Creatine monohydrate is one of the most popular supplements used by people looking to build lean muscle mass, maximize performance and increase strength. According to survey data, over 40% of athletes at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) reported using creatine.
It is the cheapest form of creatine present on the market; inside it, every molecule of creatine is associated with a water molecule, hence the term "creatine monohydrate".
Creatine is similar to protein because it is a compound containing nitrogen, but it is not a real protein. It can be obtained from the food we eat (typically meat and fish) or from the amino acids glycine, arginine and methionine.
Only a few years ago, creatine was considered an exclusive "secret weapon" for bodybuilders, powerlifters and other "hardcore" athletes. Today it is anything but! Athletes in all types of sports use creatine and it is considered a useful element for obtaining better results from their workouts and to help them recover faster between sessions.
It must be clear that creatine should not be considered a shortcut for achieving results. If you do not have an adequate lifestyle, the benefits will clearly be much lower than those who train and eat properly.
Most of the creatine present in your body is created in the liver and kidneys, but most of it is stored in muscle tissue.
Creatine is not considered an "essential" nutrient because the human body is able to create it; moreover, it can easily be found in a diet containing animal products.
How does creatine monohydrate work?
Creatine is a key player in the energy system of phosphagenes, the main source of ATP (the main energy substrate in our body) during short-term, high-intensity activities.
Creatine exists both as free-form creatine and as phosphocreatine in the body. Phosphocreatine (PC) functions as a "high-energy phosphate deposit".
Benefits of creatine monohydrate
After decades of research and hundreds of studies, it has been concluded that creatine monohydrate provides many well-documented benefits, including:
- According to recent research, creatine supplementation leads to a 10-40% increase in muscle creatine and PC deposits.
- Increase in power and performance: creatine supplementation seems to be the most effective, currently known way to improve anaerobic capacity and lean body mass (LBM).
- Increased lean body mass: the International Society of Sports Nutrition states that "The huge number of creatine supplementation investigations conducted with positive results leads us to conclude that it is the most effective nutritional supplement available today to increase the capacity of high intensity exercise and build lean mass".
- The athletic benefits of this element can also be more pronounced in vegetarians. For example, a study comparing the use of creatine by vegetarians and non-vegetarians found that vegetarians achieved higher increases in lean tissue and the ability to perform high-volume leg workouts compared to the non-vegetarian group. This is because before the experiment, the vegetarians had a lower amount of creatine present in their muscles
Creatine monohydrate, dosages: how and how much to take
You have likely asked yourself many times about the correct dosages of creatine monohydrate, also because you've probably heard about loading cycles or constant intake (chronic), etc.
With a loading phase
Some studies have made it possible to establish the amount of creatine that would be "theoretically necessary" to guarantee the maximum accumulation of this substance in the organism.
The loading phase is often based on the formula 0.3 g for each kg of lean mass for a duration of 5-7 days, to then move on to a maintenance phase in which 3-5 g is taken. These are cycles which should be maintained for 6-8 weeks, interspersed with a 4-week break.
Certain people cannot tolerate such high levels of creatine, and in reality the loading system above is also seen as a bit outdated. Other studies have shown that similar results can be obtained by taking 3 grams a day for 90 days. Remember that it should be taken every day, regardless of training or rest days.
The figures therefore seem to always indicate 90-100 grams as the maximum quantity for the accumulation phase. However, the creatine is also consumed, so it would be appropriate to increase the dose to 4-5 grams if no loading was previously carried out. If, on the other hand, a loading phase of creatine has been carried out, then 3 g per day is sufficient to maintain this state.
In this case there is no need for cycles or breaks, you can also take the creatine year-round.
The more intense and frequent the training, the greater the body's need.
Different forms of creatine
While creatine monohydrate is the most studied and most popular form of supplemental creatine, it is certainly not the only option on the market. Three other popular variants at the moment are creatine hydrochloride, which is creatine combined with hydrochloric acid; kre-alkalyn, which is creatine buffered with bicarbonate or other alkaline ingredients; and creatine nitrate, which (you guessed it) is creatine bound to a nitrate molecule.
Creatine monohydrate is the most popular form of these food supplements and the first type of creatine to have been sold. Each molecule of creatine monohydrate contains 88% creatine and 12% water. It comes in a white powder which is tasteless and water-soluble. It is as effective as other types of creatine and is usually recommended because it is cheaper. In fact, virtually all other types of creatine oscillate above it, and try to add some chemical bond to improve absorption or reduce the size of the doses.
Side effects of creatine monohydrate
• Dehydration and water retention: creatine creates an apparent sensation of increased muscle mass due to increased intracellular water retention in the muscles. It is therefore possible to note an increase in body weight after intense use of creatine, which is particularly detrimental to sports performance during endurance races (about 3 extra minutes in a marathon for each extra kg).
• Gastrointestinal problems: if taken at high doses (above 20 g/day), creatine causes some individuals gastrointestinal problems and diarrhoea (caused by the unabsorbed surplus of creatine).
• Kidney problems: impaired renal function is not compatible with the use of creatine, which is also not recommended with conditions of severe dehydration and concomitant with the use of drugs that can compromise or only seriously engage renal function (probenecid, NSAIDs, cimetidine , trimethoprim).
1. Burke, D. G., Candow, D. G., Chilibeck, P. D., MacNeil, L. G., Roy, B. D., Tarnopolsky, M. A., & Ziegenfuss, T. (2008). Effect of creatine supplementation and resistance-exercise training on muscle insulin-like growth factor in young adults. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 18(4), 389.