Creatine: what is it and is it safe to take?

Posted by for Wellbeing

Have you heard of creatine but never really known what it is? Our experts are here to bust the myths surrounding this performance-boosting compound. 

Creatine: it’s one of those words we hear every now and again among fitness fans, but a veil of mystery still surrounds it. Myth and misinformation have muddied people’s understanding of what this naturally occurring compound really is, but as it turns out, it could actually help us to up our game when we hit the gym or play sports. So we figured it was time to set the record straight. 

To help us do just that, we asked sports dietician Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, and certified Health Education Specialist and registered yoga teacher Brielle Merchant, to fill us in on what creatine actually is, what the short and long-term benefits are, how to up your intake, and what side effects (if any) it has. 

What is creatine?

According to Brielle, “creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid that is found in animals”, so it is something that we as humans naturally produce. As Kelly goes on to explain, it is stored “predominantly in the muscles, but also in the brain”, and it is used to form another compound called phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine “rapidly replenishes energy for our muscle cells during high intensity exercise”, and so it helps to maximise performance and avoid injury. 

Sweat during workout
Creatine “rapidly replenishes energy for our muscle cells during high intensity exercise”

As well as being produced naturally in our bodies, it is also found in red meat and fish, “so those with diets heavy in those foods tend to have the highest creatine stores”, says Kelly. But, as it is a compound produced only in animals, Brielle explains that it “cannot be obtained from plant-based foods”. There are, however, vegan supplements you can buy if you want to up your intake. 

What are the benefits of creatine?

Creatine “supports the muscles during high intensity physical activity like lifting”, according to Brielle, and as such it is most commonly associated with body building and power lifting. But Kelly tells me that, since it is known to enhance training capacity, “it also supports performance in team and endurance sports”. It may also aid recovery, both from high-intensity workouts and from more serious injuries, such as concussions. 

Studies also suggest that there are longer-term benefits of creatine, with “potential benefits for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, as well as for age related cognition and depression” having been noted. Similarly, “short term memory, logic and reasoning may all be enhanced via creatine”, says Brielle. 

Does creatine have any side effects?

Because creatine is ergogenic, meaning it boosts energy production in the body, some people have wrongly lumped it in with performance-enhancing drugs, despite it being legal in professional sports. There are also myths that suggest creatine causes kidney problems and cramping, but “there is no evidence in research studies to support this”, says Kelly. In fact, it has only ever been anecdotally linked to unsafe usage, except in cases of overuse.

Though creatine is safe, legal, and naturally occurring, it is still important to ensure you take in the right amount. “Recommendations tend to suggest taking three to ten grams per day”, but the exact dosage will vary depending on your age, body, general health, and the exercise you do. To be sure you are getting the right amount for your needs, talk to your doctor before increasing your creatine intake, particularly if you plan on taking supplements. 

Follow @StrongWomenUK on Instagram for the latest workouts, delicious recipes and motivation from your favourite fitness experts. 

Images: Getty

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