Key Points of Creatine and Muscle Growth Article
- A recent study measured lean mass gains with creatine monohydrate. Previous research has measured increases in muscle mass thru DEXA, which may not accurately portray true gains in muscle mass.
- The current meta-analysis only used studies that used direct imaging measures of hypertrophy, specifically magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT), or ultrasound.
- The study showed that creatine supplementation combined with resistance training resulted in greater muscle hypertrophy than resistance training alone. However, the effect size was relatively small.
- Younger participants tended to experience greater creatine supplementation benefits than older participants.
- The duration of the creatine use did not significantly affect the magnitude of the effect.
If you’ve ever wondered whether the gains from using creatine monohydrate are just water weight, we have some exciting new study results to share with you. This blog will dive deep into the science behind creatine monohydrate and muscle growth, exploring how it works and its benefits for athletes and fitness enthusiasts. We’ll also discuss the production process of creatine monohydrate and its safety considerations. But most importantly, we will address the burning question: are the gains from creatine monohydrate just water weight? Get ready to discover the truth about this widely-used supplement and gain a comprehensive understanding of its effects on your body composition.
What is Creatine Monohydrate?
Creatine Monohydrate (CM) is a widely used supplement among athletes and bodybuilders. CM is typically taken in powder form and is often mixed with water or a beverage. It occurs naturally in meat and fish and helps enhance ATP production for muscular energy.
By enhancing ATP production, creatine supplementation can improve performance in activities that require short bursts of intense effort, such as weightlifting or sprinting. Creatine, known scientifically as methylguanidine-acetic acid, has earned its reputation as one of the few dietary supplements that effectively augment resistance training results (RT).
How is Creatine Monohydrate Produced?
CM is produced by chemically combining sarcosine and cyanamide, resulting in the formation of creatine. This creatine is then processed to create the final product, a white, crystalline powder that dissolves easily in water. CM is extensively studied and commonly used for enhancing athletic performance.
How Does Creatine Monohydrate Work?
Creatine monohydrate functions by boosting the levels of creatine phosphate in the body. This compound produces rapid energy ATP for intense activities, enhancing strength, power, and muscle growth. ATP is the primary energy source for muscle contractions, and the resynthesis of ATP is critical for maintaining high-intensity exercise performance.
By increasing the availability of creatine in the muscles, creatine monohydrate supplementation can help to enhance ATP resynthesis and improve exercise performance; additionally, it aids in muscle recovery and reduces fatigue. This is primarily due to its increasing the total creatine content in skeletal muscles, including free creatine and phosphocreatine. Studies confirm its positive effects on strength, power, and muscle mass, including placebo studies (Hall & Trojian, 2013; Safdar et al., 2008; Smith et al., 2020).
Creatine Monohydrate Benefits
Creatine supplementation also positively affects muscle protein synthesis, insulin-like growth factor-1, and cellular hydration. (Farshidfar & Myrie, 2017; Louis et al., 2003). Additionally, it may help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. (Chilibeck et al., 2017; Cordingley et al., 2022)
Creatine Supplement Effects on Increasing Muscle Mass
Several meta-analyses have investigated the combined effects of creatine supplementation and RT, and many studies have shown that CM increases muscle mass. (Delpino et al., 2022; DEVRIES & PHILLIPS, 2014; Forbes et al., 2021) Research indicates that creatine supplementation increases total body water.
These studies have focused on changes in whole-body lean mass, as assessed by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA), hydrodensitometry, whole-body air displacement plethysmography, and bioelectrical impedance analyses. However, gaining muscle is very difficult to measure because most of these devices measure total body water, which is an imprecise measure of true muscle mass.
