The Health Benefits of Creatine Supplementation
Should you take a creatine supplement? This is a frequent question I get asked when I lecture, as well as on various online forums. Ultimately, I think it makes a lot of sense for most people, and here’s why.
Creatine, a naturally occurring compound found predominantly in muscle tissue, has garnered significant attention over the last few decades for its potential to enhance athletic performance, muscle strength, and even cognitive function. And who wouldn’t want these benefits? Comprising amino acids – arginine, glycine, and methionine – creatine’s primary role in the body is to provide energy to cells, particularly muscle cells, during high-intensity, short-duration activities. But it does so much more as we will explore below.
1. Enhancing Muscle Strength and Athletic Performance
Creatine supplementation has been associated with improvements in high-intensity exercise performance. When muscles contract, they use a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for energy. Creatine phosphate, stored in muscles, donates a phosphate to the depleted ATP, replenishing it and allowing for continued muscle contraction. By increasing the amount of creatine in muscles, this ATP regeneration process can be sustained for longer, leading to improved exercise performance. And this provides a lot of downstream benefits like better sleep, improved mood, better blood sugar control and improved metabolism.
Several studies have examined the benefits of creatine supplementation on strength and power. One meta-analysis showed that creatine supplementation, when combined with resistance training, increased muscle strength by about 8% more than resistance training alone and increased weightlifting performance by about 14%.
Furthermore, creatine may also help increase muscle mass. Creatine can pull water into the muscle cell, which can increase protein synthesis, leading to muscle growth. Also, the additional energy provided by creatine might allow athletes to train harder and recover faster, further promoting muscle growth.
2. Cognitive Function and Neuroprotective Effects
While creatine’s benefits for physical performance are well-established, it’s exciting to learn that emerging research indicates potential benefits for brain health and cognitive function. The brain requires a significant amount of energy, especially during tasks demanding intense concentration. Given creatine’s role in energy production, it’s plausible that increased creatine levels might enhance brain function.
Research has suggested that vegetarians, who may have lower baseline levels of creatine because they don’t consume meat, experience improved cognitive performance with creatine supplementation. In tasks that demand short-term memory and quick thinking, creatine seems to offer an advantage. And this is why I recommend creatine, (along with B12 and iron) as supplements to be considered by pure vegetarians.
Furthermore, some studies indicate that creatine may offer neuroprotective benefits. Conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurodegenerative disorders are characterized by decreased energy production in the brain as we have been elucidating over the past decade. By potentially aiding cellular energy production, creatine could play a role in supporting brain health. In animal models, creatine supplementation has shown potential in reducing the severity of symptoms and the progression of some neurological diseases.
3. Safety and Dosage
Most studies suggest that creatine is safe when taken in recommended doses. The standard dosing regimen often involves a “loading phase” of around 20 grams per day for 5-7 days, followed by a “maintenance phase” of 3-5 grams per day. However, some individuals might experience gastrointestinal discomfort, and there’s been debate about potential kidney strain, though scientific consensus currently holds that creatine doesn’t damage healthy kidneys.
Creatine stands as one of the most researched and supported dietary supplements. Its benefits in enhancing muscle strength, power, and athletic performance are well-established. Additionally, emerging evidence points to the potential of creatine in supporting cognitive function and offering neuroprotective effects. To learn more about how creatine supplementation may benefit the brain, take a look at this systematic review of randomized controlled trials.
As always, those considering creatine supplementation should consult with a healthcare provider to ensure it’s appropriate for their individual circumstances.