When you’re into lifting, you know it’s important to fuel your body. You need the proper nutrients and energy to train hard, recover well, and get those gains.
There are tons of supplements on the market that promise to give you that extra boost. Creatine — an amino acid — already naturally occurs in your body. Because of its role in energy production, supplementing with creatine can help bring your game to the next level.
For short-duration, high-intensity exercises like powerlifting, creatine can directly boost your energy supply. Let’s dive into the science behind it, and how it may be able to safely help you build strength, power, and muscle.
Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is a naturally-occurring amino acid that is found in your skeletal muscles. (1) You can get creatine from foods such as red meat and seafood, as well as through supplements. The key to how creatine can be beneficial to lifters is what happens in your body after ingestion.
You might ingest creatine through your food. You may also get it through a supplement. Either way, your cells store it as creatine phosphate. Phosphagens help to maintain energy availability, which is critical whether you’re about to sprint 200 meters or deadlift 500 pounds off the ground. (1) While you already have phospagens naturally in your body, taking creatine in through food or supplements will increase your phosphocreatine.
The extra energy stored in your body can then be used to create ATP to give you a boost in your intense workouts. (1)
ATP, adenosine triphosphate, is the currency of energy in the cell. It provides energy that is quickly and readily available. (2) ATP is needed for muscular contraction — it’s what your body needs and uses for highly intense, short-duration exercise. When you lift super heavy for a few reps, ATP is at play.
ATP will naturally work for about three seconds, but it burns out quickly. (2) Your body can use stored phosphagens to increase ATP production. When you take creatine, since it increases your stored phosphagens, your body can use it to boost your ATP levels.
With more ATP available, you may be able to work harder and faster in your sessions.
Potential Benefits of Creatine
Boosting your ATP by taking creatine has been proven to improve performance, increase strength and muscle, and help with recovery. (3) It may also boost your brain health, since some phosphocreatine is stored in the brain. (3)
Studies consistently show that using creatine for short-duration, high-intensity exercise increases lean muscle mass and exercise capacity. (3) To be at your most effective, you should probably know some of the science and research behind the potential benefits of creatine.
May Increase Strength and Power
Taking creatine before your training session may help you lift heavier. The extra boost of ATP and energy help you lift a little heavier each time. Over the duration of your program, this series of small boosts can add up to big long-term gains.
In one study, young adults participated in a six-week resistance training program. One group took creatine. The other took a placebo. The creatine group increased their strength in the leg press, chest press, and total body strength. (4)
They trained five days a week for six weeks, so it’s important to note that supplementing combined with training is what creates results.
May Increase Muscle Mass
In addition to boosting strength, creatine has been shown to help you add lean muscle mass when combined with a resistance training program. (5)
Over 35 studies have shown that adults of all ages were able to add two pounds of lean body mass when supplementing with creatine. (5) Cisgender men had higher gains than cisgender women. Cisgender women may have 70 to 80 percent lower levels of creatine storage compared to cisgender males, and there haven’t been as many studies on women. (6)
There don’t seem to be any studies yet that have made note of trans women, trans men, and nonbinary people’s responses to creatine.
Although the levels of increase may be different between cisgender men and women, there are still 50 years of research showing that creatine supplements — combined with training — are effective at increasing lean body mass and muscular strength. (7)
May Improve Recovery
In addition to muscle and strength gains, research shows that supplementing training with creatine may enhance post-exercise recovery. (3)
When you train hard, you go through your glycogen stores. You need to replenish them to recover well and prevent overtraining. (1) Your pre-workout is likely to include carbohydrates, which will supply glycogen for your body.
Research has shown that ingesting creatine with carbohydrates before exercise promoted higher glycogen restoration than carbs alone. (1)
More evidence suggests that creatine supplementation can help athletes reduce muscle damage, experience less inflammation, and tolerate higher volumes of training. (1)
May Prevent Injury
Since creatine helps you to work harder and recover better, it makes sense that research shows it may also help to prevent injury. Several studies showed that supplementing creatine during training either reduces or has no effect on musculoskeletal injury, dehydration, and cramping. (1)
A study was done on college football players during 12 weeks of training during the offseason. Results showed that the creatine users had less cramping, muscle tightness, muscle strains, muscle pulls, and non-contact injuries than those in the study not taking creatine. (1)
If you’ve already been injured, one study has shown that creatine has the potential to aid post-injury rehabilitation. (8) This is a possibility, but more research is needed.
May Boost Brain Health
Most of the research and evidence of the benefits of creatine are on its ability to increase muscle strength, lean mass, and exercise performance. But new studies and evidence are emerging on whether creatine can boost brain health. The majority of the body’s creatine is found in muscle, but 20 percent of it is found in the brain. (9)
There is potential for creatine supplementation to boost cognitive function for folks with chronic conditions like mild traumatic brain injuries, Alzheimer’s, and depression. (9)
Improving cognitive function is beneficial to non-athletes, especially older adults. But cognition plays a key role in athletic performance as well. Creatine may be able to help with motor control, decision making, coordination, and reaction time. (9)
It may slow down mental fatigue as well, which can help you to give your all to your lifting sessions. (9) Sometimes your brain wants to give up on your rep before your body does, and creatine may give you that extra push.
