Should You Take Creatine? What to Know About This Popular Supplement (2024)

Creatine is a substance naturally produced by the human body and found in various foods. It plays many roles in the body but is especially important for energy storage and production.

Creatine is mostly stored in skeletal muscle and has been widely studied for its potential use as a performance enhancer. As such, creatine is a popular supplement choice among athletes. The International Olympic Committee and NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) allow the use of creatine among its athletes.

Although research has mostly focused on its use in exercise and sports performance, creatine may have additional health benefits.

Some people are born with a metabolism disorder in which their body cannot effectively make, transport, or store creatine. In these cases, a creatine supplement is typically needed.

This article will provide an overview of the science behind the potential uses and benefits of creatine. It will also discuss creatine safety, dosage, interactions, and sources.

Uses of Creatine

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease.

Creatine is most commonly used to aid or improve athletic performance. It is also used to increase creatine levels in people with creatine metabolism disorders, such as GAMT deficiency or AGAT deficiency.

However, there is also interest in the use of creatine for other uses, including:

  • Muscle and bone loss
  • Aging
  • Heart disease
  • Fatigue
  • Immunity
  • Brain function
  • Diabetes management

However, many of these and other uses of creatine are not supported by scientific evidence. Some of the more compelling research on creatine is outlined below.

Should You Take Creatine? What to Know About This Popular Supplement (1)

Athletic Performance

Creatine is boasted as an ergogenic aid for both professional athletes and the average person. It is thought to be more helpful for anaerobic exercise (movements that strengthen your muscles) rather than aerobic exercise (movements that improve endurance).

Various studies, including a meta-analysis of soccer players, have supported using creatine as an athletic booster.

This analysis pooled results from studies including soccer players of varying ages who took creatine. Researchers suggested that the best effects involved taking a loading dose of 20 to 30 grams (g) of creatine, divided three to four times per day, for six to seven days before taking maintenance doses of 5 g per day for nine weeks or a lower dose of 3 milligrams per kilogram of body weight (mg/kg) a day for two weeks or more.

Another review focused on creatine supplementation for various types of exercise.

Per this review, creatine supplementation helps increase energy production and output during anaerobic exercise, including sprinting and jumping. The review also found that creatine may aid in the postexercise recovery process.

Because creatine is mostly found in animal-based foods, there is interest in using it as a supplement for vegan or vegetarian athletes.

However, research shows that creatine supplementation may enhance athletic performance regardless of diet. Still, some researchers feel that creatine supplementation may be especially helpful to those athletes who avoid eating meat.

Muscle Mass

In addition to improving athletic performance, creatine may also help increase the size of your muscles.

One study tested creatine's potential role in muscle building on 30 athletes, half of whom received a placebo instead of creatine.

Study participants took 20 g of either creatine or the placebo for six days, followed by a 2 g maintenance dose until the end of the four-week study. The study showed that creatine supplementation improved muscle strength and reduced muscle damage when combined with physical training.

A review of 16 studies found that creatine supplementation led to muscle growth, but only in certain populations. According to the review, healthy young adults in training are more likely to experience muscle gains from using creatine supplements than people who are not training. Varying creatine doses were found to lead to muscle growth.

Overall, creatine seems to be more beneficial for people who are healthy and in training rather than those who are not in training. Creatine is not expected to increase muscle mass without simultaneous training.

Brain Health

Creatine may be good for your brain, according to some research.

Although research is still emerging, preliminary studies show that creatine supplementation may be useful for both memory and brain injuries, including concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Using creatine supplements is thought to increase the amount of creatine in your brain. This may help the brain have the constant supply of energy it needs to function properly.

Creatine supplementation has been linked to improvements in memory in a number of studies, especially in older adults.

A meta-analysis found that, compared with a placebo, creatine improved various measures of memory, with the most significant improvements found in older adults aged 66 to 76.

However, many of the studies included in the analysis were of moderate to poor quality, which means more research is warranted.

Sarcopenia

While many studies have focused on using creatine to increase muscle mass in young athletes, others have focused on using the supplement for sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is muscle loss that typically affects older adults, and creatine may be able to help.

