Should You Be Taking Creatine to Reach Your Fitness Goals? (2023)

Finding the right balance between nutrition and exercise is key for any fitness goal. Yet, some people argue that nutrition is even more important than physical exercise. Proper nutrition doesn't just come from the foods you eat, but also in supplements if that's something you opt to use or your doctor recommends it.

As of late, a buzzy supplement that's taken over #fitnesstok, the health and wellness corner on TikTok, is creatine. While creatine itself isn't a new supplement or unknown to many in the fitness space, it's recently skyrocketed in popularity on social media with more than one billion views under the hashtag #creatine on TikTok alone. Users on the platform are posting transformative videos highlighting how creatine supplements have contributed to their successes in building muscle. But are these gains really thanks to creatine? And is the supplement safe for everyone to take?

Ahead, experts answer those questions and more, including "what does creatine do?" and "should you take creatine before or after a workout?"

By replenishing the energy in muscles, creatine can help you run a little further, lift a little heavier, or push a little more, resulting in increased performance and results.

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What Is Creatine?

Creatine is an amino acid naturally found in the muscles and brain, according to Stevie Lyn Smith, R.D.N., C.S.S.D., C.D.N., a registered sports dietician. It provides energy for muscle contraction, and "does this more quickly than any other compound, including glucose and glycogen," adds Smith. (FYI, glucose is generally thought of as the body's first choice for readily available energy. Glycogen is the unused glucose that is stored for later use.) This makes creatine the ideal source of energy for high-intensity and strength-based workouts, she explains. (

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About 95 percent of creatine is stored in the skeletal muscle of your body, while the rest is in the brain and other tissues, according to the Cleveland Clinic. In addition to being made by your body — in fact, your liver, kidneys, and pancreas make about 1 gram of creatine per day, according to the Mayo Clinic — "it's also [found and] consumed via fish and [red] meat," says Smith. Those who eat a standard omnivorous diet [meat and plants] typically consume about 1 to 2 grams of creatine a day because it's found in milk, meat, chicken, and seafood, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And since vegans and vegetarians don't eat any meat, they naturally have lower stores of the amino acid and thus, may benefit from taking a creatine supplement.

What Are the Benefits of Creatine Supplements?

Improves Fitness Performance

If you've seen professional athletes or fitness lovers at all levels take an interest in creatine, that's likely because it can enhance workout performance. "Creatine helps to improve strength by increasing exercise capacity," explains Smith. By replenishing the energy in muscles, it allows an individual to run a little further, lift a little heavier, or push a little more, resulting in increased performance and results.

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Increases Muscle Mass and Strength

Creatine can also help improve muscle mass because it increases the production of proteins that repair damaged muscle fibers, according to a scientific review published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. When you exercise, you're actually breaking down your muscle fibers. Your body then repairs and rebuilds them, making you stronger than you were before — that is, of course, as long as it has adequate amino acids and protein to do so.

Speeds Muscle Recovery

What else does creatine do? The supplement — which, BTW, typically comes in powdered form — can improve muscle recovery after a workout due to its ability to speed up muscle repair and reduce the chance of injuries. Some studies show that people who take creatine supplements experience fewer cases of cramping, dehydration, muscle tightness, and muscle strains than those who don't take creatine supplements, according to the Cleveland Clinic. (

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What Are the Side Effects of Creatine?

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate nutritional supplements, creatine has been deemed safe to take by healthy adults, according to the Cleveland Clinic. However, "the most common side effect of creatine supplementation is [temporary] water retention, causing weight gain," explains Smith. "This weight gain is from increased water content in your muscles, not fat." Some people may also feel nauseated or experience stomach issues, such as diarrhea or bloating, but research suggests these creatine side effects are usually from taking incorrect dosages.

