11 Science-backed benefits of creatine for health and performance

Finding the right balance between nutrition and exercise is key to healthy longevity. However, many argue that nutrition is even more important than physical exercise in achieving fitness goals. Along with your proper nutrition are dietary supplements like creatine to help boost your performance.

What is creatine?

Creatine refers to a nitrogenous organic acid that is mainly responsible for helping supply energy to muscle cells throughout the body.

Different types of creatine exist, such as creatine monohydrate and creatine nitrate. Creatine comprises three amino acids: L-arginine, glycine and L-methionine.

One percent of the total volume of human blood is creatine, while 95 percent of creatine in the body can be found in skeletal muscle.

This organic acid can be acquired through food sources, naturally made in your body and supplements. The ultimate food source of creatine is animal-based products. 

One of the great supplements in the fitness corner is creatine. It is quite popular among athletes and people who do intense physical activities. Creatine can do wonders for your health and performance. 

11 Health benefits of creatine supplements

1. Helps muscle cells produce more energy

Creatine substance works on your body by supplying a high-energy phosphate group to adenosine diphosphate (ADP), turning the ADP molecule into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Moreover, ATP is a molecule that carries energy within cells.

It is also your main source of energy during high-intensity exercise. When your cells use ATP for energy, it is converted to ADP. In the process, creatine can accelerate the recycling of ADP into ATP for more energy supply when doing intense physical activity. 

As it increases the overall pool of cellular phosphocreatine, creatine supplementation can boost the recycling of ADP into ATP in your body, resulting in more energy available for high-intensity exercise. This increased energy availability can enhance strength and power output [1].

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2. Improves athletic performance 

As mentioned earlier, creatine is famous among people in athletics or physical activities because of its muscle-improving properties. Taking creatine supplements enhances physical performance in rowing, jumping and soccer.

However, creatine’s benefits in helping your body with activities like sprinting, cycling, swimming or tennis are still not yet proven. 

Creatine supplements allow your body to make more energy, making athletes have better endurance for long and intensive training periods. For non-athletic people, creatine can also help boost the body’s creatine pool and enhance simple physical performance.

In a meta-analysis study published by the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine in 2003, the researchers found that creatine has the potential to improve performance involving extreme and intense activity in a short period, particularly during repeated bouts [2]. 

Additionally, it was further discovered that creatine could boost the effects of resistance training, particularly on strength and body mass, as concluded by a more recent study in 2012.

Creatine may increase the quality and benefits of high-intensity intermittent speed training, while in aerobic exercise activities, it can enhance endurance performance that can last more than 150 seconds. The study also showed that creatine might improve daily living performance, fat-free mass, power, strength, power and neurological function [3]. 

Creatine Improves athletic performance

Furthermore, health experts emphasized that creatine is safe, effective and ethical for consumption, according to a 2004 study. The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) even recommended creatine for athletes to acquire an extra amount without consuming more fat or protein, a good alternative for boosting athletic performance [4].

In a more updated statement of ISSN in 2017, the officials concluded that creatine supplementation is still acceptable within recommended doses, especially for short-term use of competitive athletes who are essentially eating a proper, well-balanced diet. 

3. Boosts muscle strength

Your muscles can benefit from taking creatine as it boosts muscle strength in younger and older adults. However, using creatine topically or through the skin is not yet backed up by research.

Creatine in a supplement form can further help prevent muscle damage and enhance the recovery process after an injury due to intense physical activity. It also has an antioxidant effect after intense resistance training and can reduce cramping. 

Scientific research was conducted to determine the real benefits of creatine in boosting muscle strength. In a four-week study, the scientists concluded a 17 percent improvement in cycling sprints, an 18-lb (8-kg) increase in bench press 1-rep max and a 20 percent greater workload at a lower weight when supplied with creatine [5].

Another study backed it up with a longer period of 10 weeks, and the results were promising [6].

4. Helps gain weight

If you aim to gain more weight, creatine may be another option. According to a scientific study, taking creatine by mouth can make you gain weight. This is more of a ‘water weight’ type of gain as creatine makes your muscles retain more water. It is also known as fluid retention, causing you to gain water weight rapidly. 