Along with resistance training, creatine has been shown to improve sarcopenia symptoms. According to one meta-analysis, creatine supplementation plus resistance training increases lean muscle mass in older adults more than a placebo. This may be helpful for not only sarcopenia but also osteoporosis and general age-related frailty.

Another review found that creatine may benefit those with sarcopenia, regardless of resistance training. According to this review, creatine supplementation increases muscle mass and strength in older adults with sarcopenia. There is some thought that creatine may also help prevent falls, which can be a side effect of sarcopenia.

Depression

Some research has linked a deficiency in creatine to symptoms of depression.

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), researchers were able to examine a possible relationship between creatine status and depression. The data showed that people with lower reported intakes of creatine were more likely to suffer from depression. This relationship was seen more often in women than men.

A review of creatine found that the supplement may have antidepressant effects and even be a useful complementary treatment option for depression, especially major depressive disorder (MDD). This conclusion was drawn from small clinical trials included in the review. However, research results in this area have been conflicting.

There is still much to learn about the potential link between creatine and depression. Therefore, more research is needed.

Choosing High-Quality Supplements

Dietary supplements are not regulated like prescription medications in the United States. Therefore, some may be safer than others. When choosing a supplement, consider factors such as third-party testing, potential drug interactions, and other safety concerns. Talk to a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian nutritionist (RD or RDN) about supplement quality and safety.

What Are the Side Effects of Creatine?

Creatine use may lead to side effects. However, side effects are rare. Creatine is thought to be safe for most people.

Side effects may be more likely if you use high doses of creatine or don't use it properly. Possible side effects include:

  • Dehydration
  • Upset stomach
  • Muscle cramps

According to one review, weight gain is the most commonly reported side effect of creatine. It's worth noting, though, that weight gain does not always occur when using creatine.

There is some concern that creatine supplementation leads to kidney damage. However, these claims are currently unsupported by scientific evidence. More research may be necessary to determine if kidney damage is possible when using creatine.

Precautions

Although generally considered safe, creatine may not be right for everyone. For example, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid using creatine. This is because there isn't enough scientific evidence to know if creatine is safe in these populations.

There is concern that creatine may make symptoms of certain diseases and disorders worse. It's recommended that people with the following conditions avoid using creatine:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Kidney disease
  • Parkinson's disease

Research is still emerging regarding the safety of creatine supplementation in children. Creatine may be safe for children (especially teens). However, it's best to give children creatine under the supervision and direction of a healthcare provider.

Dosage: How Much Creatine Should I Take?

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs.

There are no set recommendations for how to use creatine. This means creatine dosage can vary depending on the product and/or the reason for use.

In sports nutrition, creatine is often taken in two phases. In the initial loading phase, 20 to 25 g of creatine is taken daily (almost every four hours) for five to seven days. Then, maintenance doses of about 3 to 5 g of creatine are taken daily.

No serious adverse events have been reported when following these dosage guidelines for several weeks to months. But it's worth mentioning that little is known about the effects of using creatine for more than five years.

For sarcopenia, positive results have been seen from using both high (more than 5 g per day) and low (less than 5 g per day) maintenance doses of creatine.

For memory, high doses of creatine may not be necessary. Doses of less than 5 g per day are thought to be sufficient to cross the blood-brain barrier.

Before starting creatine, talk with a healthcare provider to help you determine the proper dosage for you.

What Happens If I Take Too Much Creatine?

Creatine isn't known to be toxic. But taking too much creatine may increase the risk of side effects or other adverse events.

Recall that creatine may cause side effects like upset stomach, dehydration, and muscle cramps.

You may be more likely to experience these and other side effects if you take too much creatine at one time or use it for too long. More research is needed to determine the safety of using creatine long-term.

There are anecdotal reports of excessive creatine use leading to kidney damage. However, these claims are not supported by scientific evidence at this time.

Always play it safe and only use creatine as directed. Never exceed dosage recommendations and worth with a healthcare provider to help you determine how long you should take creatine.

Interactions

Some supplements may interact with certain medications, foods, or other supplements. Currently, there are few documented interactions for creatine.

Creatine supplements may interact with caffeine supplements. Because caffeine supplements are also sometimes used to enhance athletic performance, it may be best to take just one at a time. Using these supplements together may cause each to be less effective.

