Creatine is the world’s most studied fitness supplement, but despite all the research behind it, creatine is still often misunderstood.
Confusion over when to take Creatine, what to take it with and how much to take is much debated in many internet forums and subreddits.
Most experienced athletes know it improves athletic performance, but how does it work, specifically? Which performance metrics does it improve? Does it work for everyone? Are there side effects?
I will attempt to answer these questions and more using scientific research laid out and explained in everyday language in the chapters that follow.
Also included in this guide:
- The difference between 12 different types of Creatine
- My choice of top 15 best creatine supplements
So with that, let’s dive in.
How Creatine Helps you, the Athlete, Up Your Game
“Gainz”: Creatine Aids your body’s ability to build Muscle and Lean Mass
Since this is likely one of the most sought-after benefits of creatine supplementation, I am going to get a little technical.
Stay with me.
Creatine makes satellite cells increase in number, making muscle growth possible. It makes satellite cells more willing to donate myonuclei to damaged muscle cells. Since those damaged cells are repaired, thanks to the donation, they are able to grow.
Notice the muscle cells must be damaged in order to receive the donation. Who wants to be charitable with those who have everything they need, right?
Most of you already know that lifting weights damages muscle fibers, and that is how they grow, so this part should be no mystery.
Creatine won’t affect muscle growth much if you are not working (and thus damaging) the muscle too.
One study puts it this way:
Breaking it down:
What are satellite cells?
Satellite cells are special cells found in muscles. They are the muscles version of the Red Cross, they are there when you need them.
They have the ability to wake up and donate their nucleus to muscle fiber, like when it gets damaged by lifting heavy weight. When they are not needed they go back to sleep, so to speak.
What are Myonuclei?
A Myonucleus is the nucleus of the muscle cell so we say Myonuclei when we are talking about two or more (plural) of these nucleus.
When satellite cells donate Myonuclei to muscle cells, the cells can be repaired, grow in size and in number.
Creatine helps wake up satellite cells so they answer the call of duty and offer their Myonuclei to damaged muscle cells, allowing gains to happen faster.
How does Creatine do this?
See chapter two covering the Science of Creatine, for the answer.
Creatine has the potential to increase your power output
Creatine significantly increases muscle fiber, as we saw in the previous section.
And creatine also increases POWER
This study looked at men who were experienced lifting weights. These guys were given either a placebo or 25 grams of creatine per day for one week.
Following that week, they were given either placebo or 5 grams of Creatine for 11 more weeks.
The guys taking creatine increased their bench press performance by 24 percent, while the guys that got placebo increased by only 16%.
The guys who took the creatine had significantly greater gains in percentage increase in three types of muscle fiber (Type I. IIA and IIAB) than the men who took the placebo.
|Muscle Fiber Type||Placebo Guys Gains||Creatine Guys Gains|
- Type I Slow Twitch muscle is for light resistance work and is designed for endurance, walking, long distance running etc. Low force, low speed, high endurance.
- Type IIA is Fast Twitch Oxidative: these fast twitch muscles perform somewhere between Type I and Type IIB, and give sustained power.
- Type IIAB (Aka IIX) is Fast Twitch Glycolic which are used for short duration and high intensity. Think lifting to failure, or a super fast sprint. (resource)
Why is this important?
Look at the table, which muscle type had the most gains for those taking creatine? Type IIAB (aka type IIX)
OK, so what?
Turns out that while muscle Type IIAB (IIx) fatigues very quickly, it also produces the most force. Think of activities like Olympic powerlifting and lifting to failure. It has a fast contraction time and a strong force output.
For more info on how Creatine assists in increasing power, see the section on the science of Creatine.
Creatine increases strength in older Adults too.
One meta-analysis reviewed 16 studies including participants between 57 and 70 years old and concluded:
Creatine improves vigilance under stress.
Performing while stressed or sleep deprived is obviously not an athlete’s first choice. However, life gets in the way, stress happens, and sometimes we just don’t get the sleep we need.
Creatine has been shown to help alleviate the dip in performance caused by sleep deprivation.
One study of 10 elite rugby players had the players spend 5 nights with normal sleep and 5 nights with sleep deprivation. These deprived players only got 3 to 5 hours of shut-eye during the sleep deprivation phase.
Their passing skills were tested each day, but before the test, they had to take either placebo, creatine or caffeine.
Those given creatine received 100 mg of creatine for each KG of body weight. (This would be a little over 8 grams for a player who weighs 180 lbs).
The group that got placebo and had sleep deprivation fared worse than normal, as expected.
The groups that got either Creatine or Caffeine, and had sleep deprivation had no loss of performance.
Interesting finding: The group that received Creatine and sleep deprivation had a small increase in salivary testosterone, while the players who got placebo did not.
Studies showing creatine raises testosterone have been inconclusive. Some show a slight increase, while other studies show no increase.
Creatine can help you maintain your normal level of performance when stress or lack of Zzzz’s might otherwise hinder it.
More than Recovery: Creatine takes your muscles above and beyond
Some scientists discovered that creatine plus Carbs helped muscles recover glycogen better after strenuous exercise better than carbs alone.
