It’s a favourite supplement of bodybuilders and gym-goers, but should you take creatine?

Creatine is one of the most popular supplements for muscle growth on the planet, yet it’s surrounded by a lot of confusion and misinformation. We asked fitness expert Ben Carpenter what you really need to know…

Despite what many people think, creatine isn’t a steroid or a dangerous substance. It’s actually naturally occurring in your body and is present in foods such as meat and fish. 

Approximately 95% of your body’s total creatine pool is found within skeletal muscle (the muscles attached to your skeleton that you exercise in the gym), with the remaining 5% including other tissues such as your brain, heart and testes. 

In simple terms, if a diet naturally contains a couple of grams of creatine, your creatine stores may only be 60-80% saturated. So additional supplementation can increase the creatine levels in your body by an additional 20-40%. That can help with short-term energy demands such as weightlifting or sprinting. 

Creatine monohydrate

Creatine monohydrate is the most popular form of creatine. Although many other branded forms of creatine supplement have been introduced, often with revolutionary claims, creatine monohydrate is the most well-studied form. Don’t be lured into paying a higher price for a form that has less research on it. 

Unlike caffeine, which can have a nearly immediate impact on performance, the goal with creatine supplementation is to ‘saturate’ your muscles over time. You would typically take 3-5 grams daily (which can depend on your body weight and how much muscle you have).

Or you can follow a ‘loading phase’ where you take a higher dose for a few days, like 20-25 grams for 5 days before dropping back to a maintenance dose of 3-5 grams per day. Think of your muscles like a sponge and creatine like water; you can saturate the sponge by running the tap quickly or slowly but over time, the end result is still the same. The loading phase just gets you to the same place a bit quicker. 

Benefits of creatine

Daily creatine supplementation has positive research showing it can help increase your strength, power and lean body mass. That’s why it is so popular among bodybuilders and gym-goers. But there is also some lesser-known research showing potentially positive impacts on things like brain health. 

As creatine naturally exists in your body and your diet, the amount that supplementation can help you as an individual can vary a lot. Some people notice more drastic results (for example, vegetarians may notice more as they tend to consume less dietary creatine). Other people don’t notice anything, hence the term creatine ‘non-responders’.  

So should you take creatine?

As it isn’t an anabolic steroid or other potent substance, it’s not going to suddenly slab pounds of muscle tissue on you. Neither will it allow you to immediately double your bench press. However, it’s a cheap, safe and extremely well-studied supplement. So it’s worth giving it a go and seeing if you notice any benefits.