Creatine Monohydrate is the most popular form of Creatine on the market. Creatine exploded onto the scene after the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, where members of the English athletics team including champion hurdlers Colin Jackson and Sally Gunnell, and a young, drug-free Linford Christie, snatched a swag of medals. The athletes later attributed their world-beating results to the strength and power gains from Creatine monohydrate.
Over the last twenty years, Creatine has become one of the best researched legal sports supplements. In 2007, the International Society of Sports Nutrition named Creatine monohydrate "The most effective ergogenic supplement for the improvement of high impact exercise capacity and lean body mass" (1).
Creatine Monohydrate Powder vs Capsules
Studies have shown that creatine monohydrate is readily absorbed both as a powder dissolved in solution, and as a solid contained in a capsule, but that the former results in slightly higher serum levels (2). Creatine capsules tend to be more expensive than powdered creatine and swallowing the required dosage can be a big task, particularly during loading, where doses of more than 20g a day (usually 20 capsules) are usual. Despite this, capsules can be convenient for people on the go, particularly those taking multiple doses in a day.
Although dissolved creatine doesn't have a strong flavour, some people really can't handle the taste or the slightly gritty texture, so for them, creatine capsules are a much more pleasant alternative.
The jury is out as to which form of creatine minimises stomach upset. While some people have better luck with the capsules and attribute this to the gelatin coating which may release creatine more slowly, others experience less side effects when the creatine is dissolved in liquid.
Creatine Monohydrate Loading Phase
While not strictly necessary, a loading phase is the best way to saturate the muscles with creatine quickly.
A typical loading phase involves taking 20g of creatine monohydrate daily for five days.
To assist absorption and reduce side effects like gastric upset, this dose is usually split into four 5g doses, spaced evenly thoughout the day (3).
Many people choose to forgo the loading phase and instead build up their creatine levels by taking smaller doses over a longer time.
Creatine Monohydrate Dosage
To maintain the high levels of muscle creatine after the loading phase, daily supplementation is required. A usual dosing regime is 5g per day or 0.1g creatine monohydrate per kg of body weight per day, which works out to 8g/day for someone weighing 80kg. Like the loading phase, doses over 5g are best split, so someone taking 8g per day might take two doses of 4g. These doses are generally taken with a source of carbohydrates, like a glass of juice, to enhance absorption (3).
Creatine Monohydrate Side Effects
There a few side effects associated with creatine monohydrate. The most common of these is water retention. This is actually seen by many as a positive, as this water is largely stored in the muscles, increasing volume. For others, like those on a cutting cycle, water retention is a negative, because the water weight can blunt muscle definition. For this reason, many competitive bodybuilders stop taking creatine a few weeks before a competition. Skipping the high dose loading phase and starting creatine on a low dose has been reported by some to reduce water retention (4).
Gastric upset is another very common side effect of creatine supplementation. Diarrhoea, stomach upset, and belching are the three most common digestive symptoms. These are more likely to occur at higher doses. One study showed that the number of people reporting diarrhoea as a symptom doubled when taking a 10g vs 5g dose (5). Drinking a large amount of fluid with creatine is thought by some to reduce gastrointestinal symptoms.
Creatine Monohydrate – Do I Need To Cycle?
Creatine Monohydrate is an extremely well researched sports supplement and it has been recognised as safe by many agencies, including the European Food Safety Authority (6). Because it is not harmful and the body does not become resistant, it is not necessary to cycle creatine.
Some people do choose to cycle this product. One big reason is to fit in with bulking and cutting cycles. As mentioned before, creatine can cause water retention, so many like to use it while bulking and take a break during fat loss.
(1) Buford TW, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2007)
(2) Harris RC, Nevill M, Harris DB, Fallowfield JL, Bogdanis GC, Wise JA Absorption of creatine supplied as a drink, in meat or in solid form. J Sports Sci. 2002 Feb;20(2):147-51.
(3) Cooper R, Naclerio F, Allgrove J, Jimenez A. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update.
(4) Hall M, Trojian TH. Creatine supplementation. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2013 Jul-Aug;12(4):240-4.
(5) Ostojic SM, Ahmetovic Z. Gastrointestinal distress after creatine supplementation in athletes: are side effects dose dependent? Res Sports Med. 2008;16(1):15-22.
(6) Opinion of the Scientific Panel on food additives, flavourings, processing aids and materials in contact with food (AFC) on a request from the Commission related to creatine monohydrate for use in foods for particular nutritional uses. EFSA 26th April 2004. http://www.efsa.europa.eu/de/efsajournal/pub/36.htm Accessed 7-1-2014