How Safe Is Creatine Monohydrate?
What is Creatine Monohydrate?
First of all, to put everyone at ease, Creatine is a natural substance that our body needs all the time. It is probably THE most important compound in any movement we do.
Human body recognises only one type of fuel – an ATP molecule (adenosine triphosphate) but knows three different ways to produce it.
- PC – System – uses a compound called Phosphocreatine. Sounds similar? Seeing the phosphate pattern yet? Phosphate bonds release a lot of energy and very fast when broken.
- Anaerobic (Lactate) System – ATP is formed by the breakdown of glucose in the muscles.
- Aerobic System – produces ATP from carbohydrates and fats in the presence of Oxygen so technically as long as we keep delivering Oxygen to the body, we have enough energy (easier said than done because the longer and harder the activity is, the more Oxygen we need and our lungs cannot work at maximal capacity forever)
So I guess you figured out that Creatine Monohydrate has something to do with the first one. Let’s look at it a little bit closer.
The PC System makes use of the fact that phosphate bonds are fairly easy to break and produce energy. It produces very little energy but almost immediately. This means that PC system produces energy for about 10s which is enough to fuel you for any ordinary movements during the day. It is also the system that is primarily used in resistance training so Creatine Monohydrate is a favourite supplement amongst body builders and generally people who are particularly interested in strength training rather than cardio or endurance.
What does Creatine Monohydrate do?
Saturating muscles with Creatine increases phosphocreatine stores which effectively means higher production of ATP.
That’s it, there is nothing miraculous or complicated about this supplement.
The fact that you have some extra creatine in your muscles means that the fatigue sets in later and you can maybe squeeze another rep in your set or maybe you can grab a heavier weight.
Studies show a better performance in sprints too, whether they do sprints in running or cycling or rowing. It wouldn’t however do much in a an endurance/long cycle or run because, remember, we only use PC system for about 10s. All sprints usually last under that (100m for example) but anything longer (400m or 1 000m for instance) switches to a different energy system and Creatine is not used anymore so saturating the muscles in it wouldn’t help. It doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t really help either.
Is Creatine Safe?
Creatine Monohydrate is one of the best studied supplements in the world and it has been repeatedly scientifically proven to be efficient and safe.
Unfortunately it has received some bad press, people putting it in the same group as steroids, claiming that it is not suitable for women, that it causes bloating, digestive issues, liver issues, dehydration, cramps and many other things.
There has been no side effects noted in healthy individuals (men or women), however it raises the levels of creatinine in blood which is a waste product of muscle metabolism and it is also a result of eating cooked meat. The presence of this chemical in blood or urine is commonly used to diagnose kidney and liver problems.
The amount is incredibly insignificant and the presence doesn’t necessarily mean a damage to these organs, diagnosing a liver/kidney damage requires a series of tests and it’s not down to just one simple chemical. I would suggest consulting your doctor if you have ever had kidney or liver problems or if these issues run in the family. Better to be safe than sorry.
So how about the other issues?
- digestive issues
Bloating can occur if an athlete is in a loading phase, which many professionals are very familiar with. The loading phase means that a person ingests 20g – 25g of Creatine Monohydrate A DAY! This phase usually lasts 5 – 7 days and is not common with recreational exercisers, therefore the fear of bloating is not necessary. Even if it were to occur, it would only be extra water your muscles are keeping in. It is not anything dangerous and the potential weight gain definitely doesn’t mean that you are getting fat. It really is simply water that will flood out as soon as you stop taking the supplement. I, personally, have always been in the phase called Maintenance – you take 3g – 5g a day for 12 weeks (I do 3 months because it is easier to remember) followed by a 4 week (1 month) break. I have never had issues with bloating, if anything, my belly has never been flatter.
Digestive issues next, I have never known anyone who would be affected this way from taking creatine. Again, apparently around 5% of athletes do report discomfort and gas but they are all in the loading phase. Easy way to avoid this issue is to keep the dose low if you are just a recreational exerciser. As far as I know, there is a different type of creatine called micronised.
You can pick it up HERE if you fancy giving it a go. This pure form is supposed to have little or none additives because it is usually the additives in supplements that cause issues in your belly rather than the supplement itself. I have never tried this form because I have never had any issues with creatine monohydrate.
Dehydration and Cramps? As I mentioned above, taking creatine does force your muscle cells to retain water, however blood tests proved that the electrolyte balance is not disturbed by taking this supplement so cramps should not occur. They are, probably 90% of the time, caused by low Magnesium levels or dehydration. A lot of people, myself included, don’t follow the guidelines for water intake which is, to make it simple, 1ml of water per calorie burned. I use a fitbit so I know that my average calorie output is 2 000 – 2 500, depending on the levels of exercise of course. That means I should drink at least 2 000 ml = 2l of water a day. As much as I try, I very rarely accomplish this. Don’t worry, tea and coffee counts too, that, however, doesn’t mean that drinking 10 cups of coffe a day is good for you 🙂 Nothing is black and white and it’s all about finding the balance. Keep an eye on your water intake and you have nothing to worry about.
So should I get it then?
Creatine is absolutely amazing for you If:
- You want to improve your performance (lift more weight, delay fatigue)
- You struggle gaining muscle and would like to add some extra weight (in muscle mass, not the extra water content mentioned above)
- You are stuck on same reps and sets and feel like your muscles fatigue easily
- You are a sprinter, rower, cyclist (short distances) and want more power to short bursts of activity
- You engage in HIIT exercises
- You have muscle mass but struggle to make it look more toned
Leave it alone If:
- You are not interested in muscle gain so much but in weight loss
- You don’t lift heavy weights
- You don’t engage in high intensity activity that is performance oriented
- You just exercise because you want to be healthy and are not serious about toning muscles
- You are more of an endurance person (half marathon, marathon, long distance rowing/cycling, running)
- You do exercise a bit but cannot consider yourself a gym fanatic 🙂
Powder or Pills?
Creatine is available in a form of powder and pills. They both have a few PROs and CONs
- Easy to mix in a shake or smoothie
- Easy to increase the dosage (just add an extra scoop or two)
- I always forgot to add it to my shake
- Hard to remember when you are on the go
- Doesn’t disolve well in water so if you just want to take it pure without making a shake or smoothie, you are limited
- Cannot be added to hot liquid (tea, coffee)
- Easy to remember (I just have it with a cup of tea)
- Great for maintenance phase because the dose is always the same
- They are quite big which makes them hard to swallow
- They are usually 1g a tablet so increasing dosage means swallowing a lot of pills
Let me know which one is best for you and why 🙂