Creatine: An Easy Supplement Overview

Creatine is one of the most popular supplements available today. It can be misunderstood and is not marketed honestly in some cases. 

That’s why as a certified personal trainer, I took the time to research using information from credible medical sites and studies.

After reading this you’ll know more about it and whether it’s right for your fitness journey. 

DISCLAIMER: To be safe, please talk to a healthcare provider before taking creatine or any supplements.

Fact Checked and Reviewed By

Brooke Pieke, MS Nutrition

Here’s what’s coming up. 

What is Creatine?
Is Creatine Safe?
Is Taking Creatine Natty?
How Does Creatine Work?
Precautions
Benefits
Proper Dosage
Bottom Line

What is Creatine? 

Creatine is a molecule found naturally in the body that provides energy, or ATP, to muscles during exercise. It’s made mostly by the liver, then the pancreas and kidneys.

Creatine also comes from animal based proteins, like red meat or fish. In an “average” diet, animal based proteins account for 1-2 grams of creatine per day. 

We don’t produce or eat enough creatine to make a significant difference during exercise.

That’s why many people take it as a supplement. A supplement provides a concentrated dose large enough to make a difference during exercise. For instance, like the caffeine content in pre workout.

Is Creatine Safe?

creatine

When used as recommended, creatine is safe! 

It has been thoroughly researched and is widely used among athletes and gym goers alike.

In fact, taking creatine is not banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Studies have been conducted mostly for adult users, so there is a lack of information about its use in children and teens. 

Watch out! There are many supplement companies who target teens (and adults), making false claims about muscle growth. Similar marketing tactics are used for energy drinks too.

Nutritionist Brooke Pieke says,

“Because creatine is a supplement, it isn’t monitored by the FDA (vitamins and other minerals are similar), so that is why you see so many companies coming up with new products and advertising various benefits. There is no testing required prior to these products hitting the shelves.”

It’s important to know what you’re eating, so make sure to buy products made by legitimate companies with good reputations. 

Creatine is sold in many different forms: ethyl ester, gluconate, monohydrate, and nitrate. Creatine monohydrate is the most researched, effective, and safe form available.

That’s according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

It’s is sold as a powder or supplement. From my research, I found that powder was recommended as most effective because of its stability in the bloodstream.

Be sure the powder is free of extra ingredients, because 100% creatine is the best.

Nutritionist Brooke Pieke says,

“Although there are so many flavors, supplements can be loaded with sugars, and high levels of various vitamins or minerals. A big concern with that is a potential reaction with a person’s health and/or medications.”

Is Taking Creatine Natty?

Gym goers these days want to gain muscle as fast possible. I mean, if you can then why not?

But this comes with the question of wether creatine is natural, also known as natty. Being natty is a sign of pride for a lot of lifters. Natty means you earned muscle with every hard rep and set you did.

There is strong debate on this subject depending on the way you look at it.

If you look at the science of creatine, then creatine monohydrate is a substance found in natural foods like read meat.

It’s also found in the body, and that’s as natural as it gets.

But there’s a lot of lifters, especially health conscious ones, who say that taking creatine is not natty!

It falls in the not natty category because you’re taking a supplement to gain muscle. So without taking the creatine supplement you would not be making gains.

This opinion has a lot of weight too, because being natty would mean that you’re not taking anything extra to gain muscle. That brings into question supplements like protein powder, BCAAs, the list goes on.

What do you think, and where do you stand on this debate?
For a more in depth look, head over to my post on if taking creatine is natty.

How Does Creatine Work? 

After we eat creatine from meat or as a supplement, it’s carried from the intestines and stored in our muscles as phosphocreatine.

An increase in creatine means that there will be a larger pool of phosphocreatine available to make energy (ATP). Normally, ATP has three phosphates. 

Using up ATP turns it into ADP, which has two phosphates. Phosphocreatine gives back a phosphate to ADP, making it ATP once again.

So then, supplementing gives the body an increased ability to produce ATP, and therefore have more energy available for intense training.

Weight training adds resistance to exercise, making your muscles and bones stronger. As a result of more energy, users are able to enjoy an increased workload.

An increased workload means that you handle more amounts of exercise, and make more muscle gains because of it. You can’t expect to gain muscle without working out. 

Muscles begin to appear fuller due to water retention. Creatine increases the hydration in your muscle cells, increasing their volume.

This added water weight increases the size and appearance of muscles, but can also make you pee more.

Related Article: How Long Does Creatine Stay In Your System?

Precautions 

Stay Hydrated. Creatine causes water retention, so dehydration and stomach cramps may occur in some individuals when taking the supplement. Hydration promotes holistic gut health.

Nutritionist Brooke Pieke recommends sports drinks.

“They are full of electrolytes that will aid in balancing muscle cramping and sweat loss. The balance of electrolytes will also decrease the risk of water retention.

Like everything, there could be a lot of unwanted ingredients listed on the label.

