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The Pros and Cons of Creatine: Worth It Or Not?
Creatine monohydrate is one of the safest, most affordable, and well-researched supplements on the market. If you’ve been lifting weights or working out for any amount of time, you’re likely already familiar with creatine.
As a well-known performance enhancer, creatine is a popular sports nutrition supplement. It has been scientifically proven to help athletes of all fitness levels build lean muscle mass, improve muscle strength, and enhance performance.
The tidal wave of misinformation surrounding creatine supplements can cause you to question whether creatine supplements are actually good for your health.
This article explores the pros and cons of creatine supplements to help you make an educated decision.
- Creatine monohydrate is one of the most beneficial supplements available for athletes looking to increase muscle mass, improve endurance, and assist in high-intensity training.
- Despite the controversy surrounding creatine supplements, most of the negative claims about creatine are not supported by scientific evidence.
- Creatine loading may temporarily cause bloating. However, this can be a good sign as it suggests that muscle glycogen stores are fully saturated and ready to help you to power through a strenuous workout.
PROS OF CREATINE SUPPLEMENTS
As the world’s most well-studied dietary supplement, athletes at all performance levels have used creatine for years to enhance their performance.
According to scientific research, creatine monohydrate:
- Increases ATP Production
- Supports Muscle Health and Performance
- Improves Endurance
- Improves Brain Function
Let’s take a closer look at each benefit.
INCREASES ATP PRODUCTION
Creatine’s primary job is to supply immediate energy to muscle tissues with increased energy demand. It does this by increasing intramuscular phosphocreatine stores. In fact, some experts believe it can increase your phosphocreatine stores by as much as 40%.
Phosphocreatine helps generate adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the preferred source of energy for muscles.
During strenuous, heavy-hitting workouts, ATP is broken down for energy use faster than your body can regenerate it, making the need to regenerate ATP essential.
Because taking creatine can increase phosphocreatine stores, it allows your body to produce more ATP, increasing your ability to produce energy rapidly.
SUPPORTS MUSCLE HEALTH AND PERFORMANCE
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) has issued a position statement on creatine monohydrate supplements. It states that creatine is the most effective dietary supplement available to athletes to build lean body mass and increase high-intensity exercise capacity during training.
Studies suggest that consistent creatine supplementation can improve training sessions, resulting in up to 15% greater gains in strength and performance.
More specifically, creatine can promote new muscle growth and increase muscle mass by enhancing the formation of proteins that create new muscle fibers.
There is also scientific evidence to support creatine’s ability to help increase levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which is a hormone that stimulates the growth of muscle tissue.
When combined with resistance training, creatine can improve muscular strength and decrease muscle damage during training. It can also improve overall muscle health.
Because creatine can increase phosphocreatine stores and overall ATP energy production, it can play a vital role in overall performance enhancement.
Our muscles rely on a rapid ATP generation to efficiently perform short bursts of explosive movements, such as jumping, sprinting, or performing a heavy squat.
Research suggests that creatine is also beneficial for endurance athletes.
For example, co-ingestion of creatine and carbohydrates can increase muscle glycogen storage rates. High muscle glycogen storage can increase the time to fatigue during periods of physical exertion.
Additionally, creatine can improve strength which significantly contributes to your overall capability to sustain an exercise for an extended period.
IMPROVED BRAIN FUNCTIONS
Creatine supplements may also increase creatine levels in the brain. This may help improve overall brain function by increasing oxygen delivery and energy supply in the brain.
One 2019 systemic review discovered that creatine may have neuroprotective effects. Specifically, researchers discovered that higher resting creatine levels could improve recognition memory and overall intelligence.
Creatine may also be able to protect against cognitive decline and age-related diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and long-term memory impairments.
ARE THERE CONS OF CREATINE SUPPLEMENTATION?
Despite creatine being well-studied, many people remain concerned about the potential health risks of creatine use.
The good news is that we can clear most of these concerns up for you today.
Here, we’ll discuss the potential cons and myths surrounding creatine use.
CREATINE SUPPLEMENTS AND BLOATING
Some people complain of stomach discomfort and bloating when taking creatine supplements. While it does not affect everyone, it’s more likely to occur during a creatine loading phase.
A creatine loading phase involves taking 20–25 grams for 5–7 consecutive days to speed up muscle creatine saturation.
So how can it lead to bloating?
Creatine is an osmotically active substance, meaning it attracts and holds small amounts of water. As your muscles hold onto the water, it can result in bloating around your legs, arms, or stomach.
This can lead to a temporary weight gain of as much as 2.2–4.4 pounds during the first week of creatine use.
Although it may be uncomfortable for some, having extra fluid in your muscles may be a good sign.
For example, it is well established that cell swelling can lead to increased muscle glycogen stores. This can provide you with the extra fuel to power through a strenuous workout session.
The water retention in the muscle cells caused by creatine can help the body hyper-hydrate, which can improve the ability to perform in the heat.
If you are experiencing bloating or unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms during a loading phase, this can be remedied by limiting your daily dose to less than 10 grams.
CREATINE SUPPLEMENTS AND KIDNEY HEALTH
When creatine first became popular, many people believed it might harm the kidneys because it may cause a slight increase in serum creatinine levels.
In skeletal muscle, creatine is broken down into creatinine, exported to the blood, and filtered out by the kidneys, where it is excreted in the urine.
Therefore, elevated creatinine levels in the blood often suggest that your kidneys are damaged and cannot filter out creatinine in the blood as they should.
However, if a person has large amounts of muscle mass or dietary creatine intake, it can cause creatinine levels in the blood and urine to slightly increase.
Basically, when your body stores more creatine, the amount converted into creatinine will also increase.
There is a false misconception that this puts increased work on the kidneys, causing them to become damaged.
However, this is not the case.
Many studies suggest that healthy individuals with normal kidney function are not at risk for kidney damage when supplementing with creatine.
Because long-term research is limited on the effect of creatine supplements on those with existing kidney disease, it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider before using a creatine supplement.
CREATINE VS. CREATININE
Creatine is a natural compound made up of the amino acids L-glycine, L-arginine, and L-methionine.
It is converted into phosphocreatine and stored in the muscles, where it is used to generate energy. During periods of high-intensity, short-duration exercise, such as lifting weights or sprinting, phosphocreatine is used as a source of ATP, the body’s preferred energy source.
Creatinine is a waste product produced by the breakdown of phosphocreatine stores. The kidneys are responsible for filtering it out of our body. If blood creatinine levels are high, your kidneys may be impaired, causing waste products such as creatinine to build up in your body.
IS CREATINE SAFE?
Creatine is one of the most widely studied supplements on the market. Despite this, concerns surrounding the safety of creatine supplements continue to exist.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, creatine monohydrate supplementation is not only scientifically proven to be safe, but it can also be beneficial for exercise performance and injury prevention.
The most robust evidence supporting the safety of creatine supplements comes after the United States Food and Drug Administration classified creatine as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 2022.
Creatine supplementation is safe and effective. Scientific evidence supports the use of creatine monohydrate supplements to increase sports performance and increase lean body mass. It can also promote overall muscle health, aid in ATP production, and even support healthy brain function.
The most commonly reported side effect of taking creatine supplements are bloating and abdominal discomfort. However, bloating and muscle swelling are often signs that the creatine supplements are working.
However, if it becomes too uncomfortable, these side effects can be prevented by capping your dose at 10 grams per day.