Creatine is the number one supplement to improve performance in the gym.
It is one of the world’s tested supplements and has an outstanding safety profile (1).
This article explains everything you need to know about creatine.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a substance that is naturally found in muscle cells. It helps your muscles produce energy during lifting heavy loads or high-intensity exercises.
Taking creatine as a supplement is very popular among athletes and bodybuilders to gain muscle, increase strength and improve exercise performance (1).
Chemically, there are many similarities with amino acids. Your body can produce it from the amino acids glycine and arginine.
Several factors affect your body’s creatine stores, including meat intake, exercise, muscle mass, and hormone levels such as testosterone and IGF-1 (9).
About 95% of the creatine in your body is stored in the muscles in the form of phosphocreatine. The other 5% is found in your brain, kidneys, and liver (9).
When you take supplements, you increase your phosphocreatine supply. This is a form of stored energy in the cells because it helps your body produce more high-energy molecules called ATP.
ATP is often called the body’s energy currency. When you have more ATP, your body can be better during exercise (9).
How does creatine work?
Creatine can improve health and athletic performance in several ways.
In high-intensity exercise, its primary role is to increase the phosphocreatine supply in your muscles.
Creatine also helps you gain muscle in the following ways:
- Increased load: Allows greater overall work or volume in a single training session, which is a key factor in long-term muscle growth (12).
- Improved cell signaling: It can increase satellite cell signaling, which helps muscle repair and new muscle growth (13).
- Elevated anabolic hormones: Studies have shown an increase in hormones, such as IGF-1, after taking creatine (14, 15, 16).
- Increased cell hydration: Increases the water content in muscle cells, which causes a cell volumizing effect that may play a role in muscle growth (17, 18).
- Reduced protein breakdown: May increase total muscle mass by reducing muscle breakdown (19).
- Lower myostatin levels: Elevated myostatin levels can slow or completely inhibit new muscle growth. Creatine supplementation can reduce these levels, increasing growth potential (20).
Effects on muscle growth
Creatine is effective for both short-term and long-term muscle growth (25).
One 14-week study in older adults found that adding creatine to a weight training program significantly increased leg strength and muscle mass (27).
In a 12-week study in weightlifters, creatine increased the growth of muscle fibers 2-3 times more than the training itself. The increase in total body weight also doubled along with a maximum of one repetition for the bench press, a common strength exercise (28).
Effects on strength and exercise performance
Creatine can also improve the strength, power, and performance of the high-intensity exercise.
In one review, adding creatine to a training program increased strength by 8%, weightlifting performance by 14%, and a maximum of one repetition from the bench by up to 43%, compared to training itself (29).
KIn well-trained strength athletes, 28 days of replenishment increased cycling sprint performance by 15% and bench press performance by 6% (30).
It also helps maintain strength and training performance while increasing muscle mass during intense overtraining (31).
These noticeable improvements are primarily caused by the increased capacity of your body to produce ATP.
Usually, ATP is depleted after 8-10 seconds of high-intensity activity. But since creatine supplements help you produce more ATP, you can maintain optimal performance for a few seconds longer (10, 11, 32, 33).
Impact of creatine on your brain
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Ischemic stroke
- Brain or spinal cord injuries
- Motor neuron disease
- Memory and brain function in the elderly
Despite the potential benefits of creatine for the treatment of neurological diseases, most current research has been conducted on animals.
However, a six-month study in children with traumatic brain injury noted a 70% reduction in fatigue and a 50% reduction in dizziness (40).
Vegetarians have low creatine stores because they do not eat meat, which is the main natural source of food.
In one study conducted on vegetarians, the addition led to an improvement of 50% in the memory test and 20% in the intelligence test results (21).
Although it may benefit the elderly and those with reduced stores, creatine has shown no effect on brain function in healthy adults (42).
Other health benefits of creatine
- Lower blood sugar
- Improve muscle function and quality of life in the elderly
- Help treat fatty liver
However, more research is needed in these areas.
Different types of supplements
The most common and well-researched form of the supplement is called creatine monohydrate.
Creatine monohydrate is very cheap and has been supported in hundreds of studies. While new research does not claim otherwise, it seems to be the best option.
It can stack with Beta-alanine if you want a bigger impact on your endurance.
Many people start with the filling phase first, which leads to a rapid increase in muscle creatine stores, which can be useful in certain cases.
To replenish creatine reserves, take 20 grams daily for 5-7 days. This should be divided into four meals of 5 grams during the day (1).
Absorption may be slightly improved by carbohydrate or protein-based meal due to the associated release of insulin (50).
After the filling period, take 3-5 grams a day to maintain a high muscle level. You can stick to this dose for a long time.
If you decide not to do the filling phase, you can simply consume 3-5 grams a day. However, it may take 3-4 weeks to maximize your reserves (1).
Since creatine draws water into your muscle cells, it is recommended to take it with a glass of water and stay well hydrated throughout the day.
Safety and side effects
One of the most comprehensive studies measured 52 blood markers and did not notice any adverse effects after 21 months of use (8).
There is also no evidence that creatine damages the liver and kidneys in healthy people who take normal doses. In this regard, those with pre-existing liver or kidney problems should consult a physician before starting using it (8, 51, 52).
Although people associate creatine with dehydration and cramps, research does not support this link. Studies suggest that it can reduce cramps and dehydration during endurance exercises at high temperatures (53, 54).
One study from 2009 showed that creatine supplementation is associated with an increase in a hormone called DHT, which can contribute to hair loss. More research is needed, but people who are prone to hair loss may want to avoid this supplement (55).
At the end of the day, creatine is one of the cheapest, most effective, and safest supplements you can take.
It supports the quality of life of the elderly, brain health, and exercise. For vegetarians – who may not get enough creatine from their diet – and older adults, supplements will be especially helpful.
Creatine monohydrate is probably the best form. Try creatine today to see if it works for you.