Creatine is one of the most researched supplements in the world and by far the most popular for muscle building. However the majority of people underestimate the powerful effects of creatine and its hidden benefits that can be utilised by everyone, regardless of whether you are a bodybuilder, athlete or everyday person.
Creatine can make you stronger. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning reviewed 22 published studies that looked at creatine supplementation on muscle strength and showed an average increase in strength by 8% over placebo. For weightlifting performance (maximal repetitions at a given percentage of maximal strength), creatine supplementation showed a 14% increase in strength over placebo ingestion; with bench press 1RM increases ranging from 3-45% and weight lifting performance improving 16-43%. Take home message, if you want to get stronger, take creatine. (1)
Creatine supplementation is one of the safest legal supplements for increasing lean muscle mass. Numerous studies have shown that supplementation of creatine increases fat free mass significantly (15) (16) (17) (18) (19).
A large amount of creatine is concentrated in the brain, and studies have shown creatine supplementation in vegetarians and the elderly can enhance brain function. Oral supplementation of creatine at 5grams daily for six weeks, enhanced intelligence test scores and working memory in 45 young adult vegetarian subjects (2). The elderly can also benefit from creatine supplementation, with subjects showing significant cognitive enhancements (3).
Therefore it can be concluded if you want brain gains, supplement with creatine!
Doctors could also learn a thing or two about creatine supplementation. Creatine supplementation has been shown to have neuroprotective effects in diseases such as Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (4). Furthermore patients with McArdle disease found that creatine supplementation improved skeletal muscle function (5) and one case study with a 26 year old male with Myasthenia Gravis, increased bodyweight by 7%, 4% increase in fat free mass and strength improved 37%(6).
Creatine for Depression
A surprising benefit of creatine supplementation is that it can aid in reducing the symptoms of Depression. 52 females with Depression were all given the antidepressant Lexapro during the trial. Twenty-five of the females were given creatine supplementation along with Lexapro and 27 were given a placebo along with Lexapro. After 8 weeks, the group that received the creatine supplementation showed significantly higher rates of improvement on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale with half the females in the creatine group showing no signs of Depression versus a quarter in the placebo group (8).
Twenty patients with Idiopathic Parkinson’s Disease were either given Creatine Monohydrate supplementation or a placebo along with resistance training using a double blind procedure. Person’s with Parkinson’s disease show decreased muscle mass, muscle strength and increase in fatigue. For the Creatine supplementation group, both chest press and bicep curl strength increased significantly greater than that of placebo (7).
How long can you supplement creatine?
Concerns have been raised that you cannot supplement with creatine for a long period of time due to a number of potential health concerns such as kidney disease. But research found this is not the case. A 21 month study done on 98 American College Football players found that long term supplementation of creatine of 5-10grams daily does not adversely effect markers of health status (9). Furthermore a 310-day placebo controlled study done on 175 elderly people with a neurodegenerative disease, found no adverse effects to long-term creatine supplementation in comparison to placebo (10) and a 2 year study with 65 elderly patients with Parkinson’s found supplementation safe (11). Therefore it has been shown that supplementation of up to 2 years is safe and effective.
Although many studies have been done on high dosage creatine supplementation without adverse effects, it has been shown that 5 grams daily is the safe and recommended dosage of creatine to see all the benefits. (12)
What form of creatine is best?
There are so many different forms of creatine supplements on the market at all different prices. However, it has been shown that there are no added benefits over supplementing with another form of creatine over creatine monohydrate (20). Creatine monohydrate is the cheapest, and no other form has been shown to be more powerful or potent.
Overall is creatine safe?
Creatine is one of the safest supplements of all time, with no long or short-term respectable studies showing any adverse effects. For many years people have questioned its safety on the kidneys, but creatine long or short term has been proven safe for kidney function in people on a high protein diet, in a person with one kidney and in the general population (13) (14).
Matt is a bodybuilder, qualified personal trainer and registered clinical nutritionist. He is a current intern with Holistic Performance Nutrition.
Arnold, L. M., Rosen, A., Pritchett, Y. L., D’Souza, D. N., Goldstein, D. J., Iyengar, S., & Wernicke, J. F. (2005). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of duloxetine in the treatment of women with fibromyalgia with or without major depressive disorder. Pain, 119(1-3), 5–15. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.pain.2005.06.031
Becque, M. D., Lochmann, J. D., & Melrose, D. R. (2000). Effects of oral creatine supplementation on muscular strength and body composition. Medicine and science in sports and exercise (Vol. 32).
