By Rudy Mawer, MSc, CISSN
Creatine is a natural supplement used to boost athletic performance (1).
More than 500 research studies support its safety and effectiveness (2).
Here are 10 science-based benefits of creatine:
Phosphocreatine helps with the formation of new ATP, the key molecule your cells use for energy and all basic functions of life (8).
During exercise, ATP is broken down to produce energy.
This is the primary mechanism behind creatine’s performance-enhancing effects.
Bottom Line: Supplementing with creatine can provide additional ATP energy, which improves high-intensity exercise performance.
Some research has also shown that supplementing decreases the level of myostatin, a molecule responsible for stunting muscle growth. Reducing myostatin can help you build muscle faster (18).
Bottom Line: Creatine can stimulate several key biological processes that lead to increased muscle growth and size.
Studies have shown creatine can improve numerous factors to help you perform better, including:
Ballistic power (21).
Sprint ability (22).
Muscle endurance (21).
Resistance to fatigue (21).
Muscle mass (23).
Brain performance (6).
A review found it improves high-intensity exercise performance by up to 15% (2).
Bottom Line: Creatine is the world’s most effective supplement for high-intensity sports. It has benefits regardless of your current fitness level.
Taking it for as little as five to seven days has been shown to significantly increase lean body weight and muscle size.
In one study, participants followed a six-week training regimen. Those using creatine added 4.4 lbs (2 kg) more muscle mass, compared to those who did not (23).
A comprehensive review demonstrated a clear increase in muscle mass, compared to those performing the same training regimen without creatine (27).
This review also compared the world’s most popular sports supplements and found creatine is the best one available. It also has the added benefit of being less expensive and far safer than most other sports supplements (27).
Bottom Line: Creatine can increase muscle mass in both the short- and long-term. It is the most effective muscle-building supplement available.
The large reduction in dopamine levels causes brain cell death and several serious symptoms, including tremors, loss of muscle function and speech impairments (28).
Creatine has been shown to have beneficial effects on Parkinson’s in mice, preventing 90% of the drop in dopamine levels (29).
In humans with Parkinson’s disease, combining creatine with weight training improved strength and daily function to a greater extent than training alone (32).
Bottom Line: Creatine may help reduce the symptoms and severity of Parkinson’s disease by maintaining dopamine levels and muscle function.
A key factor in several neurological diseases is a reduction in brain levels of phosphocreatine (29).
Since creatine can increase these levels, it may help reduce or slow disease progression.
In mice with Huntington’s disease, it restored the brain’s phosphocreatine stores to 72% of pre-disease levels, compared to only 26% for control mice (33).
This restoration of phosphocreatine levels helped maintain daily function and reduced cell death by around 25% (33).
Research in animals suggests that taking creatine supplements may treat other diseases too, including:
Alzheimer’s disease (34).
Ischemic stroke (35).
Brain or spinal cord injuries (37).
Creatine has also shown benefits against ALS, a disease that affects the motor neurons essential for movement. It improved motor function, reduced muscle loss and extended the survival rate by 17% (38).
Although more studies are needed in humans, many researchers believe taking creatine supplements can have extremely beneficial effects against neurological diseases when used along with conventional medicine and drugs.
Bottom Line: Animal studies suggest that creatine can help with symptoms, disease progression and even life expectancy in neurological diseases.
A 12-week study examined how creatine affects blood sugar levels after a high-carb meal (41).
People who combined creatine and exercise were better at controlling blood sugar levels, compared to those who only exercised (41).
The short-term blood sugar response to a meal is an important marker for diabetes risk. The faster your body can clear sugar from the blood, the better (43).
These benefits are promising, but more human research is needed on the long-term effects on blood sugar control and diabetes.
Bottom Line: There is some evidence that creatine can help lower blood sugar levels after meals, but there is little data on its long-term effects.
Creatine plays an important role in brain health and function (25).
Research has shown that the brain requires a significant amount of ATP energy when performing difficult tasks (25).
Supplements can increase phosphocreatine stores in the brain and help the brain produce more ATP. Creatine may also aid brain function by increasing dopamine levels and the function of mitochondria (25, 44, 45).
Meat is the best dietary source of creatine, and vegetarians often have low levels because they avoid meat. One study on creatine supplements in vegetarians found a 20-50% improvement in some memory and intelligence test scores (25).
For the elderly, two weeks of taking creatine supplements significantly improved memory and recall ability (46).
Along with other studies, this research suggests creatine is extremely beneficial for the elderly. It may help with brain function, reduce the age-related loss of muscle and strength, and protect against neurological diseases (47).
Despite the positive findings, more research is needed in young, healthy individuals who eat meat or fish on a regular basis.
Bottom Line: Supplementing with creatine can provide the brain with additional energy, thereby improving memory and intelligence in people with low levels of creatine.
Creatine supplements may also reduce fatigue and tiredness (48).
One of the most notable studies to date followed traumatic brain injury patients for six months. Those who supplemented had a 50% reduction in dizziness, compared to those who did not (48).
Furthermore, only 10% of patients in the supplement group suffered from fatigue, compared to 80% in the control group (48).
Another study found that creatine led to reduced fatigue and increased energy levels during sleep deprivation (49).
Bottom Line: Creatine can reduce symptoms of fatigue and tiredness by providing the brain with additional energy and increasing dopamine levels.
Along with the diverse benefits outlined in this article, creatine is also one of the cheapest and safest supplements available.
It’s been researched for more than 200 years and numerous studies support its safety for long-term use. Clinical trials lasting up to five years report no adverse effects in healthy individuals (1).
At the end of the day, creatine is an effective supplement with powerful benefits for both sports performance and health.