Updated: Nov 20
Creatine is a very common supplement, and for good reason. We explain why you should take it by discussing how it works, what type of performance it improves, and how much you should take.
Following on from last week’s article, this week we tackle another common sports nutrition supplement: creatine. Creatine is a naturally occurring compound that helps to supply energy for working muscles. It is effective for very fast movements that require a lot of force. In this way, creatine improves your power (speed x force = power), and can improve performance in short-and-intense movements like sprinting or jumping.
In this article, we will refer to the International Olympic Committee’s consensus statement on dietary supplements and sports performance (1), which discusses:
How creatine works
The evidence for creatine as a performance enhancing compound
The recommended dosage
How Creatine Works
Creatine is stored in the body as phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine is broken down to create energy (ATP) in our muscle cells during short-and-intense movements. When we take large doses of creatine from supplements, we increase our muscle stores of creatine. This stored creatine is used to build up more phosphocreatine, which is then broken down to create more energy, and so on (see Figure 1 below). This is why creatine improves repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise.
Figure 1. The Creatine Cycle
Creatine and Performance
Creatine improves performance in both the short- and long-term. Short-term improvements have been reported for:
Maximum isometric strength
High-intensity performance less than 2.5 minutes in duration
Over the long-term, these short-term performance improvements have been shown to:
Increase muscle size
Increase muscle strength
Increase muscle power
Muscle creatine stores can be fully stocked up by taking a large dose of about 20 grams per day (g/d) for about a week. Thereafter, taking 3–5 g/d will maintain optimal levels of muscle creatine. Alternatively, you can take 3–5 g/d from the get-go and your muscles will be fully stocked in about 3 weeks or so.
Tip: If you decide to take the daily 20 g/d doses, split these into four daily doses of 5 grams. This will be easier on your stomach.
To round things out, a few myths about creatine will be busted (2).
Will creatine make me fat?
No. Creatine may increase your body weight by about 1–2 kg, but this weight is from water-retention—as creatine is stored with water—and not fat.
Will creatine make me bloated looking due to water-retention?
No. Any water that will be retained will be inside the muscle cell—if anything, this would make your muscles look more full.
Is creatine bad for my kidneys?
No. Creatine has been studied in over 500 trials, and no experiment has shown negative health effects on kidneys or any other organ.
Creatine is a naturally occurring compound that can create energy for working muscles
Creatine improves short-term (< 2.5 mins) high-intensity exercise performance
Creatine can improve muscle size, strength, and power
Creatine will not make you store fat or look bloated, and is safe for consumption
Ultimately, if you’re trying to improve performance in the gym or on the pitch, creatine is an effective tool in your toolbox.
Why not add some more tools by becoming a member of Training121? Email us at [email protected] to get started.
All the best!
Patrick Elliott, BSc, MPH
Health and Nutrition Science Communication Officer at Training121
Founder of Just Health — Instagram: @just.health.info
Health Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional advice. For health advice, speak to a physician or other qualified health-care professional, and for nutrition advice, speak to a qualified nutrition professional (e.g., registered dietitian). The use of information on this site is solely at your own risk.
(1) Maughan RJ, Burke LM, Dvorak J, et al. IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. Br J Sports Med. 2018;52(7):439-55. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5867441/
(2) Antonio J, Candow DG, Forbes SC, et al. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show?. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021;18(1):13. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7871530/
ATP: The basic unit of energy used by the human body to power all bodily processes. It is the energy currency of the human body.