Other possible interactions may exist for creatine. More research is needed to determine if creatine interacts with other supplements, foods, or medications.

Always carefully read the ingredients list and nutrition facts panel of a new supplement to learn which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included. Please review supplement labels with a healthcare provider to discuss any potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications.

How to Store Creatine

Store creatine supplements in a cool, dry place. Keep supplements out of direct sunlight to maintain their quality.

It's best to keep creatine supplements in their original bottle or packaging. Supplement containers should be airtight and kept out of reach of pets and small children.

Discard creatine supplements once they pass their expiration date or as indicated on the packaging.

Similar Supplements

Other supplements may have similar uses and benefits as creatine. These include:

  • L-carnitine: L-carnitine is an amino acid and supplement that is commonly used for athletic performance.
  • Beta-alanine: Another amino acid, beta-alanine, has been studied for its role in building muscle.
  • Caffeine: Caffeine is not only used as an ergogenic aid but may also be used to improve memory and overall brain health. Research shows that caffeine increases alertness, concentration, and mood but may disturb sleep for some.
  • Whey protein: Using whey protein and other protein supplements may help older adults treat and prevent sarcopenia. Whey protein should be taken along with regular exercise and resistance training for the best results.
  • SAM-e: SAM-e (S-adenosylmethionine) plays many roles in the body and may have some potential use for depression. Although research results are promising, more studies are needed on SAM-e for depression.

Typically, you should only take one supplement at a time for a health condition. Remember that some supplements may interact with each other (including creatine and caffeine). It's best to use supplements under the care of a healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is creatine safe?

    Creatine is thought to be safe for most people. Very few side effects have been associated with creatine use.

    However, some people may need to avoid using creatine, including pregnant or breastfeeding people and people with certain health conditions.

  • Does creatine make you gain weight?

    Weight gain is possible when using creatine.

    Keep in mind, though, that many people use creatine to increase muscle mass. More muscle will cause weight to increase.

  • Is creatine vegan?

    Most creatine food sources are animal-based and, thus, not vegan. However, most creatine supplements are vegan. This is because creatine supplements are typically made using synthetic ingredients.

  • Does creatine give you energy?

    Creatine is thought to give your muscles energy that can be accessed quickly. This is why creatine is often used to improve anaerobic exercise rather than aerobic exercise.

    Creatine supplements should not be used to replace calories, however.

  • Does creatine make you bloated?

    There are some reports of bloating caused by creatine use. But these reports are largely anecdotal and not supported by scientific evidence. Bloating may be more likely when you start using creatine as your body adjusts.

Sources of Creatine & What to Look For

Creatine can be found in both food and supplement forms.

Typically, your body can get all the creatine it needs from food sources. But creatine supplements may help improve athletic performance or increase muscle mass.

Remember that your body also makes creatine as needed (unless you have a creatine metabolism disorder).

Food Sources of Creatine

Creatine is naturally found in various animal-based foods, including:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish

Creatine is also in human breast milk and infant formula.

Plant-based foods don't contain creatine, which means people who don't consume meat may use creatine supplements as needed.

Creatine Supplements

Creatine supplements can be purchased online or in certain grocery, retail, or nutrition stores.

You can use creatine supplements in various forms, including capsules, powders, chewables, gummies, and beverages. Powders are the most popular option you'll find when searching for creatine.

Creatine monohydrate is the most commonly used and studied form of creatine. Other types of creatine found in supplements include creatine ethyl ester, creatine gluconate, creatine pyruvate, and creatine hydrochloride.

It's best to use supplements that have been approved by third parties like USP, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF.org. A seal from one of these agencies means that the supplement is free of contaminants. The review process also entails fact-checking the supplement label.

Summary

Creatine is a compound produced by the body and found in certain foods and supplements.

Creatine is necessary for various bodily processes and may offer certain health benefits when used in supplement form. Most of the available research on creatine supplements has focused on its role in athletic performance, but it may also be helpful for brain health, sarcopenia, and other conditions.

Creatine may not be right for everybody, so talk with a healthcare provider before using it.

Should You Take Creatine? What to Know About This Popular Supplement (2024)
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