Creatine: What Is It & What Does It Do?
Creatine is a substance found in muscle cells and the brain. Approximately 95% of the body’s creatine is stored in the muscles as phosphocreatine. Chemically, creatine is similar to amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins.
Creatine is used by muscle cells to produce energy, as it helps the body create a high-energy molecule known as ATP. Although creatine is naturally produced by the liver, pancreas, and kidneys, it is also found in red meat and seafood.
Some people take oral creatine supplements to improve their athletic performance, particularly if they’re involved in high-intensity activities like weightlifting and sprinting. Oral creatine is also used to treat specific types of brain disorders, neuromuscular conditions, and other disorders. Topical creatine can help improve the condition of aging skin.
How Does Creatine Work?
Research suggests that taking a creatine supplement can be beneficial in several ways. It may help you add more reps (repetitions) to your workouts and increase muscle size, strength, and overall performance. It may also increase what’s called satellite cell signaling, which helps with muscle repair and growth.
In addition, it’s believed that creatine can increase water content in muscle cells, which is another factor in muscle growth. What’s more, taking a creatine supplement may help reduce muscle breakdown, resulting in an even greater increase in total muscle mass. Plus, studies have noted an increase in anabolic hormones like IGF-1, which aids in muscle formation, and a decrease in myostatin, a substance that can inhibit new muscle growth.
Researchers have found that supplementing the body’s natural creatine stores may improve performance on cognitive tasks, as well, particularly in older adults. It may also slow the normal decline in bone mineral and skeletal muscle density, and creams containing creatine and folic acid may reduce skin wrinkles and improve sun damage.
In addition, there’s evidence that creatine supplementation can help reduce symptoms in children with specific creatine deficiency syndromes.
Many people can benefit from taking a creatine supplement. However, these products are most helpful to those who have low creatine levels, such as vegetarians whose diets don’t supply as much of it.
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Are There Side Effects from Taking Creatine Supplements?
Healthy people typically don’t experience side effects from taking a creatine supplement as directed. In the rare case that side effects occur, they can include:
- Upset stomach
- Weight gain (primarily as lean body mass)
- Trouble breathing
Talk with Your Doctor About Taking a Creatine Supplement
Creatine supplements are generally considered safe. However, it’s possible that taking creatine along with caffeine consumption of more than 300 milligrams per day (the amount in a little over three 8-ounce cups) might accelerate the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Creatine may also be unsafe for people with kidney problems.
Consequently, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor before you start a creatine regimen. If you don’t yet have a provider, you can find one near you in our online directory.
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