Creatine has long been a powerhouse supplement in sports nutrition. Celebrated for its ability to fuel performance and gains in lean muscle, it’s starting to make waves in the nutrition and weight loss space. But what is creatine, and are there more benefits to supplementing with creatine beyond PRs?

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In this article, we’ll tackle your biggest creatine questions. What is creatine? Can creatine help with weight loss? What creatine supplements are available, and what should you look for when choosing a creatine supplement? We’ll also tackle safety considerations and help you decide if adding creatine to your routine will help you reach your goals. 

Let’s dive in!


What is Creatine?

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound in the body, consisting of three amino acids:  methionine, glycine, and arginine. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Most of your body’s creatine (around 95%) is stored in your muscles as phosphocreatine. The rest of your creatine is stored in the brain and testes.

About half of your body’s creatine supply comes from eating protein-rich foods like red meat, seafood, and animal milk. Your liver, kidneys, and pancreas use amino acids to make the rest of the creatine your body needs.

How does Creatine Supplementation Work?

Let’s throw it back to high school science when you learned about different energy systems. As a quick review, the Phosphagen System, the Glycolytic System, and Mitochondrial Respiration all work to regenerate ATP, the main compound your muscles rely on for energy. ATP stands for adenosine triphosphate, meaning the compound has three phosphate molecules. 

The Phosphagen System is the first to kick into gear when you start exercising and lasts for about ten seconds. The system cleaves one of the phosphate molecules from ATP to create quick energy for your muscles, which results in ADP, or adenosine diphosphate. Creatine phosphate “donates” a phosphate molecule so ADP can become ATP again.

More creatine results in a higher potential for ATP regeneration. So, supplementing with additional creatine can boost the creatine stored in your muscles, which means you can stay more powerful for longer periods of time and recover faster from intense exercise.

Can Creatine Help With Weight Loss?

When you start taking creatine, you may experience weight gain from increased water retention. This is mostly because creatine is osmotically active, which means it’s shuttled into muscle cells and water. However, studies point to this as a short-term effect that doesn’t impact total body water content or long-term weight.

Studies show that creatine supplementation can help you gain lean muscle mass. More lean muscle helps increase metabolism, which can ultimately help burn more fat mas. This can lead to a change in body composition over time.


Creatine and Performance Enhancement

Phosphocreatine in your cells helps your body produce ATP, also known as the body’s “energy currency.” This is your main energy source during high-intensity exercise; when you have more, you can perform better during intense activity.

Your muscles store enough ATP and phosphocreatine for 10 seconds of high-intensity exercise. Supplementing with creatine can increase phosphocreatine stores by up to 40%. More phosphocreatine means more ATP and energy production.

More energy can translate into improvements in strength, power output, and overall athletic performance. Creatine supplementation has also been shown to reduce muscle breakdown after exercise, promoting less muscular fatigue and better overall recovery after a workout.


Types of Creatine Supplements

The most common and most researched creatine supplement is creatine monohydrate. However, creatine is widely studied, and many other formulations exist with varying degrees of bioavailability.

  • Creatine Monohydrate – The most widely studied and the most common form. It has a high bioavailability and has been shown to be effective at increasing muscle mass, strength, and performance. It is considered the “gold standard” of creatine supplementation.

  • Creatine Ethyl Ester – A formulation designed for better absorption by the body. Some research suggests this form can help change your body composition and increase muscle strength.

  • Creatine Hydrochloride – This formulation has been shown to have high water solubility, meaning your body can absorb the creatine content better than other forms. This means a lower dose would be possible for a similar result, which could help with bloating and digestive upset. Because of the water solubility, it also mixes more easily with water or smoothies. 

  • Buffered Creatine – Another formulation designed to be easier to digest. It includes alkaline powder for a higher pH level, making it less acidic and improving stomach stability.

  • Liquid – A ready-to-drink formulation that is already dissolved in liquid. While convenient, some studies suggest liquid forms of creatine break down more quickly and become ineffective before you can consume it.

  • Creatine Magnesium Chelate – A formulation that’s chelated (attached with) magnesium. This combo may help with muscle contraction and fluid regulation in the cells. This could make a difference in your muscle function and recovery after workouts. This form has been studied to be as effective as creatine monohydrate.