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There are also some concerns that creatine can cause kidney disease, however, studieshave found that when taken in safe doses, which can be up to 25 grams per day, it doesn't result in kidney damage in healthy individuals. That being said, folks who are taking medications that affect the kidneys and those with kidney disease, high blood pressure, or liver disease should not take creatine, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Ultimately, "the safety of short and long-term creatine use is well established in healthy users using correct dosing," according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

When and How to Take Creatine

How you take creatine depends on your fitness goals. "Creatine is a supplement that you can [use] for a specific outcome or taken daily," says Smith. Creatine "loading" essentially involves taking more than the recommended dosagefor several days to help reach fitness goals. "Loading can be done if you want to see performance benefits quickly, usually athletes in season, or maybe used in athletes who are injured and looking to maintain muscle," explains Ly. While loading creatine has been deemed safe and effective by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, it isn't necessary, and you should consult with a nutritionist or doctor first.

"For those who want to see the performance benefits but not as soon as possible (aka loading) or are using it for the long-term health benefits, 3 to 5 grams a day [for any body weight] is recommended," says Smith.

As far as when you take a powdered creatine supplement, it's all about consistency vs. time of day. "There are recommendations that it be taken before your workout but, it is more important that it is taken consistently to see the desired outcomes of supplementation, so I recommend picking a time of day that you can be consistent with," says Smith.

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Whether you opt to take creatine before or after your workout (or another time altogether), avoid adding the powder to any caffeinated beverages, as these can compromise its efficacy, according to the Mayo Clinic. Instead, consider mixing creatine into another type of drink, such as a protein shake, juice, or smoothie.

And being that supplements are not regulated by the FDA, you also want to make sure that you're purchasing a product that's undergone third-party testing, says Smith. Third-party testing is when an organization that was not included in the development or sale of the product ensures it complies with specific standards for safety, quality, or performance, according to NSF International. Products that are third-party tested have a stamp of certification on the label. When it comes to creatine, look for supplements that have stamps from the Informed Choice or NSF Certified for Sport, recommends Smith.

Is Creatine Necessary to Improve Performance?

"Even as one of the safest, effective, and cheapest supplements, I do not think it is necessary to reach fitness goals," says Smith. Can it help? Yes.Does it work? It can, at least according to science. However, it isn't necessary for everyone to include the supplement in their diet. "If you're active and eating enough overall energy [aka calories] from balanced meals and snacks, you can reach your fitness goals without a creatine supplement," she adds.

Remember, you naturally produce 1gram of creatine per day and, if you eat fish and meat, get about 2 grams from food, which hits the daily 3-gram recommendation. "With my nutrition clients, I start with food first and then can add in supplementation to take their performance to the next level," notes Smith.

If you're considering adding a creatine supplement to your routine, always consult your health careprovider or work with a registered dietitian for individualized guidance. (See also: How to Find the Best Nutritionist for Your Needs)

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FAQs

Does creatine improve fitness? ›

Due to its potential not only to enhance strength and power output but also to expedite recovery from intense intermittent exercise, creatine supplementation has been shown to allow for increased volumes of work and increased work output during resistance training, which may then translate into greater strength gains [ ...

Should you take creatine for every workout? ›

One common question among athletes: Should I take creatine on off days? The short answer is yes, but you can also skip some days. "Research suggests that creatine stores can be maintained at high levels even if creatine is not taken every single day," says Paul Falcone, senior scientist for LADDER.

Do most gym goers use creatine? ›

Many gym-goers take dietary supplements to help boost their performance. Among the most popular natural supplements is creatine, which is most commonly used for improving exercise performance and building muscle mass.

Will creatine make you toned? ›

Muscle mass

Despite causing some water weight gain, research has found that creatine can be an effective supplement for increasing endurance and strength. Over time, you may see an increase in your muscle strength and size. Increased muscle mass will also tip the scale upward.

Does creatine make you more toned? ›

Creatine makes your muscles look bigger, while actually making them bigger as well. First, creatine causes your muscle cells to store more water which causes your muscles to appear fuller and larger. You may notice the size increase a few days or weeks after starting creatine supplementation.

Is creatine absolutely necessary? ›

“It's a nonessential amino acid, meaning your body creates it and you don't need to primarily get it from food.” And you don't really need added creatine beyond what's in a healthy, balanced diet, Bates adds. “Creatine isn't an essential nutrient,” she says.

What are the pros and cons of taking creatine? ›

Creatine is a popular sports nutrition supplement that can enhance exercise performance and recovery. It has also been shown to promote healthy muscle aging and improve brain function. The most commonly reported side effects of taking this supplement are bloating and stomach discomfort.

