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Should I take creatine? If it’s a question you have, we’ll give you an answer below.
We’ll go over everything you should know about taking this supplement, including the benefits. We’ll also talk about any potential side effects so you’ll have a better understanding if creatine might not be suitable for you.
Should I Take Creatine—Key Takeaways
A few key points about taking creatine:
- Creatine is the most popular workout and fitness supplement
- Studies indicate it helps with strength, exercise and athletic performance, and muscle mass
- Creatine supplementation is widely studied and considered very safe
- There’s some evidence it may be beneficial in other ways, such as for depression and brain health
- Reduces protein breakdown
- Gives your muscles more energy
- Helps treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- In the beginning stages of supplementing with creatine, it may cause bloating
What Is Creatine?
Before you can answer “should I take creatine,” you need to know what it is, how it works, and what the benefits are.
Creatine is a nitrogenous organic amino acid. Creatine provides energy to cells throughout your body. This provision of energy is specific to muscle cells. Creatine naturally occurs in fish and red meat, our body makes it, and we can supplement it.
Along with people who lift weights or are athletes using it, it’s often used by older people to increase their muscle mass.
There’s evidence creatine can help prevent skin aging, muscle and wasting diseases, improve memory and cognitive ability, and help multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms.
Creatine facts include:
- Athletes often use it to help with high-intensity training
- Taking creatine as a supplement can increase body mass
- There’s ongoing research looking at possible benefits of creatine for a wide range of conditions, including depression and Parkinson’s disease
- For people with muscular dystrophy, creatine can help with muscle-building
- Researchers are finding creatine can improve memory
- As a supplement, it seems to be incredibly safe at moderate doses
Three amino acids form creatine:
Around 95% of the creatine in our bodies is in skeletal muscle. Five percent is in the brain. Our creatine stores move through the blood and parts of our body use it and especially those parts with high energy demands, like the brain.
The Uses and Benefits of Creatine
If you’re asking yourself, should I use creatine, the following are some of the benefits that might convince you that it’s a worthwhile supplement.
- When you take creatine before high-intensity exercise, your muscles can produce more adenosine triphosphate (ATP.) ATP is your energy source that your body primarily uses for high-intensity workouts and also weightlifting.
- Creatine supplements can help you do more work in a single training session, facilitating long-term muscle growth.
- When you take it as a supplement, creatine can increase cell signaling. Increased cellular signaling helps with new muscle growth and muscle repair.
- These supplements can increase the water content in your muscle cells, which helps with muscle growth when combined with physical activity like resistance training.
- Taking it in supplement form can reduce your muscle breakdown and increase your total muscle mass.
While you may already know something about the benefits and effects of creatine supplementation on your muscle mass, strength, and exercise performance, you might be less familiar with the brain and cognitive effects.
Your brain requires a lot of ATP for optimal functionality, like your muscles. Research finds supplementing with creatine can help with a variety of brain and cognitive-related conditions. These include brain and memory function in older people, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s diseases, and ischemic stroke.
Supplementation with creatine may benefit traumatic brain injury recovery. It’s also helpful to consider supplementing with creatine if you’re a vegetarian. Many people on a vegetarian diet have low levels of creatine stores because they don’t get it from meat, which is our primary dietary source.
In one study with vegetarian participants, supplementing led to a 50% improvement in memory tests and a 20% improvement in intelligence tests.
Other benefits that researchers are looking at include lowering blood sugar levels, improving muscle function and quality of life in older people, and aiding in treating non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
In multiple studies, researchers have identified evidence creatine supplements can improve mental performance, especially among the elderly.
There are also a couple of different studies showing creatine can help with symptoms of depression, particularly when combined with an antidepressant prescription drug.
Should I Take Creatine If I’m Worried About Side Effects?
One of the significant concerns you may have about taking a creatine supplement is potential side effects.
The good news is that creatine is one of the safest and most thoroughly studied supplements. At recommended, moderate doses, it’s considered a “likely safe” supplement. At higher doses, it’s characterized as “possibly safe.”
- With that in mind, if you have kidney disease, you might want to avoid taking creatine. There’s some concern that creatine could impact kidney function, but this isn’t proven or backed up with any research, although it’s best to use caution.
- You should also be cautious about using creatine if you have diabetes or take any supplements for high blood pressure.
