Author: Shane Feller
The sports supplement industry generally receives a lot of negative feedback from the public due to the tendency of companies to overprice supplements, produce supplements that don’t work as well as they are advertised, and release supplements without much scientific evidence and research supporting their claims. However, one supplement that has a lot of research backing its claims, is creatine monohydrate. The most well researched sports supplement on the market, with over 700 studies testing its efficacy, creatine monohydrate has strong scientific evidence supporting itself as an effective supplement for muscular strength and lean muscle growth, while being fairly cheap in its base form compared to most supplements. In fact, price ranges for 40 servings of creatine are between $10 and $20. Generally, overpricing of creatine occurs when in the forms of creatine HCl and creatine ethyl ester, which don’t have nearly as much scientific research behind them, and usually contain an artificial flavor addition1.
Creatine Monohydrate Background
Creatine is a small tripeptide that is naturally produced by our bodies naturally and is also found in sources of protein, primarily red meat. Creatine monohydrate is very similar to the creatine produced in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas, and serves the same function. However, the body naturally only produces about 1 gram of creatine every day in young adults and a kilogram of steak has about the same amount of creatine as a 5g serving of creatine monohydrate, making creatine supplementation a very cost friendly alternative to red meat. Without creatine monohydrate supplementation, creatine saturation in the muscle is highly unlikely without very heavy consumption of red meat. In fact, a normal diet containing 1 to 2 grams of creatine per day will only saturate creatine stores 60-80%6. Extensive scientific research has shown that creatine supplementation can help individuals reach muscle saturation with a loading phase of 20 grams per day for 5 days, and a maintenance phase of 3 to 5 grams of creatine per day will maintain muscle saturation2.
Reasoning For Supplementation
The function of creatine in the body is to act as fuel to produce ATP in the phosphagen energy system, which is used during anaerobic activities where energy is needed very quickly, and shortly, for about 8 to 10 seconds. Examples of activities that use the phosphagen energy system include sprinting and weightlifting. The purpose of creatine supplementation is to increase the duration of time the phosphagen energy system can function by attempting to saturate creatine stores. In weight training, there is a strong correlation between training volume and hypertrophy, so reasoning for creatine supplementation would be to increase the number of repetitions on heavy sets and therefore increase training volume. Creatine supplementation would also increase the endurance of the phosphagen energy system during other short exercises like sprinting. A review on the effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations cites 300 studies and shows an average of 5-15% in maximal strength and power following creatine supplementation5. Research has also shown that a creatine supplementation program correlated to a significant increase in sprint performance of NCAA Division I college football players, and a significant increase to one repetition max on bench press, squat, and power clean4.
Creatine monohydrate is a legal product and is not listed under the NCAA banned substances list, and scientific literature seems to agree that there are very low chances of side effects outside of intramuscular water retention, which can increase muscle cell diameter, and may cause muscular growth itself due to muscular swelling. There is a chance of nonresponse to creatine supplementation for some individuals, generally found in those with high contents of red meat in their diet3.
Overall, there seems to be extensive research behind the advantages of creatine supplementation to label it an effective supplement for individuals looking to increase muscular size and strength, and to improve sprint performance. A recommendation of supplementation would depend on the individual however, with individuals lacking natural creatine stores and participating in low red meat content diets looking to utilize the phosphocreatine energy system being the best candidates for supplementation.
- Child R, Tallon MJ (2007) Creatine ethyl ester rapidly degrades to creatinine in stomach acid. Paper presented at the International Society of Sports Nutrition 4th Annual Meeting, Las Vegas, NV, June 12, 2007.
- Hultman, E., Soderlund, K., Timmons, J. A., Cederblad, G., & Greenhaff, P. L. (1996). muscle creatine loading in men. Journal of Applied Physiology,81(1), 232-237.
- Juhn, M. S., & Tarnopolsky, M. (1998). Potential Side Effects of Oral Creatine Supplementation. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 8(4), 298–304.
- Kreider, R. B., Ferreria, M., Wilson, M., Grindstaff, P., Plisk, S., Reinhardy, J., Almada, A. L. (1998). Effects of creatine supplementation on body composition, strength, and sprint performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise,30(1).
- Kreider, R. B. (2003). Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations. Guanidino Compounds in Biology and Medicine,89-94.
- Kreider, R. B., Kalman, D. S., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Wildman, R., Collins, R., Lopez, H. L. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition,14(1).