What Happens To Your Body When You Take Creatine (2024)

Whether you would like to improve your exercise performance, increase muscle mass, or prevent chronic disease, you may be curious about the benefits of creatine. Creatine is naturally found in the body and supplies energy to your skeletal muscle cells. Not only is creatine considered a safe supplement for many individuals, but it is also one of the most popular and effective supplements for building muscle and boosting athletic performance.

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association National Study of Substance Use Habits of College Student-Athletes, about 14% of athletes reported using creatine supplements. Are you curious about how creatine works in the body? A registered dietitian explains what creatine does and assesses the benefits and risks.

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a naturally occurring molecule in the body produced from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine. The majority of creatine is made in the liver, and some in the kidneys and pancreas. Creatine plays a main role in energy production, especially under conditions of high demand, such as physical activity. While the body makes creatine naturally, about half of its supply comes from animal-based foods. Protein-rich foods, such as red meat, seafood, and cow, goat, and sheep milk are good sources of creatine. Many people choose to take creatine in capsule or powder form.

Creatine supplements are popular among athletes who participate in endurance or power sports (activities that require quick bursts of energy). These sports include bodybuilding, football, hockey, and wrestling. The most common type of creatine supplement is creatine monohydrate, which increases muscle performance in high-intensity resistance exercises. In short, ingested creatine travels to your skeletal muscles where it is converted into phosphoric acid or phosphocreatine. This compound helps create adenosine triphosphate (or ATP), which is the primary energy source for your muscles during exercise. Creatine bolsters the continuous supply of energy (ATP) to your muscles during intense exercise.

Benefits of Taking Creatine

Research shows that creatine is safe for most individuals. Supplementation helps muscle cells produce more energy, enhances exercise performance, and speeds up muscle growth. Here's more on these benefits.

Promotes Energy Production in Muscles

During exercise, ATP is broken down in the muscles to produce energy. The rate at which ATP resynthesizes determines your ability and duration to perform at maximum intensity. Creatine supplements promote increased phosphocreatine stores, which allows you to produce more ATP. This allows more energy to fuel your muscles during high-intensity exercise.

Improves Exercise Performance

Research shows that creatine plays a direct role in drastically improving high-intensity exercise performance. Factors improved include strength, power, sprint ability, muscle endurance, increased muscle mass, and recovery speed. Studies also indicate that creatine supplements may benefit people of all fitness levels, whereas other supplements benefit advanced athletes specifically.

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Speeds Muscle Growth

Creatine is extremely effective for aiding muscle growth and rapidly growing muscle mass. Research shows that athletes taking creatine for as few as five to seven days have shown significantly increased lean body mass and muscle size.

May Fight Neurological Diseases

Taking creatine supplements is shown to aid in the management of Parkinson's disease and other neurological diseases. Many neurological diseases are associated with a reduction of phosphocreatine in the brain. Since creatine supplements increase these levels, it may slow or reduce the progression of the disease. Several animal studies show that creatine can restore the brain's phosphocreatine stores to pre-disease levels, which helps maintain daily functioning and reduces cell death.

Though studies are promising, more research needs to be done in humans before creatine is used as a widespread recommendation in the prevention and management of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

May Lower Blood Sugar

Creatine may play a role in reducing blood sugar and decreasing diabetes risk. Research shows that creatine supplements may lower blood sugar by increasing the function of glucose transporter type 4 (GLUT-4), a compound that helps move blood sugar from food into your muscles for energy production. Studies also show that those who took creatine supplements and exercised had better blood sugar control than those who only exercised. More research needs to be done on the effects of creatine and blood sugar management.

What is the Recommended Dose?

The International Society of Sports Nutrition states that the quickest way to increase creatine muscle stores is by consuming 0.3 grams of creatine per kilogram of body weight for five to seven days, followed by 3 to 5 grams of creatine per day. During the initial dosing phase, it may need to be broken up into smaller portions throughout the day to avoid possible abdominal side effects, such as diarrhea. Including the initial dosing session, one portion of the dose should be consumed with carbohydrates 30 minutes before a workout or immediately after a workout. On off days, consume creatine with meals.

Risks and Side Effects of Taking Creatine

Many people avoid creatine because they worry about its side effects and potential negative impacts on health. Some concerns include kidney and liver damage, bloating, dehydration, muscle cramps, and digestive issues. Despite these concerns, the International Society of Sports Nutrition points to creatine as one of the safest and most beneficial sports supplements.

Some concerns include the following: weight gain, elevated creatinine, and digestive issues.

  • Weight gain: Research has shown that taking creatine supplements may result in a rapid increase in body weight after starting the supplement. However, it is important to note that the initial weight gain is usually due to increased water content in the muscles. Over the long term, body weight increases due to muscle growth, not increased body fat.
  • Elevated creatinine: Creatinine is a common lab value used to assess the health and functioning of the liver and kidney. Taking creatine supplements has been shown to slightly raise creatinine levels, which can be a cause for concern. However, a rise in creatinine due to creatine does not always mean that your liver or kidneys are at risk. A study among young, healthy, male athletes found no side effects related to liver or kidney function when doses of 3 to 5 grams per day were consumed. While this evidence is reassuring, supplementation may not be safe for all populations.
  • Altered digestion: Initiating creatine supplementation may result in upset stomach. It is recommended to start the supplement with a 3-5 gram dose and increase gradually to decrease the risk of diarrhea and better manage unpleasant side effects.

The Bottom Line

Creatine supplements are safe for most individuals and offer a range of benefits. They may increase muscle growth, promote energy production for high-intensity exercise, and decrease the risk of neurological conditions and diabetes. Always consult with a healthcare provider before beginning a new supplement. Also, it may be helpful to seek advice from a sports dietitian for more information about proper types of creatine and dosing according to your health needs and fitness goals.

12 Sources

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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What Happens To Your Body When You Take Creatine (1)

By Rebecca Jaspan, MPH, RD
Rebecca Jaspan is a registered dietitian specializing in anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia, as well as disordered eating and orthorexia.

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