Not satisfied to leave well enough alone, these scientists decided to perform more tests to see if they could find the reason creatine helped.
Cycling for Science
They enlisted the help of 14 men. The men were to pedal their hearts out, to the point of exhaustion.
Immediately after the men were done cycling they were given a carbohydrate diet to follow. They were also given supplements. Half the men received creatine supplements and the other half placebo supplements for the next 6 days.
They then poked and prodded these guys for the next 6 days. They actually took muscle biopsies. Ouch!
The scientists call this phenomenon “muscle glycogen super-compensation”.
Why does this matter?
Well, according to one popular bodybuilding resource super-compensation is when your muscles are able to hold more glycogen than they normally do. This not only makes muscle appear larger but more importantly, gives them more fuel.Super-compensation is like upgrading to a larger gas tank for your muscles. Click To Tweet
Something to think about:
In the study I mentioned above, the scientists were giving them carbs and creatine at the same time. Carbs are known for their ability to help restore muscle glycogen, and the creatine appeared to enhance this.
But it begs the question…what about those on a low carb (less than 50 g carbs per day) diet?
Will eating a low carb diet negate this particular Creatine benefit?
In order to find some answers, I headed over to visit my friends at ketogains to see what the deal was with glycogen stores on a keto or low carb diet.
I found out that the body uses protein to create glycogen via a process called Gluconeogenesis, and most who follow a low carb diet get plenty of protein in their diet.
I could not find any studies that evaluated glycogen super-compensation in those using a low carb diet, along with creatine. So I can not say for sure if someone would get the super-compensation boost from creatine on a low carb diet.
Many of the studies done on elite athletes who adhere to a low carb diet are looking at endurance athletes, not weightlifters, power lifters and bodybuilders. Endurance activities use slow twitch muscle which is very efficient at burning glycogen.
When lifting really heavy weights, Type IIx fast twitch muscle is used which is not at all efficient and burns through glycogen quickly.
Is glycogen created from protein fast enough to restore muscle glycogen in heavy lifters?
I am just not convinced that it is. If I had to guess, I would speculate that at least some carbs are needed to get this benefit from creatine.
I am always open to correction, and as the science machine continues to churn out new data, they may discover that low-carbers do get this benefit from creatine.
So if you know of some science that says otherwise, I would love to hear it. Leave a comment on this guide and I am sure to see it.
Does creatine benefit elite athletes?
This question comes up a lot, so I will take a stab at it.
My answer is yes.
The Rugby players I discussed above were elite athletes, and they used Creatine to maintain performance while being sleep deprived.
The magnitude of benefit that an elite athlete gets from creatine may be less than your everyday Joe.
One study of elite Brazilian Soccer players showed only a very small (not statistically significant) increase in their ability to jump, while taking creatine.
A group of young males elite soccer athletes used creatine for 14 days and did show that “short-term oral Cr supplementation beneficially affected muscle power output in elite youth soccer players” (resource)
I can say with confidence Creatine improves performance of elite athletes.
As far as who benefits more, your average Joe, or an elite athlete? Who knows?
Leave me a comment if you want to weigh in on the topic.
I realize this benefits section is not inclusive of all creatine benefits. This first section focuses on benefits that are geared toward the athlete.
If you want to read more about some other great benefits creatine has for you, chapter 7 digs into the topic a little more, with a focus on benefits outside the muscle.
3-2-1 Creatine! The Science behind How Creatine Works
IFLScience! I realize, not everyone is as into science as I am, and that’s cool. You can skip this chapter, if you want.
If you do love science, or want to know the mechanics behind this awesome supplement, read on!
What is Creatine, specifically?
Creatine is a tripeptide.
“Tri” means three, and a peptide is a chain of two or more amino acids.
The Three Musketeers, er, three amino acids in Creatine are:
1. L-Arginine 2. L-Glycine and 3. L-methionine
Increasing Lean Mass: Satellite Cells, Myonuclei, DNA transcription Oh My!
As I discussed in chapter one, creatine encourages satellite cells to donate their Myonuclei to damaged muscle cells, allowing them to grow.
Now it’s time to dig a little deeper.
How does Creatine cause the Satellite Cells, which are normally in a quiescent state (dormant) to come alive and become more charitable? (resource)
Let’s take a look.
Creatine is an “osmotically active Substance”. What is an Osmotically active substance?
It is a substance that causes osmosis.
You are in a crowded theatre. One half of the seats are roped off with a “reserved” sign. Since half the seats are unavailable, everyone is packed into the other half, with only a scant few empty seats between folks.
The usher comes along and decides you all look a little uncomfortable and decides to remove the rope so people can sit anywhere. Some people move to the newly opened side, until everyone is more of less spaced evenly.
Creatine brings water into the muscle via osmosis
In this example, an empty seat represents creatine. A seat with a person sitting in it represents water. The empty side of the theatre called to the water(people) and attracted it, until the place was balanced on each side.
Creatine does this, via osmosis in the muscle. Basically, creatine in the muscle moves water into the muscle cell.
The muscle cell swells due to the added water, this causes increased osmotic pressure which may trigger an anabolic stimulus on cellular protein synthesis via myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoform mRNA.
