10 Health and Performance Benefits of Creatine

By Rudy Mawer, MSc, CISSN

Creatine is a natural supplement used to boost athletic performance (1).

It is one of the world’s best supplements for building muscle and strength (1, 2, 3, 4).

Despite common myths in the media, creatine is extremely safe and is also used in a clinical setting to treat neurological diseases (5, 6).

More than 500 research studies support its safety and effectiveness (2).

Here are 10 science-based benefits of creatine:

1. Helps muscle cells produce more energy

Creatine supplements increase your muscles’ phosphocreatine stores (7, 8).

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.

The rate of ATP re-synthesis limits your ability to continually perform at maximum intensity. You use ATP faster than you can build it up again (9, 10).

Creatine supplements increase your phosphocreatine stores, allowing you to produce more ATP energy to fuel your muscles during high-intensity exercise (10, 11).

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.

 2. Supports many other functions in muscles

Creatine is a popular and effective supplement for adding muscle mass (1, 4).

It can alter numerous cellular pathways that lead to new muscle growth, including boosting the formation of proteins that create new muscle fibers (12, 13, 14, 15, 16).

It can also increase IGF-1 levels and stimulate the Akt/PKB pathway. These send a signal to your body to build muscle mass (12, 13).

Creatine supplements can also increase the water content of your muscles. This is known as cell volumization, and can quickly increase the size of muscles (15, 17).

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.

3. Improves high-intensity exercise performance

Creatine’s direct role in ATP energy production means it can drastically improve high-intensity exercise performance (1, 2, 19).

Studies have shown creatine can improve numerous factors to help you perform better, including:

         Strength (20).

         Ballistic power (21).

         Sprint ability (22).

         Muscle endurance (21).

         Resistance to fatigue (21).

         Muscle mass (23).

         Recovery (24).

         Brain performance (6).

Unlike supplements that only benefit advanced athletes, creatine provides benefits regardless of your fitness level (25, 26).

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.

4. Speeds up muscle growth

Creatine is the world’s most effective supplement for adding muscle mass (1, 27).

Taking it for as little as five to seven days has been shown to significantly increase lean body weight and muscle size.

This initial rise is caused by increased water content within the muscle (15, 17).

Over the long term, it also aids in muscle fiber growth by signaling key biological pathways and increasing weights and performance in the gym (12, 13, 14, 15, 23).

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.

5. May help with Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease is characterized by a reduction in brain levels of a key neurotransmitter called dopamine (8, 28).

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 an attempt to treat the loss of muscle function and strength, Parkinson’s patients often perform weight training (30, 31).

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.

6. May fight other neurological diseases

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).

         Epilepsy (36).

         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.

7. May lower blood sugar levels and fight diabetes

Research suggests that creatine supplements can help lower blood sugar levels (39, 40, 41).

This may occur by increasing the function of GLUT4, a transporter molecule that brings blood sugar into muscles (40, 42).

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.

8. Can improve brain function

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.

9. May reduce fatigue or tiredness

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).

Creatine can also reduce exercise-induced fatigue in athletes during a cycling test, and has been used to decrease fatigue when exercising in high heat (50, 51).

Bottom Line: Creatine can reduce symptoms of fatigue and tiredness by providing the brain with additional energy and increasing dopamine levels.

10. Is safe and easy to use

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).

What’s more, supplementing is very easy. Simply take 3–5 grams of creatine monohydrate powder per day (1, 52).

At the end of the day, creatine is an effective supplement with powerful benefits for both sports performance and health.