Updated: May 5, 2022
What do you need to know about creatine? Maybe you have wondered what it is, why people use it, or what it does to benefit your performance. It is possible you have been told it is something that could negatively impact your body; being the most widely researched supplement (over 200 studies in the last decade) we will cover what you need to know!
Creatine is an amino acid that is naturally occurring in the body and is mostly found in the muscles as well as the brain. Although you can supplement it into your diet, it is also found in seafood and red meat. Additionally, the body's liver, pancreas, and kidneys also produce creatine.
When the body needs energy it uses what we call phosphocreatine which is stored in the muscles. Creatine is converted into phosphocreatine which is then used to create ATP; as a result people and athletes alike supplement creatine into their diet or nutrition plan to help increase performance and muscle mass. (1)
Benefits of supplementing with creatine:
Increases muscle strength and size
Improves sprint performance
Enhances brain function
High Intensity Training
Creatine aids in increasing overall work capacity to perform at a higher intensity for a bit longer allowing for greater gains in muscle size.
Creatine phosphate which is stored within cells in the muscle is used to supply our fast twitch muscle fibers with energy immediately during exercise; this aids those muscle groups in not fatiguing early.
This aids in providing muscle more ATP (energy form used by muscular contraction) allowing athletes to sprint at a more explosive rate for longer, hit a few more reps in the weight room, or allows an athlete to be more explosive for longer in their respective sport.
Supplementing allows the body to store more creatine leading to longer energy production at a high rate during high intensity exercise.
Essentially Creatine is a high energy phosphate and is utilized by the body to produce ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) which is the main energy source during muscular contractions. During strenuous activity, and really any activity, ATP is converted into ADP and provides musculature with the fuel needed to fire and perform.
Without creatine, energy production during high-intensity bouts of exercise would not be possible. Supplementing creatine has been shown to further enhance this process of helping athletes develop faster sprints, hit more reps in the weight room, or perform at a higher intensity much longer.
Promotes & Supports Recovery
In addition to the outstanding performance benefits from supplementing creatine, there a strong potential creatine promotes and supports recovery post exercise; a number of different studies have dug into the premise that it actually aids in recovery.
Studies have shown that creatine supplementation has a positive effect on recovery from sprint based workouts, resistance training, high intensity training, as well as endurance exercise and competitions; specifically it appears that it can enhance the repeated bouts of exercise showing we therefore will experience less soreness following training.
Unfortunately, not all studies have shown a huge positive effect on recovery from supplementation of creatine but on the positive side, no studies have shown a negative impact.
When looking at supplementation of creatine to aid in recovery, with studies showing no negative effects, it may be worthwhile to consider as an aid for not only increased performance, but as a way to help recovery or hinder the negative effects of training.
Additionally, some studies have shown that chronic ingestion of creatine enhances the resynthesis of muscle glycogen following exercise, showing that it may be a useful method to enhance recovery after repeated bouts of high intensity training, endurance exercise (think of sprints at track meets, swim meets, etc).
One specific study in 2004 by Santos and colleagues studied the effects of creatine supplementation on muscle cell damage in experience endurance athletes running a 30km race.
The study concluded that creatine supplementation somehow reduced muscle cell damage and inflammation following endurance exercise.
While creatine is widely known for its muscle building and the ability to performance on the field and in the weight room, studies have shown that creatine supplementation can also increase brain function. As we now know, creatine plays a huge role in energy production in the muscles throughout our body, it also aids in this same function in our brains giving creatine the awesome possibility to become a cognitive enhancer.
Looking at some examples of creatine being a huge enhancer of cognitive function is the management of Parkinson's Disease. Studies have found that Parkinson's develops through mitochondrial disfunction, showing that there is a breakdown in the production energy in the brain, and as we all learned in middle school science, mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.
Currently creatine is undergoing clinical studies to see if it aids in offsetting metabolic disfunction.
Additionally, these positive cognitive effects have been shown in non-diseased subjects such as the elderly and those who may not consume enough levels of creatine through their diet.
Looking at concussions and what we have learned so far from increasing athletic performance through increased energy production, the possible aid in recovery, as well as the possible cognitive enhancement, creatine has most recently been studied as a possible neuroprotective agent when it comes to recovering from concussions.
After a concussion occurs, research has shown that creatine concentrations within the brain actually decrease, which causes a change in the metabolism in the brain cells which in turn increases recovery times. In addition, there is a potential that creatine acts as an antioxidant within the brain, which supports recovery from concussive events one may experience.
The use of creatine as a neuroprotector has been tested in both animals as well as human studies. In animal studies there has been a lot of positive results; supplementation with creatine prior to a concussive event showed up to a 50% decrease damage to brain cells, which was shown to be mediated by creatine's protective impact on the mitochondria.
Although we are seeing many positive results, there obviously needs to be a larger amount of research done in the field to make concrete conclusions when it comes to the impact of creatine on concussions and their recovery time. With the results we have seen so far, it does appear that we are seeing positive outcomes when it comes to concussions and creatine which in turn could be a huge benefit to those athletes competing in contact sports known for concussive episodes.
Overall, researchers have found that creatine can provide the following benefits:
Promote greater increases in Fat Free Mass, which includes lean muscle.
Increases muscle size
Increases lean muscle mass.
Improves maximal power and strength
Improves sprint performance.
Improves repetitive sprint performance.
Improves performance during high intensity exercise.
Can improve recovery
Shows neuroprotective function.
Who Could Benefit?
Those suffering from neurodegenerative disease
Athletes in high impact sports
What Type Is Best?
Creatine Hydrochloride is the preferred form to take because it has a higher absorption rate as opposed to creatine monohydrate.
Studies have shown that Creatine Monohydrate remains readily bioavailable for longer periods meaning your body has a prolonged period to uptake it into its system. Another positive to Monohydrate as it is typically cheaper. Both forms of creatine mentioned above have shown positive results in studies to not only increase body composition, but also lean muscle mass, and overall athletic performance
Overall the supplementation of creatine has many benefits that aid in athletic performance. With the most widely known effect being an increase in performance in the weight room, but also in repeated bouts of sprinting, high intensity training, endurance exercise, and the possibility of an aid in recovery there is no question most, if not all athletes, should consider supplementing creatine. In addition the added benefits of a possible neuroprotector aiding in protection of the brain during concussive events but also the shown potential to aid in the management of degenerative brain disease are reasons for non athletes to supplement creatine as well.
Author: Christian Backes B.S. CSCS; Ironworks Performance
“Creatine.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 12 Oct. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-creatine/art-20347591.
Gastelu, Dan. (2005). Creatine Super-feature. Bodybuilding.com.
david.robson.58. “Creatine: Why Use It? Scientific Support To Back Its Benefits.” Bodybuilding.com, Bodybuilding.com, 15 Jan. 2019, www.bodybuilding.com/content/creatine-why-use-it-scientific-support-to-back-its-benefits.html.
Santos, R. V. et al. (2004) The effect of creatine supplementation upon inflammatory and muscle soreness markers after a 30km race. Life Sciences, Volume 75(16), pages 1917-1924.
Pickering, ByCraig, et al. “Creatine: Not Just for Muscle.” SimpliFaster, 17 Apr. 2020, simplifaster.com/articles/creatine-optimizing-sports-performance/.
Rae, C., Digney, A .L., McEwan, S.R. & Bates, T.C. (September 2003) Oral creatine monohydrate supplementation improves cognitive performance; a placebo-controlled, double-blind cross-over trial. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London - Biological Sciences.