As a nutrition and fitness coach, my clients frequently ask me what supplements they should take.
My response is always the same: First, establish a solid baseline with good nutrition, consistent strength and conditioning, and adequate rest and recovery.
Only once you have done that should you look to science and research to help you make an informed decision on supplements.
Creatine is one of the most studied supplements available today, and according to the research, it’s generally safe and effective for certain athletes.
We’ll look at how athletes might improve their performance and recovery with creatine.
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in your body. Your body converts creatine into phosphocreatine and stores it in your muscles as a form of energy. It’s also used to help produce ATP. ATP is an energy molecule the body uses to perform exercise—it provides energy for muscle contractions. Creatine can also be found in your brain, liver and kidneys.
By supplementing appropriately, we can increase our creatine stores, which allows the body to perform optimally during exercise.
What Does Creatine Do?
Research has shown that creatine might help athletes who require short bursts of energy during high-intensity exercise. Sprinting, weightlifting and CrossFit are great examples of this. The goal with creatine supplementation is to increase the body’s stores of phosphocreatine. This allows it to produce more ATP.
ATP is used rapidly during intense exercise. It takes about 8-10 seconds to burn through your stores, and your body has to work hard to create more ATP. Because production of ATP is much slower once phosphocreatine stores are exhausted, athletes have to reduce intensity of effort. Supplementation might allow athletes to store about 20 percent more creatine and work for a few more seconds.
One study examining the effects of creatine on athletic performance reported noticeable improvements across strength training and weightlifting when using creatine combined with performance training, as opposed to just training by itself.
Is Creatine Safe?
Creatine has been shown to be safe in studies that have lasted up to four years.
Individuals with pre-existing kidney or liver problems, or people who might be susceptible to kidney or liver issues (such as those with diabetes), should consult a doctor before taking any supplements.
There is no research that supports claims that creatine harms individuals with normal kidney and liver function when taken in the correct dose.
How Creatine Should I take?
The recommended dose is 3-5 grams per day.
A loading phase of 20 grams a day taken over 5-7 days is suggested to rapidly increase your stores before you settle into a maintenance dose, but loading is not required.
During a loading phase, the 20 grams should be split over 4 servings throughout the day. The loading phase will staurate your stores more rapidly, allowing you to see results as quickly as 7-10 days. You will still see benefits of creatine in 3-4 weeks if you skip the loading phase.
We advise prioritizing the three pillars of athletic performance before looking at supplements: nutrition, training and recovery.
Once you’ve done that, research the supplements you are interested in adding and consider checking with your doctor before starting any supplementation.
Creatine monohydrate is a cheap and effective supplement that can be considered safe for most healthy athletes to add to their training for high-intensity sports.
This article is not a substitute for medical advice. Consult your doctor for medical advice, diagnosis and treatment.