high blood pressure, people with reduced kidney function.