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Everything You Need to Know About Creatine Monohydrate



Creatine monohydrate, the supplement that you have no doubt heard of on social media that appears to enhance muscle growth quickly. We have all seen the “before creatine” and “after creatine” posts that claim this supplement has been the driver of their miraculous body transformations. Despite these claims and trends, it is hard to know what creatine actually is and what it does in the body.


Below, we have broken down the complex concepts of many relevant and current scientific journals into simple, easy to understand language, so you don’t have to! This way, you can be educated and can make an informed decision as to whether you would like to include creatine in your everyday life.

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a substance similar to amino acids that is made in all animals. This means that animal proteins such as red meat, poultry, and fish are natural sources of creatine for humans. Specifically, in humans, creatine is made in the kidneys and liver using essential amino acids and stored in our skeletal muscles (1). In simple terms, creatine is a form of energy storage. Once used, it becomes creatinine, a waste product, and is excreted through the kidneys in urine (2).


How Does Supplementing Creatine Relate to Weightlifting?

Generally, the supplement taken is in the form of “Creatine Monohydrate” (3). The idea of creatine supplementation is to keep your muscle stores saturated with creatine. More creatine in your muscles allows you to have higher energy levels during a workout (3). Improvements in explosive power during reps, muscular endurance, and recovery times can be seen when supplementing with creatine (2). These factors allow you to push for one more rep at the end of a set, complete an extra set, or increase your one-rep-max! In other words, creatine supplementation helps with progressive overload, which in turn, helps with muscle growth!


Is it a Steroid? Is it Safe?

Steroids are man-made hormones that are designed to look like testosterone to improve muscle mass and strength. Creatine monohydrate has a very different chemical structure than steroids and reacts differently within the body (2). Creatine itself actually fits under the “Natural Health Products Regulations” (4) of Canada and its monograph can be found in the “Health Canada” database (5). It is safe for adults 19 years and up to consume. The safe use of creatine and its effectiveness for children who are younger than 19 years is still being researched and is currently not advised (1).


Is it Essential for Weight Training?

No, creatine is not required for weight training. It is simply a tool that can be used to maximize your muscle growth potential. It is not for everyone, and you certainly do not have to take creatine in order to see progress in the gym.


Some Common Misconceptions:

“Creatine causes you to gain water weight!”

Creatine is osmotically active. This means that for creatine to get into your cells, it must buddy up with sodium molecules (2). Water is like a younger sibling to sodium; it follows sodium wherever it goes. If creatine is going into your cells, so must sodium and water. This is why many people think creatine supplementation will cause them to gain weight. An increase in creatine would surely increase the water content in your cells, right? Technically, yes. Creatine supplementation does increase water content in your cells, but it is only temporary. Your body wants to keep sodium at certain levels inside and outside of your cells and it has mechanisms to do just that. After creatine, sodium, and water enter the cell, a mechanism called the “Na+/K+/ATPase pump” removes sodium from the cell to maintain balance, and water follows it back out (2). This means that the increase in water content in your cells is required to absorb creatine and is only temporary.


"You HAVE to do a loading phase when taking creatine!"

The common method and dosages of creatine supplementation found on social media is to take 20 grams of creatine monohydrate each day for 7 days to saturate your muscles with creatine. This is called the “loading phase” and would be followed up with a “maintenance phase” of 5 grams each day for as long as you want to take the supplement. Recent studies show that skipping the loading phase and jumping right to the maintenance phase still allows your muscles to reach peak saturation levels (2). This means that taking 5 grams each day for 30 days is the same as taking 20 grams each day for 7 days. Please note that peak saturation, and therefore results, will take longer to occur without loading. However, the initial increase in body water will also be lower without the loading phase (2).


"Creatine overloads your kidneys and damages them!"

In muscle, creatine becomes creatinine. The kidneys then filter creatinine out of the blood and excrete it through urine. Creatine supplementation increases the creatinine levels that must be excreted. This is why many people think it overloads the kidneys & causes renal dysfunction. Over 20 years of research has shown that supplementing creatine at recommended dosages does not have negative effects on kidney health (2). Since creatinine levels in urine are often used as a marker for kidney function, it is important to let your doctors know that you are supplementing creatine should any blood work or kidney testing be done (2).


So… Should I be Taking Creatine?

Well, the answer to that question is entirely up to you and your doctor. It should be based around your own health and your own personal goals. If you are looking to lift heavier weights, gain muscle, and/or increase your muscular endurance, supplementing creatine could be a big help in the process. However, there are some other factors that must be considered:

  1. Do you currently drink enough water in a day?

  2. Do you have good water drinking habits that would allow you to increase your daily water consumption?

  3. Are you able to stick to a schedule of taking creatine every day?

  4. When lifting, do you push yourself to failure or almost failure?

If you answered yes to all of the above questions, you could consider introducing a creatine supplement to your diet. Creatine supplementation goes hand in hand with high water intake. Not enough water and you could dehydrate yourself or cause muscle cramping (3). This is why it is important to consider your current habits before committing to new ones! Additionally, creatine supplementation aids in progressive overload to increase muscle mass. If you do not train close to failure, the extra energy and power that creatine provides will not be utilized. Supplementing would be redundant.


Whenever in doubt, make sure to discuss supplementation with a qualified healthcare practitioner prior to use!


References:


1. Erdman JW, Pillsbury OM. Creatine. In: Nutrition and traumatic brain injury improving acute and subacute health outcomes in military personnel [Internet]. National Acad. Press; 2011. p. 130–9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK209321/#:~:text=Creatine%20(N%2D%5Baminoiminomethyl%5D%2D,or%20obtained%20from%20dietary%20sources

2. Antonio J, Candow DG, Forbes SC, Gualano B, Jagim AR, Kreider RB, et al. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: What does the scientific evidence really show? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021;18(1). 10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w

3. Butts J, Jacobs B, Silvis M. Creatine use in sports. Sports Health. 2017;10(1):31–4. 10.1177/1941738117737248

4. Health Canada [Internet]. Canada.ca. Government of Canada; 2022 [cited 2023Jan7]. About Natural Health Product Regulation in Canada; Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/natural-non-prescription/regulation.html

5. Health Canada [Internet]. Canada.ca. Government of Canada; 2022 [cited 2023Jan7]. Natural Health Products Ingredients Database; https://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/ingredsReq.do?srchRchTxt=creatine&srchRchRole=-1&mthd=Search&lang=eng


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