Everything You Need to Know About Creatine
What is it, who’s it right for and what are the benefits?
I often get questions about creatine. These questions mainly come from high level athletes or concerned parents. This is because creatine is one of the more popular nutritional aids used by athletes.
The question is, who should use it and is it only beneficial for the athlete population?
What is Creatine?
Creatine is not a steroid nor is it a banned substance in sport. In fact, creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid derivative in our body. Creatine is also found in meat, seafood, and animal products. It functions in all the cells of our body, but it is stored mainly in the skeletal muscle of the body. We lose a small amount of creatine daily through natural body processes which is why we need to take in additional creatine through our diet mainly, and sometimes through supplementation.
Supplementation can assist people who naturally store less creatine, those who do not eat meat, fish, or animal products, and those who are looking to maximize their muscle storage potential.
What are the potential benefits of Creatine?
Creatine supplementation is most well-known for its use in athletes who take it to improve their exercise performance as it can assist in muscle adaptations from training.
Additionally, it may support muscle recovery after exercise, injury prevention, rehabilitation from injuries, and spinal cord neuroprotection.
There is a growing amount of evidence that also supports creatine supplementation as we age. Supplementation has been associated with improved overall health markers including muscle mass, bone density, cholesterol levels, and cognitive function to name a few.
Is creatine safe and are there risks associated with taking it?
In the many studies that have been completed over the years, there have been no adverse health effects noted from supplementation of creatine in doses ranging from 0.3 to 0.8g/kg/day. Based on these same reports, creatine does not appear to cause dehydration, muscle cramping, stomach upset or lead to renal dysfunction in healthy subjects.
The most common noted side effect of this supplementation is weight gain.
Due to ethical reasons, creatine has been tested much less on children, adolescents, and pregnant women. For this reason, I believe that supplementation should be treated on a case-by-case basis within these populations.
When to take creatine and how much to take
First, let’s make sure that you are getting enough through your diet to see if you notice a difference using food first.
After adapting your diet, if you do choose to supplement with creatine, then you want to look for a creatine monohydrate supplement. Creatine monohydrate has been tested more than other forms of creatine and remains as the recommended product.
Smaller daily doses have been found to be effective (3-5g per day for an adult) and the previously popular “loading phase” of supplementation is not necessary.
Is there anything else I should know?
While nutrition supplementation can often be beneficial, it is a good idea to make sure your nutritional needs are being met through food first, prior to using any kind of supplementation. If you have questions or want support in maximizing your nutrition or supplementation routines for sport or for life, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a qualified Registered Dietitian to help guide you through this process.
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You might also want to check out these previous articles on our blog:
Antonio, J., Candow, D.G., Forbes, S.C. et al. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show?. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 18, 13 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w
Kreider, R.B., Kalman, D.S., Antonio, J. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 18 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z