Creatine monohydrate is a supplement form of the naturally occurring molecule creatine. With 100s of human studies backing the benefits of creatine monohydrate, it's arguably the best ergogenic aid for athletes, bodybuilders, and gym-goers looking to improve their performance (1).
The average 180-lb adult carries about 135 g of creatine as free creatine and phosphocreatine, over 95% of which resides in skeletal muscle tissue (2). However, even your heart muscle — myocardium — uses creatine to generate energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
Sedentary adults break down roughly 1% of their creatine stores daily; active gym-goers, bodybuilders, and athletes alike may exhaust significantly more creatine due to intense anaerobic training.
Your body continually resynthesizes creatine from the amino acids methionine, arginine, glycine. Certain foods in the diet also replenish creatine, particularly red meat, fish, and eggs.
However, the creatine dose necessary for performance-enhancement is well above the amount produced endogenously and consumed from food. Hence, the most practical option is supplementing with creatine monohydrate.
But what does creatine do, exactly? What are the benefits of creatine? When is the best time to take creatine?
We'll answer all of these questions and more in this quick overview of how creatine works and when to take creatine monohydrate for optimal results.
ATP is the veritable "energetic currency" of cells. During exercise, muscle cells use ATP to carry out contraction, allowing you to move forcefully. As ATP is used for energy, it loses a phosphate group and transforms into a low-energy molecule called adenosine diphosphate (ADP).
Your cells rely on creatine — specifically, phosphocreatine — to regenerate ATP by attaching a new phosphate molecule to ADP, thereby providing energy for continuous muscle contraction.
So, the more creatine your muscle cells have available, the better they become at recharging ATP stores during exercise (3); the more energy your muscle cells have to work with, the greater their capacity to contract.
While creatine benefits both aerobic and anaerobic performance, it tends to be more useful for the latter (4). Why, you ask? Well, skeletal muscle gets most of its energy (ATP) from the phosphagen system during brief, explosive exercises, such as sprinting 100 meters or barbell squatting heavy loads (5).
In other words, strength athletes, bodybuilders, sprinters, and those who train at high intensities are the best candidates for taking creatine monohydrate.
Creatine benefits these individuals by bolstering max strength, volumizing muscle cells, encouraging muscle growth, reducing inflammatory markers, and facilitating recovery between workouts (6, 7). Better yet, creatine helps mitigate muscle tissue breakdown during long bouts of aerobic exercise (8). These effects are especially pertinent for bodybuilders and physique competitors trying to get shredded while hanging onto as much lean body mass as possible.
However, endurance athletes and those who engage in aerobic exercise certainly can benefit from creatine supplements. Research suggests that creatine monohydrate enhances aerobic training by preserving muscle glycogen and increasing intracellular creatine content (9). Essentially, taking a creatine supplement expands the energy reservoirs in muscle tissue so you can push yourself further during a long run, bike ride, etc.
Myth: It's best to take creatine before exercise.
Myth: Megadosing creatine is necessary during the first two weeks of use.
Truth: The megadosing or front-loading protocol is simply a means of saturating muscle creatine more quickly. While it can expedite the process, it's not an absolute "must." If you take a modest dose of creatine monohydrate daily (i.e. 3 to 5 grams per day), muscle creatine stores will reach saturation in a month or so.
Myth: You must take creatine monohydrate with fast-acting carbs for proper absorption.
Truth: This theory is based on insulin enhancing creatine uptake into skeletal muscle. However, the stimulatory effect of insulin on creatine transport into muscle tissue requires exceedingly high plasma insulin levels and only leads to marginal improvements in muscle creatine uptake (11). For most people, drinking 100 grams of sugar just to increase creatine uptake by 10-20% isn't worth it. Don't worry — you'll still absorb plenty of creatine monohydrate without fast-acting carbs.
Myth: You should cycle off creatine every 4 to 6 weeks.
Truth: Contrary to popular belief, cycling on and off creatine is neither necessary nor prudent. Creatine monohydrate is most effective when used daily as this keeps your muscle creatine stores saturated.
Should You Take Creatine Monohydrate?
There are a multitude of ways creatine benefits active individuals, especially those who regularly engage in high-intensity training like weight lifting and sprinting. As it stands, creatine is the undisputed champion of performance supplementation.
If you're wondering when to take creatine for optimal benefits, post-workout is likely ideal based on the current evidence. The most important thing to keep in mind is that creatine monohydrate remains the most thoroughly studied form of supplemental creatine (by far).
Every serving of Transparent Labs Creatine HMB features industry-leading Creapure®, the purest creatine monohydrate on the market.
Better yet, it comes with Bioperine® and hydroxymethyl butyrate (HMB) for even greater absorption and ergogenic benefits. If you're a dedicated gym-goer, athlete, bodybuilder looking to get stronger, it's tough to find a better supplement than good ol' creatine.