You’ve probably heard of creatine and its most popular use: improved performance and increased muscle mass at a much faster rate. This is generally common knowledge as far as supplementation with creatine goes, but there is much more to creatine than gains! There are a few different forms of creatine supplements, along with many misconceptions about it, which can both cause confusion among consumers. Have no fear, we’ll be discussing the most important things you need to know about creatine and busting a few myths along the way!
Creatine monohydrate is the most widely available and most researched form of creatine. Other popular forms include creatine ethyl ester, creatine hydrochloride, buffered creatine, liquid forms of creatine, and creatine magnesium chelate. Although some of these forms appear to be similar to the absorption and benefits of CM (specifically creatine magnesium chelate), evidence has shown us that CM remains superior to other forms of creatine. This is due to the rate of absorption, increase of creatine storage in the body, wide availability to consumers, cost effectiveness, and the many benefits it provides.
To better understand creatine supplementation, we need to first understand what it is and how it works. In supplement form, creatine increases the body’s production of creatine phosphate as well as the production and continuous supply of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). By now you may be reading this and saying: what is this lady talking about? No worries, I’ll explain! You may have the horrific memories of taking biology or biochemistry courses at some point in your life. So, we’ll keep this simple: ATP = energy. Creatine phosphate is a high-energy phosphate which is stored in our muscle cells. It can give its phosphate group to ADP (adenosine diphosphate) to create a new ATP molecule. See, it isn’t horrifying, it’s just simple addition. It isn’t until ATP is broken apart that it releases energy, most of which is used by your body. Creatine is important because ATP molecules are only stored in small quantities in muscle cells, usually only enough to sustain about 3 seconds of muscular activity. Regardless of this, you never actually completely deplete your ATP stores, but this is why you become fatigued during a workout. The process we just discussed increases the overall amount of creatine stored in the body’s muscle cells, thus providing a higher supply of ATP, delaying fatigue while you’re trying to kick it into high gear during that intense lift or those dreaded sprints.
We know that creatine comes in supplement form, but it can also be obtained from food. Including meat and fish in the diet is one way to increase your intake of creatine. It should be noted that for it to have any kind of similar effect to creatine monohydrate supplementation, it must be consumed in massive amounts. This is why it’s much better to supplement; not only for the best results, but also for the sake of your wallet. All of that meat and fish adds up fast! It may not be possible for some people to obtain their creatine from their diet. Hey vegans and vegetarians, creatine is your best friend. Creatine monohydrate is usually vegan because it’s synthetically made, but can contain animal product additives, so just be sure to check with the company!
Creatine monohydrate can come in two different forms itself: plain old creatine monohydrate OR creatine anhydrous. Creatine monohydrate is both a creatine molecule + a water molecule, so creatine anhydrous is just the creatine molecule minus the water molecule. The removal of the water molecule increases the amount of creatine in each dose of the supplement. This means that creatine anhydrous is 100% creatine by weight versus the 90% creatine by weight in CM. Due to this, researchers think it may increase absorption of the supplement. Despite the differences in creatine monohydrate and creatine anhydrous, there is no evidence that shows the anhydrous form is better than simple creatine monohydrate. The name may sound way cooler, but that’s about it!
Now that you’re a bit more informed about what creatine is and which form is the best (from a scientific perspective), it’s important to understand why this is. In their most updated position paper on the subject, the International Society of Sports Nutrition discusses the safety and efficacy of creatine. The research doesn’t lie. Creatine monohydrate supplementation is known to increase muscle growth (by increasing the swelling of muscle cells), act as an antioxidant (protecting against damage from oxidative stress), aid in protection against brain damaging diseases (including muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s), protect the heart against disease, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as the improvement in cognitive function related to lack of sleep and aging. Studies have also been done on pregnant animals, and most recently, on women. These studies show that creatine monohydrate supplementation during pregnancy could be beneficial to fetal development, growth, and health. There has also been an increasing demand for research on diabetes prevention and symptom improvement, but there have been minimal studies thus far.
It’s surprising just how beneficial one supplement can be, but what about safety? Creatine monohydrate has been blessed by the supplement gods and has minimal to no side effects. The most that may occur while taking creatine is some mild stomach cramping or a headache. Everything you’ve heard about creatine damaging your kidneys or any other vital organs is (drumroll please) …A MYTH. Creatine monohydrate has been studied extensively, so much so that researchers have concluded it is safe to take at a dose of 30 grams per day for up to FIVE YEARS, and that’s only because that’s the longest time they have studied it so far. We would need further studies done over extended periods of time to determine its safety and efficacy if one wanted to use it for longer than five years.
As for dosage: the ISSN also includes the ideal dose for maximum muscle uptake, increase of creatine stores, optimal muscle gain, alleviation of muscle damage, as well as higher strength and performance during exercise. Thirty grams per day may be safe, but that doesn’t mean you should be taking that much creatine on a daily basis. The most efficient way to supplement with creatine is by taking 0.3 grams per kilogram of your bodyweight, four times per day for the first 5-7 days. This is then followed by taking 3-5 grams once daily for as long as your heart desires. It should also be noted that larger, more muscular athletes may need higher doses of creatine following the short “loading” phase, possibly up to 5-10 grams per day. To give you an idea of what this may look like, a 150lb (68kg) athlete would need about 20 grams of creatine four times per day for the first 5-7 days. You have probably heard that this very short loading phase isn’t necessary. While that is true, it is the quickest and easiest way to reap all of the benefits creatine has to offer. As a secondary option, you can also immediately begin to supplement with 3-5 grams once per day. At this rate, full saturation of the skeletal muscles occurs after about 28 days. This is when you should begin to notice the difference in your performance, strength, and muscle mass. Whichever method of supplementation you decide to go with is up to you! You may find that having to take a supplement four times per day (even if it’s just for a week) can be a bother. You may also not have the patience to wait about a month to see results. Everyone is different, so what works for you and your lifestyle may be different from others’ methods.
Hopefully this article has helped you understand why creatine is almost always a topic of discussion in sports nutrition. With numerous benefits as well as over 400 studies proving its safety and efficacy, creatine monohydrate is a fantastic supplement to include in your regimen, and one of the only supplements we find helpful if your goals are to improve performance and gain muscle!
Author: Karlee Hill (Future Dietitian)
Barbieri E, Guescini M, Calcabrini C, et al. Creatine Prevents the Structural and Functional Damage to Mitochondria in Myogenic, Oxidatively Stressed C2C12 Cells and Restores Their Differentiation Capacity. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2016;2016:5152029. doi:10.1155/2016/5152029.
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Kreider, R.B.; Kalman, D.S.; Antonio, J.; Ziegenfuss, T.N.; Wildman, R.; Collins, R.; Candow, D.G.; Kleiner, S.M.; Almada, A.L.; Lopez, H.L. International society of sports nutrition position stand: Safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 2017, 14, 18. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
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