Wondering whether creatine is right for you? You might consider reviewing its ever-lengthening list of benefits. It’s not just for building muscle and strength anymore.
Creatine first grew in popularity among power and strength athletes, and for good reason. This nutritional supplement gives your muscles that extra bit of energy to push harder, allowing you to lift more weight or get through more reps.
Nowadays, as the most studied sport supplement in history, creatine is turning heads due to its status as a near panacea for all athletes. It may also offer some health benefits beyond athletic performance.
An increase in muscle creatine stores has been shown to increase sprint or repetitive sprint performance by up to 20 percent (1). The finding is welcome news for those who engage in high-intensity, stop-and-go sports like basketball, soccer, or hockey.
Endurance and Speed
Because of new findings that it enhances glycogen synthesis, creatine has piqued the interest of endurance athletes seeking to combine the supplement with carb-loading strategies. In cyclists, creatine loading of up to 20 grams, combined with a moderate-carbohydrate diet increased muscle glycogen by 53 percent (2). Those extra carbs stored in muscle also gave those cyclists a significant edge when it came to powering late-stage sprints in a 120-kilometer time trial race.
Improving Quality of Workouts
Beyond helping your athletic performance, studies report that creatine improves quality of workouts through other means. For example, creatine pairs well with carbohydrate and water intake for supporting your hydration and thermoregulatory status (1). For athletes and gym-goers, it means an easier time exercising, especially when it’s hot outside.
Creatine is certainly making its mark for after workout recovery due to the recent discovery that supplementation leads to faster glycogen re-synthesis after workouts, less muscle cramping, and fewer incidences of muscle tightness or strain (1).
Better Brain, Bones, and Body
In older individuals, the use of creatine has been found to offer a number of benefits, namely to skeletal muscle, bone, and brain health (3). However, the mechanisms are not well understood, and scientists are seeking to understand more about the processes. It may be that creatine levels support a greater anabolic stimulus to muscles and work to either directly or indirectly support the process of bone remodeling (3).
The effects on brain health are also quite interesting. They are not exclusive to older individuals, as creatine taken by young female vegetarians has also resulted in better memory (4). The research suggests that low creatine levels in the brain could be a factor in mental fatigue (4).
Who Shouldn’t Take Creatine?
Based on the evidence, it’s hard to say which athletes shouldn’t take creatine. A better question would be: what dose should they take depending on the desired benefits? In most cases, just 3-6 grams per day is enough to raise muscle creatine levels depending on an athlete’s weight. Endurance athletes may need more, up to 20 grams, for enhancing muscle glycogen stores.
- 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. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition; 2017;14:1–18.
- Tomcik KA, Camera DM, Bone JL, Ross ML, Jeacocke NA, Tachtsis B, Senden J, van Loon LJC, Hawley JA, Burke LM. Effects of Creatine and Carbohydrate Loading on Cycling Time Trial Performance [Internet]. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2017. 1 p. Available from: http://insights.ovid.com/crossref?an=00005768-900000000-97135
- Gualano B, Rawson ES, Candow DG, Chilibeck PD. Creatine supplementation in the aging population: effects on skeletal muscle, bone and brain. Amino Acids. Springer Vienna; 2016;48:1793–805.
- Benton D, Donohoe R. The influence of creatine supplementation on the cognitive functioning of vegetarians and omnivores. Br J Nutr. 2011;105:1100–5.