If you have been involved in weight training for any length of time, you have likely heard gym-goers talk about dietary supplements. These supplements can include such things as caffeine, branched-chain amino acid powders (BCAAs), testosterone boosters and even your daily multivitamin. Despite the hoopla regarding all of these, very few of the popular supplements available have actually been shown to provide a significant benefit – if any at all.
A handful of supplements have stood the test of time, though, and have been shown to work when used correctly. One of those is creatine, specifically creatine monohydrate. Below I will outline what creatine is, what it does and why YOU should be taking it.
What is it?
Creatine is an amino acid compound that is produced and stored naturally in the human body. Specifically, it is the combination of the three amino acids methionine, glycine and arginine. Creatine, in the form of phosphocreatine, is also our body’s primary energy source during short-duration high-intensity exercise (20 seconds of activity or less), such as weight training. Creatine is also found in many protein-dense foods that you’re likely already eating, such as chicken and red meat. Other than being produced naturally or extracted from the food we eat, creatine is available in various forms at nearly every store that carries dietary supplements.
How does it work?
This section will cover how and why creatine works the way it does. For those that are interested in the physiological mechanism(s) behind creatine supplementation, read on! If you’re not into the sciencey junk, feel free to skip ahead.
Before talking about creatine, we must quickly touch on ATP. Adenosine tri-phosphate, or ATP, is our body’s primary energy carrier, and nearly every process in the body is driven by it. All of the food we consume is eventually broken down and used to assist in creating ATP. Simply put: more ATP means more available energy.
When it is time to make ATP, the body calls upon the help of various things. One of which is a little molecule called phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine is stored (mainly) in the muscles, and when the need for more ATP arises phosphocreatine comes along to help. This is where the supplementation of creatine comes in. When an individual consumes large amounts of creatine, whether that be through food or supplementation, the amount of phosphocreatine stored in the muscles increases. As you may have guessed by now, larger amounts of phosphocreatine in the body means more potential ATP, and more potential ATP means more available energy.
Aside from its role in ATP creation, creatine has another separate mechanism that some of you may find useful. Ingesting creatine has been shown to better hydrate the muscle cells, and this assists in the creation of new muscle tissue. Furthermore, when muscles hold onto more water they will appear larger.
Why should I take it?
Properly supplementing creatine will allow you to work harder during your workouts. In the context of weight training, this means you will be able to complete more repetitions per exercise (4). If you are consistently able to complete more repetitions per exercise, the muscle will get stronger and bigger over the training period. In the context of sport this means increased performance in explosive, short-duration activities such as sprinting and jumping (6). Additionally, the water retention that occurs in the muscle cells can result in the muscles appearing bigger, which is also pretty cool.
Other than the anaerobic performance benefits that creatine supplementation elicits, there is also substantial evidence to believe that supplementing with creatine results in stronger bones due to increased bone density (2), reduced fatigue (5), and is even shown to potentially have a protective effect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease (3)(5)(7).
All of these benefits have to come at a cost, right? Wrong. Supplementation of creatine has proven to be completely safe for the vast majority of the population (1).
“But, but, I read in a blog somewhere that taking creatine is bad for your kidneys!”.
Wrong again. More and more research is coming out demonstrating the safety of creatine supplementation, even when up to four times the recommended daily amount was consumed (8).
Where do I get it?
Creatine is very easy to get ahold of nowadays. Places like GNC and Vitamin Shoppe carry it, as well as your more conventional supermarkets such as Walmart and Target. If you’re more of an online shopper, I will have links below for specific brands that I recommend. Be careful not to get duped into buying some “Mega Creatine 2300 X-treme” garbage for four times the price. A huge majority of the research on creatine has been conducted using creatine monohydrate, so that is what I recommend. In addition to its availability, creatine monohydrate is pretty dang cheap. Most places you look you will find it for about $0.10 per serving, which is a steal considering the huge host of benefits.
If you’re an athlete looking to optimize your sprint training, a weightlifter looking to maximize their work capacity or just looking to increase quality of life, creatine can be an extremely useful supplement. Pair this with its dirt-cheap price point and accessibility, I find it hard not to recommend creatine monohydrate to every person I come across.
MyProtein Creatine Monohydrate
(1) Bizzarini, E., & De Angelis, L. (2004). Is the use of oral creatine supplementation safe? Journal of Sports
Medicine and Physical Fitness. 44(4). pp. 411-416.
(2) Chilibeck, P.D., & Kaviani, M., & Candow, D.G., & Zello, G.A. (2017). Effect of creatine supplementation
during resistance training on lean tissue mass and muscular strength in older adults: a meta-analysis. Journal of Sports Medicine. 2017(8). pp. 213-226
(3) McMorris, T., & Harris, R.C., & Swain, J., & Corbett, J., & Collard, K., & Dyson, R.J.,
& Dye, L., & Hodgson, C., & Draper, N. (2006) Effect of creatine supplementation and sleep deprivation, with mild exercise, on cognitive and psychomotor performance, mood state, and plasma concentrations of catecholamines and cortisol. Journal of Psychopharmacology (Berlin). 185(1). pp. 93-103.
(4) Prevost, M.C., & Nelson, A.G., & Morris, G.S. (2013). Creatine supplementation
enhances intermittent work performance. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 68(3). pp. 233-240.
- Rae, C., & Digney, A.L., & McEwan, S.R., & Bates, T.C. (2003). Oral creatine
monohydrate supplementation improves brain performance: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial. The Royal Society. 24(4). pp. 2147-2150.
- Skare, O.C., & Skadberg, O., & Wisnes, A.R. (2001). Creatine supplementation improves
sprint performance in male sprinters. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. 11(2). pp. 96-102.
(7) Snow, W.M. & Cadonic, C., & Cortes-Perez, C., & Chowdhury, S.K., & Djordjevic, J., &
Thomson, E., & Bernstein, M.J., & Suh, M., & Fernyhough, P., & Albensi, B.C. (2018). Chronic dietary creatine enhances hippocampal-dependent spatial memory, bioenergetics, and levels of plasticity-related proteins associated with NF-κB. Journal of Learning & Memory. 25(2). pp. 54-66.
(8) Yoshizumi, W.M., & Tsourounis, C. (2004). Effects of creatine supplementation on renal
function. Journal of Pharmacology. 4(1). pp. 1-7.