Creatine is possibly the biggest advance in supplementation science in the past few decades. This naturally-occurring compound has been conclusively proven to boost raw strength, power, and muscle mass.
Even better, it’s extremely safe, and it’s effective even if you’re not an elite athlete.
Creatine is an absolutely essential supplement for augmenting strength gains in serious athletes, but it’s also an excellent way to maintain strength as you get older.
Thanks to its efficacy and safety, creatine is one of our most often-recommended supplements for anyone who wants to get stronger, more powerful, or more muscular. Read on for the primary reasons we recommend creatine so often.
1. Creatine is great for muscular strength and high-intensity power
Creatine directly enables better training sessions: you can lift heavier weights for more reps, and this causes direct gains in muscle mass and strength as an adaptation to these superior workouts.
2. Research on athletes is clear: creatine has a strong, specific effect on muscle power
Research shows that adding creatine to regular protein powder supplements creates bigger increases in lean muscle mass and bench press and leg press strength (1). That means more strength, more power, and better performance on the playing field.
3. Creatine is one of the most scientifically-supported supplements for strength
The effects of creatine on athletic performance are well-validated and fairly well-understood: it’s one of the best supplements an athlete can take. Both its safety and its efficacy have been highlighted in numerous scientific studies (2).
4. Creatine has a specific and strong effect on short-term power production in muscles
This means that it is very well-suited for tasks like maximal lifting, short sprints or repeated bouts of sprinting, and for building muscle overall—which is a result of creatine supplementation enabling you to lift heavier weights for more repetitions.
5. Creatine can preserve muscle mass after injuries or accidents
One study of 22 subjects with their leg immobilized in a cast for two weeks showed that creatine supplementation reduced muscle mass loss (3). This finding suggests that creatine doesn’t work only by enhancing your response to exercise, but also helps intrinsically upregulate muscle synthesis.
6. Creatine is an effective way to increase muscle mass in older adults
Muscle mass loss is one of the biggest consequences of aging. A loss of strength with age can ultimately lead to frailty and disability.
But a study published in 2016 showed that resistance training plus creatine leads to significantly greater strength gains in older adults compared to strength training only (4).
So, even if you aren’t a pro athlete in your prime, creatine is a great way to retain or even build strength.
7. Creatine can help improve brain function under stress
A study published in 2019 reviewed the current state of research on the nootropic and cognitive benefits of creatine supplementation, concluding that creatine could boost cognitive capacity and prevent deterioration of executive function under stress, like at high altitude or during sleep deprivation (5). These findings indicate that creatine could be useful for more complex tasks than just strength and power-based sports.
8. Creatine might speed recovery after concussion
Cell biology work suggests that the presence of creatine can reduce the negative cellular cascades that are activated after a concussion, indicating that creatine supplementation could potentially be useful following a concussion (6).
Creatine side effects
The short-term safety of creatine is well-demonstrated. According to a book chapter on the subject authored by Adam Persky and Eric S. Rawson, the short-term safety of creatine is well-demonstrated.
There are still some questions on its long-term safety due to a lack of comprehensive multi-year studies, but those which have been conducted have not found any negative effects of creatine supplementation on kidney, liver, muscle, or heart function (7).
Avoid creatine if you have kidney disease or are at high risk for kidney disease. A 2011 study advises against using creatine if you have kidney disease or people at high risk for kidney disease (including diabetics and people with high blood pressure).
Beyond that restriction, there should be no problems associated with even heavy loads of creatine (up to 20 grams per day) in healthy people (8).
Traditional loading protocols call for 15-20 grams per day split into five-gram doses. When it comes to the optimal dose, many scientific studies use protocols which call for 15 to 20 grams of creatine per day, split up into five gram doses taken at different times during the day.
New research suggests you can get similar benefits from as low as three grams per day if you want to keep your intake lower. However, according to research from the University of Missouri, similar results can be achieved with doses as low as three grams of creatine monohydrate per day (9).
Once you load up on creatine, you can switch to five grams per day. After several days of creatine loading at 15-20 grams per day, point, your muscles become saturated with creatine and any additional creatine in your system is simply wasted.
By this logic, the optimal dose is going to be higher if you are a person who already has more muscle mass—you have a bigger muscular fuel tank to fill up compared to a smaller person.
In most cases, between ten and 15 grams of creatine per day should be appropriate during a loading phase, and three to five grams per day during a maintenance phase.
Creatine benefits FAQ
Q: Does creatine cause water retention?
A: Yes, according to a scientific review article, creatine supplementation does cause a small and temporary increase in water retention in the body (10). However, the broader myth that creatine’s gains are only because of water weight are not correct: creatine has well-demonstrated effects on muscle size and muscle strength, across many studies and in many different types of people.
Q: Is creatine bad for you?
A: Creatine is about as close as you can get to a model supplement—it has a well-demonstrated profile of efficacy, and on top of that, it is very safe.
Creatine has been successfully used in high-level athletes as well as the elderly, without any adverse health effects.
The safety of creatine has been confirmed in long-term studies that take regular blood samples looking for signs of damage to the kidneys or liver, but creatine does not show any toxic effects even over long durations of use (12).
Creatine is not currently recommended for people under 18, but this is largely because of a lack of research, not because of any evidence indicating that it could be bad for you.
Q: What are the dangers of creatine?
A: Creatine poses very little risks, even when taken for long periods of time. Initial reports of side effects like cramping have not stood up to more intense scientific scrutiny, for example (15).
Creatine is not recommended for people who have kidney problems, and for people who are under age 18. In both cases, these recommendations are based on a lack of research, not strong evidence indicating a harmful potential for creatine.
Q: Is creatine safe?
A: Yes, among all of the potential supplements that you could take to increase your muscle mass and muscular strength, creatine is as safe as plain protein powder.
As a natural compound that can be found in fairly large amounts in foods like chicken and beef, it should not be surprising that creatine is a safe supplement.
The latest consensus statements from international sports science researchers make the case that creatine is both safe and effective (16).
Q: When should you take creatine?
A: Most studies on creatine suggest that it is best to take creatine several times per day. Some research has used small doses taken as often as five times per day!
Generally, though, you can get away with around three doses of creatine spread throughout the day and garner all of the benefits of creatine supplementation.
Q: What is creatine loading?
A: Creatine loading is a supplementation strategy that aims to rapidly increase intramuscular creatine levels as quickly as possible, then maintain high levels of creatine in your body with a lower dose.
The loading protocol recommended by a 2017 position stand by the International Society of Sports Nutrition is fairly typical: For five to seven days, take 0.3 grams of creatine per kilogram of body mass. Then, maintain your creatine intake at 3-5 grams per day (17).
As you might imagine, different researchers and performance experts have different recommendations when it comes to the precise method of creatine loading, but the general strategy is the same: a short period of high-dose creatine intake, then a maintenance phase with lower intake levels.
Related: Our best creatine picks
Looking for a proven and effective supplement for gaining muscle? Creatine should be at the top of your list. It’s one of the biggest supplement success stories in recent memory: an effective, safe, and broadly applicable supplement that increases both muscle strength and muscle power.
Creatine, when dosed correctly, can reliably lead to impressive gains in muscle mass and strength, so if you are serious about strength gains, or even if you just want to preserve the muscle strength you’ve already got, creatine should definitely be in your supplement stack.