The scientists found:
The muscle swelling caused by creatine seem to trigger muscle growth and gains in muscle mass. (resource)
Creatine induced cell swelling causes a pretty large number of genes to activate. Among those genes activated, are the ones causing an up-regulation of mRNA content, satellite cell proliferation and differentiation and DNA replication and repair among others.
How does Creatine increase your strength and power output?
Creatine is one of the most helpful, selfless, kindhearted molecules in the body. If you are an athlete who needs repeated bouts of explosive power, are lifting heavy weights, engaging in all out sprinting (think soccer, basketball) then creatine is your performance enhancing friend.
All muscle cells in our body use ATP for energy. ATP means Adenosine Triphosphate. That name is important, notice the phosphate there in triphosphate. Tri means three, and phosphate means phosphate.
So, ATP has 3 phosphates.
ATP is transformed to ADP (and AMP, but that’s a different story) when the cells use ATP for energy. ADP is Adenosine diphosphate. Since “di” means two, we know the ATP molecule lost one phosphate when it became ADP.
The Creatine peptide, being a generous peptide, donates the phosphate it has to the two phosphate ADP so it can once again be a complete three phosphate ATP and be used by the cell for energy.
But what happens to the used up Creatine?
I will explain, but first I need to tell you how the creatine got the phosphate molecule in the first place.
Creatine’s Humble beginning in the body
Creatine does not automatically run around with a phosphate molecule attached. In fact, creatine that does have a phosphate molecule is a special form, called phosphocreatine. It must undergo a process to become the helpful form of phosphocreatine.
Creatine is created in the liver and initially has no phosphate attached. The liver sends the creatine on a journey through the blood stream on its way to the muscle. Not all creatine goes to muscle, but about 95% does.
Creatine gets phosphate with a Little Help from a Friend
Once the creatine reaches the muscle it meets a little helper. This helper is creatine kinase. Creatine kinase is like the mechanic.
His job is adding the phosphate to the creatine so the creatine is ready for action. Now the creatine can donate the phosphate to ADP when the time comes.
The Hero’s Moment!
The moment arrives for creatine to do it’s job. Maybe you are lifting a heavy barbell overhead. The energy needed for the effort is requiring large quantities of ATP in the muscle cells to lose a phosphate and become ADP.
Creatine jumps in and gives the ADP the phosphate right off it’s own back, returning the ADP back to ATP, so you can use it again to lift more.
Now, the phosphate-less creatine needs help!
Creatine kinase comes to the rescue and bolts on another phosphate to the creatine peptide so the creatine can continue donating phosphates and recycling the ADP to ATP.
This is the end, my friend
Eventually, the heroic creatine reaches its useful limit and can no longer donate or receive phosphate, so the body breaks the creatine down into creatinine and you pee it out.
Kind of a sad end for a hero, but Creatine is truly a selfless peptide.
Why should we supplement with creatine if our bodies make it?
As you just learned, Creatine has a limit on how many times it can receive and donate phosphorous molecules, before it is broken down and peed out.
If you work out with high intensity, do a lot of sprinting or fast running, or lift heavy weights, it is possible for you to use more creatine than your body makes.
Creatine in our body
Creatine Math – what is a normal creatine level
Your body makes about 1 gram of creatine per day.
We carry on average, about two grams of creatine for every kilo of weight. I weigh 65 kilos or 143 lbs. So if I fall within the creatine average, I should have about 130 grams of creatine in my body “on reserve”.
The MAX creatine our bodies can hold is about 3 grams per kilo. So my creatine tank maxes out at 195 grams.
Max of 195 minus 130 g already in the tank means I could use 65 more grams of creatine before I max out.
Since I workout, including lifting weights and exercise that use bursts of power ad rapid energy, I am using creatine up each day. Since the average 150 lb man burns about 2 grams of creatine a day, I suppose I burn about that too.
So our bodies make one gram a day, but use two. That leaves us with negative 1.
So where does the extra gram come from?
If we don’t supplement, it is most likely to come from our food. If our food is not giving us enough, we dip into our reserve.
It is easy to see that an athlete who is training hard could easily begin using reserve stores quite a bit.
This combined with the fact that study after study show creatine supplementation improves power output and strength ought to be enough to convince an athlete to supplement.
It looks like the evidence is pointing to this:
The closer your creatine stores are to their max capacity, the better performance will be.
Creatine in our Food
But wait, why supplement if I can get my Creatine from my diet?
Let’s say, for kicks, your Creatine consumption goal is 5 grams a day. You decided, with your activity level this is what you need to keep your creatine storehouses brimming to the full.
Creatine is most heavily concentrated in flesh. In Fact, the Name creatine is derived from the word “Kreas” which means flesh in Greek. That means you are going to need to eat flesh to get Creatine from your diet.
You are going to need to eat a fair amount of animal to get 5 grams of creatine. In order to consume 5 grams of Creatine in the form of real food, you would need to eat one of the below:
- 1 Kilo of steak ( 2.2 lbs for those in the U.S.)
- 3 lbs of Chicken
- 1 lb of fresh, not canned tuna
While I admit, it is not impossible to eat one of these foods in the quantities listed, it would be uncomfortable. 3 lbs of chicken in one day? That gets old fast.
