If you are one of the many people who enjoys spending as much time in the gym as possible and chasing after your ultimate fitness goals, you may be familiar with this common ingredient in protein powders and some health foods. You may know that it’s supposed to help you perform better--but how? Let’s read on to find out.
What Is It?
Creatine  monohydrate is a synthetic, powdered preparation of creatine. Creatine is an organic compound found in animal meats (including fish) naturally, and also produced by our body in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. An amino acid (building blocks that make up proteins), creatine is not to be confused with creatinine, a different biological compound.
What Is Its Biological Role?
Creatine monohydrate is ingested as a supplement to both our dietary intake and our body’s production of creatine. Creatine is transformed into phosphocreatine, which gets stored in our skeletal muscles.
Phosphocreatine is a cofactor, or necessary part of, the reaction that turns ADP (adenosine diphosphate) into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is our body’s most basic unit of energy. ATP does many jobs, but the muscle stores are depleted most quickly when we exert short bursts of intense effort. This particular type of action is fueled primarily by ATP, which then turns back into ADP, requiring yet more phosphocreatine to synthesize more ATP.
If you were to look at the process more linearly it would be something like this:
- ingest creatine→ creatine is transformed to phosphocreatine
- → phosphocreatine is stored in the muscles
- → phosphocreatine is used to turn ADP into ATP for energy
- → ATP is depleted when we use lots of energy in a short time
- → ATP turns back into ADP
- → the muscles need more phosphocreatine, and the cycle starts over.
Creatine can also help draw liquid into the cells that make up your muscle fibers, which helps them perform this process more efficiently and for longer period of time before all ATP store are depleted.
How Does It Help Bodybuilders and People Who Work Out?
Creatine monohydrate is an extremely popular supplement  among certain types of athletes, particularly bodybuilders and elite athletes. That is because, to a large extent, the marketing claims of the supplement manufacturers are correct.
It can help you build muscle at an accelerated rate compared to working out alone. It can also increase your endurance. For instance, you are a weightlifter you may find you can do a few more reps per set. If you are a sprint, it can give you that extra edge to keep pushing for the last 3 or 4 seconds of your run at top speed.
Now, this will by no means turn you into a superhero, but for anyone trying to get into peak physical shape it is certainly another tool in your arsenal.
What Foods Contain It?
Creatine is found in any animal protein, though the best sources are considered to be game meats (any animal hunted for sport or for food) such as elk, venison, etc.
How Much Of It Do You Need?
Because your body is capable of making creatine on its own, there is no officially recognized required dosage of creatine per day. Most meat-eating adults make about 1g per day, and consume about 1g per day, for an average daily creatine intake of 2g. The general guideline  for creatine monohydrate supplementation is 5g per day, and it is cautioned not to consume more than 20g per day.
Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Much Of It?
The maximum dosage recommended when supplementing with creatine monohydrate is 20g per day, and that dose is also recommended to be broken up into several servings. This is because after the biological processes that use creatine in our bodies, it is filtered through our kidneys and excreted as urine.
When we take too much at once, or too much in a certain time period, we overwhelm our kidneys. They become unable to keep up with the influx of discarded creatine, which begins to harm the kidneys. This can lead to permanent organ damage.
Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Little Of It?
Creatine deficiency is only possible if you have one of three rare disorders that prevent your body from producing or using creatine. Collectively, these disorders are referred to as Cerebral Creatine Deficiency Syndromes.
These disorders are typically diagnosed in childhood because they can have a profound impact on development, as creatine is responsible for the production of ATP. Symptoms may include: seizures, hyperactivity, intellectual delays, speech delays, and more. For more information on this group of disorders, visit creatineinfo.org
Even when an ingredient is something that can help you, it’s always a good idea to know exactly what it is and what it does. Think of it this way: would you feed mystery food to your baby? Probably not. Equally so, it’s important to know what you’re putting in your body and to take control of your own nutrition.
 University of Maryland Medical Center. Creatine. University of Maryland, 2014.
 Norton, Layne. Creatine: Fact and Fiction. Bodybuilding.com, 2017.
 The Mayo Clinic. Creatine Dosing. mayoclinic.org, 2013.