Are you trying to build larger muscles and get stronger? Lift longer or heavier weights? Creatine supplementation is the way to go if you want to accelerate your progress in gaining muscle and strength and improve your anaerobic endurance. (Go lay on the couch and watch a movie if you’re not trying to do these things, there’s no point reading the rest of this article in that case!)
If you’re on the journey to a bigger, faster, better you – keep reading. We’ve compiled this creatine monohydrate guide to help you uncover the mysteries around creatine supplementation.
We consider creatine monohydrate as a magical tool you can add to your arsenal for improving body composition, building muscles to be proud of, and safe muscle recovery after hard workouts. Who doesn’t want to look better, feel stronger, and get more out of their workouts? If that describes your goals – keep reading for your guide to everything you need to know about creatine monohydrate, what it does and how, and how to use it.
What Is Creatine Monohydrate?
To understand creatine monohydrate let’s first take a minute to explain exactly what this creatine substance is. Creatine is made in our bodies naturally, but we can also absorb and benefit from creatine found in foods like fish, meat, and eggs. Vegetarians may have lower levels of creatine in their bodies naturally and greatly benefit from supplementing with creatine even if they have no intentions of bulking up or increasing performance.
Creatine is a natural compound made up of three amino acids (the building blocks of protein): L-arginine, glycine, and methionine. Creatine monohydrate is creatine with an H2O molecule attached to it – so it isn’t some chemical created for the bodybuilding industry. It’s organic and found in the foods you’re probably already eating, and we can boost the beneficial results by adding creatine to our diets.
In the body, 95% of creatine is stored in skeletal muscle as creatine phosphate.
How Does Creatine Monohydrate Work?
In the body, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the basic unit of cellular energy. Cells break ATP down into smaller molecules. The process of breaking down the ATP creates byproducts that get recycled back into ATP and used again. People who have cells that can store and regenerate ATP quickly after use have stronger muscles and have more energy.
Unfortunately, the body’s natural ability to store creatine is limited. When the stores have been used up, the body uses fatty acids or glucose to produce ATP.
Unless, you supplement with creatine.
Creatine plays an essential role in the process of regenerating ATP. When you supplement using creatine, it accelerates replenishment of ATP and increases the amount of work your muscles are capable of doing. Your body is able to store more creatine in your muscles when you take a creatine supplement, which gives your muscle cells access to more readily available energy.
In return, you enjoy more strength, less fatigue, and increased anaerobic capacity. You’ll have more energy for anaerobic activities like sprinting and high-intensity weight training, when you have more creatine to use as a source of energy.
Creatine will also help you build muscles faster when you work out. It increases the amount of water in muscle cells and improves the nitrogen balance.
What’s the Effect of Creatine on Your Body’s Appearance?
While being stronger and having more anaerobic capacity is great and all, we know the real reason behind all of that effort working out and supplementing is to make your body look a certain way. Right?
When people use creatine, they experience an increase in lean body mass. Your muscle cells will have more fluid content, and more hydrated muscles are more anabolic. Some will argue that the fluid in the muscle cells is an artificial increase in lean body mass, but the benefits are seen visually as well as in the body’s ability to build more muscle. Long term, the increased activity of muscle satellite cells from creatine will increase your body’s ability to grow additional muscle and maintain it.
What’s the Difference Between Creatine Monohydrate and Other Types of Creatine Supplements?
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly creatine supplement, we’re certain you won’t find anything better than creatine monohydrate for both the wallet and the performance results. It’s the simplest and most affordable type of creatine available. It’s also tried and true – creatine monohydrate has been around for decades and has been extensively tested through scientific studies.
Over the years, manufacturers have attempted to modify creatine to make it more effective or to gain additional health benefits. As a result, there is something like seven or eight different types of creatine on the market. Here’s a quick comparison of the different types of the most popular creatine supplements to see how they stack up against creatine monohydrate:
Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE)
When creatine monohydrate goes through the esterification process of introducing an alcohol and acid, it becomes creatine ethyl ester. Creatine ethyl ester was created with the goal of increasing the bioavailability and absorption rate of creatine supplements, but multiple studies have shown that CEE doesn’t even deliver the same level of results as creatine monohydrate. When you use CEE, the body converts it into creatinine, a substance with no benefits to the body.
Another attempt at creating better absorption was through the process of adding hydrochloric acid to creatine. This version of creatine offers improved water solubility but research of its performance benefits and uptake in use doesn’t show improvements over creatine monohydrate.
When creatine monohydrate is combined with baking soda and magnesium, buffered creatine (a creatine with a higher pH value) is created.
Buffered creatine was created in an effort to protect against the powerful acids found in the stomach, which should then increase the body’s ability to absorb it into the bloodstream.