Not to mention Creatine supplementation is far less expensive!
You can buy a tub of creatine for the price you would pay for one serving of creatine coming from a steak.
OK, the steak is tastier, maybe you should just get both!
How is Creatine Manufactured?
Our bodies make creatine and it is found in virtually every cell in our body. Animals and fish also have creatine in their bodies, and that could be a source for creatine, except it is no practical, expensive, and why kill Bambi if it is unnecessary?
Synthetically manufactured creatine
In the lab, creatine is made using a brew of sarcosine and cyanamide, with a few catalysts. Then heat and pressure are applied until creatine crystals are formed.
There are many variations of creatine, and most start from this simple base formula and add or process from there.
See Section on creatine types for more details.
To Cycle, or Not to Cycle, that is the Question – Tips on How to take Creatine
Should you cycle creatine? How to take creatine?
How much creatine do you need? When should you take it?
This chapter will answer these questions and more.
Read on to decide which consumption methods are the best creatine for bulking, strength and power gains.
What is Creatine loading?
Reaching Your Limit
As I discussed in the previous chapter, our bodies have a limit to the amount of creatine they can store.
Creatine storage limit: About 3 grams per kilo of body weight.Creatine storage limit: About 3 grams per kilo of body weight. Click To Tweet
Our bodies, on average, carry about 2 grams of creatine per kilo of body weight, which means we could add 1 gram before we max out.
This is where loading comes in.
The idea behind the creatine loading phase is to fill up the gas tank to full, so to speak.
By loading creatine with a megadose for a week it is thought that you will get closer to the 3 gram per kilo limit your body has.
The most common loading protocol is 25 grams per day for one week, but recommendations vary.
Do I need to “load” Creatine?
The simple answer is no, you can achieve the same benefits from creatine with a smaller dose taken consistently.
There are pros and cons to loading creatine.
- You might see the benefits faster if you load creatine.
- Loading, or taking a high dose, can cause cramping and discomfort. You could always split the dose into several smaller doses taken through the day.
What if I decide not to load creatine?
If you decide not to load, you will eventually reap the same benefits of loading, if you consistently take a dose that is higher than your body is using. (resource)
The Costco Analogy
Think of it like a freezer full of frozen dinners. You body, like a freezer, has limited storage. If you go on a huge Costco shopping spree and fill the freezer full of entrees in the first week, then you have a lot of options when deciding what to make for dinner.
You could take your time filling the freezer and only throw in a few entrees a day. Eventually, since you deposit two entrees, but only use one each day, you will fill the freezer, just slower than you would with the super market sweep method.
Anyone who cooks for themselves knows the freezer does not magically stay full, it must be replenished as you use the entrees. The same idea applies to creatine stores in your muscle.
You must continue with a daily maintenance dose to keep the stores full. If you don’t take a daily maintenance dose, your muscles will eventually get back down to the creatine level you started with.
This is not harmful since your body manufactures creatine and you get it from your diet, its just that you wont have the same benefits you had when the stores were full.
How much creatine should I take?
Since I am not a doctor I am not qualified to tell you how much you should take, but what I can tell you is what recommendations I see most often.
Common Creatine Loading Recommendation
- 20 to 25 grams per day for 5 to 7 days
- 0.3 g of creatine per kg of body weight for 5 days
Common Creatine Maintenance Phase Recommendation
- Some say 2-3 grams a day
- Many say 5 grams per day
- Some say 5-10 grams per day
Do I need to cycle creatine?
My simple answer is NO, you can take creatine safely without taking periodic breaks.
Back in the early days of creatine supplementation, you may have heard that you should cycle creatine. This line of thinking may have come about because there are other supplements and other body building “helpers” that do need to be cycled.
The idea is that if you do not cycle, you body becomes immune and you stop seeing the benefit, and that your body stops making creatine naturally.
But this thinking is false when applied to creatine.
Long Term Creatine users
This study from 2001 looked at 26 male and female athletes who used creatine long term. The study found that:
2 Year study of football Players
A study of football players who consumed creatine at a level of 5 to 20 grams per day for the duration of the two year study found no detrimental effects to their kidneys or liver.
10 weeks using creatine.
This study showed continuous improvements in muscle strength during a 10 week trial. The study participants did not cycle the creatine, and still saw benefits.
To be honest, I could not find a study that was performed longer than the one above, where continuous performance enhancement was demonstrated.
Long term studies are expensive, and since Creatine has a great track record for safety, maybe there is not much incentive to conduct a study.
What I do know is the science seems to say long term supplementation is safe.
I also could not find one study demonstrating that cycling on and off creatine benefits the athlete.
If you know of some literature or documentation that contradicts this, please let me know in the comments below.
What should I take with Creatine – Protein, Carbs, or nothing?
Let me take a stab at answering this question, or at least providing information that will aid you in deciding what to take creatine with.
First, the quick answer.
You should take creatine with carbs, or protein as opposed to taking it by itself.
Because eating carbs substantially enhances muscle Creatine accumulation (resource).
