How This Popular Supplement Affects Your Body  – Fitness Volt

Are you curious to find out how creatine affects your body? Well, we’re here to tell you!

Creatine is the world’s favorite bodybuilding and fitness supplement. While statements like that are often hyperbole, in the case of creatine, it’s probably true.

Since its debut in the early 1990s, creatine has consistently topped the bodybuilding supplement must-have lists. Public interest in creatine skyrocketed when high-profile athletes credited it for their performance in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and it’s been popular ever since.

For any supplement to remain popular for over 30 years strongly suggests that it works. After all, if it failed to produce noticeable results, people would have stopped buying creatine decades ago.

However, much of the interest in creatine has been fueled by the sports science community. As well as being the most popular supplement, creatine is also the most widely studied.

And yet, many people are still unsure about what creatine is and how it works. Indeed, some people (thanks partly to media misinformation) think it’s a type of steroid – which it’s not.

In this article, we take a closer look at this popular supplement, explaining what it is, what it does, and its positive and negative effects. As a result, by the end of this article, you will be a certified, card-carrying, black belt-wearing  creatine expert!

What is Creatine?

Creatine Monohydrate Supplement And Chemical Formula
Creatine Monohydrate Supplement And Chemical Formula

Creatine is a chemical, but don’t let that worry you; your body actually makes creatine from two amino acids – glycine and arginine. In fact, it’s manufactured by several organs, including your liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It’s also naturally present in several foods, including:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Fish (especially herring, salmon, and tuna)
  • Pork
  • Turkey
  • Venison

Creatine, which is primarily stored in your muscles, is a critical substance used by your body for various functions. However, its most notable role, as far as we’re concerned at least, is related to energy.

Your body is essentially a machine that runs on fuel, namely proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. These nutrients are broken down into a form of universal energy called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP for short.

When ATP gets broken down by an enzyme called ATPase, it releases a quick burst of energy and becomes adenosine phosphate or ADP. Unfortunately, ADP is essentially energy-depleted and needs to be converted back to ATP before it’s useful again.

That’s where creatine phosphate (CP) comes in.

ATP - ADP Cycle

In simple terms, ATP “donates” one of its phosphate molecules to turn ADP back to ATP. However, your CP reserves are quite limited.

Using supplemental creatine helps to boost your CP levels, so you’re more efficient at converting ADP back to ATP. This results in delayed fatigue, increased energy, and improved recovery (1).

While you can get some creatine from food, taking a creatine supplement is the most convenient and efficient way to pump up your creatine phosphate levels. With more creatine “in the tank,” you’ll fatigue slower and recover faster, leading to more productive workouts. Creatine has numerous additional benefits, too, all of which we’ll explore later in this article.

As stated earlier, creatine is probably the most popular supplement on the planet. It’s big in the world of strength training and bodybuilding, and athletes from most sports use it, too. But why is creatine such a well-regarded supplement when so many other products fail to live up to the hype?

Let’s take a look!

Reasons that creatine has been popular for so long include:

Long History

As mentioned elsewhere in this article, creatine has been in use for over 30 years. That means generations of lifters have used this well-known product. Needless to say, such longevity has done nothing to make creatine any less popular.


Creatine is not expensive. You can 500 gram buy a tub of creatine monohydrate, which is enough for several months of use, for as little as $20.00. More expensive creatine varieties are available, but, in most cases, they aren’t worth the extra money, and good ole creatine monohydrate will get the job done.

Woman Taking Creatine
Woman Taking Creatine

Widely Available

Creatine is such a common supplement that you should be able to buy it in various places, including health food stores, supplement stores, gyms, and even supermarkets. You can also buy it online and have it delivered straight to your door. This wide availability is part of its appeal; you can get it almost anywhere!

Easy to Use

Using creatine is a breeze! Most creatine supplements are sold as loose powder and can be mixed with any warm or cold beverage. As such, creatine is very easy to take. While there are a couple of different dosing protocols, none of them are complex, so even the meatiest of meatheads should have no difficulty using creatine correctly.

Proven to Work

Creatine has been extensively studied, and most of those studies say it is beneficial and safe (2). While its effects are often described as mild, most exercisers are happy for any additional gains, so taking creatine is a no-brainer.

High Media Presence

Although some media outlets have mistakenly called creatine a steroid (it’s not) or blamed it for mental illness and even fueling mass shootings, much of the press surrounding creatine is positive. Some non-exercisers have heard of creatine, even if they don’t know what it is or what it does.

Peer Recommendations

“Hey bro – are you on creatine?” Lifters are sociable creatures who like nothing more than to swap training ideas and tips. Creatine is a common topic of conversation in many gyms, and you probably know at least a few people using this commonplace product.

Ask any of your gym bros if you should use creatine, and they’ll probably say yes. Peer recommendations can be a compelling incentive to use creatine.

Endorsed by Athletes

Supplement companies often use famous athletes to promote their products. Some companies sponsor athletes, providing them with products to use.

