Creatine – one of the most popular supplements used by athletes and passionate gym goers everywhere. Some people believe that creatine is unsafe and has a variety of side effects, but studies using typical dosages have not supported these concerns. Creatine is the number one supplement when it comes to its safety profile, research results, and product price . But what is creatine? How does this popular supplement work and what benefits does it provide? Let’s dive into the most research-backed supplement right now.
What is it?
Creatine is a substance, chemically similar to amino acids, that made naturally within muscle cells . The body stores creatine in muscle cells as phosphocreatine, and uses those stores when energy is being utilized during high intensity exercise like heavy lifting or athletic events [1-3]. Although 95% of creatine is stored in muscle cells, 5% is found in the brain, kidneys, and liver as well; these organs to use it for their specific metabolic processes. Outside of the body, creatine can be found in animal products such as meat, fish, and poultry, though at levels far below those found in synthetically made creatine supplements.
How does it work?
The primary way creatine works is by first increasing the amount of phosphocreatine stored in muscle cells [1, 2, 4, 5]. This stored form of creatine can be used to produce ATP, which is the key energy source our body uses for activities such as heavy lifting and athletic performance. When the body has additional creatine being consumed through foods or a synthetic creatine supplement, the body is able to increase its phosphocreatine stores and will allow for increased ATP production, which has been shown to increase exercise performance [1-6]. Normally, ATP becomes depleted after 8–10 seconds of high-intensity activity. But because creatine supplements can help increase production of ATP, you can sustain optimal performance for a couple of additional seconds [1, 2, 5].
What are the benefits?
Creatine is one of the most researched supplements on the market today, and these studies have found a variety of different benefits from creatine supplementation. Most of these studies state that the primary effects of creatine supplementation are an increase in muscle mass and strength, as well as high intensity exercise performance such as sprinting performance [1-6].
In recent years, creatine supplementation has also been studied for its effects on brain health and performance. Studies have shown that due to the brain being a high ATP-using organ, additional creatine stores can help with optimal brain function and health . These benefits were typically seen in older individuals or vegetarians with low creatine stores, but not in healthy adult omnivores.
Is it safe? How much should I take?
Although people might say that creatine has negative health effects, hundreds of research studies on creatine supplementation have not found this to be true. Studies following individuals supplementing with creatine lasting 4 years also concluded that creatine did not result in any negative side effects . One of the only side effects reported from these studies was an increase in weight gain, but this was typically due to the increased water being absorbed into muscle cells due to the increase in creatine stores.
A standard dose of creatine is 3-5 grams daily, with 5 grams being the most commonly used dosage. Some people start their creatine supplementation with a “loading phase” where they take 20 grams daily, split up throughout the day in order to increase creatine stores faster, although this is not necessary. Without this loading phase, it typically takes around 3-4 weeks for creatine stores to increase and for benefits to appear .
The Bottom Line-
Creatine is one of the cheapest, most effective, and safest supplements you can take. It’s been shown through hundreds of research studies that supplementing with creatine can help with increasing muscle mass, strength, and high intensity exercise performance. Because of this, creatine is a supplement recommended for athletes or individuals who train regularly.
WRITTEN BY DAVID LEVINSON, BS NUTRITION, NASM CPT AND CES
- Buford, T.W., et al., International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2007. 4(1): p. 6.
- Mills, S., et al., Effects of Creatine Supplementation during Resistance Training Sessions in Physically Active Young Adults. Nutrients, 2020. 12(6): p. 1880.
- Eijnde, B.O.T., et al., Effect of Oral Creatine Supplementation on Human Muscle GLUT4 Protein Content After Immobilization. Diabetes, 2001. 50(1): p. 18-23.
- Forbes, S.C., et al., Meta-Analysis Examining the Importance of Creatine Ingestion Strategies on Lean Tissue Mass and Strength in Older Adults. Nutrients, 2021. 13(6): p. 1912.
- Brose, A., G. Parise, and M.A. Tarnopolsky, Creatine Supplementation Enhances Isometric Strength and Body Composition Improvements Following Strength Exercise Training in Older Adults. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 2003. 58(1): p. B11-B19.
- TC, F., et al., The Effect of a High-Dose Vitamin B Multivitamin Supplement on the Relationship between Brain Metabolism and Blood Biomarkers of Oxidative Stress: A Randomized Control Trial. Nutrients, 2018. 10(12).