The Tried and True: Creatine Monohydrate
Guys and girls; pull up a chair and take a seat. I’m about to tell you about THE sports supplement that has been the subject of more studies than probably any other sports supplement in the history OF sports supplements. Not only has it been studied to death, but I am also unaware of any other sports supplement that has been shown to be more effective, let alone rival its effectiveness. Perhaps what’s even better is the fact that every time it has been proven effective, it has been proven to be safe; not only for acute, short-term use but for long-term use. Oh, and did I mention that it’s also readily available and extremely affordable? Surprise! So to recap; effective, safe, cheap, and readily available.
What is this wonder supplement?
Creatine monohydrate. Yup, good old creatine. Imagine a supplement being effective, reasonably priced, and safe but at the same time, being overshadowed by lesser products. How could that be? A buddy of mine always says “Show me a hot girl and I’ll show you a guy who’s sick of her.” In so many cases, she could be sexy, successful, personable and the greatest thing since sliced bread but eventually, she will be taken for granted. Why is that? It’s part of the human condition to look for something better; it’s rarely enough. The supplement market is a prime example of that. There are some tried and true products and ingredients and they are routinely passed up in the infinite quest to find something new, exciting, and better. It’s a pitfall, it’s a classic and so long as the marketing machines of the industry trudge forward, people will foolishly pass up great products in favor of what is new and overhyped. Let me give you a piece of advice; don’t do that. Stick with what’s tried and true; don’t buy the hype. Accordingly, I feel it necessary to have a refresher course on creatine. I can quite easily take for granted that not everyone reading this has spent 20+ years in the game and many aren’t even familiar with creatine use. Just the same, for those who are familiar, it never hurts to brush up. Here comes the lowdown.
First off, what are we talking about? While there have been various forms of creatine brought to market over the years, the one that has been studied the most only to be proven safe and effective time and again is creatine monohydrate.
What IS creatine though?
Creatine is an amino acid that is naturally found in some foods and can be synthesized by the body at a typical rate of 1g daily. Red meat is typically regarded as the most concentrated source but you’d need to consume north of 2 pounds to obtain 5g worth of creatine. Essentially, supplementing makes the most sense and as I said, fooling with any form other than monohydrate is unnecessary. And although creatine mono was well over $100 for a month’s supply when it first hit the market back in the 90s, the powdered goodness can currently be had for a fraction of that cost.
How much creatine should you be using?
Over the years, 5g daily has become the generic dose; the one you hear most often. Keep in mind, in order for creatine to be most effective, your muscle stores have to become saturated and once that happens, you are poised to experience all the size, strength, and performance-boosting qualities that it has to offer. If results are dependent on muscle saturation then it’s logical to make some minor adjustments based on how much muscle you carry. After all, it stands to reason that someone who is 250 pounds at 5% body fat might require a little more than someone who is 180 pounds at a similar body fat percentage. It’s not an exact science but the common recommendation is that if you’re between 120 and 200 pounds, 5g should suffice. If you’re under 120 pounds you can likely get away with 3g daily and if you’re over 200 lbs, 8g per day may be more appropriate. Taking the concept of muscle saturation a step further, in the past, it was always recommended that a loading phase take place when beginning creatine use. The idea behind the loading phase is to speed up the saturation and therefore, decrease the amount of time it takes to begin seeing optimal results from creatine supplementation. For example, if someone who is 200 lbs sticks with a 5g per day dosage, it could take up to a month’s time to fully saturate the muscles and the user won’t begin seeing full-scale results until then. In contrast, if that same user takes a 20g per day dose, saturation can be reduced to approximately one week’s time and he can begin experiencing optimal results sooner.
Do you have to load?
No. Might it decrease the amount of time it takes to start seeing optimal results? Yes.
Next, let’s talk about creatine timing.
When is the best time to take creatine? Should it be taken with meals or on an empty stomach? Do you need to take it with carbohydrates? Do you need to time it before and or after training? Honestly, this is the easiest part of creatine supplementation because none of it is that important! When it comes to creatine use, the effect is systemic; it’s all about building up the nutrient in your system so that it is available when exercise demands it. Whether you take it before, after, or during training is not the most vital factor. What IS most vital is that you take it daily WITHOUT FAIL! If use becomes sporadic, muscle saturation decreases, and you slip further from optimal performance. THE ONLY time I would suggest breaking up doses or making sure to take it with food is in the event it causes gastrointestinal distress. A small fraction of users will experience a change in bowel movements; in that case, spreading supplementation out into smaller doses throughout the day and taking it with meals usually solves the issue.
Time-tested and effective
Considering all the supplements that arrive on the scene, are the hottest thing for 6-12 months and then wind up completely forgotten about, creatine has more than proven its hype. I’d even argue that it’s been around so long, been terribly taken for granted and at this point, is under-hyped. It’s safe, effective, available, economical, and easy to use. If there is one sports supplement that you should undoubtedly be using, it’s creatine! Used consistently, you’d be hard-pressed to match its results; especially for the money!