Natural and Considered Safe
Creatine occurs naturally in people’s bodies. Research also deems it generally safe. Sure, you can overdo it on any supplement. But food contains high amounts of creatine. As such, it’s not banned by sports organizations. (1)
Creatine is considered relatively safe with few adverse health effects documented. (10) The International Society of Sports notes that there is no scientific evidence of detrimental effects of creatine use on otherwise healthy individuals. (11)
Like most topics in the fitness world, a lot of misinformation surrounds creatine, leading to some common misconceptions.
Myth: Creatine is a steroid.
Although anabolic steroids and creatine may have similar performance outcomes, creatine has a completely different chemical structure. It is not considered a steroid. Anabolic steroids are classified as a Class III, Schedule C controlled substance regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Creatine is considered a dietary supplement, with no legal rules around possession or use. (12)
Myth: Creatine will give me abs.
Simply ingesting creatine, or any supplement, will not magically give you abs. Since creatine is proven to help increase lean muscle mass, it may give you a boost in your tough ab workouts. You reveal your abdominal muscles with a lower body fat percentage. You can achieve this through nutritional strategies.
Myth: Creatine causes hair loss and baldness.
Although there have been popular claims of creatine leading to hair loss, the scientific evidence available does not suggest a link between creatine supplementation and baldness. (12)
Potential Drawbacks of Creatine
Every body responds differently to different supplements. There are some common side effects and drawbacks to creatine.
May Cause Gastrointestinal Distress
If you know you already have a sensitive stomach, creatine may cause you some gastrointestinal distress. Some users report stomach discomfort, diarrhea, and bloating. (13) The dosage of creatine taken can impact the degree of discomfort. (13)
May Interact With Caffeine
There has been some controversy over whether or not caffeine and creatine interact. Many studies show that taking caffeine and creatine together do not cancel each other out in terms of benefits.
While the benefits may still hold, taking them together can cause gastrointestinal distress, so the timing of dosing may matter. (14)
Not FDA Approved
Research suggests that creatine is generally safe. However, creatine supplements are not FDA approved. Dietary supplements do not need to be FDA approved, so this is not out of the ordinary. However, it may be a potential drawback for some athletes.
Natural Energy Boost
Creatine is a generally safe dietary supplement that, when combined with resistance training, can help you train hard and recover well. It boosts your body’s supply of ATP, giving you energy to lift heavier and increase your muscle strength and size.
Plus, with the added benefit of improved cognition, you’ll be razor-focused in your sessions. This will help you keep that perfect form and get those gains.
- Kreider RB, Kalman DS, Antonio J, Ziegenfuss TN, Wildman R, Collins R, Candow DG, Kleiner SM, Almada AL, Lopez HL. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Jun 13;14:18.
- Dunn J, Grider MH. Physiology, Adenosine Triphosphate. [Updated 2022 Feb 17]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553175/
- Hall M, Manetta E, Tupper K. Creatine Supplementation: An Update. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2021 Jul 1;20(7):338-344.
- Mills S, Candow DG, Forbes SC, Neary JP, Ormsbee MJ, Antonio J. Effects of Creatine Supplementation during Resistance Training Sessions in Physically Active Young Adults. Nutrients. 2020 Jun 24;12(6):1880.
- Delpino FM, Figueiredo LM, Forbes SC, Candow DG, Santos HO. Influence of age, sex, and type of exercise on the efficacy of creatine supplementation on lean body mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Nutrition. 2022 Nov-Dec;103-104:111791.
- Smith-Ryan AE, Cabre HE, Eckerson JM, Candow DG. Creatine Supplementation in Women’s Health: A Lifespan Perspective. Nutrients. 2021 Mar 8;13(3):877.
- Wu SH, Chen KL, Hsu C, Chen HC, Chen JY, Yu SY, Shiu YJ. Creatine Supplementation for Muscle Growth: A Scoping Review of Randomized Clinical Trials from 2012 to 2021. Nutrients. 2022 Mar 16;14(6):1255.
- Wax B, Kerksick CM, Jagim AR, Mayo JJ, Lyons BC, Kreider RB. Creatine for Exercise and Sports Performance, with Recovery Considerations for Healthy Populations. Nutrients. 2021 Jun 2;13(6):1915.
- Roschel H, Gualano B, Ostojic SM, Rawson ES. Creatine Supplementation and Brain Health. Nutrients. 2021 Feb 10;13(2):586.
- Hall M, Trojian TH. Creatine supplementation. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2013 Jul-Aug;12(4):240-4.
- Butts J, Jacobs B, Silvis M. Creatine Use in Sports. Sports Health. 2018 Jan/Feb;10(1):31-34.
- Antonio J, Candow DG, Forbes SC, Gualano B, Jagim AR, Kreider RB, Rawson ES, Smith-Ryan AE, VanDusseldorp TA, Willoughby DS, Ziegenfuss TN. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021 Feb 8;18(1):13.
- Ostojic SM, Ahmetovic Z. Gastrointestinal distress after creatine supplementation in athletes: are side effects dose dependent? Res Sports Med. 2008;16(1):15-22.
- Elosegui S, López-Seoane J, Martínez-Ferrán M, Pareja-Galeano H. Interaction Between Caffeine and Creatine When Used as Concurrent Ergogenic Supplements: A Systematic Review. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2022 Jan 11;32(4):285-295.
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