If you’re an athlete or exercise buff, you’ve likely heard guys at the gym talking about supplementing with creatine to increase their gains. And while there is a lot of good information on the internet, there are plenty of myths and misinformation.
Our guide to all things creatine will help separate the truth from the hype about what it is, how it works, and how you can get the most from it.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a substance naturally produced by our bodies and found in muscle cells. It helps give your muscles enough energy during high-intensity exercise or heavy lifting.
Creatine supplements are popular among bodybuilders and athletes because it helps enhance exercise performance and strength. They primarily use it to increase muscle gains.
Nearly half of the natural creatine stores in the body come from what you eat, such as red meat and seafood. Your liver and kidneys produce the rest from amino acids.
What’s the Best Kind of Creatine?
There are a lot of different kinds of creatine on the market, making it challenging to know which to take. The most common supplement form is creatine monohydrate. It is also the most well-researched and affordable kind of creatine.
Contrary to marketing efforts claiming their superiority, other forms of creatine are not supported by research.
Creatine monohydrate is available in the following forms:
- Energy bars
- Fruit-flavored chews
- Drink mixes
As long as you take creatine monohydrate, you can choose the form that works best for you. You’ll receive the same benefits in any form, though creatine powder is often less expensive per gram.
How Does Creatine Work?
Creatine works by increasing the phosphocreatine stores in your muscles, which helps produce more adenosine triphosphate (ATP). When ATP breaks down it provides the energy needed to fuel biological processes. ATP is the key energy source for high-intensity exercise and heavy lifting.1
Like any supplement – if you don’t do the work, you won’t experience the benefits. Creatine can help you push a little further. But unless you put the effort into working out regularly and eating a nutritious diet, supplementing with creatine alone won’t make you big or strong.
Creatine supplements can improve your athletic performance, overall health, and brain health. Let’s explore the many benefits of supplementing with creatine in the next section.
What Are the Benefits of Supplementing with Creatine?
Muscle Growth and Strength
Supplementing with creatine allows your muscles to store more water making your muscles appear larger. It can also help you lift heavier weights at more volume allowing your muscles to grow bigger due to increased intensity.
Research shows that creatine supplements improve lean muscle mass and strength during weight lifting or other high-intensity, short-duration exercises. These studies mostly showed positive results in people in their 20s.
Creatine helps the body use energy more efficiently during exercise and increases muscle production. Although more research is needed, supplementing with creatine has been shown to help improve performance. It does not seem to improve endurance in exercises like running or biking.
Intense exercise causes tearing in your muscle fibers and creates inflammation. Some research suggests creatine may help reduce the cell damage and inflammation that occur during intense training.
The quicker your body can recover following a workout, the faster you can achieve your goals. Supplementing with creatine may also help prevent or reduce the severity of an injury.
In addition to the creatine in musculature, small amounts are also in your brain and testes. Creatine has been shown to play a significant role in ATP levels in the brain.
One study discovered that mental performance was improved when higher concentrations of creatine were found in the brain.2 Since it is possible to increase creatine concentration through supplementation, taking creatine may help strengthen your brain.
Is Creatine Safe to Use?
There are no significant side effects when creatine is taken in recommended doses. Creatine supplements are not recommended for teens or children. Individuals with high blood pressure, liver disease, or kidney disease should not take creatine.
Possible side effects of taking too much creatine include:
- Upset stomach
- Weight gain
- Muscle cramps
- High blood pressure
- Liver dysfunction
- Kidney damage
Due to interactions with medications and potential side effects, you should consult a medical professional before taking new supplements. Your doctor can help determine the correct dosage for you.
How to Take Creatine FAQs
Individuals who regularly engage in intense or energetic athletic training can benefit the most from supplementing with creatine. Creatine is safe, and affordable, and can significantly improve your athletic performance. Please note creatine supplements are not recommended for children or teens.
The following are some frequently asked questions about how to use creatine. Understanding how to use this supplement will allow you to get the most out of this supplement.
Keep reading to discover answers to when, how much, and for how long you should take creatine.
When Should You Take It?
You may have heard people say that there is a perfect time to consume certain nutrients to get the maximum benefit from them, but choosing when to supplement with creatine doesn’t have to be complicated.
Your diet plays a more significant role in your strength and physique than the exact time of the day you take creatine. One research study found little difference in results between individuals who supplemented before or after their workout.3
Some studies suggest that supplementing post-workout may result in better strength gains. One reason this theory may have some merit is that after a workout insulin levels spike, which helps transport creatine into muscle cells. More research is needed to determine whether this theory is correct.
Ultimately, you can take your creatine supplement when it’s most convenient. Make adjustments as needed depending on your results.
How Much Creatine Should You Take?
A common misconception regarding creatine is that the more you take, the better it will work. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works. Our muscles can only process and store so much creatine, so taking more than you need will cost you more money in the long run.
So, how much creatine is enough for you?
The standard daily dosage recommended by most creatine supplement companies is five grams. Generally, when you buy the supplement in powder form it comes with a 5g scoop, which makes it easier to take. Although using the included scoop may be simpler, you may end up taking more than you need.
Other sources suggest using your body weight to customize your creatine dosage. One common ratio to determine your dosage is .03 grams of creatine per 2.2 pounds of body weight. In other words, if you weigh 200 pounds, your daily dosage would be 2.72 grams of creatine. Measuring out this precise amount could be annoying, so rounding up makes sense in this case.
If you are unsure, ask your doctor to help determine the correct dosage for you.
Can You Get Enough Creatine Through Diet Alone?
Depending on your daily dosage amount, you would need to eat a lot of meat each day to provide your body with as much creatine as you could get from supplements.
For example, if your recommended dose is five grams of creatine per day, you’d need to eat approximately three pounds of chicken or two pounds of beef. That’s a substantial amount of meat to try and eat every day.
Additionally, the cost of eating that much meat in your daily diet adds up. It’s much more expensive to try and eat your daily dose of creatine than it is to buy it in supplement form.
How Long Should You Take Creatine?
You can supplement with creatine for as long as you want. You don’t need to take it forever, though your muscles’ creatine levels will begin depleting around two weeks after you stop supplementing.
Excess creatine will be completely gone within four to six weeks. Once the extra creatine has been flushed from your system, your body will return to producing creatine naturally at about one to two grams a day.
Although research doesn’t indicate you need to cycle, fitness experts recommend cycling off creatine every 12 weeks for at least one month to avoid possible negative side effects. Cycling may also allow your body to continue producing creatine naturally.
While it isn’t necessary to supplement with creatine forever, and you can stop whenever you want, it helps to supplement daily to get the most benefit.
Where to Find the Best Creatine Supplements?
Creatine supplements are available in various forms and brand names. They can be purchased over-the-counter in drug, grocery, and vitamin stores. Many of the best and most popular creatine supplements are available online and can be shipped directly to your home.
Choose creatine supplements that have been third-party tested and are free of harmful contaminants and banned substances (if you are an athlete). No matter which brand you decide to buy, take the time to read user reviews and ensure the company is reputable.