- If you’re pregnant, you should likely avoid creatine because the safety isn’t confirmed, nor is it confirmed safe during breastfeeding.
- There’s another issue that you should think about before you take creatine—it can cause weight gain. This effect is primarily going to be water weight, and that can be a good thing if you want to add bulk or muscle mass. Of course, if your goal is to get leaner, or you’re an athlete, you may want to avoid creatine because of the potential for weight gain.
- Creatine supplements are most physically beneficial if you lift heavy weights or do sprints or similar high-intensity interval exercises.
- If you take diuretics, be cautious with creatine because it can affect water levels in your body and lead to dehydration.
The takeaway is that while creatine is mostly safe, it’s not for everyone. Think carefully before using it if you take any medications, are pregnant, or have underlying health conditions. You also should make sure that if you are taking it, you’re balancing out your use with high-intensity exercise to prevent water weight gain. While water weight gain would be temporary from a supplement, it may not be ideal for you.
Some people worry about hair loss associated with creatine supplements, but no research backs that claim up.
Creatine Loading and Bloating
A concern people often have about taking creatine is the potential it will cause bloating. You wouldn’t typically experience bloating unless you were creatine loading.
The creatine loading phase refers to a scenario where you take anywhere from 20 to 25 grams of creatine per day for anywhere from five to seven days in a row. Then, following the loading phase, you would do a maintenance phase of 3 to 5 grams per pound of body weight. The goal of loading is to bring up your muscle stores to an optimal level and then keep them there.
It’s the loading phase where you’re most likely to see weight gain and bloating from creatine. If you’re taking less than the doses above, that’s probably not a concern for you.
The reason for bloating and weight gain during creatine loading is water retention because your muscles are taking more of it in.
Again, this is a short-term issue and should resolve after creatine loading is over.
You can skip the bloating and weight gain by skipping the loading phase and only following the maintenance phase. There are also certain types of creatine supplements that give benefits like muscle strength without bloating or potential mild adverse effects.
The loading period is to rapidly increase your creatine levels to saturate your muscles with the creatine to see the benefits sooner.
How Do You Choose the Best Creatine Supplement?
If you’ve answered your original question of whether or not you should take creatine and decided the answer is yes, it can be a little overwhelming. Because of how popular these supplements are and how long they’ve been studied, there are a lot of options for creatine products available.
The following are some tips for choosing the best creatine supplement and what to know as you make comparisons.
Creatine monohydrate is the most popular supplement form of creatine. If you read research studies, this is also the type typically used in those. All of the benefits associated with creatine, such as increases in exercise performance and muscle size and strength come from creatine monohydrate.
More than 99% of creatine monohydrate also goes directly to your muscles.
Creatine monohydrate’s benefit is that along with being proven is that it’s inexpensive compared to other forms of creatine.
Best Creatine Monohydrate: BulkSupplements Creatine Monohydrate
Buffered creatine is a unique option that doesn’t require loading to get the full benefits relatively quickly. Buffered creatine is manufactured in a way that makes it more alkaline. That can reduce the breakdown in your stomach, meaning your muscle tissues can take in more of the creatine. Basically, you get all the benefits of creatine without dealing with the inconvenience and possible bloating of loading.
Best Buffered Creatine: True Athlete Kre-Alkalyn Powder
Creatine HCL is like creatine monohydrate, but it’s micronized. With micronized creatine, you can take less but get the same benefits. You’ll consume less and, therefore, theoretically need less water, which means you’ll have fewer gastrointestinal symptoms and less bloating than with monohydrate creatine.
Best Creatine HCL: Beyond Raw Chemistry Labs Creatine HCL Powder
Final Thoughts—Should I Take Creatine?
The people who should consider taking creatine include:
- Anyone who wants to build muscle mass or who participates in high-intensity activity.
- Professional athletes or competitors often benefit from the positive effects of taking creatine.
- You should also consider taking creatine if you are dealing with the loss of muscle mass related to illness or aging or if you have memory or cognitive performance declines. When you do weight training of any kind, creatine supplements can be beneficial.
- If you’re a vegetarian, you should consider taking the dietary supplement because most of our creatine comes from meat and fish.
The people who should probably avoid creatine include anyone with a kidney disorder, pregnant women, and individuals concerned about potential weight gain, particularly if their exercise routine wouldn’t offset it.