Many athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts take creatine to enhance strength and build muscle. If you’re looking to add more muscle and strength, creatine is the world’s most effective supplement according to research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
A comprehensive review by Iowa State University compared the world’s most popular sports supplements and found that creatine is the most effective supplement on the market. The study notes that creatine is also less expensive and safer than most other supplements.
11 Potential Benefits of Creatine
- Increases Muscle Mass
- Improves Strength
- Reduces Fatigue
- Improves Memory
- Reduces Depression
- Lowers Blood Sugar
- Prevents Muscle Loss
- Increases Energy Levels
- Boosts Exercise Performance
- Improves Body Composition
- Improves Cognitive Function
Boosts Energy Production
Creatine increases the amount of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) stored within the body. This increase in ATP leads to greater energy production. The main issue with ATP, however, is that you can only store enough ATP for 8–10 seconds of high-intensity exercise.
After this, your body must create new ATP to keep up with the increased demand for ongoing activity. If the production of ATP cannot be maintained, fatigue will set in. A perfect example of this is when you sprint at full speed for a few seconds—your body’s ATP runs out faster than you can sprint.
ATP depletion occurs during all maximum effort activities, such as performing a one-rep max (1RM) on a compound weightlifting movement. Creatine supplementation overcomes this problem by increasing the body’s phosphocreatine stores, which maintains ATP levels during high-intensity exercise.
A one-week creatine load (where an individual saturates their muscles with creatine for 7-days) followed by a 3-5 gram maintenance dose per day can significantly increase creatine levels in the body.
This extra creatine can then be used for ATP energy production, providing the body with additional energy before giving in to fatigue. Ultimately, creatine has the unique ability to deliver ATP into the muscles, which is vital for power and strength-based activities.
Increases Muscle Growth
Numerous studies show that creatine is useful for adding muscle mass and improving strength. An example of this, as reported in the American Journal of Physiology, is that creatine boosts the formation of proteins needed to create new muscle.
Creatine supplements also tend to increase the volume of water in muscles, which, in turn, increases the size of your muscles (this is known as the “volumization” of cells). People taking creatine for as little as 5–7 days have reported significant increases in muscle size and lean bodyweight caused by increased water retention in the muscles.
With long-term use, creatine continues to aid muscles by sending signals to key biological pathways that promote muscle recovery and development.
One study by The Free University of Brussels examined 25 healthy males during a 6-week training program. The men in the study who supplemented with creatine added 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) more muscle mass, on average, than the group of men who took a placebo supplement.
Creatine and Muscle Volume
A study in the journal Nutrition confirmed that a 3-day creatine load was enough to significantly improve muscle volume and cycle sprint performance in elite power athletes.
In the study, the researchers assigned ten male and ten female athletes to either a creatine or placebo group. Before and after a 3-day supplementation period, the researchers measured the athletes’ sprint performance, and their thigh muscle size was also measured.
Athletes in the creatine group took 0.35 grams of creatine per kilogram of fat-free mass. The athletes all completed six 10-second cycle sprints and had a minute of recovery between sprints.
Over 3-days, athletes in the creatine group increased their total body mass by 2 pounds (0.9 kilograms) and increased their thigh volume by 6.6. percent. The results of the study showed that all six athletes who took creatine increased their cycle sprint performance and anaerobic capacity in comparison to the athletes who took a placebo.
Further studies show that creatine improves muscle cell function by increasing the number of nuclei in skeletal muscles, which is a crucial component of muscle growth. In terms of aesthetics, this inflation of muscle cells is a benefit as it helps bodybuilders and athletes produce a more muscled appearance.
Creatine also stimulates muscle protein synthesis. In the first few weeks after taking creatine, consumers have reported adding up to 6 pounds of extra bodyweight. One study conducted by St. Francis Xavier University illustrates that creatine has the potential to increase insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which is crucial for muscle protein synthesis.
Note: insulin-like growth factor plays an important role in childhood growth and development, and has anabolic effects in adults. Creatine also aids in the activation of several metabolic processes that lead to the formation of new proteins, such as mTOR, which is the most prominent muscle-building metabolic pathway.
One long-term benefit of creatine noted in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning is creatine’s ability to help people perform more repetitions and lift heavier weights in their training sessions. Over time, this significantly increases the amount of volume that an individual can perform. And, as research shows, volume is a key driver when it comes to muscle hypertrophy.
Prevents Muscle Loss
In older adults, taking creatine alongside a strength-training program appears to increase both lean muscle mass and strength. In a blind study published in The Journals of Gerontology, researchers selected 28 healthy men and women (aged 65 and over) as participants. These elderly participants took part in a 14-week strength training program three times per week.
The participants were split into two groups. One group took 5 grams of creatine mixed with 2 grams of dextrose, while a placebo group took 7 grams of dextrose without creatine. At the end of the strength training program, the participants who took creatine exhibited lower levels of body fat and increased their total muscle mass. This study indicates that creatine can help neutralize the aging effects of muscle loss when combined with resistance training.
Furthermore, creatine reduced the speed at which fast-twitch muscle fibers age. Fast-twitch fibers make up the bulk of our muscles, and, like all muscles, they succumb to muscle wastage as we get older. Research in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found that creatine supplements help neutralize the degenerative effects of aging muscles by maintaining insulin-like growth factor hormone production.
Researchers studying the effects of creatine and Insulin-like growth factor in older adults discovered that creatine might also reduce the speed at which we age. Furthermore, muscular dystrophy refers to a set of disorders that deal with a progressive decrease in muscle mass and muscle strength.
A Cochrane.org review of 14 studies discovered that creatine treatment improved muscle strength in people with muscular dystrophy compared to people who didn’t undergo any creatine treatment.