DEXA and Muscle Mass
Despite DEXA being considered a gold-standard measure of lean mass, it correlates relatively poorly with long-term muscle gains.(Delmonico et al., 2008; Tavoian et al., 2019). DEXA does not differentiate between water and lean tissue, which may lead to overestimating muscle mass in certain populations. (Pahor et al., 2009)
A much better way to measure changes in muscle mass is to use site-specific imaging modalities such as ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT), which are regarded as gold-standard measures for assessing muscle size. (Reeves et al., 2004)
Given that creatine acts as an osmolyte, it is generally believed that most of the increases in lean mass are due to the hydrating effects of creatine-increasing intracellular water and preventing dehydration. (Pahor et al., 2009; Safdar et al., 2008) Studies have reported an average increase in body mass and/or muscle mass of 2-5 pounds over 4-12 weeks of training. (Antonio et al., 2021)
For example, a 2017 study found that supplementation with 20 g/day of creatine for 5 days followed by 3 g/day increased muscle metabolites and water content, which resulted in increased muscle mass by DEXA; however, true gains in muscle mass are unlikely in a short period. (Bone et al., 2017)
Are Creatine Monohydrate Gains Just Water?
Given that DEXA may not be the best way to measure changes in muscle mass with creatine studies, A recent review measured the effects of creatine and changes in muscle mass which was measured using direct imaging measures of hypertrophy, specifically magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT), or ultrasound.
The study included 10 articles that met the criteria, with the duration of the studies ranging from 6 to 52 weeks. Some studies included only young adults, while others included only older adults. The study participants performed resistance training exercises two to five times per week.
The study showed that creatine supplementation combined with resistance training resulted in greater muscle hypertrophy than resistance training alone. However, the magnitude of the effects was relatively small. Younger participants tended to experience greater creatine supplementation benefits than older participants. The study also found that the effects of creatine supplementation on muscle growth were more pronounced in untrained individuals than in trained individuals. (Burke et al., 2023)
The review also found that there was a greater benefit in shorter (≤10 weeks) supplementation protocols compared to longer (≥16 weeks) protocols. However, the differences between these timeframes were trivial and likely of little practical significance.
To sum it up, the gains from CM are not just water weight but actual muscle growth. The practical applications of the study are that creatine supplementation combined with resistance training can enhance regional skeletal muscle hypertrophy. However, the magnitude of this effect is relatively small, so that the practical significance may be questionable.
Additionally, younger adults tend to experience greater hypertrophic benefits than older individuals, but the difference in magnitude is modest. Future research should further investigate the combined effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle hypertrophy in different populations and include direct imaging measures of hypertrophy.
CM has been extensively researched and proven to enhance muscle strength, power, and performance. It helps increase the availability of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is the energy currency of our cells, leading to improved muscular endurance and faster recovery. Additionally, CM offers various health benefits, including improved brain function and reduced risk of neurological diseases. It is a safe and effective supplement when taken as directed.
Antonio, J., Candow, D. G., Forbes, S. C., Gualano, B., Jagim, A. R., Kreider, R. B., Rawson, E. S., Smith-Ryan, A. E., VanDusseldorp, T. A., Willoughby, D. S., & Ziegenfuss, T. N. (2021). Common Questions and Misconceptions About Creatine Supplementation: What Does the Scientific Evidence Really Show? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w
Bone, J. L., Ross, M. L., Tomcik, K. A., Jeacocke, N. A., Hopkins, W. G., & Burke, L. M. (2017). Manipulation of Muscle Creatine and Glycogen Changes Dual X-ray Absorptiometry Estimates of Body Composition. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 49(5), 1029-1035. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000001174
Burke, R., Piñero, A., Coleman, M., Mohan, A., Sapuppo, M., Augustin, F., Aragon, A. A., Candow, D. G., Forbes, S. C., Swinton, P., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2023). The Effects of Creatine Supplementation Combined With Resistance Training on Regional Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15092116
Chilibeck, P. D., Kaviani, M., Candow, D. G., & Zello, G. A. (2017). Effect of creatine supplementation during resistance training on lean tissue mass and muscular strength in older adults: a meta-analysis. Open Access J Sports Med, 8, 213-226. https://doi.org/10.2147/oajsm.S123529
Cordingley, D. M., Cornish, S. M., & Candow, D. G. (2022). Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Catabolic Effects of Creatine Supplementation: A Brief Review. Nutrients. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14030544
Delmonico, M. J., Kostek, M. C., Johns, J., Hurley, B. F., & Conway, J. M. (2008). Can dual energy X-ray absorptiometry provide a valid assessment of changes in thigh muscle mass with strength training in older adults? European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 62(12), 1372-1378. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602880
Delpino, F. M., Figueiredo, L. M., Forbes, S. C., Candow, D. G., & Santos, H. O. (2022). Influence of age, sex, and type of exercise on the efficacy of creatine supplementation on lean body mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Nutrition, 103-104, 111791. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2022.111791
DEVRIES, M. C., & PHILLIPS, S. M. (2014). Creatine Supplementation during Resistance Training in Older Adults—A Meta-analysis. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 46(6), 1194-1203. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000000220
Farshidfar, F., & Myrie, S. B. (2017). Creatine Supplementation and Skeletal Muscle Metabolism for Building Muscle Mass- Review of the Potential Mechanisms of Action. Current Protein and Peptide Science. https://doi.org/10.2174/1389203718666170606105108
Forbes, S. C., Candow, D. G., Ostojic, S. M., Roberts, M. D., & Chilibeck, P. D. (2021). Meta-Analysis Examining the Importance of Creatine Ingestion Strategies on Lean Tissue Mass and Strength in Older Adults. Nutrients, 13(6).
