Creatine is a subject that we’ve touched on before, but the world of nutrition is always evolving. Creatine is one of the most popular workout and dietary supplements available today. It was discovered in 1832, but grew in popularity after the 1992 Olympic games when two gold medalists credited it with their victories. After that it went through the ringer. It was compared to harmful substances like anabolic steroids and was left as a misunderstood tool in the world of nutrition. Fast forward to today, and creatine is one of the most studied and well-understood dietary supplements available. But is it right for you, and most importantly, is creatine monohydrate safe?
Let’s start from the top. Creatine is an amino acid compound found in muscle cells where it aids in the regeneration of ATP, or energy production. Creatine monohydrate (the most popular and researched form) is a creatine molecule with one additional water molecule which helps your cells absorb and retain water for hydration. To put it simply, creatine is an energy source for muscle cells and helps in performance and recovery.
Humans create creatine naturally in our liver and kidneys (about 2 grams/day) which is then stored in our muscles. Creatine monohydrate supplementation safely increases the stores of the compound in muscle cells to the maximum amount. This is why when you take creatine daily you’ll notice a small increase in muscle size and body weight as your stores increase. Your muscles are simply retaining more water.
So now you’re thinking, “that’s all well and good, but where’s the data? How much should I take?.” Well, remember how I said that creatine is one of the most studied dietary supplements available? I wasn’t kidding. The results for creatine supplementation have been overwhelmingly positive through the years and there’s still new information coming. A study done in 2021 used 16 clinical trials from over a decade to conclude that in 456 participants, creatine supplementation undoubtedly out-performed placebo in muscle growth and strength.
And it doesn’t stop at the muscles, a study from 2018 showed that “oral creatine administration may improve short-term memory and intelligence/reasoning of healthy individuals”; this is because creatine reduces cognitive fatigue by improving energy supply for brain functions. There are also new studies being conducted to show that creatine might be an essential part of healthy heart function. Another 2018 study theorized that because failing hearts typically show a decrease in creatine transportation, it could be beneficial to supplement. Even though the findings were not conclusive, they were deemed to be encouraging and warrant future research.
How much should I take? Most research has been conducted using an average of 3-5 grams per day, this is a safe amount. Keep in mind that a small percentage of the population actually produces creatine to the maximum extent – these people will see little to no benefit from supplementation.
Is it possible to take too much creatine? Generally speaking, yes. You might experience some stomach discomfort but any excess will exit your body through the urinary tract. If this occurs, reduce your dosage. Taking above the recommended amount for too long can result in kidney damage.
Are creatine monohydrate and steroids similar? No, while steroids increase the body’s testosterone by up to 20x the normal level, supplementing creatine simply increases your muscles’ stock of the amino acid by an average of 20-40% – still within natural levels.
Once a divisive topic, creatine is now one of the most effective and safe dietary supplements that gives proven results. When taken in approved dosages, creatine has been shown to increase muscle mass, strength, brain function, and potentially heart function as well. Creatine is good for you!