Although not all studies show the same results, in this case, 8–16 weeks of creatine treatment was found to improve muscle strength and reduce fatigue in people with muscular dystrophy.
Improves Strength and Power
Since creatine increases phosphocreatine levels, it’s one of the few supplements proven to increase strength and power by influencing the body’s ATP energy system.
One 4-week study by Texas Woman’s University found that athletes who took creatine improved their cycle sprint performance by 17%, increased their one-rep max bench press by 18 pounds (8 kilograms), and increased their exercise workload by 20 percent.
Another study by the University of Oklahoma assessed creatine’s effects on critical markers of power output. After taking creatine for 9-weeks, Division I college football players experienced the following performance improvements:
- A 5.2% increase in the bench press (one-rep max)
- A 3.8% increase in power cleans (one-rep max)
- An 8.7% increase in the squat (one-rep max)
- A 19.6% increase in high-intensity anaerobic peak power
- An 18.4% increase in high-intensity anaerobic capacity
A meta-analysis reviewing creatine studies corroborated this finding by reporting a 5% average improvement in strength and power in people taking creatine. This is a notable increase based on a single dietary supplement.
A review of 250 studies compared the most popular dietary supplements marketed as “muscle-builders.” Not surprisingly, the review discovered that creatine provides the most significant benefits of all supplements that were studied by a wide margin.
Another 8-week study found that creatine also reduces myostatin protein levels. Myostatin is an infamous protein that regulates the growth of muscle cells by inhibiting muscles from getting “too big” (this is known as homeostasis).
Research published in Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology indicates that myostatin levels decrease as creatine levels increase. With less myostatin in our body, our body can build muscles at a much faster rate. Creatine, in essence, stimulates multiple biological processes that lead to increased muscle growth.
A study reported in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined 35 male athletes and found that creatine added 24 pounds (11 kilograms) to the athletes’ bicep curl, 70 pounds (32 kilograms) to the athletes’ leg press (one-rep max), and 5.7 pounds (2.6 kilograms) to the athletes’ overall muscle mass.
Research also demonstrates that creatine is equally beneficial for men and women. One study found that women who supplemented with creatine were able to maintain more lean muscle mass over 10-weeks compared to women who took no creatine.
Finally, a meta-analysis of more than 150 creatine studies reported an average 2.2% increase in lean body mass and a 3.2% decrease in body fat in people supplementing with creatine.
Creatine and Intense Exercise
Aside from building muscle, creatine also improves fatigue resistance, strength, power, endurance, and recovery. While some supplements focus on advanced athletes, creatine provides benefits regardless of your level of fitness and training experience.
One study conducted by Baylor University shows that creatine can improve high-intensity exercise performance by as much as 15 percent. One of the main benefits of creatine is the degree to which creatine improves strength and power exercises that require multiple repetitions.
In other words, people who train with multiple sets of heavy squats or repeated 30-second cycle/running sprints experienced the most significant benefits from creatine. In this case, a 10–20% improvement in high-intensity exercise performance.
Creatine helps people regain their strength and energy, thereby reducing tiredness and fatigue. A study by the University Hospital of Heraklio performed a 6-month clinical trial on people with traumatic brain injury.
The researchers discovered that patients who took creatine experienced a 50% decrease in dizziness and fatigue compared to patients who didn’t take creatine.
The study also found that a mere 10% of patients in the creatine supplement group showed traces of fatigue in contrast to 80% of patients in the creatine free group.
Another study, reported in Psychopharmacology, aimed to examine the effects of creatine on sleep deprivation and mild exercise. When athletes performed mild exercise in the form of a cycling test, the presence of creatine made the athletes feel less tired. Creatine reduces fatigue by increasing dopamine levels in the brain and supplying the brain with extra energy.
A review conducted by the University of Greenwich and Victoria University points out that creatine promotes better quality aerobic and anaerobic performance that lasts for more than 150 seconds.
Improves Cognitive Function
Numerous studies show that creatine can improve mental performance and problem-solving skills, making creatine an effective nootropic for the brain. One study, published by The Royal Society, found that 45 participants who took 5 grams of creatine every day for 6-weeks scored better on memory and intelligence tests.
According to research conducted by the University of Chichester, creatine improved the learning ability of older adults. Older adults who took 5 grams of creatine four times a day for a week scored better on tests than older adults who received no creatine intervention.
Research shows that the brain needs a large amount of ATP to perform difficult tasks. Creatine increases phosphocreatine levels in the brain, which aids cognition and improves the function of brain mitochondria.
In this case, creatine is beneficial for vegans and vegetarians, as these two population groups often have low levels of creatine because they don’t eat meat, and meat is the best dietary source of creatine.
A study by The University of Sydney found that intelligence and memory test scores for vegetarians improved by 20-50% after taking creatine. In another study, older people who took creatine for 2-weeks significantly improved their memory recall ability.
Effectiveness of Creatine
Creatine is a foundational supplement often deemed “essential” due to its many benefits (as referenced in the journal Pediatrics). The skeletal muscles store 95% of the body’s creatine; the brain, testes, and other organs store the remaining 5 percent.
Since 1–2% of intramuscular creatine is excreted every day through urine, you should take at least 1–3 grams of creatine per day to maintain your creatine levels. Given that it’s common for creatine stores to be as low as 70% of maximum capacity, we can increase our creatine stores by adding creatine through supplementation. Creatine monohydrate is the recommended choice here.
Because vegetarians and vegans don’t eat meat, they often have low levels of creatine. In most cases, vegetarians and vegans experience significant benefits when taking creatine.
Current research suggests that creatine is perhaps the single most effective dietary supplement for adding significant amounts of muscle, power, and strength to the human body. When used in bodybuilding and strength training programs, the results generated by creatine are both profound and impressive.