Is Creatine Safe? Does Creatine Work?
Does creatine work?
Well folks, before we talk about the best way to take creatine, we have to discuss what creatine is and its functions. Aside from being one of the most widely used and researched natural supplements in the sports industry today; creatine is a compound found in your muscles that provides your body with quick bursts of energy. Consuming a creatine supplement can help increase intramuscular creatine concentrations (PCr), leading to improvements in high-intensity exercise and greater training adaptations. Think of PCr as gasoline to fire. Quickly combustible, but equally quickly is used up. PCr is not meant to give you long periods of energy. It is meant to give you a brief amount of energy in order to allow glycolysis to catch up. Additional research has also shown that creatine supplementation can enhance post-exercise recovery, improve exercise tolerance in heat, aid in injury prevention, enhance rehabilitation from injury and protect the brain and spinal cord1. Research shows that short-term creatine supplementation improves maximal power-strength output by 5-15% and improves repetitive sprint performances by 5-15% as well2.
When it comes to creatine dosing, there are a couple of very effective ways to increase intramuscular creatine stores. Before we dive into proper dosing, however, it is important to note that through a normal diet, your body’s creatine stores are 60-80% saturated, but creatine supplementation can increase these stores by 20-40%1, leading to full saturated stores.
How to use creatine
One method of creatine dosing involves a creatine “loading phase.” While not necessary, this method rapidly increases your creatine stores in a short period of time and proves to be more effective in strength and power activities. Researchers recommend consuming 5 g of creatine monohydrate (approx. 0.3 g/kg body weight) four times daily for 5-7 days1. After this “loading” period is complete and your creatine stores are fully saturated. To maintain these high levels, during the post-loading phase take 3-5 g/day. Studies also show that pairing creatine consumption with a carbohydrate (CHO) source (such as bread products, fruit, granola bars, etc) or a CHO & protein (such as a protein shake, chocolate milk, fruit & nut butter, etc.) source helps to promote greater creatine retention1.
Another creatine supplementation method involves taking 3-5 g/day of creatine monohydrate for 28 days in order to fully saturate your creatine stores over time. However, while this method may eventually achieve fully saturated stores since you are not gaining creatine as rapidly, the creatine supplementation is going to have less of a quick effect on performance and training adaptations. Evidence suggests that cessation of creatine supplementation drops intramuscular creatine levels back to baseline1.
What to look for in a supplement
With so many supplements on the market today it’s hard to choose one that would be best for you. That being said, when looking at creatine supplements, choose a brand that has been tested by a third party such as BSCG, Informed-Sport, or NSF for sport.
As far as safety for creatine goes, numerous studies point to creatine’s safety over both short and long-term time periods at recommended doses. Very few side effects have been reported; though rare some report nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Others also note weight gain while supplementing with creatine. The weight gain is likely due to increased water retention in the muscles3. However, that being said, creatine supplementation is not known to use dehydration or cramping4. It is worth noting though that since creatine is metabolized in your kidneys, creatine supplementation may not be safe for someone with renal disease. People with renal disease or any other underlying health condition should consult their doctor before starting a supplementation routine5.
1). Kreider, R.B., Kalman, D.S., Antonio, J. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 18 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-
2). Kreider RB. Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations. Mol Cell Biochem. 2003;244(1-2):89-94.
3). Tarnopolsky MA. Caffeine and creatine use in sport. Ann Nutr Metab. 2010;57 Suppl 2:1-8. doi:10.1159/000322696
4). Greenwood M, Kreider RB, Melton C, et al. Creatine supplementation during college football training does not increase the incidence of cramping or injury. Mol Cell Biochem. 2003;244(1-2):83-88.
5). Creatine. Medline Plus. U.S. National Library of Medicine https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/873.html. Updated 2021. Accessed September 2, 2021.