By Dietetic Intern Aubrey Yost and Eleanor Baker, MS, RDN, LDN
Creatine is used frequently by many athletes and fitness enthusiasts for its touted performance benefits. But is it right for you? This article will review what creatine is and its potential benefits.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is produced by the liver and kidneys at an average rate of ~1 g per day in young adults. While it is mostly stored in the skeletal muscle, smaller amounts are dispersed to the blood, brain, and other tissues. Once utilized, creatine turns into creatinine to be excreted from the body in the form of urine. This means the body must add creatine each day to keep normal levels of natural creatine, depending on muscle mass.
While creatine occurs naturally in the body, one needs to maintain optimal levels through the diet as well. You consume creatine from your diet when you eat red meat or seafood. Dietary uptake of creatine by non-vegetarians is about 1 g per day. In contrast, vegetarians typically have lower amounts of creatine in their bodies since they do not consume animal products. To offset low creatine intakes, vegetarians can utilize creatine supplementation to meet their needs.
Creatine and Athletic Performance
Now that you know what creatine is, it’t time to explore its potential benefits. Creatine is a legal supplement in professional sports associations such as the International Olympic Committee and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
Benefits have been reported in men and women, although the majority of research has been conducted on men. Some studies note that women who take creatine supplements may not see as much strength gain and/or muscle mass as men during training.
Research shows that taking creatine supplements may:
- Improve exercise performance
- Help recovery after intense exercise
- Prevent and/or reduce the severity of injury
- Help athletes tolerate heavy training loads
- Increase a person’s fat-free muscle mass during training
Should You Be Taking a Creatine Supplement?
Research shows that creatine may improve exercise performance and help the body recover from intense exercise. The majority who use creatine supplements are male athletes, mostly those in power sports, such as football, wrestling, hockey, and bodybuilding. However, no matter your age or health condition, talk to your doctor, healthcare provider or registered dietitian before taking creatine supplements.
What Are The Side Effects?
Creatine is a relatively safe supplement but one should be aware of the potential side effects reported:
- People who take creatine supplements may gain weight because of water retention in the body’s muscles.
- The long-term use of creatine supplements may include muscle cramps, dehydration, diarrhea, nausea, and seizures.
- It may be dangerous to take creatine supplements when you are dehydrated or trying to lose weight.
- When creatine is combined with other supplements, or taken at high doses for several months, complications in the liver and kidney may occur.
More studies are necessary for further information on the side effects of prolonged creatine supplementation. Always consult a doctor or dietitian before taking creatine or any other supplements.
While general recommendations suggest a ‘loading’ dose of 10-20g (5g dosages split throughout the day) for five to seven days followed by a 3-5g ‘maintenance’ dose thereafter. In reality, the amount that you personally need can vary and be dependent upon the speed at which you are looking to load. Work with an Elevated Dietitian to determine the correct dose for you.
If you are new to using creatine it would be wise to not do a load phase as you are more likely to experience the side effects noted above. Start with the lower maintenance phase dose to see how your body reacts, then alter the amount accordingly. Creatine supplementation is taken after a workout to repair and replenish depleted muscles are depleted. Again, always work with a dietitian to determine the appropriate amount for you.
Now that you know what creatine is and its potential benefits, if you decide to take creatine, be sure to stay hydrated and listen to your body. Creatine naturally occurs in red meat and seafood, eating these foods regularly can be beneficial when looking to improve muscle mass and strength.
Overall creatine is relatively safe to take but there are no short cuts to the path of success. Hard work, proper nutrition, and dedication to a sound fitness and nutrition program are the most effective ways to catalyze your success.
1. Rosenbloom C, Coleman E. Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals, 5th Ed. 2012 United States.