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Pahor, M., Manini, T. M., & Cesari, M. (2009). Sarcopenia: Clinical Evaluation, Biological Markers and Other Evaluation Tools. The Journal of Nutrition Health & Aging. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12603-009-0204-9
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Safdar, A., Yardley, N. J., Snow, R., Melov, S., & Tarnopolsky, M. A. (2008). Global and targeted gene expression and protein content in skeletal muscle of young men following short-term creatine monohydrate supplementation. Physiol Genomics, 32(2), 219-228. https://doi.org/10.1152/physiolgenomics.00157.2007
Tavoian, D., Ampomah, K., Amano, S., Law, T. D., & Clark, B. C. (2019). Changes in DXA-derived lean mass and MRI-derived cross-sectional area of the thigh are modestly associated. Sci Rep, 9(1), 10028. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-46428-w
Creatine, Nutrition, Kidney Function, Dosage, and Caffeine
Athletes and fitness enthusiasts use CM, a popular supplement, to increase muscle mass and improve performance. CM is a type of amino acid that occurs naturally in the body, primarily in muscle tissue. During high-intensity workouts, the body uses CM to produce energy, thus enhancing stamina and strength. Although CM is also present in certain foods like red meat and seafood, it is challenging to obtain enough from diet alone, especially for vegetarians and vegans.
This is why many people resort to taking a creatine supplement. When using CM, it is common to go through a loading phase (i.e., taking a higher dose of 20-30 grams initially to saturate the muscles, followed by a lower maintenance dose). Many individuals take this supplement alongside a protein shake or pre-workout meal to maximize body weight gains. Some people prefer combining it with whey protein and caffeine for even greater gains. However, it is important to note that everyone’s physiology is unique, and what may work for one person may not work for another.
Despite its benefits, CM is not without potential side effects. Some users report experiencing water retention and weight gain with too much creatine. It’s also been linked to weight gain due to increased water retention in the muscles. On the other hand, some users may experience weight loss if creatine is used in conjunction with a calorie-restricted diet. There’s also been some concern about potential kidney damage, although most research suggests that creatine is safe when used responsibly.
What are the Health Benefits of Creatine Monohydrate
The health benefits of CM, a widely used dietary supplement, extend beyond muscle growth. CM is known for its positive effects on muscle mass and body composition. This supplement is particularly effective for individuals involved in high-intensity, short-duration activities such as sprinting or strength training. Increasing intracellular creatine levels enhances muscle strength and power, enabling better performance during workouts. Moreover, CM improves exercise performance by boosting ATP availability, the body’s primary source of energy. CM supplementation has also shown promise in enhancing neurological health, including cognitive function, and reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases. CM is generally safe when used in appropriate dosages, making it a valuable addition to any comprehensive fitness and nutrition regimen.
Is Creatine Monohydrate Safe?
Creatine monohydrate has been extensively studied and is considered safe for most individuals when used as directed. It has been widely used by athletes and fitness enthusiasts without any major adverse effects. However, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or are taking medications. Additionally, following the recommended dosage guidelines and staying hydrated while using creatine monohydrate is crucial.