Whether you're a seasoned athlete or someone just getting into a workout routine, you might've done some research on potential supplements you can take to help improve your performance.
One popular supplement is called creatine — a chemical naturally found in your body that helps your muscles make energy. Over the counter, it comes in pill and powder form and can be bought online or at some health food stores, per the National Library of Medicine (NLM).
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While creatine is often praised by athletes and fitness influencers, there's not a lot of research surrounding its effectiveness. In fact, most studies done on the supplement are small and outdated.
That said, it's still generally considered safe to use, per the NLM. (But of course, talk to your doctor before trying any new vitamin or supplement.)
Here, learn whether the pill or powder form of creatine is right for you, how to take it and other safety tips to keep in mind.
Creatine Pills vs. Powder
Deciding between creatine pills or powder is largely about your personal preference.
If you have no problem swallowing a pill, this can be a great way to make sure you're getting the same amount of creatine each time. A typical creatine pill may contain anywhere from 0.7 grams to 2.5 grams of creatine per capsule, depending on the manufacturer.
On the other hand, creatine powder might be your preferred choice if you like to mix powders into your morning coffee, pre-workout smoothie or just plain water. Dosing will be a little different with this option, though, as one tablespoon of creatine powder is equal to about 5 grams — slightly higher than the pills.
Besides dosage, digestion time may be slightly different between the two forms of creatine. Your stomach has to break down a pill, which may take longer to digest than the powder itself or the powder mixed with other ingredients.
Convenience may also factor into your decision. You might prefer the ease of swallowing a pre-measured pill as opposed to the potential mess of having to measure and mix the powdered creatine.
How to Take Creatine
When starting a creatine routine, many people load up with larger doses for the first few days. For example, you might take 5 grams four times a day for up to five days, according to Mount Sinai. Then, you'd settle into your maintenance dose of 2 grams per day.
Taking your creatine with a carb like fruit or fruit juice might help your body absorb it better, per Mount Sinai. Powdered creatine can be mixed in a cup of juice or blended in a fruit smoothie. Creatine capsules can be taken with a cup of juice instead of water.
Adding powdered creatine to a shake or taking a pill with a snack or meal can help your muscles retain more of the creatine, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
Although creatine is generally considered safe to use for up to five years in some studies, don't take a higher dose than recommended. High doses may affect your kidney, liver or heart health, according to the NLM. There's very little research looking at creatine use during pregnancy, so it's probably safest to skip the supp when you're expecting or breastfeeding, per the NLM.
Whether you decide to take creatine in powder versus pill form is largely up to your personal preferences, as long as you're taking an appropriate dose.
How long does it take for creatine pills to kick in?
If you follow a loading dose like the plan outlined above, you'll saturate your muscles with creatine in five to seven days, according to the NASM. If you skip a loading dose and instead start with a maintenance dose, it may take more like 21 to 28 days for creatine to kick in, per the NASM.
What happens when you stop taking creatine?
As your body adjusts, you might notice side effects such as:
- Decrease in muscle mass
- Weight loss
- National Library of Medicine: "Creatine"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Your Digestive System and How It Works
- International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism: The Effect of Whey Protein Supplementation With and Without Creatine Monohydrate Combined With Resistance Training on Lean Tissue Mass and Muscle Strength
- FDA: "Current Good Manufacturing Practices"
- Mount Sinai: "Creatine"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Creatine"
- NASM: "WHAT DOES CREATINE DO & WHY YOU SHOULD USE IT FOR MUSCLE GROWTH"