Creatine happens to be one of the most popular products in the sports supplement market. But taking a higher creatine dosage isn't necessarily going to increase your health benefits indefinitely.
Creatine is used when increasing the size of muscles, their strength and their overall power. It might also have some benefits for the brain as well as healthy aging.
What Is Creatine?
Your body naturally produces creatine in the liver, pancreas and kidneys. Three amino acids are used to make creatine: arginine, glycine and methionine. Your body makes creatine and then stores it in your skeletal muscles, according to an August 2016 study published in Amino Acids.
Creatine can also be found in the food you eat. You will mostly find it in animal products, such as pork, beef, fish and chicken. If you're on an omnivorous diet, then you will typically get about 1 to 2 grams of creatine a day. Vegetarians, who do not include meat in their diets, have lower amounts of creatine stored in their skeletal muscles.
The good news for vegetarians is that there are creatine supplements available, which they can take to keep their creatine levels sufficiently high. There are many different forms of creatine supplements available. However, the most effective, inexpensive and researched is creatine monohydrate, according to Uniformed Services University.
Benefits of Creatine
Creatine is most popular for its benefits for athletes, according to the Mayo Clinic. It is well known for its ability to significantly enhance the athletic performance of those who take it. In fact, research suggests that the creatine benefits go well beyond just athletic performance; creatine may also help with aging, helping you to age gracefully and in a healthy way. It may also boost brain function and help with mental health.
Creatine dosage is important for athletic performance because it provides your muscles with energy. It is known to replenish the adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, in the body. ATP is the molecule used to store energy in cells in the body.
By replenishing ATP molecules that have been consumed in the production of energy, creatine literally provides your muscle cells with energy. This extra energy helps the muscles grow stronger, more powerful, and bigger.
Lots of research has been done on creatine that shows strong evidence that creatine supplements can improve athletic performance. This can be seen via an increase in the markers of athletic performance, such as strength and the power of the muscles increasing by over 10 percent.
Creatine has also been shown to enhance muscle and bone health through old age. In a September 2016 study published in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle showed that elderly people who took 12 weeks of a low-dose creatine supplement associated with resistance training saw an increase in lean mass.
Because creatine is associated with increased energy production, creatine supplements may improve the supply of energy to the brain and provide protection for brain cells, thereby improving brain function.
Dosing Strategies for Creatine
Creatine supplements come in the form of a powder that is mixed with either juice or plain water and taken just before a workout or just after. There are two main ways to dose creatine:
- Loading: This is the standard way to take creatine and involves taking 20 grams of creatine daily for four to seven days, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The daily dose should be split into about four or five doses. After the loading phase, between 3 and 5 grams should be taken per day to maintain the stores of creatine in the muscles. The point is to saturate your muscles with creatine much faster so that benefits can manifest sooner.
- Maintenance Dose: A September 2015 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition outlines this dosing method, which does away with the loading phase and maintains a daily dose of between 3 and 5 grams of creatine. This method will take about 28 days for the benefits to be seen, which is longer than the loading method, though it is just as effective eventually. It is also easier since it involves just one dose a day compared to the four or five involved in the loading method.
Creatine Side Effects
Creatine has been extensively studied and is considered safe. That said, there are some side effects associated with creatine overdose.
One of the dangers of creatine is that if you take too much at one time you might experience stomach discomfort. Side effects may include stomach upset, diarrhea and belching, among others. If you use the loading method to take creatine, split the 20 to 25 gram dose into four to five different doses spread throughout the day to avoid stomach discomfort.
This is especially associated with the loading method of creatine intake, which can result in significant weight gain in the body due to both a gain in muscle mass and a gain in the water intake of your muscles. This weight gain is generally harmless, but it can lead to bloating.
This isn't one of the more universal dangers of creatine. Not everyone who loads on creatine will experience bloating. However, you can reduce your chances of experiencing bloating by skipping the loading phase of creatine intake altogether and sticking to 3 to 5 grams of creatine daily.
Taking Too Much Creatine
Your muscles certainly have a saturation point for creatine. Once they reach that saturation point, such as after the loading phase of the loading dosing method, you should stick to between 3 and 5 grams of creatine a day to keep muscle stores at optimal levels.
The 3- to 5-gram dose is more than enough to keep your muscle stores saturated. Taking more than this will simply cause the excess creatine to be excreted from the body in the form of urine as the body cannot store all that extra creatine, according to a June 2017 review published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. That means that not only will you experience a range of side effects, but you will also be wasting your money.
Creatine is popular in the sports supplements market as it significantly improves athletic performance. It isn't banned by any regulatory sports bodies and is generally considered safe, so you should consider taking it if you want to improve your athletic performance.
Stick to the recommended dosage limits to avoid experiencing severe side effects of creatine overdose and other dangers of creatine. Talk to your doctor before you start taking creatine to determine if you're healthy enough for it.
- Amino Acids: "The Role of Dietary Creatine"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "Effects of a Traditionally-Dosed Creatine Supplementation Protocol and Resistance Training on the Skeletal Muscle Uptake and Whole-Body Metabolism and Retention of Creatine in Males"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Safety and Efficacy of Creatine Supplementation in Exercise, Sport and Medicine"
- Uniformed Services University: "Creatine Supplements: The Basics"
- Mayo Clinic: "Creatine"
- Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle: "Impact of Creatine Supplementation in Combination With Resistance Training on Lean Mass in the Elderly"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Creatine"