How Much Creatine Should You Take?

Feb 21, 2021 | Athletes' Corner, Nutrition

Written by Dr. Omair Ansar, MBBS, MSc
how much creatine should you take

You might have heard about creatine during discussion with your mates at the local Gym or at sports ground. In actual, creatine is among one of the well-known and commonly used sport supplements by athletes to boost performance and increase muscle mass.

Are you considering to start taking creatine supplements? Worrying about its side effects? Well, stay with us. This article explains everything you need to know about creatine, including but not limited to what is creatine, its functions, benefits, side effects as well as how much creatine should you take. 

WHAT IS CREATINE ?

Creatine is a natural amino acid compound in our body for energy needs. People often consider creatine as an anabolic steroid, but it’s a myth. As a matter of fact, creatine is an amino acid found in foods and in our body.

Most people get creatine through the consumption of red meat and seafood. For others like athletes, they tend to take creatine supplements to improve their sports performance as well as muscle mass.

Composition of Creatine 

Creatine is made naturally in our body with three amino acids, namely arginine, glycine and methionine. However, it is produced in small amounts only, roughly about 1% volume of the human blood.

As such, people usually source creatine in foods and supplements to further support exercise performance. Roughly speaking, a person needs between 1 and 3 grams of creatine per day. For athletes who train intensely may need around 5-10 grams of creatine a day according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

Natural Creatine

Creatine is produced and found naturally in our body from amino acids. 95% of creatine is stored in the muscles in the form of phosphocreatine whereas 5% is found in kidneys, liver and the brain.

Creatine can also be obtained through incorporating diets rich in fish and meat. One pound of raw beef provides around 1-2 grams of creatine.

Synthetic Creatine

Creatine is widely available in supplements form. It is one of the most popular and common supplements found in sports nutrition supplements like sports drinks. Bodybuilders and athletes tend to take creatine to gain muscle, improve exercise performance and enhance strength.

One readily available and generally used creatine supplement is creatine monohydrate. It is affordable and is supported by various studies for its effectiveness and safety. The International Society of Sports Nutrition recently put forward that “There is no compelling scientific evidence that the short- or long-term use of creatine monohydrate has any detrimental effects.

The typical dose of this supplement is 3-5 grams per day and studies have shown that the consumption of this supplement fosters strength gains by around 5-10% on average.

CREATINE SUPPLEMENTS IN THE MARKET

With a demand surge globally, more and more pharmaceutical companies have started manufacturing creatine. Below lists out various forms of creatine available in the market for consumer purchase:

1. Creatine Monohydrate: Most common and extensively studied form of creatine. It is generally considered effective and safe to consume. 

2. Creatine Ethyl Ester: Some studies do not recommend it due to its different uptake and absorption rates as compared to other forms.

3. Creatine Hydrochloride: Despite the advantage of superior solubility in water, this form of creatine still needs to be studied more to draw any conclusion.  

4. Buffered Creatine: There is limited research evidence specifying no differences between buffered creatine and creatine monohydrate in regards to the effectiveness and side effects, yet more research is needed. 

5. Liquid Creatine: Little research studies indicate that liquid forms are less effective than monohydrate powders as creatine might break down. The use of creatine supplements or in powder form is more recommended comparatively. 

6. Creatine Magnesium Chelate: Limited studies shows that creatine magnesium chelate is an effective form of creatine, with similar effectiveness as creatine monohydrate. Yet, more information is still required.

HEALTH BENEFITS OF CREATINE

Creatine, a popular supplement, is widely used by athletes around the world. It not only boosts sports performance, but also provides various other health benefits as explained below.

1. Enhances Athletic Performance

Creatine is useful for athletes as it allows the body to produce more energy and avoids energy exhaustion, thus improving athletic performance. It is particularly effective for high-intensity sports and exercise.

There have been over 500 research studies that have evaluated the effects of creatine supplement on exercise capacity and muscle physiology among individuals. It is found that short-term creatine supplement intake helped improve maximal power and strength by 5-15%. Creatine intake during intense workout has also shown far greater gains in terms of fat free mass, strength and high-intensity performance during exercise tasks.

Another double-blinded research study was undertaken to understand the role of oral creatine monohydrate on muscular performance of gym athletes. It proves that peak power output during jump squats and bench press in group taking creatine supplement for one week (25g per day) was much better than the placebo group. However, lifting performance was not altered in both groups.

2. Gains in Muscle Mass

Creatine supplements ensure enough ATP in the body, which also helps maintain muscle mass. This research study suggests that creatine supplements combined with strength training helps muscle fibre grow by increasing myonuclei cell concentration in skeletal muscle fibre.

It has been observed that creatine supplements reduce the progression of muscle loss, and other functions which occur with ageing. This systematic review on effects of creatine in older adults with loss of muscle mass and strength confirms that creatine supplements may help them in gaining muscle mass of upper and lower body regions through resistance training, however further studies are needed to confirm its long-term impact on older adults.

3. Boosts Brain Functions

Creatine supplements not only help in physical endurance, but also improve mental strength. One research studied the effect of oral creatine supplementation in neurological disorders and suggests that creatine supplementation increases concentration of phosphocreatine in muscles and the brain which in turn protects against neuronal degeneration even in normal ageing.

Creatine may also boost memory function. A systematic review conducted on cognitive functions of healthy individuals suggests that creatine supplements can enhance intelligence and short-term memory in healthy individuals. However, its effects on cognitive domains still needed to be investigated more on larger sample sizes to ensure its safety and efficacy for use on a long-term basis.

