Creatine Monohydrate: Facts and Myths
What is Creatine?
Creatine is an acid that is used to deliver energy throughout the body, mainly the skeletal muscles. It is both naturally produced as well as acquired through dietary means, mainly from meat. Creatine aids in the formation of adenosine triphosphate (APT), which is the entity responsible for the allocation of energy within the human body. As such, more APT means more energy, which means a more effective workout can be experienced.
Despite the obvious benefits of taking creatine as a dietary supplement, there are groups of individuals, primarily misguided parents and under-educated high school physical education teachers and coaches, who staunchly oppose any form of creatine and its usage. Through this opposition, a vast number of false claims have been created and promoted as truth, leading to very mixed opinions by the public over the product.
These accusations are either unfounded or wildly exaggerated to the point where they become a form of scare tactic. These allegations often are combated by simple explanations that further shed light on their substandard credibility.
Myth #1: Creatine Causes Kidney Damage
It is frequently assumed that creatine is sure to cause kidney damage. These claims usually have no source other than "I heard it from my (football coach, mom, dad, personal trainer, etc.)." Despite the erroneous conjecture toward creatine, there is actually a specific reason why people misconstrue creatine's effect on the body.
When taking creatine for an extended period of time, a product called "creatinine" is found throughout the body. This is a result of the body's absorption of creatine, as creatinine is the waste product left behind. However, elevated creatinine levels are also a result of potential kidney complications, leading many to associate creatinine from any source with kidney failure.
The rise in bodily creatinine is purely a result of the increased intake of creatine. If one were to eat more meat daily, the same result would occur. Having a few extra steaks each week would not cause a scare for kidney failure, and neither should creatine.
Myth #2: You Must "Load" Creatine
When one begins to take a creatine supplement for the first time, their muscles must become saturated in the product before they can experience the full results. Rather than taking 3-5 grams a day, many are instructed to take upwards of 20+ grams for seven consecutive days in order to "load" their muscles with creatine. The concept of loading creatine is not entirely outlandish, but it is in no way required.
The loading phase is incorporated in order to ensure that the muscles sufficiently absorb as much creatine as they can until this level plateaus, after which it is maintained with a decreased dosage. The problem is that the average human body cannot absorb 20 grams of creatine each day, especially if one's diet is already moderately high in meat. The muscles will absorb all that they can, while the rest passes throughout the body as waste.
Therefore, it is highly likely that only 5 or 6 of those grams are absorbed out of the 20 during the loading phase. Taking more than the body can handle will not cause detrimental health effects unless extreme amounts are consumed, so there is no need for worry. To utilize creatine as a supplement efficiently, however, there is no reason to waste the extra grams of creatine.
For example, let us assume that a fairly well-built man with a diet high in meat began taking a creatine supplement. Because his natural creatine levels are decently high due to his frequent meat consumption, he has less room to fill before his muscles reach their creatine limit. His natural levels may be so high that as little as 3 or 4 grams may be absorbed daily out of the 20 he would take during the loading phase! Therefore, it would be much more efficient for him to skip the loading period and take the maintenance level of 3-5 grams a day, which will ensure both that his muscles remain saturated as well as all of the creatine taken in is utilized.
One exception to this argument, however, would be the vegetarian. As meat in their diet is non-existent, their natural creatine levels are very low. This makes them extremely likely to benefit from the loading phase, as a vast majority of the creatine consumed would be used.
While loading has its advantages in very specific scenarios, the majority of individuals consuming creatine are better off bypassing loading in favor of taking low, consistent dosages each day.
Myth #3: Creatine Will Cause Bloating
Creatine works by pulling water into the muscle cells, making them larger. This gives the lifter a mechanical advantage, as larger muscles will push heavier weight around more easily than smaller muscles. Because of creatine's utilization of water in order to function, many people fear that creatine will somehow flood their entire body with excess hydration and leave them with a soft, puffy look that is far from desirable.
While there may be cases where this does indeed occur, it is not a direct result of creatine. Since creatine requires exceptional amounts of water to function optimally, it is only natural that one would consume more water than they did prior to taking creatine. Drinking too much water, however, may indeed cause bloating and "softness" of appearance. As previously mentioned, this is not an actual result of the product, but merely an effect of over-hydration.
To avoid this, one should experiment with how much water they drink each day. If one's appearance is not satisfying, try drinking slightly less for a week or so in order to help find a perfect maintenance level.
From personal experience, I find that filling up a 1-gallon jug full of water and drinking around 3/4 of it each day allows me to stay fully hydrated with no noticeable bloating effects. Everyone's body is different, but this measurement could be used as a solid base number and then raised or lowered depending on the results.
In addition to this number, one must account for the water lost through sweating, whether it be from cardio or a similar physical activity. As a soccer player, I drink roughly two gallons on the days I participate in the sport to compensate for the large amount of water lost from the intense running and Florida heat.
Creatine can be a very effective supplement for increasing lean body mass. While it is not at all a magical powder that will build muscle overnight, it will produce a noticeable increase in strength and endurance, which will then allow more muscle to be built. Like any other supplement (even whey protein), it must be consumed responsibly in order to produce the best results. By taking low amounts each day and staying sufficiently hydrated, creatine is a completely safe product that will greatly aid one on their fitness endeavors.