Is creatine safe? And other commonly asked questions
Creatine is a popular sports supplement that is commonly used by athletes looking to increase their strength, power and performance.
It is one of the most scientifically studied supplements on the planet and is considered by the International Society of Sports Nutrition to be "the number one most effective supplement" for building muscle mass.
The benefits of creatine
Some of the scientifically proven benefits of creatine include:
- Increases our production of ATP, the key energy source for heavy lifting and intense exercise¹
- Enables more total work or volume in a training session²
- Improves cell signalling³ and increases cellular hydration⁴
- 'Significantly' enhances ability to build muscle and strength.⁵ ⁶ ⁷ ⁸
From a performance perspective, it is impossible to ignore the evidence that creatine really works. But what does the evidence show when it comes to our health?
In this article I will take a closer look at all of the research on creatine, so you can decide for yourself whether it is the right supplement for you.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a compound that is found naturally within our muscle cells.
It assists in the production of ATP, which is the form of energy that we use during heavy lifting or intense exercise. When our creatine stores are elevated our body can produce more ATP, which translates to a greater strength and power output.
A review by Baylor University found that subjects who supplemented with creatine improved high intensity exercise performance by up to 15%. This included improvements in maximal effort muscle contractions, maximal power and strength, and single-effort sprint performance.⁹
The same review also found that creatine supplementation resulted in "significantly greater" gains in both strength and fat free mass.
Our body naturally produces creatine in the liver and kidneys from the amino acids glycine and arginine. Creatine can also be sourced in small quantities through our diet.
However, in order to see the exercise-related adaptations our muscle creatine stores must be elevated¹⁰. This is why supplementing with creatine is especially effective.
Is creatine safe?
In fact, creatine is one of the most tested supplements on the planet and is considered to have "an outstanding safety profile."¹³
There have been many different studies on the long term effects of creatine consumption with no negative health consequences found in healthy individuals. The most comprehensive study of its kind examined more than 50 different blood markers and observed no adverse effects following 21 months of creatine supplementation.¹⁴
And in another, subjects consumed a massive 30 grams of creatine for five years and also reported no adverse effects.¹⁵
There are claims that creatine causes cramps or dehydration, but again the research doesn’t support this. In fact, studies suggest that creatine may actually reduce dehydration during endurance exercise in high heat, thanks to a greater retention of water in the muscle cells.¹⁶ ¹⁷
Furthermore, supplementing with creatine may offer additional health benefits including post-exercise recovery, injury prevention, thermoregulation and/or spinal cord neuroprotection.¹⁸
Lastly, there is significant evidence that supplementing with creatine may improve memory and brain function, as well as protecting against neurological diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. So even if you do not take creatine for the performance benefits you may wish to consider taking it for these reasons.¹⁹ ²⁰ ²¹
The bottom line is that creatine is an exceptionally safe supplement with a wide range of proven benefits. There is no need to fear supplementing with creatine alongside a healthy and balanced diet.
Do I need creatine?
Not everyone needs to take creatine. You can be strong, active and perfectly healthy without ever supplementing with creatine.
However if you compete in a sport that involves strength and power, or your goal is to build maximum amounts of lean muscle mass, then supplementing with creatine may be beneficial.
If you want to find out more about building muscle mass, check out this article: Vegan bodybuilders share tips on how to bulk up.
In a review by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, adding creatine to a training programme was shown to increase weight lifting performance by 14% and bench press one rep max by up to 43%, when compared to training alone.²²
In another 12 week study, creatine was shown to increase muscle fibre growth by 2 – 3 times more than training alone.²³
And in a study on well-trained cyclists, 28 days of creatine supplementation increased bike-sprinting performance by up to 15%.²⁴
For these reasons creatine is widely used by both professional athletes and recreational gym-goers. Creatine is also one of the cheapest supplements you can buy, with a typical serving size costing less than 13 pence per serving.
How much creatine should I take?
The current research suggests that an intake of 3 – 5g of creatine daily is optimal for most users.²⁵
Athletes have a higher requirement for creatine due to an increased ATP demand. Vegans and vegetarians may also have an increased demand due to an absence of dietary creatine. Those who follow a vegan and vegetarian diet have shown a greater response to supplemental creatine than those who follow an omnivorous diet.²⁶ ²⁷
It was previously recommended that when you begin to take creatine, you should consume a ‘loading dose’ of 20g per day for 5 – 7 days to ensure your muscles are fully saturated. However, more recent research has shown that consuming 3g of creatine per day for 28 days is just as effective at raising tissue levels as the higher dose.²⁸
Some studies have shown that larger athletes need to supplement with up to 5 – 10grams daily to maintain creatine stores.²⁹ ³⁰ Consuming creatine with carbohydrate, or carbohydrate and protein, have been shown to more effectively promote creatine retention.³¹ ³²
Which form of creatine should I use?
The most commonly studied form of creatine is in the form of creatine monohydrate. This form of creatine is supported by thousands of studies and is widely considered to be the most effective form of creatine.³³
When buying creatine monohydrate it is important that you look for one that has been independently tested to verify its creatine content, as a lot of creatine on the market is cut with fillers and other chemical compounds to make it cheaper. Creatine may also contain high levels of heavy metals, particularly when it is sourced from China.³⁴
For these reasons we third party test our creatine for quality and purity, including tests for heavy metals and over 500 different herbicides and pesticides.
If possible I also recommend looking for creatine that doesn’t come in a plastic pouch in order to minimise your environmental impact.
This is why our creatine comes in a home compostable pouch, so when you are done with it you can simply add it to your garden compost or food waste where it will break down into healthy soil.
Our creatine comes at a price of just £10.99 for 84 servings, making it one of our cheapest products and the perfect choice for anyone looking to naturally enhance their training results.
While creatine is an amazing muscle-building supplement, it won't do much without a great diet - for some inspiration, check out our FREE muscle building eBook!