When choosing a creatine supplement, you should always consider your personal tolerances and preferences to ensure consistent intake and optimal results.

Generally speaking, creatine monohydrate is the most cost-effective and gives you the most bang for your buck, with all its benefits. Most other forms are going to cost significantly more. However, some people have trouble digesting creatine monohydrate. In this case, a formulation designed for better absorption may better fit you.


Safety and Side Effects of Creatine

While creatine supplementation is generally well-tolerated, some people may experience mild symptoms. These are usually digestive discomfort, such as stomach upset, nausea, and diarrhea.

Because of the osmotic activity, some people may also experience increased water retention in the short term, but this is usually temporary and doesn’t change fat mass or body weight in the long term.

Many misconceptions about creatine exist. The International Society of Sports Nutrition addressed these in a 2021 study. This study found that when used properly, many misconceptions are invalid.

  • Creatine is not an anabolic steroid.
  • Creatine does not cause kidney damage.
  • Creatine does not cause hair loss.
  • Creatine does not increase fat mass.
  • Creatine supplementation may support various activities, not just resistance and power movements.

Despite misconceptions about safety, creatine supplementation is generally recognized as safe and effective when used as directed.

Do your research on the best supplement for you. Look for NSF-certified items, meaning that what’s on the label is what’s in the product, ensuring you don’t get unnecessary fillers. Follow the recommended dose. A dose of 3 to 5 grams daily is considered safe for an adult. Stay hydrated to minimize water retention for the first few weeks!


Who Can Benefit from Creatine Supplementation?

Many people can benefit from creatine supplementation. Athletes, competitors, and fitness enthusiasts who want to increase strength and power and optimize their performance may greatly benefit from adding creatine to their routine.

Vegetarians or people who don’t eat much red meat or seafood may do well with creatine supplementation. In combination with exercise, creatine supplementation may also help some older adults reduce muscle and bone loss.

Creatine has also been shown to increase mental clarity and cognitive function. So, anyone who wants a little brain boost may also benefit from taking creatine.

Check out this article from First For Women featuring WAG Coach and RDN Brittany Werner to learn more about how creatine is especially beneficial for women as they age.

If you are considering creatine supplementation, talk with your doctor to determine if it’s right.


How to Incorporate Creatine into Your Fitness Routine

There are a few ways you can begin using creatine supplementation.

Loading Phase

Some studies suggest a “loading phase,” which basically means heavy loading creatine in the first few weeks to potentially experience the benefits more quickly. This phase involves supplementing with 20 to 25 grams daily, split into 4 or 5 servings (4 to 5 grams per serving). Since most creatine is in powder form, you can mix it with water or a smoothie and drink it when it’s time. After a few weeks of the loading phase, you would move on to the maintenance phase.

Maintenance Phase

The maintenance phase means supplementing the recommended daily 3 to 5 grams. You can choose to skip the loading phase and begin with the maintenance phase. Some people experience the most benefit by supplementing right before a workout. However, utilizing the timing that works best for you during the day will likely lead to a higher rate of consistency.

Combining creatine supplementation with additional protein supplements, pre-workout supplements, or branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) may also support your workout. These are designed to increase muscle strength and endurance and help muscle recovery after activity.

No matter how you choose to use creatine, be tuned in and pay attention to how your body responds so you can adjust accordingly.


Final Thoughts on Creatine Supplementation

Creatine supplementation has been shown to impact muscle and performance significantly. Its ability to increase phosphocreatine stores in muscles means more ATP production, which can improve strength, power output, and overall athletic endurance

Initial weight gain due to water retention is common, but this is typically a short-term effect that does not impact long-term body composition. Creatine's benefits over time can result in gains in lean muscle mass and improved metabolism, making it a valuable supplement for athletes and anyone trying to improve overall health and fitness.

Be sure to consult with a healthcare professional before starting creatine supplementation. You and your doctor should consider your individual health conditions, dietary habits, and fitness goals to ensure creatine is used safely and effectively.

Creatine research is still underway. Although much has been done so far, future research could focus on optimizing different forms of creatine for better absorption and reduced side effects. Research is beginning to explore creatine's benefits for a broader range of populations, including older adults and non-athletes.

Join WAG today if you're ready to enhance your fitness journey with personalized guidance and support! Get a personalized plan from nutrition coaches to help you reach your health and fitness goals.




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