Are you still natural with creatine? ›

Taking creatine supplements for up to 8 years has been shown to improve attention, language and academic performance in some children. However, it does not affect everyone in the same way. While creatine occurs naturally in the body, creatine supplements are not a natural substance.

What are the negative effects of creatine? ›

Side effects of creatine include:
  • Weight gain.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Muscle strains and pulls.
  • Stomach upset.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Dizziness.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Liver dysfunction.

Who benefits the most from creatine? ›

1. Athletes & BodyBuilders. No surprise here: Athletes can benefit from supplementing with creatine since it improves athletic performance by increasing energy and power for high-intensity training and promoting muscle repair, says Koszyk.

Should I take creatine if I lift weights? ›

Creatine is thought to improve strength, increase lean muscle mass, and help the muscles recover more quickly during exercise. This muscular boost may help athletes achieve bursts of speed and energy, especially during short bouts of high-intensity activities such as weight lifting or sprinting.

Does creatine burn belly fat? ›

Well, the truth of the matter is, creatine supplementation will not directly decrease the fat in your abdominal area or total bodyweight. As a matter of fact, you might even notice a slight weight gain during the first week of taking creatine. This is a result of the increased water weight in your muscle tissue cells.

Should I take creatine if I want to look lean? ›

A study found that adding creatine before and after resistance training had the most effect in increasing lean body mass and increasing strength.

Is creatine good for looks? ›

By applying creatine in a face cream or lotion it helps to boost skin cell turnover and repair which in turn helps to combat signs of ageing and minimise fine lines and wrinkles, helping you to achieve glowing skin due to these new skin cells.

How fast do you see creatine results? ›

It will take seven to 28 days to see energy effects depending on how much creatine you already have in your body. It may be dangerous to take creatine supplements when you are actually dehydrated or trying to lose weight.

Will creatine make me look leaner? ›

Now here's the kicker as to why creatine may make some people look more muscular and some less so. If you are lean with a low level of body-fat you will look fuller, rounder and harder. Your muscle cells swell up. So if you are well-defined your definition will show even better.

Does creatine make you bulky or lean? ›

Creatine can help you gain lean muscle mass by making it easier for you to build muscle. If you are looking to improve your endurance and strength, Gainful Personalized Pre-Workout may be able to help.

Should I or should I not take creatine? ›

Generally safe. Creatine might benefit athletes who need short bursts of speed or increased muscle strength, such as sprinters, weight lifters and team sport athletes. While taking creatine might not help all athletes, evidence suggests that it generally won't hurt if taken as directed.

What does creatine do if you dont lift? ›

For people who don't work out, the benefits are mainly that creatine will give you that energy boost for any day-to-day movement, and will also improve brain function. It's also a really powerful antioxidant, so it can help with muscle and brain recovery, and slow down the aging process.

Can you grow without creatine? ›

Yes, you can build muscle without creatine. Creatine is a supplement that will provide you with an extra 5 percent of muscle growth potential. So, you can still get 95 percent muscle-building benefit by training and eating for muscle gains without creatine supplementation.

How long should I use creatine for? ›

Doses up to 25 grams daily for up to 14 days have been safely used. Lower doses up to 4-5 grams daily for up to 18 months have also been safely used. Creatine is possibly safe when taken long-term. Doses up to 10 grams daily for up to 5 years have been safely used.

Does creatine boost testosterone? ›

Creatine supplementation enhances exercise performance, but most studies show that it has no effect on testosterone levels. If you are concerned about your testosterone, make sure you get enough sleep, exercise, calories, vitamin D, magnesium, and zinc.

What are the long-term effects of creatine? ›

Results indicate that long-term creatine supplementation (up to 21-months) does not appear to adversely effect markers of health status in athletes undergoing intense training in comparison to athletes who do not take creatine.

How much of a difference does creatine make? ›

Creatine can also improve strength, power, and high intensity exercise performance. In one review, adding creatine to a training program increased strength by 8%, weightlifting performance by 14%, and bench press one-rep max by up to 43%, compared with training alone ( 27 ).

