If you know of creatine, you probably associate it with big, muscular physiques. And you wouldn’t be wrong: Supplementing with creatine can be very beneficial for regular gymgoers. However, the health benefits of creatine extend far beyond the weight room. Here’s a refresher on creatine’s role in our bodies, as well as the different groups of people who should consider getting more of it.
Creatine is an amino acid-like compound that we naturally store in our muscles (as well as in the brain, liver, and kidneys in small amounts). Creatine has a pretty important job: It’s necessary to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the body’s energy source, says Arizona-based dietitian, Laura Kunces, Ph.D., R.D. In fact, it’s an essential player in fueling short, high-intensity bursts of work—including anything you do in about 10 seconds. For some people, that may just be getting in and out of a car or lifting a child. But for athletes, that may be swinging a bat, kicking a soccer ball for a penalty kick, or doing a backflip, Kunces explains.
Our body produces some creatine on its own, but we also get it through protein-rich foods such as beef, chicken, salmon, fish, and pork, according to dietitian Sarah Koszyk, R.D.N., author of 365 Snacks for Every Day of the Year. Smaller amounts are also found in milk and cheese.
The thing is, you have to eat significant amounts of these foods for optimal creatine intake, which is why supplementation can be so effective, explains Virginia-based dietitian Caroline Thomason, R.D.
People Who Should Supplement With Creatine
While we all benefit from proper intake of creatine, supplementing may be particularly essential for certain groups of people.
1. Athletes & BodyBuilders
No surprise here: Athletes can benefit from supplementing with creatine since it improves athletic performance by increasing energy and power for high-intensity training and promoting muscle repair, says Koszyk. Athletes who participate in powerlifting, hockey, wrestling, baseball, football, and lacrosse, in particular, can benefit because of the need for intense energy and power boosts in those sports. Likewise, weightlifters and sprinters are also great candidates for creatine supplementation as they require the highest power output from their muscles, which creatine supplies, Thomason adds.
Since they have more significant creatine needs than the average person, Koszyk recommends that athletes consume between five to 10 grams of creatine a day.
If you engage in bodybuilding activities, you likely already supplement with creatine (or have at least considered it). Creatine can help you reach your bodybuilding goals more quickly and easily by enhancing lean muscle mass development, boosting performance, and providing additional power and strength during your workouts, according to Koszyk.
The fact that creatine holds water also makes it particularly beneficial for bodybuilders since they engage in vigorous resistance training, Kunces adds. Optimizing creatine intake helps power muscle contraction and maintains hydration throughout the body.
2. Plant-based eaters
“Since we get creatine strictly from animal protein, [plant-based eaters] tend to have lower stores built up,” explains Thomason. That’s why supplementation can be so incredibly helpful for this group of people—especially if they’re looking to increase muscle mass, muscle strength, and endurance.
Read More: The Best Supplements For Plant-Based Eaters
For plants-only eaters, Kunces recommends supplementing with a baseline of five grams of creatine per day. From there, you may want to talk to a healthcare provider about making adjustments based on your specific health and fitness goals.
3. People with cognitive decline
“Creatine has been shown to have an improved cognition response and is now being studied within the [older] population who suffer from cognitive decline,” says Thomason.
People with Parkinson’s disease experience a loss of dopamine neurons in the midbrain, loss of muscle mass and strength, and increased fatigue, Koszyk explains. Since creatine can help ward off mental fatigue, it may be worth considering for this group. “It’s also been shown to increase the muscle strength in those affected by Parkinson’s disease, showing promise in helping to reduce the negative symptoms experienced,” she adds. “However, more research is needed to determine the supplements’ complete efficacy.”
Read More: Keep Your Brain Sharp As You Age With These 6 Simple Tactics
Alzheimer’s disease, meanwhile, reduces creatine kinase activity by 86 percent, according to Koszyk. Though more research is needed, she suggests that supplementing with creatine may support this activity and promote ATP production in the brain.
All seniors, in fact, may want to hop on the creatine train, since muscle degeneration is prevalent among older adults, with many losing about 30 percent of their muscle mass by the age of 80, explains Koszyk. This leads to decreased strength and mobility, which can result in loss of independence. Creatine supplementation can increase the stores found in the muscles and promote greater lean muscle mass retention, Koszyk says. A major plus for overall well-being and strength.
5. People with high blood sugar
Here’s an unexpected one: “Creatine increases the function of a glucose molecule (GLUT-4) that brings blood sugars into the muscles,” says Koszyk. This is important for maintaining healthy blood sugar, she says. As a result, creatine may play a role in blood sugar management for those experiencing dysfunction or regulation issues.
For this reason, Koszyk recommends pairing protein foods (which are good sources of creatine) with carbohydrates to help your body process those carbohydrates effectively.
How To Add Creatine To Your Diet
If you find yourself in one of these groups, you’ll want to increase your creatine intake to support your individual health and fitness goals.
Experts recommend getting creatine from food whenever possible. According to Koszyk, we need about one to three total grams per day. Our bodies produce half that, meaning we need to consume up to 1.5 grams. The best way to do it: by eating animal proteins. “For example, 3.5 ounces of meat (chicken, steak, fish) provides about 0.9 grams of creatine,” says Koszyk.
On top of food, you can incorporate a creatine supplement. Look for a product that undergoes third-party testing to help ensure safety and quality, recommends dietitian Brittany Poulson, R.D.N., C.D.C.E.S. From there, look for “creatine monohydrate” on the ingredient list, since this is the most well-studied form of creatine, says Kunces.
Best Practices For Supplementing With Creatine
Got your quality supplement in hand? Use these tips to reap the benefits.
1. Consider Your Dose
Generally, supplementing with five grams of creatine per day can support hydration, protein and carbohydrate metabolism, and brain health, says Kunces.
Some people begin supplementing with a practice called “creatine loading,” in which you take four to five five-gram doses per day for your first week to jumpstart levels, Thomason explains. From there, you take the usual five grams per day. (BodyTech 100% Pure Creatine Monohydrate is an unflavored powder that offers five grams of creatine per serving.)
However, taking in high levels of creatine can cause stomach pain, bloating, or GI discomfort, so those with more sensitive stomachs may want to skip any loading. Similarly, “older or elderly adults may want to start with three grams a day to make sure they tolerate it from a GI standpoint, as their stomachs have slightly different acid-base profiles as younger adults,” recommends Kunces.
2. Take it before or after workouts
If you work out, experts recommend taking creatine supplements shortly before or after exercise. (Research suggests that post-exercise is the truly ideal time.) “I usually tell athletes I work with to take it around exercise time—either within 60 minutes before or after, whichever works better for their nutrition regimen depending on the exercises, intensity, or duration they are planning on doing,” Kunces explains.
If you don’t have a workout to time your creatine around, just add it to your morning routine.
3. Pair it with protein and carbohydrates
Some studies show that creatine is better taken up by the muscles when consumed with carbohydrates, so Poulson recommends pairing your creatine supplement with a carb- and protein-rich snack or meal whenever possible.
4. Stay hydrated
When supplementing with creatine, you may have to become better friends with water. Creatine causes the muscles to hold onto water, so it’s possible you’ll need to get more H2O into your system in order to stay hydrated, Koszyk says. While the eight-to-10 glasses-per-day recommendation still holds water, talk to a dietitian if you’re supplementing with creatine and are concerned about your hydration status.