Less than 200 years ago we didn’t even know what creatine was. It wasn’t until 1832 that a French Scientist, Michel Eugène Chevreul, discovered it after successfully extracting it from beef.
It was only then that we learned that this molecule is very common and mammals produce it from the amino acids glycine, methionine, and arginine.
Specifically, your body primarily produces creatine out of these amino acids in the liver. Although, it’s also synthesized, to a lesser extent, in kidneys and pancreas.
Research shows that a 70-kilogram or 155-pound man with an average physique, naturally has about 120 grams of creatine stored in his body, without any supplementation. (2)
About 90-95% of this creatine is located within the muscle cells. Here, creatine can quickly be used to provide energy and athletic performance.
The other 5-10% of creatine can be found all over the body in other cells and tissues, including the brain.
#2 Creatine natural sources
While your body naturally creates about 1-2 grams of creatine daily, you can also get more from food or supplements.
Red meat and fish score especially high in creatine. That’s because, as I said, 90-95% of creatine is found in human muscle. And this is also true for animal muscle.
One pound of beef or salmon provides about 1-2 grams of creatine. And it’s estimated that, on average, most people get about half of their daily creatine intake from animal meats.
Since vegetarians and vegans don’t eat meat, they often have lower levels of creatine in their bodies. (3)
This is because, even though your body does generate creatine daily, on average, it also releases about two grams of creatine per day, in the form of creatinine.
If you don’t eat meat products and you don’t supplement with creatine, you’re unlikely to become deficient.
But you can end up with lower levels of creatine in your muscles and circulatory system. This can have a negative effect on your athletic performance.
#3 Creatine action in the body
Conversely, if you take in a surplus of creatine, through supplementation or food, the most significant effect that it’ll have will be enhanced energy production.
Muscle contractions require energy. This comes from the breakdown of adenosine triphosphate, also known as ATP.
The amount of ATP found within a muscle is generally just enough to generate energy for a fraction of a second.
After it generates that energy, it breaks down into ADP which can’t be used for energy as effectively.
At this point, your body will use a phosphate molecule to recycle this bi-product ADP, back into ATP so it can be used for energy again.
And that’s exactly where creatine comes into play. Most people don’t know that creatine is turned into creatine phosphate inside the body.
Creatine phosphate serves as a phosphate donor for the replenishment of ATP. In other words, creatine provides a buffer against muscle fatigue by assisting with the energy production process.
So the steps are the following. First, creatine is ingested, either through food or in a supplement form.
Then, creatine is converted into creatine phosphate. This leads to more creatine phosphate being stored in your muscle tissue.
That extra phosphate becomes available for ATP recycling and ultimately leads to muscles being able to produce more energy for longer, with less fatigue.
It’s thanks to this mechanism that creatine is so highly effective at increasing athletic performance and power output.
#4 Creatine efficacy – scientific evidence
In a large meta-analysis that included 22 studies on creatine, (4) researchers found that it was able to increase lifting performance significantly. (5)
The results showed that the average increase in weightlifting performance was 14% higher in the creatine group than in the placebo group.
Other studies on creatine supplementation in relation to athletic performance, also demonstrated impressive results. (6)
Short-term creatine supplementation led to improved maximal power, strength, muscle contractions, and sprinting performance. (7)
Some of these stats increase by 5-15%, which may not sound like a lot. But top-level athletes go through extremely difficult workouts for years to get a little bit better.
So a 5-15% boost from short-term creatine supplementation is actually huge.
You can expect that kind of a boost in exercise performance for yourself relatively quickly, especially if you use a loading phase to fill your muscle’s creatine stores faster.
#5 Creatine and water retention
As those creatine stores fill, not only does the level of creatine phosphate increase but you also tend to retain more water.
This is because when creatine enters a muscle cell, it draws water in as well. The exact mechanism for how this works isn’t fully clear yet. (8)
But it definitely leads to an increase in water retention within your muscles. This is why your body weight is very likely to go up when you take creatine.
You can expect to weigh anywhere from 1 ½ to 3 ½ pounds more after a week of creatine loading.
While water retention might sound like a bad thing, it’s actually beneficial when it occurs within your muscles.
That’s because it gives your muscles a fuller look, making you appear more muscular.
It also assists with muscle growth, because improved muscle hydration increases the pressure placed against the cell membranes and cytoskeletons within muscle cells.
Your muscle cells perceive this as a threat to their integrity. This can increase anabolic signaling, leading to a more favorable protein turnover.
#6 Water retention… side effect?
A positive protein turnover is essentially when the rate of protein synthesis exceeds that of protein breakdown.
Since the prerequisite for muscle growth is a positive protein turnover, it becomes clear that increased cellular hydration may be one of the ways that creatine supplementation helps stimulate muscle growth.
Research shows that supplementing with creatine can benefit the muscle cross-section area for a variety of different people, including recreational and elite athletes, sedentary individuals, and even the elderly. (9)
And the effects on gaining muscle mass are significant. For example, a 6-week strength training study found that the men that supplemented with creatine gained, on average, 2 more kilograms of muscle than the men that received a placebo. (10)
It’s difficult to say for sure if this extra muscle growth occurred because of cellular hydration. But we can say for sure that creatine can definitely help you build muscle mass.
#7 Creatine and cognitive function
But the effects of taking more creatine into your body don’t just stop there.
For example, most people have no idea that creatine benefits cognitive function.
Most people would associate creatine with “unintelligent meatheads”. But creatine can actually benefit your brain.
Just like your muscles, your brain stores phosphocreatine and requires plenty of ATP for optimal function.
For instance, scientists from the University of Sydney assessed the effects of creatine on cognitive performance.
