11 Science-backed benefits of creatine for health and performance

Could creatine be the secret to a longer, healthier life? Recent research suggests that this popular supplement, commonly associated with muscle strength and sports performance, might also play a pivotal role in slowing down aging. 

As society grapples with an aging population and the pursuit for optimal health continues, understanding how creatine contributes to longevity becomes more crucial. 

This article will explore whether creatine is healthy, who really needs it, and how to take it correctly to potentially enhance your life span and quality of life.

Is creatine healthy?

This is a question that stirs considerable debate among health professionals and fitness enthusiasts alike. 

Creatine is a compound that naturally occurs in muscle cells. It is primarily used by the body to produce energy rapidly during high-intensity activities. 

It is also available as a dietary supplement, popular among athletes to increase muscle mass and improve performance in short bursts of vigorous exercise.

Several studies suggest that creatine supplementation is not only safe but beneficial when used appropriately. It has been linked to enhancements in strength, endurance, and muscle recovery. 

Moreover, creatine has potential cognitive benefits, particularly in populations at risk of neurological diseases and age-related cognitive decline.

However, like any supplement, creatine must be taken responsibly. Overconsumption can lead to minor side effects such as stomach discomfort or dehydration. 

It is important to follow recommended dosages and consider your individual health needs and conditions.

Creatine can be a healthy addition to your diet if used correctly, offering various physical and cognitive benefits. However, consult your doctor if you are considering adding creatine to your supplement regimen.

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What are the benefits of creatine?

Creatine’s health benefits span various bodily functions and systems, making it a valuable supplement for different population groups. 

Here are 11 health benefits of creatine supplements that are supported by scientific research:

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].

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]. 

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. 

Creatine increases body mass

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]. 

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]. 

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]. 

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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]. 

Who needs creatine?

Who stands to gain the most from adding creatine to their regimen? While often associated with bodybuilders and athletes, creatine’s benefits can extend to a much wider audience:

1. Athletes and bodybuilders

The primary beneficiaries of creatine are those engaged in high-intensity training and sports that require power and speed. Creatine enhances muscle volume and strength, enabling higher performance and endurance in activities such as sprinting, weightlifting, and football.

2. Older adults

As muscle mass naturally declines with age, older adults may find creatine useful for maintaining strength and mobility. This can contribute significantly to improved quality of life and prolonged independence.

3. Vegetarians and vegans

These groups typically have lower levels of creatine because their diets lack meat. Supplementing with creatine can help improve muscle density, cognitive function, and overall energy levels.

4. Individuals with neurodegenerative diseases

Emerging research suggests that creatine may offer neurological benefits, potentially aiding in the management of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s by supporting mitochondrial function and overall brain health.

5. People looking for cognitive enhancements

Students, professionals, and anyone undergoing mental strain could benefit from creatine. Studies have shown it may help improve memory, focus, and resistance to fatigue.

People looking for cognitive enhancements

How do you take creatine correctly for optimal benefits?

Taking creatine effectively requires understanding the optimal dosage and timing to maximize its benefits.

 Whether you’re an athlete looking to enhance performance or seeking general health improvements, here are key guidelines on how to use creatine correctly:

1. Choose the right type

Creatine monohydrate is the most researched and generally recommended form due to its efficacy and cost-effectiveness. It’s well-absorbed and has proven benefits.

2. Loading phase

To rapidly increase your muscle creatine stores, start 20 grams per day as your loading phase, divided into four 5-gram servings throughout the day. This phase typically lasts 5-7 days.

3. Maintenance phase

After the loading phase, switch to a maintenance dose of 3-5 grams per day. This amount is sufficient to maintain elevated creatine levels in your muscles.

4. Timing

While you can take creatine at any time, studies suggest that taking it close to your workout—either before or after—may be slightly more beneficial due to increased blood flow, enhancing uptake into muscles.

5. With carbohydrates or protein

For improved absorption, consume creatine with a carbohydrate or protein-based meal. This combination helps increase insulin levels, which promotes more creatine uptake by the muscles.

6. Stay hydrated

Creatine increases water retention in muscles, so it’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day to support muscle function and overall health.

Closing thoughts

Reflecting on the diverse benefits of creatine, it becomes evident that this supplement is not solely for athletes but can be a valuable addition to various lifestyles and age groups. 

From enhancing physical performance and muscle recovery to supporting cognitive function and potentially aiding in the management of neurodegenerative diseases, creatine offers a broad spectrum of advantages. 

Before taking creatine supplements, consult your healthcare provider to ensure it complements your wellness strategy and tailor it to your specific health needs.

FAQs

Is creatine safe for the heart?

Creatine is generally considered safe for the heart when used responsibly. It may even offer benefits like improved heart function and increased energy levels during exercise.

How much water to drink with creatine?

When taking creatine, aim to drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water every day to maintain hydration, as creatine can increase water retention in muscles.

Does creatine affect sleep?

Creatine does not typically affect sleep directly. However, it can lead to increased energy levels, which may indirectly influence sleep patterns if taken close to bedtime.

Is creatine pre- or post-workout?

Research suggests that taking creatine after exercising may be more beneficial for muscle growth and strength than consuming it before the workout. However, consistency is key, so take it whenever works best for you.

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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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