Creatine. Finally, a supplement worth spending your money on!
One of the most talked about and researched supplements in the fitness industry is Creatine. And more specifically, creatine monohydrate (more on what that means later).
And although I’m not one for recommending a whole load of supplements, I do recommend creatine if your goal has anything to do with increasing muscle and strength.
Why? Because the proven benefits of it include:
Improvements in muscle gain and strength, improved anaerobic endurance, and assistance in recovery from training. In addition to those benefits it’s also totally natural and safe.
But that recommendation often leads to a number of questions, particularly those that are new to the process of building muscle. Because creatine is often thought to be an unnatural and sometimes unsafe supplement. More often than not those that are skeptical have heard stories of kidney damage and the like. So it’s no wonder creatine is called into question so frequently.
In this article I want to set the record straight for you. And I want to put your mind at ease. And I’m going to do that by guiding you through the evidence and the facts.
So with that said here’s what you’re going to learn from this article.
- What creatine actually is and how it works.
- The types of creatine available on the market and which ones are worth your cash.
- When to take creatine for maximum benefit.
Let’s get into the detail, right now.
What is Creatine Monohydrate?
Creatine Monohydrate is the most common and most widely used creatine supplement on the market. In fact, creatine probably stands alongside protein powder as the most popular supplement available. But what the hell is it exactly? You might be taking creatine just because that’s what you’ve always done. But do you really know why?
Creatine is a compound made up of three molecules, those being L-arginine, glycine, and methionine. And when you chuck in a molecule of water, you get creatine monohydrate.
Now that makes it all sound very man-made and unnatural, but it might surprise you to know that creatine is produced by the body and is also contained in the foods you eat. In fact, meats, fish, and eggs are all foods with a reasonably high amount of creatine in them.
How does it work?
The next logical question you probably have right now is ‘how does creatine work?’ And more importantly, ‘how will it help me build muscle?’. So let’s answer that right now.
At the most basic level a unit of cellular energy is called ATP, which stands for Adenosine Triphosphate. This is present in all forms of life. ATP is often referred to as the "molecular unit of currency" of intracellular energy transfer.
Essentially this means that Adenosine is combined with three phosphate molecules by the body to create one ATP unit of energy.
Depending on the type of activity / exercise you’re doing, the body will use different processes for the use and replenishment of ATP. But for now we’re just going to concentrate on one of those, which is the Creatine Phosphate system.
The creatine phosphate system is the energy system in the body used for anaerobic activity, ie short bursts of effort nearing maximal exertion lasting up to 150 seconds. So that’s that exact description of the efforts you’ll be doing in the gym. Because unless you’re some crazy lunatic doing weird 100 rep sets, you should be doing very intense efforts for short periods of time.
ATP and exercise
So, let’s imagine you’re in the gym and cranking out some bench presses (with technically superior and awesome form, obviously). What’s going on in your body in terms of energy and specifically ATP?
When your body comes to use ATP the body breaks it down and uses one of those phosphate molecules for energy. This then creates a byproduct called ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate), which is adenosine with two phosphate molecules. What happens next is where creatine comes into play.
The body, the clever thing that it is, recycled the ADP by taking a phosphate molecule from your creatine stores, thus creating ATP and another unit of energy for you to use.
Therefore, the more ATP you have and the faster you can regenerate it, the more energy output you will have. So if you have maximal levels of creatine in your body then you can accelerate the process of converting ADP into ATP. And the sum total of all that is better performance in the gym,
But (I know there’s always a but) nothing is ever quite that simple. Because your creatine stores are pretty limited. And once they’re used up, your body looks to glucose and fatty acids to continue making ATP.
So your aim is to raise the levels of creatine in the body.
Enter creatine supplementation…
Supplementing with creatine monohydrate enables you to rise the levels of your creatine stores, which will aid the ATP regeneration process.
When you’re hitting the gym, you’ll be doing so with with higher levels of available energy in your muscle cells. And what that means is you’ll have improved anaerobic capacity, strength, power, and resistance to fatigue. So in practical terms that might mean the difference between 1 or 2 extra reps in a set or more effective training towards the end of your workouts.
At the end of the day this will all build up over time to a pretty significant improvement in your training and results.
What type of creatine should you supplement with?
As usual with the fitness and supplementation industry there are seemingly a billion options for you to choose from. Because it would be too easy to stop at the version that was proven to work best (insert rolling eyes emoji). So the question is, which one do you go for? And are any of them better than basic monohydrate?
Let’s find out.
Now this short summary could feel like a bit of a science lesson. So, if you want the answers without the technical explanations then just skip to the first sentence of each section. Because I’ve summarised everything in my unique Iron Paradise Fitness way. And I apologise in advance for the swearing. But hey, you’ve come to expect that by now, I’m sure.
Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE)
It’s crap. Not as effective as monohydrate and cost more, so why bother…
Here’s the longer explanation.
First out of the blocks is CEE. “And what the hell is that?” I hear you shout out loud.
CEE is standard monohydrate which has gone through a process of esterification (I apologise for all the technical speak, it’s kind of necessary though). And that means an acid and alcohol have been introduced.