Insulin plays a role
The idea is that increasing your insulin response by eating carbs or protein increases creatine accumulation in the muscle.
Recreational Body Builder Study: Creatine vs Whey vs Carbs
This interesting 11 week long study looked at 33 recreational (not pro) male bodybuilders.
These guys were split into 4 groups.
- Group 1: Whey protein only. Nutrition: 100 g of protein. (WP)
- Group 2: Creatine and Whey Protein. Nutrition: Load of 24 g creatine for 1 week, with the maintenance of about 8 g of creatine, plus 100 g protein (CrWP)
- Group 3: Creatine with Carbs. Nutrition: Load of 24 g creatine for 1 week, with the maintenance of about 8 g of creatine plus 100 g of carbs (CrCHO)
- Group 4: Carbs only. Nutrition: 100 g of Carbs only. (CHO)
Each group took their prescribed supplements daily while performing a high intensity structured training program using compound exercise and free weights.
While, unfortunately, the study did not test creatine alone, it did test carbs and whey protein alone. Nonetheless, it still has relevance.
These findings might help you decide if you should supplement creatine alone or with other nutrients.
- Groups who had Creatine with either protein or carbs gained the most lean body mass.
- Creatine with Carbs gained 3.7 kilos of Lean mass
- Creatine with Whey gained 3.4 kilos of lean mass
- Whey only gained 2.3 kilos of lean mass
- Carbs only gained .7 kilos of lean mass
- 3 of the four groups experienced gains in strength. The carbs only group did not see any strength gains.
- Both groups using creatine saw an increase in Type I, Type IIa and Type IIx vs. Carb only group.
- Interesting to note that the Whey protein only group saw greater gains than the carb only group for Type IIa and Type IIx muscle fiber, but not type I, which makes it appear that whey is good for building fast twitch muscle, but not slow twitch.
Looks like Carbs are taking the lead in this race
Seems like using carbs with creatine has a slight advantage, at least in terms of gaining lean body mass, than Creatine with protein.
It is really too bad this study did not use creatine alone to see what the difference would have been.
One thing that does stand out to me is that if you do take whey protein, using creatine can give that supplement a boost, performance wise.
When should I take Creatine? When is the best time? Pre-workout or Post workout?
Contrary to info found elsewhere on the web, The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition published a study stating:
Very interesting indeed!Surprising study finds taking Creatine Post Workout is superior Click To Tweet
The study took 19 male bodybuilders and divided them into two groups.
Group 1: Pre-workout Creatine supplementation group who consumed 5 grams right before working out.
Group 2: Post- workout creatine supplementation group, who took 5 grams of creatine right after working
Both groups supplemented daily for 4 weeks, performed a prescribed workout and followed a prescribed diet during the 4 weeks.
Those who supplemented after a workout had a larger increase in Fat Free Body mass and increase in 1 rep bench press max than those who supplemented before the workout.
As someone who takes creatine pre-workout, I was surprised by the study and am considering changing this habit.
What do I mix creatine with? What is the best juice or beverage?
There are basically three ways you can purchase creatine, in pure powder form, pill form and drink mix form.
Pre made Drink mixes with Creatine
Drink mix already has flavoring and what not. Usually with those you just add water. The benefit of drink mixes is that most have the carbs (via added sugar in the mix) built right in, except the low carb mixes.
Since carbs help with getting the creatine into your muscle, these mixes are a decent choice, unless you need (or want to) to limit sugar in your diet.
Creatine Pills and 100 % pure Creatine powders
Using a pill or powder form of pure creatine gives you a lot more flexibility as far as what you can take with it.
Some people take pure creatine with plain old water.
This is fine, but studies show that insulin may help shuttle creatine into the muscle, so it may help to eat or drink carbs or protein to facilitate absorption.
Juice or protein shake
If you want an insulin boost to help the creatine move, any fruit juice or protein shake will help increase insulin which in turn aids in muscle uptake of creatine.
Can I drink Creatine with Caffeine or Coffee?
Some people like to take creatine with coffee.
Some athletes use coffee as a “Pre-workout” for the caffeine energy boost and it is convenient to throw the creatine in and chug it down. Creatine dissolves well in coffee, another benefit to drinking creatine with your coffee.
There has been some debate about consuming creatine and caffeine together. Some have said caffeine may block the effect of creatine.
I wondered if this was true, so I did a little digging to see what might come up.
While the effect of caffeine plus creatine on endurance has been studied and found to be OK, what I was concerned with was the combo’s effect on power, strength gains and lean muscle gain.
Study on Creatine plus Caffeine on endurance and “Time to exhaustion”
The study found that the combo of creatine with caffeine did increase blood lactate, whereas creatine alone and caffeine alone did not.Combo of creatine with caffeine does increase blood lactate, whereas creatine alone and caffeine alone does not. Click To Tweet
Study of Caffeine and Creatine on strength
This study looked at one group who took creatine alone, and another who took creatine with caffeine and found that the group taking just creatine performed better on a strength test (knee extensor) than the group taking the combo.
It looks like creatine and caffeine help for endurance exercises like running, cycling, treadmill and sprinting, but not during strength exercises like bench press and knee extensors.
