Creatine Benefits: The Benefits and Side Effects of Creatine

What is creatine? Creatine is an amino acid (amino acids..

Creatine Benefits: The Benefits and Side Effects of Creatine

What is creatine?

Creatine is an amino acid (amino acids are the building blocks of protein) which is made in the body by the liver and kidneys, and is derived from the diet through meat and animal products.

Creatine (creatine monohydrate) is a colorless, crystalline substance used in muscle tissue for the production of phosphocreatine. 

An important factor in the formation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the source of energy for muscle contraction and many other functions in the body.

What does creatine normally do in the body?

In the body, creatine is changed into a molecule called “phosphocreatine” which serves as a storage reservoir for quick energy.

Phosphocreatine is especially important in tissues such as the voluntary muscles and the nervous system which periodically require large amounts of energy.

Why do athletes take creatine?

Studies have shown that creatine can increase the performance of athletes in activities that require quick bursts of energy, such as sprinting. 

And can help athletes to recover faster after expending bursts of energy.

Creatine is best for the serious bodybuilder.

It helps increase muscle mass, rather than muscle endurance, so it’s not well suited for athletes participating in endurance activities.

However, the increase in muscle mass may be due to water retention and not an increase in muscle tissue.

Why have I been hearing so much about creatine and neuromuscular disorders?

Two scientific studies have indicated that creatine may be beneficial for neuromuscular disorders.

First, a study by MDA-funded researcher M. Flint Beal of Cornell University Medical Center demonstrated that creatine was twice as effective as the prescription drug riluzole in extending the lives of mice with the degenerative neural disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease).

Second, a study by Canadian researchers Mark Tarnopolsky and Joan Martin of McMaster University Medical Center in Ontario found that creatine can cause modest increases in strength in people with a variety of neuromuscular disorders.

Beal’s work was published in the March 1999 issue of Nature Neuroscience and the second paper was published in the March 1999 issue of Neurology.

Will It Help Me Bulk Up?

You may have overheard gym-bros waxing lyrical about amazing short-term mass gain when taking creatine, but that’s largely because creatine is hydroscopic and encourages water retention.

Long-term use can stimulate protein synthesis, though, so it will work if you stick with it.

I want to start taking creatine — is it safe?

For the most part, athletes haven’t experienced adverse side-effects from taking creatine, although recently there have been a few reports of kidney damage linked to creatine usage.

No consistent toxicity has been reported in studies of creatine supplementation. Dehydration has also been reported to be a problem while taking creatine.

Athletes generally take a “loading dose” of 20 grams of creatine a day for five or six days, then continue with a “maintenance dose” of 2 to 5 grams of creatine a day thereafter.

What are the side effects?

Little is known about long-term side effects of creatine. But no consistent toxicity has been reported in studies of creatine supplementation.

In a study of side effects of creatine, diarrhea was the most commonly reported adverse effect of creatine supplementation. 

Followed by muscle cramping.18 Some reports showed that kidney, liver.

And blood functions were not affected by short-term higher amounts or long-term lower amounts of creatine supplementation in healthy young adults.

In a small study of people taking 5–30 grams per day, no change in kidney function appeared after up to five years of supplementation.

Muscle cramping after creatine supplementation has been anecdotally reported in some studies.

Creatine Benefits

Extensively studied for both its safety and benefits. 

Some of creatine’s supposed benefits are supported by research and some are not.

Creatine also shows promise outside of the athletic and performance setting, but more research is needed in these areas.

Increase in muscle size

Creatine supplementation causes an increase in the water content of muscles. 

Making them “larger.” This is not due to an increase in the size of the muscle fibers.

However, creatine can increase “real” fat free mass over time. 

As its strength and power-boosting properties allow higher quality training and thus, better gains.

Improved athletic performance

A large body of research shows that oral creatine supplementation can make an athlete faster and stronger when performing high intensity activity.

Increased muscle protein synthesis

I found a few studies which refuted this claim. Still, if someone who uses creatine can lift more weight, muscle protein synthesis should increase; although.

The creatine itself simply increases the available energy supply (ATP) for muscle contraction.

Creatine itself does not stimulate protein synthesis.

Remember, there has never been a scientifically controlled study showing that jumping out of an airplane with a parachute is any better than jumping out without one.

Creatine Myth-Busting

Myth: There’s a supposed link between creatine and testicular cancer

A questionnaire-based investigation published in the British Journal Of Cancer in April 2015 appeared to show a link between “muscle-building supplements” and cancer risk.

“This covered 30 supplements, not just creatine,” says Bean. “These included banned prohormones such as androstenedione, which has well-known negative side effects.”

The interviews found the odds of the 356 participants with testicular cancer having used one of these 30 supplements were “significantly elevated”.

“It was a pointless study – nobody knew what supplements each subject used,” Bean says.

“Any risk it identified was likely to be attributable to banned substances or even ‘hidden’ steroids potentially present in one of the supplements.

It didn’t show any link between creatine and cancer – in fact. 

Thanks to the method, it failed to make a link between cancer and any one supplement.”

Myth: Creatine loading is essential

In the past a lot of what you’d read regarding creatine advised you to “load”. 

Which basically means consuming copious amounts of the supplement.

More recent research has suggested that this might actually be a waste and that less creatine is needed to deliver results than loading advocators suggest.

Loading is only really required if you’re an elite athlete or pro bodybuilder – not for the casual gym-goer.

Most of us only really require 5g to get tangible results.

Myth: Consuming creatine results in excessive water retention

This is a common yet flawed myth.

A recent double blind. 

Placebo-controlled study conducted in the US found that after three months of creatine use. 

Test subjects showed no significant increase in the amount of water in their bodies at all.

In actual fact, the group that had taken the creatine showed better gains in fat-free mass and total body mass.

Myth: All products marketed as creatine are the same

Just as there’s a difference between fine wines at £100 a bottle and cheaper supermarket versions for a fiver. 

The quality of creatine generally differs depending on how much it costs.

Some of the lower-grade products have even been found to contain contaminants such as creatinine.

 Sodium, dicyandiamide and dihydrotriazine, which take away from the purity of the product.

These are harmless in small quantities, but will reduce the intended effect.

Myth: Creatine causes cramping

The idea that taking creatine can cause excessive cramping is purely anecdotal with no actual clinical evidence to support the claim.

Research actually shows that creatine use is not at all associated with cramping:

Two studies conducted at Arkansas State University found that creatine use by 61 athletes during training camps had no effects on the frequency or intensity of muscle cramps, injury or illness.

These athletes used 15-25g per day on the loading phase, and another 5g/day as maintenance.


Daniel Messer, RNutr, CPT

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