The theory behind this is that it will increase the level of absorption.
However, the research shows that this is a massive fail for the supplement industry. And what’s more, it doesn’t match up to, leat alone surpass creatine monohydrate.
Essentially, this is because CEE is less stable and rapidly converts to Creatinine which is worthless and does nothing for you.
Nice idea. But in reality it’s no better than monohydrate, so why bother…
The theory behind buffered creatine is that if there was a way to limit the amount of creatine lost when it meets your stomach acid, then the more creatine you’d have available to use.
So the way companies have attempted to achieve this is by making the creatine supplements alkaline. Thereby attempting to allow more it it to make it through your stomach acid.
However, the research shows that there is no improvement vs regular monohydrate versions. Because your stomach acid is simply too strong for it to be effective.
And in addition to that, creatine is already been proven to be naturally resistant to stomach acid to a certain degree. And as a result anywhere between 80-100% of the creatine you consume will make it through the body and be utilised. So the buffer is not actually needed.
One word. Pointless.
Micronised creatine is a posh sounding name for ‘small particles of creatine’. And the theory behind this one is that the body will be able to more rapidly absorb and utilise the smaller version of the particles.
But this is what your body does anyway. All that is happening here is that you’ve paid a supplement company to break it down before you drink it. And the benefit of that process is so infinitesimal that it’s probably not measurable.
The only real benefit of this whole process is that the micronised version will dissolve in water more easily. And the benefit of that is that it’ll be better to drink. Not much of a benefit really, is it?
And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, just look at the price difference.
This is a comparison of one company’s creatine products. I won’t name names, but it rhymes with “BYPROTEIN’…
Creatine Monohydrate (50 Servings) - £3.49 (7p per serving).
Micronised Creatine (35 Servings) - £17.99 (51p per serving).
So that’s more than 7 times more expensive for something you can’t really measure. Thanks BYPROTEIN. Good product.
No. Just no.
Let’s keep this one short and sweet, because by now I’m sure you’ve established there’s a bit of a theme developing here.
When creatine is mixed with liquid it begins to convert to creatinine. Now this isn’t that much of a problem normally, because you throw your creatine in a shake and drink it pretty much then and there. So no big deal really.
However, if the creatine you’re taking is already in liquid form, then chances are it’s been like that for a long time before it arrived at your door. So in reality, by the time you drink it, it’s probably more of a creatinine supplement. And we already covered earlier this is useless.
There’s even more forms
Ok so that isn’t the end of the list, there’s more. But for both mine and your sanity I’m going to gloss over them with one sweeping statement and that’s this.
Either they’re proven to not be effective as creatine monohydrate or there isn’t any research comparing the two. So for now you’re better off sticking with your 7p per serving version. Here’s the list to avoid (for now).
Creatine Hydrochloride, Creatine Magnesium Chelate, Creatine Malate, Creatine Nitrate, Creatine Pyruvate, and Creatine Citrate.
Anyone else get the feeling supplement companies want you to buy more expensive version of creatine?
When to take creatine?
Last but by no means least, let’s look at when to take creatine to realise all of those benefits we talked about earlier.
Here’s the bullet point facts:
- Research has shown that 5g per day is the optimal amount. And that 5g will have most effect after you train with some protein and carbs.
- It takes roughly 30 days for your body to get to the optimal amount.
- You can accelerate that process through a ‘loading phase’. This would mean consuming c. 20g per day for 5-7 days.
- There’s no need to cycling off. You can just keep taking it.
- It you do stop using it, it’ll take c. 1 month to return back to pre-supplementation levels.
The final word
Creatine is one of the rare supplements that’s actually worth taking. There’s a whole host of benefits that will either directly or indirectly help you build muscle faster and more effectively.
The monohydrate powder version is still the cheapest AND most effective version there is. So don’t be tempted by more fancy versions that are way more expensive and not as good.
It is safe and natural, so there is no need to worry about it’s effects (unless you have a pre-existing medical condition, ie kidney disease).
Take it in supplement form. You can get the creatine you need from food, but it’s impractical and expensive. For example, you’d need to eat 1kg of chicken breast (which would be £7.60 per serving), or 2.2kg of salmon fillet (which would be about £50 per serving) to get around 5g of creatine. So supplementation just makes perfect sense.
7p vs £50 per serving. You decide.
Taking the headache out of the process
Getting your training and nutrition set up to be optimal for you can be a pain and massive headache. You might not know exactly what to do and whether or not you're getting it right. At Iron Paradise Fitness, I truly believe that everyone can achieve their fitness goals with the right level of guidance. And because I passionately believe it, I made it my Mission Statement:
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That's what I'm all about and that's why Iron Paradise Fitness exists.
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Click on this link and grab a copy of my FREE eBook, '7 Steps to Correcting Your Nutrition Plan'.
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To find out more about how to join my 90 day transformation programme, all you need to do is click this link and fill out the short enquiry form. After that I'll email you back to arrange a free consultation where we can talk about your situation, your goals, and how I can ensure you get from A to B.
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