What is creatine?

Creatine is one of the body’s natural sources of energy for muscle contraction. It is produced in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. Creatine is mainly stored in the skeletal muscle of the body and used during physical activity. Small amounts are used in the heart, brain, and other tissues.

People also get creatine by eating red meat or seafood. Vegetarians may have lower amounts of creatine in their bodies.

Creatine turns into creatinine and is passed out of the body in the urine. This means the body must add creatine each day to keep normal levels of natural creatine, depending on muscle mass. Although creatine is created naturally in the body, people must keep up their levels and do so through their daily diet.

Why do people take creatine supplements?

Studies show that creatine may improve exercise performance and can help a body recover from intense exercise.

Professional and amateur athletes at all levels have been known to rely on creatine supplements to aid their workout routines. The majority who use creatine supplements are male athletes, mostly those in power sports, such as football, wrestling, hockey, and bodybuilding.

However, no matter your age or health condition, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before taking creatine supplements.

Creatine supplements are used by many athletes. The supplement is allowed by professional sports associations, the International Olympic Committee, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Benefits have been reported in men and women, although the majority of studies have been conducted on men. Some studies note that women who take creatine supplements may not see as much strength gain and/or muscle mass as men during training.

What are the potential benefits of taking creatine supplements?

Research shows that taking creatine supplements may:

  • Improve exercise performance
  • Help recovery after intense exercise
  • Prevent and/or reduce the severity of injury
  • Help athletes tolerate heavy training loads
  • Increase a person’s fat-free muscle mass during training

Because vegetarians have been reported to have lower intramuscular creatine stores, they may see greater gains from taking the supplements.

Several studies show that users experience less incidence of cramping, heat illness/dehydration, muscle tightness, muscle strains/pulls, non-contact injuries, and total injuries/missed practices than those not taking creatine supplements.

In addition, studies have also noted that taking creatine supplements may aid in neurodegenerative diseases, such as muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease.

What are the side effects of taking creatine supplements?

Creatine is a relatively safe supplement with few side effects reported. However, you should keep in mind that:

  • People who take creatine supplements may gain weight because of water retention in the body's muscles. Other side effects of long-term use of creatine supplements may include muscle cramps, dehydration, diarrhea, nausea, and seizures.
  • It may be dangerous to take creatine supplements when you are dehydrated or trying to lose weight.
  • When creatine is combined with other supplements, or taken at high doses for a long period (several months), complications in the liver and kidney may occur.

More studies are needed for further information on the side effects of continued use of creatine supplements. Always consult a doctor before taking creatine or any supplements.

Is it safe to take creatine supplements?

Although creatine is present naturally in the body, taking additional supplements may not be safe. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate nutritional supplements. Creatine products that are sold in stores may vary in amount and quality. Safety and purity standards are also not controlled.

Also be advised that doctors do not know the long-term health effects of taking creatine supplements, especially in adolescents and children. Because of these unknown risks, those younger than 18 years as well as pregnant or nursing women should never take creatine supplements. It is also not recommended for people who have kidney problems.

Doctors do not know the effects of creatine supplements on important organ systems, such as the heart, brain, kidneys, liver, and reproductive organs, or the effects of combining creatine supplements with over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, vitamins, and energy drinks.

What is the most common type of creatine supplement?

Creatine supplements come in a variety of brand names and products. The supplements are available over-the-counter at vitamin, drug, and grocery stores, and online.

The most common is creatine monohydrate, a dietary supplement that increases muscle performance in short-duration, high-intensity resistance exercises. Studies show that taking these supplements benefit athletes during strength training, notably weightlifting and cycling. Other forms of creatine have not shown added benefits.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/28/2017.

References

  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Creatine Supplements. Accessed 1/11/2018.
  • Hall, Matthew DO; Trojian, Thomas H. MD, FACSM. “Creatine Supplementation.” _Current Sports Medicine Reports _12 (2013): 240-244.
  • Kreider, Richard B.; Kalman, Douglas S., et al. “International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine.” _Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition _14:18 (2017).

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