Your muscles will hold onto this water, making you feel bloated or puffed, typically around your arms, legs or stomach. Also, you may notice that your muscles may appear bigger, even if you have begun your intense workout.

Some people who take creatine supplements gain about two to five pounds primarily due to fluid retention [7]. 

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5. Increases body mass

The US institution emphasized that creatine does not directly build muscles. The claim that high levels of creatine can increase body mass is only because the substance can cause muscles to hold water [8].

However, although creatine can cause some water weight gain, research has found that creatine can be an effective supplement for endurance and strength, and over time, your body may increase in muscle strength and size [9]. 

Creatine increases body mass

6. Helps with disorders of creatine metabolism or transport

Taking creatine by mouth every day can increase your creatine levels in the brain, especially for children and young adults with conditions of glycine amidinotransferase (GAMT) deficiency or guanidinoacetate methyltransferase (AGAT) deficiency–disorders of creatine synthesis.

Research proves that creatine supplements can treat defects in creatine biosynthesis [10].  However, creatine has a limitation as it is not found to improve brain creatine levels for children with a disorder where creatine is not transported properly.

7. Improve creatine and muscular dystrophy

Improving the strength of people with muscular dystrophy may be possible with creatine. A paper that reviewed 14 studies in 2013 found that people with muscular dystrophy who took creatine supplements had increased muscle strength by 8.5 percent compared to those who did not.

Taking creatine every day for 8 to 6 weeks can improve muscle condition and reduce fatigue in patients with muscular dystrophy; however, not all studies have produced similar results [11]. 

8. Helps with creatine and deficiency syndromes

Creatine is a natural substance that is significant for various body functions. Typically, 120 to 140 g of creatine is in store or pool in the body of a young man with 70 kilograms (kg) weight. The amount of creatine in each of us depends partly on your muscle mass and the type of muscle fiber. 

Now, creatine deficiency, on the other hand, is associated with a range of conditions, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), diabetes, fibromyalgia, muscle atrophy, multiple sclerosis (MS) and osteoarthritis.

Hence, taking creatine supplements can ease the conditions of creatine deficiency. However, this is yet to be proven by more research to gather enough evidence [12]. 

9. Boosts cognitive ability 

In one study, the researchers found that creatine can boost mental performance. After taking a creatine supplement of about 5 g every day within six weeks, over 45 participants scored better on working memory and intelligence tests, particularly in tasks taken under time pressure, than placebo participants [13].

10. Improves depression symptoms

 In one study made in South Korea, there were 52 women with depression participated and took 5 g creatine supplements every day as their antidepressant. As early as 2 weeks, the participants experienced improvements in their symptoms, and it continued up to 4 to 8 weeks [14]. 

11. Helps people with Parkinson’s disease

 In an animal study conducted on mice, creatine prevented the loss of cells typically affected by Parkinson’s disease. It involves a combined treatment of coenzyme Q(10) and concluded that creatine might help treat neurodegenerative diseases, including Huntington’s disease [15]. 

However, one research with 1,700 human subjects published in JAMA Network suggests that treatment with creatine monohydrate for at least five years did not improve clinical outcomes compared with placebo [16]. 

Longevity through creatine

With it being well-studied in health and science, creatine can be another contender in prolonging longevity. Creatine provides a wide range of benefits, from strengthening body functions to improving cognitive functions that can help sustain a healthspan.

It has a huge potential; however, more updated scientific research studies are needed, including the effects of creatine on a long-term basis. 

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[1] https://examine.com/supplements/creatine/#ref-11 
[2] https://www.jssm.org/vol2/n4/1/v2n4-1pdf.pdf 
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3407788/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2048496/ 
[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7778463/ 
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11828245 
[7] https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-4-6 
[8] https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/873.html 
[9] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1022465203458 
[10] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21308988/ 
[11] https://www.cochrane.org/CD004760/NEUROMUSC_creatine-for-treating-muscle-disorders 
[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3407788/ 
[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1691485/pdf/14561278.pdf 
[14] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22864465/ 
[15] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19476553/ 
[16] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2108890 

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