Creatine is a popular supplement for strength training and high-intensity exercise. It’s not surprising because this compound is known to improve energy and endurance. Creatine can also enhance the physical effects of bodybuilding – and not only appearance. Supplementing can improve both muscle strength and muscle growth. Yet, creatine benefits go beyond the gym. After all, who doesn’t want more energy?
Here are some benefits of creatine supplements and how to use them.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a compound naturally produced in the body. It comes from three amino acids: arginine, glycine, and methionine. It’s produced by the liver, kidneys, and pancreas, but you can also get it through your diet by eating meat and fish. Once produced, the vast majority of creatine is stored in the skeletal muscles.
So, what about supplements? Creatine monohydrate is the most popular form of creatine and the most studied. Taken as a dietary supplement, it naturally binds to phosphate, forming creatine phosphate. This molecule helps you produce more adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
ATP is called the “energy currency” of the cells. Having more ATP not only makes you feel great, it improves performance. It also supports the growth and repair processes in the body. ATP additionally serves as a neurotransmitter. In that role, it can impact both cognitive function and emotional balance. Brain fog, anyone?
Who Especially Benefits From Creatine
Groups of people who may especially notice benefits from creatine include the following:
Athletes can benefit significantly from creatine supplementation, as it enhances exercise performance. A 2003 meta-analysis found creatine quickly improved performance in high-intensity exercise. The improvement was especially noticeable during repeated bouts.
Creatine also enhances athletic performance by supporting ATP (energy) production. This is critical for high-intensity, short-duration workouts. Sprinting and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) need plenty of energy stored up.
Creatine may also help get you back at it faster after a strenuous workout or competition. A 2021 review found creatine didn’t just increase ATP. It also decreased muscle recovery time.
Creatine also helps build muscle by increasing insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 has been shown in studies to increase skeletal muscle mass. It also seems to reduce a molecule called myostatin. The presence of myostatin would otherwise slow down muscle growth.
The end result is that creatine enhances weightlifting efforts, increasing muscle size. This is important because muscle health is directly linked with longevity and overall health.
Since the best food sources of creatine are red meat and seafood, vegetarians are often low. They especially may notice benefits from supplementation, especially when it comes to cognition. In one study, taking creatine led to an improvement of 20 to 50% on brain performance tests.
According to a 2013 study, creatine helped keep older people active longer. It delayed muscle atrophy, improved muscle strength and endurance, and strengthened bones. In other words, it appeared to help older adults function better as they aged. That’s significant because it helped them keep their independence. It also lowered their risk of falling and injuring themselves.
Animal research suggests creatine could also protect the brain from injury. Scientists have used mice and rats in models of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). When given as a preventative, creatine reduced brain damage from TBIs. It worked both ahead of the injury and when given immediately after.
TBIs usually involve high levels of glutamate release in the brain. That can ultimately lead to brain cell damage, dysfunction, or death. Creatine supplements lessened damage from the glutamate.
Those with Neurological Diseases
Because of its cognitive benefits, creatine may also help those with neurodegenerative disorders. Parkinson’s Disease and Huntington’s Disease both cause gradual brain degeneration. In an animal study, Coenzyme Q10 plus + creatine appeared to protect the brain over time. The study showed great potential for creatine to slow the process of degeneration.
Those with Muscular Dystrophy
Those diagnosed with muscular dystrophy (MD) may also benefit from supplementation. Muscular dystrophy patients tend to have lower creatine in their muscle cells. Lower creatine means lower ATP levels. Ultimately, that means muscle weakness and less energy for movement.
Supplementing with creatine increases phosphocreatine stores in the muscle cells. That helps them produce more energy. A 2006 study showed creatine supplements helped improve muscle strength in MD patients.
Yet, in a study of those with myotonic dystrophy type one, creatine didn’t seem to help. It didn’t increase muscle strength, body mass, or muscle phosphocreatine.
What Are Some More Health Benefits of Creatine?
Creatine supplementation may also provide benefits for healthy people. Here’s what else creatine supplements can do:
Improve Energy Levels
Creatine improves energy in general by helping the body make more adenosine triphosphate. Adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, is considered the “energy currency” of the cell. But it’s not only for muscle cells –it’s for all cells of the body.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is often the result of a viral infection. The most common is Epstein Barr Virus (EBV). Now COVID-19 is causing something similar called Long-Haul COVID. Post-viral fatigue syndrome may cause problems in creatine metabolism. According to a 2021 study, supplemental creatine may help, but more research is needed.
Support Brain Health
Creatine can support cognitive and emotional health in a few different ways. A 2018 review found creatine improved short-term memory and intelligence in healthy people.
When sleep-deprived, creatine may also help you get through the day. Sleep deprivation has been shown to decrease brain creatine levels. The good news is that supplementing with it may offset the detrimental effects of lack of sleep. In a placebo-controlled clinical trial, creatine reduced the negative effects of sleep deprivation. It improved reaction time, balance, and even mood.
Obviously, the best solution here is to prioritize sleep, but creatine can help when we have an off night.
Creatine may also lift the mood. Researchers are uncovering a link between brain energy and a depressed mood. That’s where creatine supplementation may help. It may also work well on its own or alongside standard medications, like SSRI medications.
Balancing Blood Sugar Levels
Creatine may also be helpful for diabetic patients and those with blood sugar issues. According to research, taking creatine supplements may help lower high blood sugar levels.
It may do so by supporting the function of glucose transporter type 4 (GLUT-4). GLUT-4 is a crucial molecule for blood sugar balance. It moves glucose from the bloodstream into the muscle cells. Keeping blood sugar in balance is important for keeping inflammation down. It’s also critical for keeping our hormones in balance.
How To Use Creatine
A typical dose is 2 to 2.5 grams of creatine per day, based on body weight. But some people may take 5 or 10 grams per day ongoing. The amount is 0.03 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. That’s about 2 to 2.5 grams per day for someone 150 to 180 pounds.
It’s also common to begin creatine with a “loading phase” of ten times that. Then you back off to a smaller maintenance dose. The loading phase is usually 0.3 grams per kilogram, or about 20 to 25 grams, for 5 to 7 days. Then it’s back down to 2 to 2.5 grams going forward.
If you have health issues and want to start using creatine, ask your healthcare provider about what dosage you should take.
Potential Side Effects of Creatine
Some potential adverse effects of creatine supplementation include the following:
- Abdominal discomfort (stomach cramping if not drinking enough water)
- Diarrhea or nausea if too much is taken at once
- Muscle cramping in some people (reduced muscle cramping in others)
- Short-term weight gain due to water retention
- Possibly hair loss in men, by increasing dihydrotestosterone (DHT). But the jury is still out. Only one small study in 2009 indicated it raised DHT levels, which is associated with hair loss. Men who are genetically susceptible to hair loss or high DHT may be more affected.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) reviewed the literature on creatine supplements. They found no evidence that creatine was harmful to healthy individuals. Check with your healthcare provider if you’re not sure if you should be taking creatine.
My Favorite Creatine and Final Thoughts
In general, I’m a fan of Creatine, especially for workout recovery. When taken in the right dose it’s one of the most well-researched supplements out there.
The creatine I use most often is from Kion. Their creatine monohydrate is pure with no fillers and allergen-free. It’s also highly bioavailable, with a 95% absorption rate. I like to take it, along with Kion’s aminos, first thing in the morning on an empty stomach and last thing before bed. You can find Kion creatine here. The other creatine I use is this one from Bulk Supplements.
Do you use creatine? What do you use it for, and do you notice a difference when you don’t take it? Share with us below!