Creatine plus caffeine (and coffee) may help with endurance sports, but the science does not show the combo helps strength or muscle gains, and in fact, one study showed a negative effect.
This, combined with the data showing that it is more beneficial to take creatine post workout means I won’t be taking my creatine with coffee pre-workout anymore. No big deal, I still plan to drink coffee, I will just have my creatine after I workout.
Truthfully, the science is somewhat scant in this area, and new data is available constantly, so if you know of some solid research that contradicts this, please let me know!
Should Women take Creatine? Does Creatine Benefit Women?
Will Creatine make women big and muscular, like men?
While creatine is shown to increase lean muscle mass, a woman lacks the testosterone to build huge muscles.
Women will build some muscle by lifting weights and creatine will help them strength-wise, but not to the extent of looking like the incredible hulk.
This study compared men and women who took creatine. While the study showed that both men and women increased muscle thickness, it was men who saw the most significant increase.
Creatine will help women replace fat with lean dense muscle, plus it will make them stronger during lifts and other explosive exercise.
Can creatine enhance women’s sports performance?
The short answer:
Yes, Creatine benefits women’s performance!
Female Soccer Players Creatine fueled Plyometric Performance Improvements
This study, done on female soccer players looked at how creatine affected their performance on plyometric tasks.
The soccer players were put in three groups.
- Group 1: Control Group that neither engaged in training nor took supplementation.
- Group 2: Placebo, a group that received plyometric training, and took a placebo supplement
- Group 3: Group that received the plyometric training and received Creatine.
Group 2 and 3 were trained and tested for Jump performance, Sprint, repeated sprinting and endurance.
Both placebo group and creatine group improved on all 4 parameters but the creatine group scored higher on jumps (which use explosive power) and repeated sprints(endurance).
Yes, the evidence points to improvements in female performance, particularly with regards to explosive power and endurance.
My Personal Experience
I am a female who takes between 2 to 4 grams of pure micronized creatine every morning before I work out. I have been at it off and on, for about a year and a half. I just dump it in my coffee and hit the gym in a fasted state.
What I have noticed:
- A bit more arm definition, not huge muscles, but they are a little more noticeable. Same thing with my thighs and glutes.
- I am a little stronger. Push ups have gotten easier. I still can’t do a ton, but I can complete a set of 10 successfully with good form.
- I recover faster. Between exercises, I find I am ready to go before the others in my class. I really believe it is the creatine because when I slack off and stop taking the creatine, I notice I am not ready to go again as quickly. I do notice a subtle performance difference. The faster recover is easily my favorite benefit.
Is Creatine Safe? Are there Side Effects from Taking Creatine?
Creatine has a very small amount of bad press surrounding its safety, and from my research, most of the claims are unfounded. Let me explain.
Creatine: Most researched Supplement
Creatine is one of the most researched supplements available today. Its safety has been proven in study after study.
However, since questions about safety do pop up, and it is important to investigate any supplement you decide to take, let me tackle the most common questions regarding creatine safety.
Does creatine cause kidney problems or Kidney stones?
The Kidney problems scare came from a single case study done in 1998 on a man with a history of kidney disease who experienced deteriorating renal function while supplementing with creatine, which was reversed once he stopped taking it.
French and European newspapers took the case study and made the claim that creatine was dangerous, based on the experience of just one person, and someone who already had kidney disease to begin with.
The authors of the case study state:
Creatinine is a byproduct of creatine.
Creatinine is also sometimes used by doctors to determine if the kidneys are functioning properly, and elevated levels of creatinine may indicate a problem, or not.
The problem is most athletes, whether they use creatine or not, have elevated levels of creatinine.
Athletes are using more creatine in their bodies, causing the byproduct creatinine to rise too. It is totally normal and happens even if the athlete is not using creatine.
The vast majority of studies claim creatine consumption of less than 25 grams per day is safe for those with normal kidney function.
Does creatine cause baldness or hair loss?
According to a popular and unbiased website, www.examine.com, Creatine might quicken the pace of balding in men with male pattern baldness. This is due to the fact that creatine increases DHT, an androgen and testosterone metabolite, which is a factor in hair loss.
Does creatine cause acne?
This is a tough question to answer conclusively.
There are no studies that I could find that indicate creatine causes or increases acne.
However, since creatine has been related to small increases in Testosterone and DHT, it is not crazy to think that it has some effect although small, on hormones that may increase acne.
This is not scientific data, just my thoughts here.
I have heard several users give antidotal reports that acne increased when they started taking creatine.
Maybe creatine itself is not the cause, but other factors, like increased time in the gym, more sweating due to longer endurance and workout time, more growth hormone from heavier lifts?
Could be, could be totally wrong. All I can say is the science behind creatine does not, as far as I know, show a link to acne.
What happens when you stop taking creatine?
One study said this:
While there are not many studies that look at what happens once someone stops taking creatine, it is the most studied supplement available today and of all those studies, all the participants presumably stopped taking creatine after the study was over.
Furthermore, many athletes cycle creatine taking several weeks off at a time without problems.
Back to baseline levels of creatine
If you stop taking creatine you will return to your baseline creatine levels.