They concluded that “creatine supplementation gave a significant measurable boost to brainpower“. (11)
One of the things that the study measured was the effect of creatine supplementation on the ability of participants to remember a sequence of numbers.
And the “ability to remember long numbers improved from a number length of approximately seven digits to an average of 8.5 digits.” (12) This is a 20% increase.
One downside to this study is that the participants were vegetarian. Therefore, supplementing with creatine could have had a bigger impact on them than people that frequently eat meat and get more creatine from their diet.
With that said, it is still clear that creatine is very important for optimal brain function.
Indeed, people that have a rare genetic condition that prevents them from producing their own creatine naturally, have severe cognitive issues including mental disabilities similar to autism. (13)
#8 Potential negative effects – hair loss
Aside from the benefits, a surplus of creatine in your body may cause some negative effects as well.
Even though most people don’t experience side effects on creatine, they can happen.
One of the most common worries for people considering creatine supplements is hair loss.
This fear mostly comes from a study that found that three weeks of creatine supplementation increased levels of dihydrotestosterone or DHT.
This is the primary androgen associated with male pattern baldness. (14)
But is this really something for you to worry about?
Well, based on current evidence, even though creatine alone is unlikely to lead to hair loss, it can’t be ruled out without further studies.
That’s because there are no direct studies available about whether creatine causes hair loss or not. There’s also not much other data on whether creatine increases DHT, other than that one study.
What we do know is that DHT is created from the conversion of testosterone. So, if creatine increases testosterone, that could lead to more DHT being produced from it.
So, it does make sense for future studies to check if creatine does in fact increase levels of DHT.
But many studies have tested creatine’s effects on testosterone and very few of them found a significant increase when assuming 20 grams of creatine per day over 7 days.
However, the majority of the studies found no effect of creatine on testosterone. (15)
So, given that most data indicate that creatine does not increase testosterone, it’s unlikely that creatine alone causes hair loss.
But more studies can change that theory. So if you are worried about hair loss, and it runs in your family, it might be something to keep in mind.
#9 Potential negative effects – digestion, dehydration, creatine storage surplus
Aside from hair loss, the most reported side effect of body creatine surplus is limited to digestion in the form of cramping, nausea, stomach pain, and diarrhea.
Usually, these digestive issues happen during a loading phase where you’re taking in up to 25 grams of creatine per day to fill your muscle creatine stores faster.
But remember, if you have digestive issues you don’t have to do that. You can fill your muscle’s creatine stores by taking 5 grams of creatine for about 4 weeks.
Once they’re full, they can’t get fuller. So even if you do a loading phase, there’s no reason to continue doing it after 7 days.
There have also been reports of people becoming dehydrated while taking creatine. Since creatine pulls water into muscle cells it’s, no surprise that this can happen.
If someone starts supplementing with creatine and doesn’t drink enough water, dehydration can definitely happen.
So, it’s essential to drink enough water while supplementing with creatine, especially if you do decide to do a loading phase.
And again, the only benefit of a loading phase is that it’ll increase strength, power, and body weight faster if you’re an athlete that needs that physiological boost right away.
Finally, the last lingering effect is that you’ll obviously have more creatine stored in your body.
Even after you stop taking creatine, once your muscle creatine stores are saturated, it generally takes about 4-6 weeks for your creatine stores to return to normal levels.
So that should give you a very good idea of what happens inside your body when you take creatine.
If you want to get more into the details and learn how to take creatine for optimal muscle growth and improved performance, check out this video I made a while ago.
It will help you figure out how much creatine to take, when you should take it, and answer all the questions you have about how to supplement with creatine.
Also, I’ve said this once and I’ll say it again. Even though creatine is like a silver bullet in the world of natural muscle-building supplements, it’s not going to replace consistently doing the right thing with your diet and workout plan.
So if you want any extra help in those departments, I have everything you may need. From courses to recipe books, to one-on-one coaching.
To find out more, just click the link below.
- “45 to 74% of powerlifters, boxers, weightlifters, and track and field athletes reportedly use the supplement”.
- Research indicates that a 70kg male with an average physique has about 120 grams of creatine stored in their body.
- Consuming a LOV diet for 21 days effectively decreased muscle creatine concentration.
- Review paper by Rawson and Volek, involving 22 studies on creatine.
- “The average increase in weightlifting performance following creatine supplementation plus resistance training was 14% greater than the average increase in weightlifting performance following placebo ingestion during resistance training (26 vs. 12%)”.
- A review study by Kreider scientist Richard Kreider that looked at the effects of creatine supplementation on athletic performance. It also saw impressive results.
- “Short-term creatine supplementation has been reported to improve maximal power/strength (5-15%), work performed during sets of maximal effort muscle contractions (5-15%), single-effort sprint performance (1-5%), and work performed during repetitive sprint performance (5-15%)”.
- “The exact mechanisms remain uncertain”.
- Research shows supplementing with creatine can benefit the muscle cross-section area of a variety of individuals. These include recreational and elite athletes, sedentary individuals, and the elderly.
- Study on healthy males involved in a 6-week strength training regimen. Those who supplemented with creatine gained, on average, 2kg more muscle mass than those who received a placebo.
- “Creatine supplementation gave a significant measurable boost to brain power”.
- “Ability to remember long numbers improved from a number length of approximately seven digits, to an average of 8.5”.
- “People who cannot produce endogenous creatine suffer from a form of mental retardation with autistic-like symptoms due to deficiencies in the enzymes of creatine synthesis”.
- A study found that three weeks of creatine supplementation increased levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the primary androgen involved in male pattern baldness.
- A few studies have tested creatine’s effects on testosterone. Only two RCTs saw a significant increase in testosterone when supplementing with 20g of creatine per day over 6 and 7 days. [But] Ten RCTs have found no effect of creatine on testosterone”.