What is Creatine?
Creatine is one of the most widely studied supplements. It is a naturally occurring compound used by athletes and individuals who engage in anaerobic exercises (weightlifting, sprinting, HIIT). Creatine can be found in the foods we eat, primarily in meat and other animal products. It helps our bodies to produce ATP (Adenosine triphosphate), which supplies the brain and other muscles with energy. This in turn gives us more energy to use whether that is with exercising or other demanding tasks. Studies show that this does not seem to significantly improve aerobic exercise (swimming, walking, biking) to the same degree as anaerobic exercise. Aside from supplying our muscles with energy, creatine also supplies our neurons with energy which act as our bodies relay system for information. We’ll discuss how creatine affects both your body and your brain in this article.
Creatine and Body Function
It is widely known within the athletic community that creatine is a great supplement for increasing performance and helping us to become stronger, but what does the research actually show?
In a recent study researchers found that creatine has a host of benefits. These benefits include increasing our work capacity meaning that it helps us to workout harder and longer. It also has been shown to help us recover from intense exercise and/or tolerate intensified periods of training to a greater degree. Additionally, creatine helps individuals experience fewer musculoskeletal injuries, as well as accelerate recovery time from injury (Antonio et al., 2021).
Why is this important for gamers? Better exercise tolerance means more muscle stimulation, which means more hypertrophy, more strength, more growth, and less injury risk. You may be thinking, “If I lift heavier and harder won’t this actually cause an injury?” Though this can occur, this is more often a result of poor form during an exercise/lift. As long as you increase your intensity gradually, and focus on maintaining good form while you do, your injury risk remains low.
Lastly, we can again see in the research discussed above that individuals experience fewer musculoskeletal injuries, as well as accelerate recovery time from injury so if you are a gamer and wanting to be preventative towards injury or return faster from a injury, than using creatine along with exercise to build up muscle mass and muscular endurance may be a good idea.
Creatine and Brain Function
In a 2018 systematic review by Avgerinosa and colleagues, they were able to determine that creatine does in fact have an impact on cognition. Specifically, there was an increase with short term memory, intelligence, and reasoning for individuals taking creatine versus those who did not. Vegetarians responded better than meat-eaters in memory tasks but for other cognitive domains, no differences were observed. Since meat-eaters have a higher baseline creatine intake, they may experience a smaller effect–creatine is naturally found within fish, meat, or other animal products. Other results showed that creatine also significantly helped with long term memory, spatial memory, memory scanning, and performance. However, there may be some bias in these results and they should be taken with that context. Another study by Watanabe et al, was able to conclude that creatine supplementation significantly reduced mental fatigue when performing a mentally taxing task.
Other studies have discussed how creatine may be more beneficial for elderly, stressed, or diseased brains as they require more energy for cognitively demanding tasks whereas young brains are able to complete these tasks using less energy so they do not notice as much of the benefit. Stressed individuals resulting in depression, sleep deprivation or even exercise induced stress will experience a decrease in brain creatine levels, therefore creatine supplementation demonstrates to have a positive impact towards the negative effects that these stressor have on our body (Szot et al., 2022).
In conclusion, it does not appear that creatine will make you the next Bradley Cooper from Limitless, but if you are looking for a way to gain even the slightest edge in performance or even just your daily life, than creatine can offer some benefits in terms of helping with short term memory, intelligence, reasoning, metal stamina, and even more so for vegetarians or stressed individuals.
Does Creatine Have Any Side Effects?
Overall creatine has been found safe to use as it has been in over 500 studies with only a few safety concerns. Side effects found as a result of creatine supplementation show that it may increase your body’s water retention in the short term (1 week), but after 1 month there was little change in water retention. Other common concerns are surrounding kidney dysfunction, dehydration, and cramping all of which have been found to be unsupported in the literature when taking proper doses.
This supplement is allowed by all professional and college athletic associations as it is not a steroid. Generally, these organizing bodies treat it in the same regards as a protein shake in helping the body to recover and increase performance. To check if your creatine source meets the requirements for purity and safety, we recommend using something like NSF or USP.
What Do You Need to Know Before Taking It?
If you are interested in taking creatine as a supplement to your gaming or exercises routine, here’s a helpful guide to getting started.
Recommended dosage: 5-20 g. Research varies on what dosage is best, but it appears that in order for it to cross the blood brain barrier and have a cognitive benefit an increased dosage (20g) may be required.
When: 1x/day; timing does not appear to have a significant impact
Type: Creatine monohydrate
How: Follow the instructions on the label for taking it. Most often by mixing the powder in water, protein shake, or in a flavored drink
*Brands: Thorne, Cytosport, dotFIT, Klean, Momentous, True Athlete
*These brands are certified through NSF for Sport. The Certified for Sport certification is an independent third-party certification programs that verifies the claims made by supplement companies and provides consumers with confidence that the label matches what is in the product. For more information or to check other products, visit the NSF for Sport website.
When Should I Notice Changes?
Creatine will take up to 5 days following a loading phase (20g/day) or anywhere between 2-4 weeks (5g/day) before the supplement really becomes effective. This is due to the gradual progression for increasing the body’s creatine levels.
In conclusion, creatine remains a strong and supported supplement with little to no risks and at a relatively low cost. It is important to note that again, if you consume a high meat diet, you may well be getting near the recommended dosage of creatine. For those of which follow a vegetarian/vegan based diet or who are older in age than creatine may be a worthwhile addition to include within your routine as these benefits are more easily to be seen.
As with any supplement, it is best to reach out to your physician or registered dietitian regarding any questions or concerns prior to starting use.
Antonio, J., Candow, D. G., Forbes, S. C., Gualano, B., Jagim, A. R., Kreider, R. B., Rawson, E.
S., Smith-Ryan, A. E., VanDusseldorp, T. A., Willoughby, D. S., & Ziegenfuss, T. N. (2021). Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show?. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 18(1), 13. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-0
Avgerinos, K. I., Spyrou, N., Bougioukas, K. I., & Kapogiannis, D. (2018). Effects of creatine
supplementation on cognitive function of healthy individuals: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Experimental gerontology, 108, 166–173. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.exger.2018.04.013
Kreider, R. B., Kalman, D. S., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Wildman, R., Collins, R., Candow, D. G.,
Kleiner, S. M., Almada, A. L., & Lopez, H. L. (2017). 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. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z
Szot, M., Karpęcka-Gałka, E., Dróżdż, R., & Frączek, B. (2022). Can Nutrients and Dietary Supplements Potentially Improve Cognitive Performance Also in Esports?. Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland), 10(2), 186. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare10020186