Depending on the energy expenditure/water retention, it is not a bad idea to mix half water and half the sports drink/juice for the sake of calories/high sugar levels.”

Weight Gain will result because of water retention. If you’re looking to add weight to your frame then this is a good idea.

However, if you’re an overweight or obese individual, or play sports where you have to be a certain weight, then reconsider taking creatine. 

Diet Still Matters. Supplementing and exercising alone is not the end of the story when it comes to building muscle.

Supplying your body with the right nutrients is important to get the most out of all the training you’re doing. 

Aim for balanced plate of lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats like avocado oil to aid in fat loss and muscle recovery. 

If you don’t eat meat, then vegan protein powder is a good alternative.

Take as Recommended. Taking too much in one dose can cause nausea and diarrhea. You’ll find dosage instructions later on. 

Quality Standards. There are tons of creatine products on the market today. The products are not all pure because they vary in quantity and quality of other ingredients.

Purity and safety standards are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so be mindful and do your research beforehand.

Don’t waste money or potentially harm your health by taking subpar products. 

Related Article: Can You Dry Scoop Creatine?

Medications. The supplement’s effects with over-the-counter medication, prescription medication, vitamins, or energy drinks are not well known and may cause harm.

There could be reactions that occur that cause major side effects. If you have a medical condition, talk to your health care provider before starting. 

Benefits 

Every person responds differently to supplements. It takes time for your body to get used to new additions to your diet, so wait a week or so to see if you are responding well.

The tell tale sign that it is working is an increase in training volume. 

Increased Muscle Mass. Besides water retention and increased workload (mentioned above), creatine also lowers myostatin levels in the body.

Myostatin is a hormone that naturally limits the growth of muscles.

This study found that participants who took it while doing resistance training for 8 weeks had lower blood serum levels of myostatin. 

Increased Strength. In this review of 22 studies, experimenters noted that there was an increase in muscle strength with resistance training with creatine.

There was an increase of 14% in maximum repetitions and a staggering increase of up to 45% in bench press.

Needless to say, there is substantial evidence that taking it while resistance training is effective at increasing strength. 

Enhanced Recovery. This study found strong evidence that taking creatine helps enhance glycogen loading. Glycogen is the stored form of glucose, which is a sugar our body uses as fuel.

We normally get these sugars from carbohydrates in our diet. Creatine replenishes glycogen, and maintains higher levels of it during training.

This means our body has more fuel available to handle the intensity of the training.  

Reduced Muscle Damage. Exercise puts physical force and stress on our muscles, causing micro-tears.

During the recovery period, the micro-torn muscles are repaired and become denser and stronger. Creatine speeds up the recovery period, so it may reduce muscle damage. 

The same study as above had participants do knee extension exercises.

Results found that those who took creatine had significantly greater knee extension strength and muscle function after an intense training period. 

Injury Prevention. The same study found that athletes who regularly used it experienced less cramping, less muscle tightness and strains, less non-contact injuries, and less missed practices. 

Related Article: How Long Does Creatine Take To Work?

Proper Dosage

Taking the right amount of creatine is key to prevent unwanted side effects, or worse, damage to your liver or kidneys.

The good news is that research has shown long term use does not damage your organs.

But improper use, or use with certain medications or conditions, can certainly harm you.

Dosing starts with the loading phase, where you take creatine on a routine basis. The creatine we produce or eat is not enough to be stored for later use.

Adding it as a supplement to your diet increases the body’s capacity to store more of it. 

From my research, I found that loading phase instructions were different among some credible medical websites.

Some explained that you can take up to 20 grams a day for 5-7 days. These are taken in 5 gram servings 4 times a day. 

Other sites had a different approach. They advised to take 0.3 grams for every kilogram of body weight for 5-7 days. I’m 185 pounds (84.2 kg), so that means I’d take roughly 25 grams a day. 

After the loading phase is through, your body has a larger store to use. Next comes the maintenance phase.

In this phase, you maintain the body’s store by taking a small amount for a long period of time. 

Again, I found different recommendations. Most sites advised to take 3-5 grams per day for 21 days. Some said you can take up to 10 grams for 16 weeks.

Another option is to take .03 grams for every kilogram of bodyweight indefinitely. 

There were obvious differences in the information provided by these credible sites. This does not mean that one is more right than the other.

These medical sites have their own research to back up their recommendations. 

Just know that every person responds differently to supplements because of different body types and body weight. Be an informed consumer and also consult a medical professional.

Then you can make the decision about which loading and maintenance phase recommendation to take. 

Bottom Line 

Creatine is proven to work for increased athletic performance. Creatine monohydrate is the most researched and safest form on the market.

Since every person is different, consult your health provider on how much to take and for how long. Happy lifting!

AUTHOR

Shalom is a content creator, musician, and a teacher at heart. As a certified personal trainer, his goal is to encourage others to lead healthier lives and to get buff in the process!