Research of the newly created type of creatine shows that stomach acid is simply too strong to be negated by the buffering agent in buffered creatine. Also, 80 to 100% of creatine will make it through the stomach acid unchanged anyway as it is naturally resistant to stomach acid, so a buffered version is unnecessary.
When creatine is bound with malic acid, creatine malate is created. Malic acid has been shown to increase the production of energy in cells, which could interact with creatine to boost the performance. There haven’t been any studies to measure the effects of combining malic acid with creatine yet to know whether it increases performance.
Creatine Magnesium Chelate
Magnesium plays a role in metabolic processes. Manufacturers added magnesium to creatine hoping to improve its effectiveness even further. In a study for 31 weight-trained men randomly assigned as either a placebo group consuming creatine or a group consuming creatine magnesium chelate, it was found that the performance tests of both groups were similar, indicating that creatine magnesium did not offer better performance.
How Much Creatine Monohydrate Should You Take? When?
Now that you’ve decided creatine monohydrate is the supplement for you, how much of it do you actually need to get the results you want? You’ve got some options.
Do you want faster results? You can increase the dose for the first five days to 15 to 25 grams to saturate your muscle cells more rapidly although your body will not absorb the majority of that initial increase of creatine so you may not like the financial waste of this method.
If wasting excess creatine is a concern (and who wants to throw away money?) you can supplement with creatine monohydrate the traditional way: take between three and 5 grams per day and within a few weeks your intramuscular creatine stores will be fully saturated. It may take a little longer, but the long term benefits are just as good as when you load with creatine with higher amounts, and probably with fewer side effects, too. (More about that later).
It is not recommended to take more than 20 grams of creatine for five days straight as long term, high doses of creatine has been shown to convert to formaldehyde in the urine.
When should you take creatine monohydrate? Many supplements require that you take them at a specific time of day, or before, during, or after the workout in order to gain the optimal results. With creatine, there are two schools of thought regarding the timing of the dose.
Some people feel taking creatine after a workout leads to better uptake into the muscle. Others swear it is the consistent supplementation of creatine at the three to five grams per day dose that will saturate muscles, no matter when you take it. You may as well experiment with when you take your creatine until you find a system that works for you, since there is no hard and fast rule for the timing of this particular supplement – and then come back and share your results with us. We’d love to know what works for everyone.
Creatine Supplementation When You’re on a Diet
Creatine is generally associated with bulking up and getting bigger muscles, so there is often some confusion around whether or not you should take creatine when you are dieting to lose fat. Creatine is beneficial for dieters as it can help you maintain energy during your workouts when you’re consuming a lower calorie diet. Usually when dieting, you end up having to reduce your gym time and may experience some strength declines, but if you take creatine while dieting you can keep your creatine phosphate stores full to help offset the negative performance side effects a reduced calorie diet may cause.
Should Women Use Creatine Monohydrate?
The majority of women will benefit from taking creating monohydrate as studies show women may not maintain as much creatine in their muscle cells as males. So while women may not experience the same level of results as men on lean muscle mass, they can still experience improved energy, strength, and performance overall.
What Should You Stack Creatine Monohydrate With?
You can take creatine monohydrate alone with excellent results, or you can stack it with beta-alanine to get an extra boost while you focus on burning off those stubborn fat deposits and replace it with leaner muscle mass.
Stacking creatine and beta-alanine requires that you maintain a high level of hydration to avoid overpowering your body and creating negative side effects. Beta-alanine will provide aerobic endurance, helping you work out for longer periods of time and train harder. When you combine beta-alanine with creatine, you will have short term bursts of peak athletic performance that can be extended into a longer work out.
As with any supplementation, you should include protein (whey or casein – but we recommend WheyXX) and take a multivitamin. It’s also always a good idea to follow any supplement cycle with a post-cycle support therapy product as well, to help your organs rebalance.
Potential Side Effects of Creatine Monohydrate
As with any good thing we put into our bodies there is always the chance our bodies won’t react to it the way we’re expecting. When creatine was first introduced as a health supplement in the early 1990s, there were fears that it may cause dehydration and cramping, along with kidney or liver problems. Since its development, both short and long term studies have indicated those fears were unfounded and there have been no side effects on kidney, liver, or heart, and no reports of cramping.
Reported side effects and anecdotal evidence of effects do include an increase of dihydrotestosterone levels, which may increase acne, and gastrointestinal distress when loading creatine at higher levels than the gastrointestinal tract’s ability to absorb it. If you experience any GI distress when using creatine, reduce the creatine intake until it goes away, or simply go with the recommended dose of three to five grams per day instead of loading higher doses.
One Supplement, All Around Results: Improve Muscle Mass, Strength, and Performance
If you only take one health supplement to help you reach your goals for increased muscle and strength, and improved performance – creatine monohydrate may just be the supplement to take.