This means that creatine is frequently featured in the media and advertised directly or indirectly by well-known users. Needless to say, such endorsements make creatine even more popular.

Understanding Creatine’s Benefits

Despite its low cost, availability, proven effectiveness, and apparent safety, some people are still skeptical about creatine. This list of benefits may help you decide if creatine deserves a place on your supplement shelf.

Increased Muscle Strength

Creatine can help make you stronger (3). It does this by increasing water saturation in your muscles, creating more advantageous levers. This creates a positive feedback loop whereby you can lift more weight, so you get stronger, so you can lift more weight, etc. Strength increases are often quite noticeable and rapid but soon plateau.

Increased Muscle Mass

Creatine is hydrophilic, meaning it attracts water. Because creatine is primarily stored in your muscles, it draws water into your chest, back, arms, shoulders, etc., increasing their size (3). While some people may find this extra water reduces muscle definition, for the average exerciser, this size increase is very welcome.

Enhanced Power Output

Creatine supplementation increases muscle power (3), which is your ability to generate force quickly, e.g., when jumping, throwing, kicking, etc. Creatine was first popularized by Olympic sprinters, a very power-dominant athletic event. If you want to jump higher or punch harder, creatine could help.


Improved Exercise Recovery

Creatine plays a critical role in the resynthesis of ATP – the universal energy currency. As such, using creatine can speed up recovery between sets and workouts (3). This will help make your workouts more productive. Consequently, you’ll make better progress.

Boosted Anaerobic Endurance

Creatine can improve your ability to perform short bursts of high-intensity activity, such as strength training, sprinting, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) (3). Performing a higher volume of intense exercise will make your workouts more effective. For example, you’ll be able to do more reps or sets or longer intervals before tiring.

Reduced Muscle Fatigue

Bouts of intense anaerobic, e.g., sprinting, usually end when lactate levels rise uncontrollably. Lactate is a byproduct of anaerobic energy production. Creatine provides a buffer against lactate build-up, delaying the onset of fatigue (3).

Cognitive Enhancement

Although most people use creatine for its muscle-building effects, it’s good for your brain, too (4). Using creatine can enhance cognitive function, particularly short-term memory and quick thinking. It may even help protect your brain from the effects of aging.

Aid for Neurological Diseases

Leading on from the point above, creatine may offer some protective benefits against neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (4). Both conditions are on the rise and challenging to treat, so anything that lowers your risk could prove very valuable.

Improved Bone Health

Creatine is good for your muscles, but there may be some bone benefits, too (5). Indications are that creatine can speed up bone repair and growth, which is good news if you are recovering from a fracture or want to strengthen your bones and ward off osteoporosis. Creatine may also help with joint pain, as the extra fluid it retains can contribute to joint lubrication.

Anti-Aging Properties

Are you looking for the fountain of internal youth? Aren’t we all! While creatine may not help you live forever, it could help combat age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia, so you stay strong and capable as you get older (6). Combined with stronger bones and a healthier brain, creatine could help you lead a longer, more productive life.

Improved Fat Burning

Creatine can help you lose fat in several ways (7). Firstly, increasing muscle mass raises your metabolic rate, which is the number of calories you burn per day. Secondly, with more energy to train plus faster recovery between workouts, you should be able to burn more calories and fat through exercise.

Finally, creatine may help improve the body’s response to insulin, ensuring that more of the calories you eat are burnt for fuel or stored in your muscles and not converted to fat (3).

Enhanced Cardiovascular Health

While most people recognize the muscular benefits of creatine supplementation, there may also be benefits for your long-term heart health (8). As a consequence, creatine is now being used to help heart failure patients, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that it could offer some protective benefits, too.

In conclusion, because ATP plays a part in many bodily functions, creatine can have a positive effect wherever ATP is used, i.e., almost everywhere! However, natural creatine levels vary from person to person, so not everyone responds the same way to this supplement.

Achieving Creatine Saturation: The “Before” Phase  

Your body already contains creatine. After all, it’s present in many of the foods you eat, and your body produces it, too. However, your levels are still probably not as high as they could be. Even the most ardent meat eater’s creatine stores won’t be full.

And that’s where creatine supplementation comes in.

The aim of taking creatine is to saturate your cells with creatine. This means your creatine stores are as full as they can be. Once your cells are saturated, you can really start to enjoy all the benefits of using creatine.

There are two accepted ways to achieve creatine saturation – the loading method and the slow build-up method. Both of these strategies result in full creatine stores, but they involve different timeframes.  

Let’s look at both these methods in turn so you can decide which one is for you.

The Loading Method

Creatine Shelf Life

Achieving saturation typically requires ingesting 140 grams of creatine. However, taking so much in one go is not a good idea, as you’ll probably excrete far more than you can absorb. Therefore, creatine users often take 20 grams a day in divided doses for a week before lowering their intake to a so-called maintenance dose.

