Creatine monohydrate can rightly lay claim to being the most popular and arguably most effective bodybuilding supplement currently available. The beauty of creatine is that it is 100% natural and occurs in many foods so it’s unlikely to be banned from any sports or competitions.
Let’s first establish what creatine actually is. In brief, creatine is produced naturally in our bodies to help supply energy to the muscles. It is produced in the liver, pancreas and kidneys before being transported in the blood to our muscles. It is then converted into phosphocreatine which is a powerful metabolite used to regenerate the muscles’ ATP source of energy.
From a bodybuilder’s perspective, creatine can significantly increase lean muscle mass quickly, improve performance in high intensity exercise, raise energy levels and speed up recovery rates. Creatine’s ability to raise energy in muscles is due to its muscle protein synthesizing action whilst reducing the breakdown of protein. This happens because creatine has the effect of super-hydrating muscle cells with water. It also improves muscle growth adding size and strength to muscle fibers.
Creatine is normally taken in two ways. The first involves loading the muscles with 20 to 30 grams of creatine per day for four to seven days. At the end of this phase maintenance involves a regular intake of 5 to 15 grams per day. The other method is more gradual in that it skips out the loading phase and simply involves supplementing with 5 to 15 grams per day for an extended period.
Two questions remain to be answered – does it work and is it safe? Creatine has undoubtedly been proven effective in recent years – over twenty scientific studies have concluded that creatine can increase energy levels and result in enhanced strength, endurance levels and recovery rates. As a training aid it therefore has many merits. In terms of safety, no study to date has shown creatine to be anything other than safe, provided manufacturers’ instructions are followed.
There is a bewildering range of creatine supplements on the market so subsequent articles in this category will examine the relative merits of the most popular and effective forms.