Remember most people store about two grams of creatine per kilo of body weight? You will likely go back down to string just two grams per kilo.
Loss of water weight
You are also likely to lose a few kilos of water weight. Remember creatine pulls water into the muscle, so you gain a few kilos when you start supplementing, and if you stop, you lose a few of those kilos.
What happens if you take too much creatine?
Is it possible to overdose on creatine? It’s a good question; we should always carefully investigate any supplement we take.
One of the most common side effects of creatine comes from taking “loading phase” doses of creatine in one dose. This would be 20 to 25 grams at once, which may cause stomach cramping.
Remember, Creatine is an osmotic, so it will take water in from surrounding areas, and if you take a high dose, this transfer of water causes cramping.
If you are taking a loading dose and you experience cramping:
- drink more water
- divide the dose into smaller amounts taken throughout the day
- reconsider the loading phase, as you can build creatine stores without loading
Taking too much creatine can cause Cramping, diarrhea, nausea and stomach pain.Taking too much creatine can cause Cramping, diarrhea, nausea and stomach pain. Click To Tweet
I tried to find a lethal dose of creatine and came up empty-handed, so I have no idea what the upper limit is.
The highest recommended dose I have seen is 35 grams and that is way more than I would take personally, but for a heavier person who is loading or using a lot of creatine via intense exercise, it seems reasonable.
Does creatine make you gain weight?
Muscle weight gains
Yes! In fact, the most sought-after benefit of creatine is an increase in lean muscle tissue.
Lean muscle tissue is heavy, and the same volume of muscle will weigh more than an equal volume of fat.
Does creatine make you bloated? – Water weight
Increasing creatine content in your muscles means you increase the water stored in the muscle as well. This water weight can be a few kilos or more, depending on how much muscle you have.
Of course, your creatine storage capacity is limited, so naturally, the water weight will be limited too. But yes, you do gain water weight.
95% of creatine in the body is stored inside the muscle, along with the extra water. Since the water is inside the muscle it is hard to imagine why creatine would make anyone appear bloated. It should make your muscles appear larger, to an extent.
Personally, I have experienced weight gain of about a kilo and a half, but I would not say I feel or look “bloated”.
Can creatine cause cancer?
I have not seen any studies show that creatine causes cancer.
I think there is some confusion because some cancer studies show cancer cells have an increase in creatine kinase, or cancer patients have an increased serum level of creatine kinase.
Just because creatine causes an increase in creatine kinase, and cancer causes an increase in creatine kinase, does not mean creatine causes cancer. That is faulty logic.
The most likely cause of increased creatine kinase is that the body is using more creatine for whatever reason.
Exercise causes an increased level of creatine kinase too!
So, until I see some solid science, I am not concerned. I do not see any reason to believe that creatine supplementation could cause cancer.
Creatine Myths, Misinformation and Facts
Is creatine a steroid?
No, nope. Not a steroid. It is a tri-peptide.
Three amino acids linked together by fate and science.
It is not addictive, there is no withdraw when you stop taking it, and the only scientifically significant side effect of consuming it is increases in water weight and increases in lean muscle tissue.
It is created by the body, in the liver, and consumed via flesh and meat products, and taken as a supplement.
It is not similar to steroids structurally nor in function.
Can I take creatine and drink alcohol, is it safe?
Technically yes. There are no known adverse reactions from taking creatine and drinking.
I will spare you the lecture about the evils of alcohol, but there is one thing to consider, especially if you have just started taking creatine.
Since creatine takes water up into the muscle, and drinking by nature is dehydrating, you may need to up your water intake if you decide to drink. (the liquid in beer or the drinks does not count. Drink a glass or two of pure water).
Are there people who do not respond to creatine supplementation?
This finding may surprise youAnywhere from 25% to 30% of people do not respond to creatine supplementation or only respond a little Click To Tweet
Non-responders will not see significant serum level increase in creatine levels, less than 10mmol/L. Quasi-responders may see a 10-20mmol/L increase.
This study seems to agree, there are responders and non responders.
Those with a higher ratio of fast Twitch Type II muscle respond better to creatine
When you consider the study presented in chapter one this makes sense. These bodybuilders being studied had the greatest gains in type II muscle tissue vs type one slow twitch muscle.
These experienced bodybuilders would have a higher ratio of fast twitch muscle due to lifting heavy weights, which not only allowed them to respond to creatine, but see gains in this muscle type.
An endurance athlete (eg long distance runners) would logically have a higher ratio of slow twitch muscle because slow twitch muscle has more endurance.
A high ratio of slow twitch muscle is correlated to being a non-responder.
Think Outside the Muscle: Creatine’s “Other” Benefits
Creatine has Neuro-protective and cardio-protective properties
Creatine lowers homocysteine levels, which may in turn lower risk for heart disease and cerebrovascular disease.
Creatine has been shown to be protective against certain toxins, excitotoxins and other brain insults. (resource)
Creatine helps alleviate depression. But caution is warranted with those who have bipolar disorder because this small study showed creatine supplementation led to a manic state.
Creatine improved depression score ratings faster than placebo when taken with an SSRI.
