Creatine doesn’t just work quickly, it is also one of the most scientifically validated performance enhancing substances for athletes.
What is creatine?
Creatine occurs naturally in the human body with approx. 95% of creatine stored in skeletal muscle. Among other things, creatine is involved in the energy supply for muscular activity. A small amount of creatine is degraded daily into creatinine, which is one of the metabolites excreted through urine. To compensate for this loss creatine is synthesized mainly in the liver and kidneys, from the amino acids glycine, arginine and methionine. Apart from endogenous synthesis, this substance can also be supplied to the body via food: creatine occurs exclusively in animal products, predominantly in meat and fish, as well as in small amounts in dairy products, and is therefore described as a ‘Carninutrient’ (1). Consequently, on a vegetarian or vegan diet the creatine levels in the muscles are lower (2).
|Creatine in food (raw)|
|Meat and poultry||approx. 3-7 g/kg|
|Fish||approx. 3-7 g/kg|
|Milk and dairy products||approx. 0,1 g/kg|
Source: Creapure®, manufacturers own analysis
It should be noted that during cooking, depending on cooking time and method, creatine is partially destroyed, i.e. converted into creatinine (1).
How does creatine supplementation work?
Creatine monohydrate is described as the most effective food supplement for improving performance during high-intensity (anaerobic) exercise, as well as for increasing fat free body mass (3). With high muscle creatine levels it is possible to train more intensively, with shorter recovery periods during intense training session. Furthermore, results from scientific studies show, among other things, additional benefits of a creatine supplementation regarding recovery and injury prevention.
Which chemical form of creatine is the most effective?
There are several different types of creatine available as a food supplement, but creatine monohydrate is among the most extensively researched form. To date there have been no evidence-based scientific studies to prove that any other chemical form of creatine is more effective as creatine monohydrate (4). Even so-called ‘buffered’ i.e. alkaline creatine, which is supposed to lead to a higher level of creatine storage in the muscle due to a higher bioavailability, could not be confirmed as superior in a recent study (5).
Creatine supplementation: to load or not to load?
To fully saturate the muscle creatine concentration levels a low dose of at least 3g creatine per day for 4 weeks is as effective as a loading phase of 20g creatine (4x5g/day) for 6 days (6). “Which dosing strategy should be preferred depends on how quickly the maximal creatine storage capacity of the muscle should be reached, as well as on individual conditions. Some people can get an upset stomach from a loading protocol, and it also can be inconvenient to consume multiple doses of creatine throughout the day. Ultimately the optimal dosage strategy is a very individual decision”, according to Dr. Brad Schoenfeld, an internationally renowned strength and fitness expert.
Should creatine be cycled (as a short-term regime)?
“With regards to performance I’m not aware of any evidence that creatine needs to be cycled”, says Dr. Brad Schoenfeld. After the muscle creatine concentration reaches full saturation, this can be maintained by a continued supplementation with 2-5g/day. This is because already after approx. 4 weeks without creatine supplementation the creatine levels in the body drop back to the initial level (6).
Is creatine supplementation harmless?
The consumption of high purity creatine monohydrate in the correct manner by healthy athletes is seen as harmless to the health. The occurrence of muscle cramps, diarrhoea, stomach cramps, liver and kidney dysfunctions during a course of creatine supplementation are based on anecdotal single observations and comments in internet forums. These side effects have not been confirmed by numerous, well controlled clinical studies (3;7). The strict European Food Safety Authority classes the chronic, daily consumption of 3g of high purity creatine by healthy adults as unlikely to pose any risk (8). In addition, in several studies the continuous consumption of a daily dose of up to 5g of creatine monohydrate is rated as safe (9). However, creatine supplementation can lead to an increase in body weight, initially due to increased water retention, and later on due to an increase in lean muscle mass (10).
Author: Corinne Mäder Reinhard, Senior Sports Nutrition Manager Active Nutrition International. She holds an International Olympic Committee postgraduate Diploma in Sports Nutrition and is a certified Sports Nutritionist from the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
The exercises, training and/or nutritional information and recommendations presented in this article/video are to be followed at your own risk and do not substitute personal and/or individual advice. Medical advice should be obtained beforehand by anyone under 18 years of age, by individuals with health restrictions (especially orthopaedic or internal complaints/conditions), and by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. If problems are encountered when applying the training and nutritional methods, a doctor should always be consulted immediately. No liability is assumed by Active Nutrition International GmbH.
- Brosnan, M.E. & Brosnan, J.T. (2016), The role of dietary creatine. Amino Acids, Aug;48(8):1785-91.
- Watt, K.K., Garnham, A.P., & Snow, R.J. (2004). Skeletal muscle total creatine content and creatine transporter gene expression in vegetarians prior to and following creatine supplementation. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 14(5):517-31
- Kreider, R.B., Kalman, D.S., Antonio, J. & et al. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 13;14:18.
- Jäger, R., Purpura, M., Shao, A., Inoue, T., & Kreider, R.B. (2011). Analysis of the efficacy, safety, and regulatory status of novel forms of creatine. Amino Acids, 40(5):1369-83.
- Jagim, A.R. & et al. (2012). A buffered form of creatine does not promote greater changes in muscle creatine content, body composition, or training adaptations than creatine monohydrate. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 13;9(1):43.
- Hultman, E., Söderlund, K., Timmons, J.A., Cederblad, G., & Greenhaff, P.L. (1996). Muscle creatine loading in men. J Appl Physiol, Jul;81(1):232-7.
- Tarnopolsky, M.A. (2010). Caffeine and creatine use in sport. Ann Nutr Metab, 57 Suppl 2:1-8.
- European Food Safety Authority, (2004). Creatine monohydrate for use in food for particular nutritional uses. Question number EFSA-Q-2003-125. The EFSA Journal, 36, 1-6.
- Shao, A., & Hathcock, J.N. (2006). Risk assessment for creatine monohydrate. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol, 45(3):242-51.
- Persky, A.M., & Brazeau, G.A. (2001). Clinical pharmacology of the dietary supplement creatine monohydrate. Pharmacol Rev, 53(2):161-76.