The Holy Grail of Supplements: Creatine Monohydrate (Revisited) [with FAQs]

The Holy Grail of Supplements: Creatine Monohydrate (Revisited) [with FAQs]

Creatine monohydrate was introduced to the masses in the early-1990’s, and quickly rose to popularity when athletes discovered its almost breathtaking ability to build muscle size and strength in a very short amount of time (for many lifters, first-time use resulted in lean mass gains of as much as 10 pounds in just a couple weeks, a phenomenon rivaled only by anabolic steroids).

Fast forward to today’s local supplement store or online retailer, and you will see dozens of different creatine “cocktails” all claiming to be the latest and greatest version of this powerhouse supplement.

These nuanced forms all claim to be superior to the industry staple, creatine monohydrate.  

They include (among others):

  • CEE (creatine ethyl ester)
  • Creatine malate
  • Creatine orotate

The list goes on, and seems to expand on a monthly basis.

For this reason, the creatine market (and often the broader supplement market) reminds me of the movie industry. How many times are they going to remake the brilliant classics? It seems as if every new version of a classic is hyped up and then ultimately falls flat on its face!

Despite the repetition, it continues unwaveringly.

In much the same way re-making a classic movie and actually improving upon it is almost never seen, so it is with re-creating creatine monohydrate...The newest forms simply miss the mark while sporting a higher price tag.

Creatine monohydrate is the most studied and documented nutritional supplement in history, for a very simple reason: it works! So why all the “new” versions?

It's simple: MARKETING.

Not just with creatine, but with any effective nutritional supplement, sports nutrition companies have learned that it is profitable to exploit opportunities for cranking out "new and improved" versions simply to capitalize on its popularity, regardless of whether or not the these supplement "analogs" are as effective as claimed (and often they are not).  

Moreover, they're often able to charge much more than the original because of the hype generated by their effective marketing strategies.

OK, so now that I've made a few people scratch their heads in disbelief over the notion that a supplement company would ever lie (or at least embellish) to make money :), let me simply say that for the best bang for your buck, stick to the time-tested original that's been studied to the hilt (creatine monohydrate), and use it every day.

Let's look at the remarkable benefits of this truly cost effective, powerhouse nutritional supplement.

Creatine Monohydrate's Impressive List of Benefits

  • In dozens of research studies, oral creatine monohydrate ingestion has conclusively produced increases in muscle strength and power, muscle fiber size and even arm thickness in as little as several days.1-3
  • It functions to drive and re-synthesize ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is essentially the energy that fuels muscle cells during anaerobic activity, such as resistance training. The higher the rate at which your body can produce ATP, the harder and longer you can train.
  • Creatine acts as a buffer against lactic acid, enabling you to push though plateaus and bang out those last, grueling reps.
  • Creatine is often called a muscle “volumizer” because it draws extracellular fluid (mostly water) into the muscle cell (increasing intra-cellular fluid) and thus creates denser, fuller muscle.  Cell volumization, while a temporary condition, nevertheless leads to long-term gains in actual contractile muscle tissue by signaling protein synthesis and reducing muscle catabolism.
  • Research also demonstrates creatine's potential efficacy for endurance training as well (particularly when intervals of high-intensity activity is included in the aerobic protocol), perhaps due to its ability to reduce muscle damage and increase glycogen reserves.4
  • Creatine can improve cognitive function, since brain cells with higher neuron requirements rely heavily on creatine's role in energy transport.5

Having been involved in strength sports and weight training for almost 20 years, I can tell you first-hand that creatine monohydrate is the real deal.

In fact, contrary to what many believe, one of my favorite applications for it is as an anti-catabolic agent during dieting.

For this purpose, I use 10 grams a day in divided doses (twice per day) to ensure my muscles have the energy needed to fuel me through my training sessions and kick-start protein synthesis as part of my post-workout shake.

Having said all that, I'd like to wrap up by answering some of the most common questions I've received over the years on creatine monohydrate supplementation, many of which I'll bet you've had yourself.

 


Frequently-Asked Questions (FAQs)

 

How much creatine monohydrate should I take per day?

Depending on your specific goal(s), a strong rule of thumb as a start is to ingest 5-10 grams per day in divided doses (typically in 5-gram doses).  

When dieting or during especially difficult training cycles, I'll consume 10 grams/day, often once in the morning (with breakfast) and then another following my workout.

What about “loading”? I've heard that I need to start with a 5-7 day loading period in order to get maximum benefit?

While there is some debate about the need for creatine loading, it is generally accepted that creatine's benefits can be experienced more quickly if you begin using it with a 5-7 (some even say 7-14) day loading period, in which you would ingest approximately 20 grams per day.  

Following that initial loading phase, you would then use 5-10 grams/day as a "maintenance" dosage.

Does creatine cause bloating?

A by-product of creatine is creatinine, which increases with oral creatine supplementation.  Elevated creatinine can cause bloating and stomach discomfort, although it is not harmful.

To avoid this, simply follow the dosing recommendations outlined above and buy your creatine from a reputable company that stands behind its products' quality, purity, and potency.

I am dieting to lose body fat, and my trainer advised me to stop taking creatine because it's strictly a weight-gainer?

If your trainer is espousing that nonsense, the first thing you should do is get a new trainer. In my opinion, the best time to use creatine is during dieting, and I think of it as a bit of a secret weapon for this purpose.  

Since reducing calories during dieting can lead to concomitant losses in muscle tissue and reduced metabolic rate, it is absolutely essential to ingest a muscle-promoting supplement like creatine to preserve hard-earned muscle and minimize metabolic slowdown.  

Creatine is fantastic for this (as is a high-quality micellar casein, such as that found in SYNERGY-XP™).

My sister is a vegan and complains all the time about being tired and having "brain fog" symptoms. Could creatine help her?

Absolutely!

Creatine is naturally found in meats such as beef, and if one isn't consuming enough (or any) of these protein sources in his/her diet, it is likely that sufficient creatine isn't being supplied through one's diet. In these cases, supplementing with creatine monohydrate would be extremely beneficial to support muscle, energy levels and the myriad health benefits described above.  

I see applications here for seniors as well, since aging is associated with muscle wasting, impaired cognitive function and reduced energy levels.

References

1. Brosnan JT and Brosnan ME. Ann Rev Nutr, 2007;27:242-61.

2. Branch JD. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 2003;13:198-226.

3. Chilibeck PD, et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2004;36:1781-8.

4. Engelhardt, M., et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1998;30(7):1123-9.

5. Andres, R. H., et al. Brain Research Bulletin, 2008;76(4), 329-343.


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