In other words, it seems that creatine helps the SSRI become effective sooner. SSRI medication usually takes many weeks to take effect (resource).
Creatine may increase Growth Hormone and IFG-1
This seems to be true when resistance training is involved.
One study administered creatine, in combination with a specific exercise program involving resistance training and found that creatine increases IFG-I levels intramuscularly.
One small study noted that a single dose of 20 grams of creatine spiked growth hormone levels.
Cognition (Vegetarians) Creatine in vegetarians
Vegetarians do not receive significant amounts of creatine from their diet because creatine is found mostly in the flesh and skin of animals.
Creatine supplements were given to vegetarians in 5-gram doses daily for 6 weeks. Creatine gave these vegetarians a significant positive effect in working memory and intelligence tasks related to the speed of processing (resource).
Pros and Cons of the Different types of Creatine
Before we start talking about the best creatine on the market and the best creatine brands let’s take a look at the different types of creatine available.
There is a large variety and each comes with its own set of claimed benefits.
What is the best form of creatine?
My vote is for Creatine Monohydrate because it is just so cheap, proven time and time again to be effective, and it’s cheap. Did I mention that already?
- Creatine Phosphate, also known as phosphocreatine is creatine with a phosphate attached and is in a form that our muscles can use when we lift a heavyweight or engage in an intense effort. About 60% of the creatine in our bodies is in this form.
- Our bodies break down and flush out about 1 to 2% of this type of creatine daily and we may use more than our bodies create, which is why supplementing is used to keep creatine stores full.
- Creatine Monohydrate is creatine with a water molecule attached. This form is the most researched, has a proven track record of effectiveness, and is very inexpensive to manufacture, making it the most popular form available on the market. Best creatine supplements value-wise, are made with Creatine Monohydrate.
- Creatine Monophosphate has been known to cause stomach cramps in large doses, similar to what you might take during the loading phase.
- This is Creatine monohydrate with the water molecule removed. This makes the creatine more concentrated and is a form sometimes seen in creatine pills.
- Its effectiveness is equal to monohydrate, but it is more expensive due to processing to remove the water molecule, which is why a powder form is not popular.
- This is also Creatine Monohydrate milled to a very fine powder. The fine particles are supposed to mix up better, and since I have used this type I can say it is true. It mixes quite easily in every beverage I have used it in. It does go down just a little bit easier. Some of the best creatine supplements use this version.
- Even though technically it mixes with drinks better, it is still possible to have some settle at the bottom of the glass. It does not absorb into your body any faster than regular monohydrate, and it may be more expensive because of the extra processing.
Buffered Creatine – Kre Alkyn
- This is also known as buffered Creatine Monohydrate. This form of creatine has magnesium attached. The magnesium is removed in the process of digestion.
- Manufactures claim this form will not cause cramping and that the buffer protects it during digestion, but this actually makes no sense because the body needs to remove the buffer and return the creatine to its normal state so it can be taken into the muscles. Seems like a gimmick, and studies show, it is no more or less effective than monohydrate.
- Creatine nitrate is way more water soluble than monohydrate which could be a nice benefit if you find the creatine settling out of your drink.
- It seems it is not as concentrated as monohydrate. You need to take 6.5 grams of the nitrate form to equal 5 grams of monohydrate, plus there have been no studies showing it is better or worse than monohydrate.
Creatine hydrochloride – creatine hcl
- This creatine is married to a hydrochloride molecule, which lowers it’s PH and makes it far more soluble in water.
- Not much research on this version, and the one study that was done used flawed methods; did not use sufficient water to ingest the creatine, and did not measure creatine in the muscle, where it matters.
- Creatine Citrate is Creatine Monohydrate with a citric acid molecule attached. It dissolves better in water than monohydrate.
- No studies proving it is a superior form of creatine, but it is more expensive.
- Creatine Malate is 3 creatine monohydrate molecules with one malic acid molecule attached. It is more soluble in water than monohydrate.
- There are no studies proving it is any better than the monohydrate version and it is generally more expensive.
Creatine ethyl ester
- Creatine Ethyl Ester is creatine with a personality disorder. It is unstable and is prone to break down into the wrong things.
- Specifically, it is more likely to break down into Creatinine, which is a used up creatine byproduct that can not benefit the muscles.
- Definitely not the best creatine on the market.
- Creatine monohydrate that is broken down into the smallest possible molecules using a High-pressure Liquid Chromatography process.
- Extra cost involved for specialized processing. No science showing it is available for muscle use any faster than standard Creatine Monohydrate.
- Creatine bound to an Alpha-Ketoglutarate molecule. Alpha-Ketoglutarate is said to be an antioxidant and krebs cycle intermediate which means it can be brought into the muscle easier.
- I have also heard that this type of creatine is good for creatine “non-responders.
- This type of creatine has not been studied extensively; in fact I could find no studies on it at all. The claims made can not be verified, as far as I know.
Top 15 Creatine Supplements & Best Creatine Monohydrate Reviews
I hope you enjoyed this Guide to creatine.
As I said before, I am always open to hearing new data and fresh perspectives.
Leave a comment below and let me know what you think of the guide, and if I missed anything you believe should be included.