4. Improves Sexual Health

Creatine supplement is a safe product as far as sexual health is concerned. In fact, this recent study on sperm motility and velocity suggests that in-vitro addition of creatine phosphate can increase the fertilization capacity of sperm. Another study conducted among college-aged rugby players shows that loading 25g of creatine supplement for one week can increase conversion of dihydrotestosterone to testosterone 56% faster compared to subjects on a placebo dose. However, there is still a lack of long-term study on both above discussed matters.

5. May Help in Neurological Diseases

Over time, creatine has been found helpful in declining neurological disorders such as Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Research on animal models suggests that creatine supplements could help improve above mentioned brain disorders, and epilepsy however, more studies are required on human subjects.

A randomized double-blind placebo- controlled trail on the effect of oral creatine monohydrate on women with major depressive disorders was carried out. In the study, 52 women were given 5gms of creatine for 8 weeks suggest that creatine augmentation could play a vital role along with SSRI in the treatment of major depressive disorders.

6. Controls Diabetes Mellitus

Creatine supplements could play a supportive role in management of diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels. Research suggested that creatine supplements raise the molecule known as GLUT-4 (Glucose transported type- 4) through which blood sugar enters into muscle and results in lower blood sugar levels.

Another study of the effects of creatine supplementation on glucose tolerance in males undergoing aerobic training suggests that a combination of aerobic training and creatine supplements could be useful in improving glucose tolerance level, however further study is required to solely investigate diabetic patients.

POTENTIAL SIDE EFFECTS OF CREATINE

Creatine is a powerful energy booster supplement, usually safe and consumed by gym-goers and athletes. If you have a known case of any pre-existing medical condition, please consult your doctor or any medical professional first before consuming creatine to ensure it is safe for you.

The side effects are relatively very uncommon; however, a few people may experience the below mentioned side effects.

1. Headaches

It has been reported by people that they tend to experience headaches with the consumption of creatine. However, on closer examination, it is worthwhile to note that there is no study which links headaches directly with the intake of creatine supplements.

In actual, headaches that occur after consuming creatine may happen due to other correlated factors such as dehydration. Playing sports and other strenuous physical activities can easily lead to dehydration even with the supplement of creatine, ultimately resulting in headaches if you don’t consume enough water.

Apart from that, there are numerous other causes of headaches that may accompany with the use of creatine.

Overexertion: Pushing your body beyond the limits during exercise may lead to overexertion, therefore may cause headache.

Overheating: Doing physical activities or working out in high temperatures could lead to headaches and other discomforting symptoms such as exhaustion and fatigue.

Stress: Some physical activities lead to an increase in muscle tension of the shoulders and neck, this may lead to tension headaches.

2. Kidney Concerns

With creatine likely to increase creatinine levels in the bloodstream, lots of false claims about creatine supplements being dangerous for renal function had created a matter of concern in the past not backed by any kind of scientific evidence.

Recently conducted systematic review suggests that creatine supplementation is not likely to induce any damage on kidneys and their overall functions.

Even a research study on diabetic patients taking 5mgs creatine supplements for three months did not show any sort of renal function impairment. Besides, a 4-year long study also reported that the long-term creatine supplementation does not result in adverse health effects among the participants.

Despite that, it is vital to always seek professional advice before taking creatine supplement. If you have a medical history of kidney and liver issues, it is best to closely examine your health situation with doctor before making any significant consumption changes.

3. Stomach Discomfort

Stomach discomfort such as bloating is common especially during the loading phase of creatine supplementation. Research on soccer players reveals that due to creatine pushing water into our muscle cells during the loading phase, weight gain and bloating occur. In the case of such symptoms, it is better to adjust the loading dose by splitting it into two, three or four doses.

Another study aimed towards measuring gastrointestinal side effects of creatine supplementation in athletes suggests that athletes may suffer from diarrhea if the loading dose is 10g or above in a single intake.

HOW MUCH CREATINE SHOULD YOU TAKE ?

It is important to understand how much creatine should be taken. Creatine supplements can be either taken through the loading or the maintenance method.

According to scientific evidence , it is recommended in the creatine loading method to start with 20-25g for a maximum of 7 days, the dose can be divided each day into 5 equal doses to avoid any possible side effects like abdominal discomfort. After 15 days, it is important to take 3-5g creatine every day to ensure enough storage of creatine in the muscles.

The maintenance method involves omitting the creatine loading phase and taking 3-5g of creatine for 28 days. The maintenance method is also equally beneficial as compared to the loading method but it requires more time to obtain similar benefits.

Studies on the efficacy of creatine supplements have suggested that creatine supplements are most effective when taken before or after workout.

SHELF LIFE & PURCHASE OF CREATINE

Creatine should be stored in a dry and cool place. Creatine supplements normally show an expiry date of 3 years from the production date, however, recent studies suggest that it may stay consumable for longer than 3 years.

Another study also supports that it can be kept longer than the expiry date because even when storing creatine supplements at temperature of above 60 Celsius, the creatine monohydrate powder shows only minor features of breakdown after almost 4 years.

Creatine usage has been growing day by day, due to more than 500 research studies already being done on its safety and efficacy. Among creatine supplements, creatine monohydrate is safest and easily available. It can be purchased from a nearby GNC store, a pharmacy or it can be ordered online without the need of any prescription.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

All in all, it can be said that creatine is a quite safe and beneficial supplement, especially for athletes who are looking to increase muscle mass and boost their energy levels. It can also be beneficial for vegans who avoid animal proteins. Consumption of creatine also helps in the treatment of various diseases with very minimal side effects.

The dosing can be adjusted according to your need as well as whether the loading method or maintenance method favors your body.

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