A creatine monohydrate supplement is a synthetic form of creatine, a substance produced by the liver or ingested in food containing protein, which facilitates the energy production process in muscle cells. Athletes sometimes use a creatine monohydrate supplement to increase strength and power and build muscle mass. Creatine is available over the counter in powder form in health food stores or online and is mixed with fruit juice or water before being ingested.
In the body, the liver produces creatine from the amino acids L-arginine, glycine, and L-methionine obtained from dietary sources. Some creatine is also ingested from protein-containing foods like red meat and fish. The greatest need for creatine is in muscles that require quick energy, primarily the skeletal muscles and brain. Creatine is stored in the muscles as phosphocreatine and facilitates the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an energy transfer molecule that is essential to accessing stored energy in the body cells.
Athletes who benefit most from taking a creatine monohydrate supplement are those who require anaerobic bursts of strength and power, like power lifters or sprinters. Creatine has little to no effect on endurance or aerobic activities. As creatine is one of the most widely used performance enhancers in the world, it has been the subject of many research studies in animals and humans. Results of many studies have shown that creatine monohydrate supplementation increases strength and decreases fatigue. It is likely that this increase in energy allows athletes to work out harder and longer, resulting in greater long-term muscle gains.
Taking a creatine monohydrate supplement increases the amount of creatine available for use by the muscles, but the body can store only a limited amount at a time. It would be difficult to take too much creatine monohydrate supplementation because excess is excreted in the urine. The goal of creatine monohydrate supplementation is to increase creatine stores to their maximum capacity without exceeding it. As creatine naturally occurs in animal products, meat eaters tend to have higher amounts of creatine. Vegetarians and vegans could benefit more from using creatine monohydrate than meat eaters because they receive less from dietary sources.
Research has shown creatine to be a relatively safe nutritional supplement in the short term, but it does have some side effects. These may include nausea, stomach upset, and dehydration. Creatine supplementation can also cause weight gain, but this tends to be a temporary condition caused by water retention that resolves when supplementation is stopped. Long-term usage has not been thoroughly researched and so should be avoided.