Bender, A., Samtleben, W., Elstner, M., & Klopstock, T. (2008). Long-term creatine supplementation is safe in aged patients with Parkinson disease. Nutrition Research, 28(3), 172–178. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2008.01.001
Groeneveld, G. J., Beijer, C., Veldink, J. H., Kalmijn, S., Wokke, J. H. J., & van den Berg, L. H. (2005). Few adverse effects of long-term creatine supplementation in a placebo-controlled trial. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 26(4), 307–13. http://doi.org/10.1055/s-2004-817917
Gualano, B., Ferreira, D. C., Sapienza, M. T., Seguro, A. C., & Lancha, A. H. (2010). Effect of Short-term High-Dose Creatine Supplementation on Measured GFR in a Young Man With a Single Kidney. American Journal of Kidney Diseases, 55(3), e7–e9. http://doi.org/10.1053/j.ajkd.2009.10.053
Hass CJ, Collins MA, Juncos JL. Resistance training with creatine monohydrate improves upper-body strength in patients with Parkinson disease: a randomized trial. Neurorehabil Neural Repair 2007;21:107-15.
Helms, E. R., Aragon, A. a, & Fitschen, P. J. (2014). Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 20. http://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-11-20
Hespel P, Op’t Eijnde B, Van Leemputte M, et al. Oral creatine supplementation facilitates the rehabilitation of disuse atrophy and alters the expression of muscle myogenic factors in humans. J Physiol 2001;536:625-33.
Jagim, A. R., Oliver, J. M., Sanchez, A., Galvan, E., Fluckey, J., Riechman, S., … Kreider, R. B. (2012). A buffered form of creatine does not promote greater changes in muscle creatine content, body composition, or training adaptations than creatine monohydrate. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), 43. http://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-9-43
Kreider, R. B., Melton, C., Rasmussen, C. J., Greenwood, M., Lancaster, S., Cantler, E. C., … Almada, A. L. (2003). Long-term creatine supplementation does not significantly affect clinical markers of health in athletes. Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, 244(1-2), 95–104. http://doi.org/10.1023/A:1022469320296
Lugaresi, R., Leme, M., de Salles Painelli, V., Murai, I. H., Roschel, H., Sapienza, M. T., … Gualano, B. (2013). Does long-term creatine supplementation impair kidney function in resistance-trained individuals consuming a high-protein diet? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1), 26. http://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-10-26
McMorris T, Mielcarz G, Harris RC, Swain JP, Howard A. Creatine supplementation and cognitive performance in elderly individuals. Neuropsychol Dev Cogn B Aging Neuropsychol Cogn 2007;14:517-28.
Powers ME, Arnold BL, Weltman AL, et al. Creatine Supplementation Increases Total Body Water Without Altering Fluid Distribution. J Athl Train 2003;38:44-50.
Shao, A., & Hathcock, J. N. (2006). Risk assessment for creatine monohydrate. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology : RTP, 45(3), 242–51. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.yrtph.2006.05.005
Stone, M. H., Sanborn, K., Smith, L. L., O’Bryant, H. S., Hoke, T., Utter, a C., … Garner, B. (1999). Effects of in-season (5 weeks) creatine and pyruvate supplementation on anaerobic performance and body composition in American football players. International Journal of Sport Nutrition.
Stout JR, Eckerson JM, May E, Coulter C, Bradley-Popovich GE. Effects of resistance exercise and creatine supplementation on myasthenia gravis: a case study. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2001;33:869-72.
Vandenberghe, K., Goris, M., Van Hecke, P., Van Leemputte, M., Vangerven, L., & Hespel, P. (1997). Long-term creatine intake is beneficial to muscle performance during resistance training. Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 83(6), 2055–2063.
Vorgerd M, Grehl T, Jager M, et al. Creatine therapy in myophosphorylase deficiency (McArdle disease): a placebo-controlled crossover trial. Arch Neurol 2000;57:956-63.
Willoughby, D. S., & Rosene, J. (2001). Effects of oral creatine and resistance training on myosin heavy chain expression. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(10), 1674–1681. http://doi.org/10.1249/01.MSS.0000069746.05241.F0
Wyss M, Schulze A. Health implications of creatine: can oral creatine supplementation protect against neurological and atherosclerotic disease? Neuroscience 2002;112:243-60.