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What is Creatine Monohydrate?

Creatine Monohydrate is the original version of creatine introduced as a bodybuilding supplement in 1993 by EAS with their product “PhosPhagen”. Since it's introduction, creatine monhydrate has proven to be one of the most effective, most popular supplements available. Without question, it works and it works very well. If you are trying to add muscle size, creatine will produce results in as little as two weeks. If you are looking for more training energy, look no further. Creatine, as creatine phosphate, is involved in the ATP process of cellular energy, so supplementing with monohydrate can help extend your training endurance. NOTE: for a detailed breakdown of the body's energy systems, see the supplement guide on “creatine”. Currently, there are numerous “new and improved” versions of creatine on the market all designed to be easier to use but monohydrate remains the most popular.

Creatine is a metabolite produced in the body consisting of three amino acids: l-methionine, l-arginine and l-glycine. Approximately 95% is found in the muscles in two forms: creatine phosphate and free chemically unbound creatine. The remaining 5% of the creatine is found in the brain, heart and testes.

As popular and widely used as creatine is, it's still, after all these years, largely misunderstood by not only the mainstream public but also many fitness oriented people as well. It's common to hear the “is creatine a steroid?”question which is kind of funny, imagine, you can walk into a major mall to your local vitamin chain store and buy steroids right off the shelf! Somehow, I don't see that happening!

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Benefits of Creatine Monohydrate:

  • Increases muscular endurance
  • Increases muscle size and strength

The primary benefit, to my mind, of creatine is the idea of cell expansion. This is more than simply water weight and has evolved to a newer theory of muscle growth, called “sarcoplasmic hypertrophy”which means, an increase in the volume of muscle cells caused by fluid retention within the cell. This causes the muscles to swell in size. The sarcoplasm is the fluid and energy sources that surround the myofibrils in the muscle. It includes things such as ATP, glycogen, creatine phosphate and water. Increase in size of blood vessels that provide blood to the muscles can also be included in sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and is commonly referred to as capillirisation. Typically, this type of muscle growth is the result of specific training and supplement/nutritional protocols.

So, creatine was the first supplement to promote the idea of cell expansion or cell volumizing. This type of muscle growth – there are several theories – is not ideal for strength increases but is great for helping to add sheer size. Nonetheless, the manipulation of the bodies own anabolic hormones provides a safe and controllable method for increasing muscle size and strength for those that choose to be natural. In fact, although in and of itself creatine is not a hormone manipulator, you can increase the uptake of creatine by creating an insulin spike and several newer products do just that by using a higher concentration of simple carb sources to cause such a spike. Insulin, among other things, increases nutrient transport so taken in the hours surrounding your workout, you can get greater cell volumization effects.

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Evidence Backing Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine has been extensively studied over the years with overwhelmingly positive results. Here are a few examples of the evidence supporting creatine:

Bosco C and others. Effect of oral creatine supplementation on jumping and running performance. International Journal of Sports Medicine 18:369-372, 1997.

A double-blind study provided 20 g/day of creatine monohydrate for 5 days to qualified sprinters and jumpers who performed 45 seconds of continuous jumping and 60 seconds of continuous treadmill running. Supplementation enhanced performance in the jumping test by 7% for the first 15 seconds and 12% for the next 15 seconds, but there was no difference for the final 15 seconds. There was a 13% improvement in the time of intensive running to exhaustion.

Prevost MC, Nelson AG, Morris GS. Creatine supplementation enhances intermittent work performance. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport 68:233-240, 1997.

This double-blind study supplemented with 18.75 g/day of creatine monohydrate for 5 days prior to high-intensity intermittent work to exhaustion, and then 2.25 g/day during testing. The workouts consisted of cycling to exhaustion using several protocols: (a) nonstop, (b) 60 seconds work/120 seconds rest, (c) 20 seconds work/40 seconds rest, and (d) 10 seconds work/20 seconds rest. Creatine supplementation significantly increased the total work time for all four protocols.

Casey A and others. Creatine ingestion favorably affects performance and muscle metabolism during maximal exercise in humans. American Journal of Physiology 271(1):E31-E37, 1996. This study tested male subjects performing two bouts of 30 second isokinetic cycling before and after ingesting 20 g creatine monohydrate daily for 5 days. Work production improved about 4%. Cumulative increases in both peak and total work production over the two exercise bouts were positively correlated with the increase in muscle creatine.

Volek JS and others. Performance and muscle fiber adaptations to creatine supplementation and heavy resistance training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 31:1147-1156, 1999.

A 12-week placebo-controlled study of 19 weightlifters in their mid-twenties found that the creatine group could lift more weight and had greater increases in fat-free mass and muscle-fiber size than did the placebo group. The researchers concluded that the creatine allowed the athletes who used it train harder.

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Creatine Monohydrate Supplements, Timing and Dosage

Stand alone creatine monohydrate products come mostly in powder form but are available in capsule form as well. As part of formula products, the list is almost endless, made up largely of pre workout products, along with products that enhance creatine uptake and also intra workout products and some post workout formula's as well. You can even find creatine in meal replacements and weight gainers!

Timing and dosage depends on the product: straight monohydrate can be used either with a loading phase followed by a maintenance phase or just 5-10 grams per day, always with a sugary drink ( no acidic juices!) While this does work, it will take longer to produce results. The loading phase is 20 grams per day divided over 4 doses to be taken for 4-5 days with a maintenance dose of one serving or 5 grams per day thereafter. You can cycle on and off creatine but it is not required. Remember to take it in between meals for best results. Formula products will provide clear instructions as to usage, so read and follow all label guidelines.

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