Background

Creatine monohydrate is one of the most widely-researched exercise supplements in existence. This chemical, which is also produced naturally in the body and supplemented through diet, acts on skeletal muscle cells allowing them to synthesize more ATP during times of stress.

An exhaustive review of the wealth of research done with creatine is beyond the scope of this post, but Examine.com has an excellent compilation of these studies and their findings. The short version? Creatine monohydrate supplementation is associated with myriad benefits involving the brain, skeletal system, cardiovascular system, endocrine system, cognition, and other areas. Even better, the supplement is incredibly cheap; you can get a 4-month supply for about $22.

If you mention to non-weight lifters that you are trying creatine, the first reaction is likely to be negative. You’ll often hear “Isn’t that some kind of steroid?” or “Doesn’t that kill your kidneys?” Disregard this ignorance. The safety and efficacy of creatine is backed up by over 20 years of clinical science, as well as innumerable observations and self-report testimonials. Any social stigma to using this supplement is based on unfounded anti bro-science, but who cares? If it helps you at the gym, you should do it. I came to this conclusion myself and started taking it a couple of months ago.

My Experience

I started with creatine during a lowered-weight week and loaded 10-15g for 10 days before returning to my normal program while taking the recommended 5g daily dose. I consume lots of red meat and eggs in my normal diet, so I suspected my endogenous creative levels were naturally higher. I was skeptical that there would be noticeable differences in my workout. I was wrong. Here are a few things I observed:

1. Measurably increased strength: I noticed quick improvement in calculated one-rep max (10-15 lbs for squats and deadlift a week after beginning supplementation). The initial reps in my sets still seemed difficult, but there was always more left in the tank to pound out an extra rep or two.

2. Mild cognitive enhancements: I was a bit more energetic and focused throughout the day. I noticed this more when I was first started taking it. I would put the effect size around half a cup of coffee.

3. Minimal side effects — Some people report sizeable water weight gains and an overall look of “puffiness,” but I only gained about 2 lbs on a 180-pound frame.

4. Slight increase in thirstiness – I found myself craving more water. Most proponents of creatine recommend staying well-hydrated, though alarmist claims about organ damage  are completely unsubstantiated for healthy individuals.

There is no established need to cycle on and off creatine, but the chemical is recruited most when lifting heavy weight to failure. Thus, it may make sense to use it only during periods of lifting heavy weight at lower reps.

If you’re looking for an extra push to reach your strength goals and get more out of your training, few choices beat creatine. It is one of the few supplements available that fulfills the trifecta of being cheap, safe, and effective.

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