Is creatine worth the hype? ›

Surveys indicate that 17-74% of athletes of various ages in a variety of sports use creatine supplements. Creatine supplementation has been shown to improve performance of brief (<30 s) high-intensity exercise, but there is limited evidence that it can enhance performance during exercise lasting longer than about 90 s.

Should I buy creatine or protein? ›

If you are striving for a strength goal, such as lifting a certain amount of weight, then creatine will give you the energy boost you are looking for. For long-term results, protein will be helpful in rebuilding muscle that will continue to increase your strength over time.

How do you know if creatine is working? ›

If you've started taking creatine, you should know if it works for you in about a week. If your training volume increases, it's working for you. If not, you're probably a non-responder, and taking the powder isn't going to help you. Diet is important.

How much muscle does creatine add? ›

Of the 22 studies reviewed, the average increase in muscle strength (1, 3, or 10 repetition maximum [RM]) following creatine supplementation plus resistance training was 8% greater than the average increase in muscle strength following placebo ingestion during resistance training (20 vs. 12%).

How often should I take creatine? ›

Studies suggest that 5 g of creatine monohydrate four or five times daily for 5–7 days is the most effective way to increase your muscle creatine levels. Recommended amounts may vary depending on your weight ( 1 , 2 , 3).

Can I mix creatine with protein? ›

Taking the two together does not appear to offer additional benefits for muscle and strength gains. However, if you'd like to try both and are looking to increase muscle mass and performance in the gym or on the field, taking whey protein and creatine together is safe and effective.

Is it OK to take creatine everyday? ›

Is creatine safe to take every day? Research has shown that it is safe to consume creatine supplements daily, even over several years. There is no evidence to support any significantly detrimental side effects in people who consume high doses of creatine (30 grams/day) for up to 5 years ( 2 ).

Do you take creatine everyday or when you workout? ›

On workout days, research shows that it may be better to take creatine shortly before or after you exercise, rather than long before or after. On rest days, it may be beneficial to take it with food, but the timing is probably not as important as on exercise days.

Is creatine worth doing if you dont workout every day? ›

So, you can definitely take creatine if you don't go to the gym or if you're not trying to get 'big'. For people who don't work out, the benefits are mainly that creatine will give you that energy boost for any day-to-day movement, and will also improve brain function.

Should creatine be used long term? ›

Creatine is possibly safe when taken long-term. Doses up to 10 grams daily for up to 5 years have been safely used. Side effects might include dehydration, upset stomach, and muscle cramps.

Is creatine healthy long term? ›

Creatine is a safe, well-studied supplement. Studies in a variety of people have shown no detrimental health effects of taking creatine supplements in doses up to 4–20 grams per day for 10 months to 5 years ( 19 , 20 , 21 ).

How long should you stay on creatine? ›

A single round of the creatine cycle should last 6-8 weeks, with a pause of 2-4 weeks (or longer, if needed) where you do not supplement with creatine at all.

How fast do you see results from creatine? ›

It will take seven to 28 days to see energy effects depending on how much creatine you already have in your body. It may be dangerous to take creatine supplements when you are actually dehydrated or trying to lose weight.

Is it OK to miss one day of creatine? ›

Answer: You should never miss a full day. If you do, then double up the next day. If you miss more than 3 days, reload otherwise taking the daily maintenance dose will require a couple of weeks to get you back where you should have been to maximize benefit.

How much water should I drink with creatine? ›

Creatine and Water

Therefore, proper hydration is essential. As previously mentioned, 6-8 cups of water are the average drinking amount when out of training. However, when supplementing with creatine, you should drink an additional 8-10 cups of water daily, or slightly more, depending on your exercise regimen.

Does creatine make you stronger or just bigger? ›

Creatine helps produce ATP, your cells' most basic form of energy. This increases energy production during high intensity exercise and leads to improved performance and increased strength and muscle gain.

What happens if you take creatine but don't lift? ›

Some people think that if they take creatine and don't work out, they'll put on fat—but Roussell says it isn't true. "Creatine contains no calories, and has no impact on your fat metabolism," he says. "So taking creatine and not working out is just going to lead to nothing."

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