By Bill Willis, BSc, a PhD candidate at The Ohio State University.

Creatine Monohydrate caused quite a stir when it hit the nutritional supplement market in the early 1990’s. In an industry where all too often claims made by the supplement companies are based on anecdotal evidence and plain-old-BS, creatine was one of the first supplements to be rigorously proven effective.

A countless number or research studies have all reached the same conclusion; when combined with a well-balanced diet and intense training program creatine supplementation increases muscle mass and strength.

How creatine works for weightlifters

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the primary energy source to fuel intense muscular contractions, such as those during intense weight-training. ATP contains a high-energy phosphate bond, which is broken down into ADP (adenosine monophosphate), releasing the energy necessary for muscles to contract.

Phosphate Storage

Every muscle cell has a store of phosphate, from which ADP is recycled back into ATP to continue fueling contractions. As this pool of phosphate gets depleted, so does our ability to make ATP. When we run out of ATP, the muscle is exhausted and reaches muscular failure. It was discovered that our muscles can actually be “loaded” with additional phosphate, which can extend our capacity to do high-intensity exercise. Phosphate is stored in the muscle as creatine phosphate, which acts to replenish cellular phosphate stores.

When creatine monohydrate is ingested, it is converted to creatine phosphate and absorbed into the muscle cell, helping to replenish the phosphate pool. Supplementing with creatine post-workout rapidly replenishes creatine phosphate stores speeding recovery. Creatine also acts through unknown mechanisms to increase protein synthesis and muscle growth.

Weightlifters who take creatine love the pumps they get during an intense weight workout. Many former steroid users have also reported that creatine is the only natural supplement capable of giving “steroid-like” gains.

Water Weight

For every molecule of creatine absorbed into the muscle, several molecules of water are absorbed, giving the muscles a fuller, more pumped appearance.

A muscle loaded with creatine is slightly pumped even while at rest; often a gain of 5-10 pounds of lean muscle mass can be achieved in a short period of time with creatine supplementation, as the muscles pull in a large amount of water as the creatine is absorbed.