In other words:

  • Day 1: 20 grams (4 x 5 grams)
  • Day 2: 20 grams (4 x 5 grams)
  • Day 3: 20 grams (4 x 5 grams)
  • Day 4: 20 grams (4 x 5 grams)
  • Day 5: 20 grams (4 x 5 grams)
  • Day 6: 20 grams (4 x 5 grams)
  • Day 7: 20 grams (4 x 5 grams – saturation achieved)
  • Day 8: 5 grams
  • Day 9: 5 grams
  • Day 10: 5 grams, etc.

The benefits of the loading method include:

  • Rapid saturation
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Noticeable increases in strength, recovery, and endurance

However, on the downside, creatine loading may also cause some mild but nonetheless unwanted side effects, including:

  • Stomach upsets
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Bloating
  • Puffiness
  • Dehydration
  • Cramps

It’s worth noting that drinking more water can prevent many of these side effects. Remember, creatine pulls water into your muscles, which can result in mild to moderate dehydration. Drinking more water can help mitigate any dehydration-related side effects.

In conclusion, loading may be your best option if you want creatine to start working sooner. With loading, your cells will be saturated within seven days, and you’ll quickly begin to experience the effects of creatine supplementation. However, that rapidity may come with a few unwanted side effects, although these tend to disappear once saturation is achieved.

Find your optimal creatine intake.

The Slow Build-Up Method

Remember how it takes about 140 grams of creatine to reach saturation? With the slow build-up method, you take five grams of creatine per day for 28 days to achieve this amount.

  • Day 1: 5 grams
  • Day 2: 5 grams
  • Day 3: 5 grams
  • Day 4: 5 grams, etc.
  • Day 28: Saturation achieved

Adverse side effects are rare with the slow build-up method, but it will be nearly a month before you start to see the impact of creatine supplementation. However, after 28 days, your cells will be as saturated with creatine as they would have been if you’d followed the loading protocol.

In other words, while loading fills your cells with creatine sooner, this often comes with some mild but unwanted side effects. However, if you just take five grams of creatine a day and skip the loading phase, you’ll reach saturation more slowly but should experience fewer side effects.

As an added benefit, the slow build-up method means your tub of creatine will last longer. This may be beneficial for budget-conscious creatine users.

So, which method is best? That depends on you. Weigh up the pros and cons of loading vs. the slow build-up method and then decide.

In a hurry and don’t mind a few side effects? Loading could be your best choice. However, if you are happy to wait for creatine to work its magic or prefer to minimize the risk of side effects, the slow build-up method is the one for you.

Both achieve cell saturation, so you won’t lose out by choosing one over the other.

Post-Saturation: The “After” Phase

Once you have achieved creatine saturation, either with the loading or slow build-up method, you should start to notice some changes and benefits that can be attributed to your increased creatine stores. These include:

Weight gain

Creatine attracts water, and water is heavy. As such, as your creatine stores increase, so too will your water volume and body weight. Subsequently, most creatine users experience rapid weight gain as they approach saturation. This can vary from 2-5 pounds depending on the degree of saturation.

Nonetheless, it’s important to note that this is water, not muscle weight. Muscle gain comes more slowly and will contribute to only a small percentage of your increased body weight.

For example, when following the loading method, you may experience something like the following:

  • First week: 2 to 5 pounds, most of which will be water weight.
  • Second week: 1 to 3 pounds, a mix of water weight and lean muscle mass.
  • Third week: 0 to 2 pounds, mostly lean muscle mass.
  • Fourth week: 0 to 1 pound, mostly lean muscle mass.

Of course, actual results will vary from person to person. Skinny people tend to gain weight more noticeably, whereas larger individuals may experience a less dramatic increase in body weight.

Increased Muscle Size

Creatine drives extra water into your muscles, making them bigger. Muscles usually comprise 75-80% water, but that figure can decline with age. Saturating your muscles with creatine means more inter and intra-muscular water, making your muscles appear larger. However, as this size comes from water, it may reduce muscle definition. Still, only very lean people will probably notice this effect.

Before and After Shot

Increased Strength

Creatine makes you stronger – fact! On reaching saturation, you should notice that you can lift heavier weights or do more reps with the same weight. Part of this is due to water retention, larger muscle circumference, and their effect on leverage. However, some strength increases are due to your increased resistance to fatigue and other physiological factors.

How much stronger will you get? That’s hard to say, as responses to creatine vary from person to person. However, studies suggest an 8% strength increase is not unusual (9). Of course, your results will depend on your workouts, diet, and general lifestyle, too.

Increased Anaerobic Endurance

Once your muscles are saturated with creatine, they should become more enduring and resistant to fatigue (10). This usually shows itself in an increased work capacity. In other words, you should be able to train longer, doing more sets and reps before exhaustion. You should also be able to perform more high-intensity cardio and conditioning training, i.e., sprints or HIIT.

As with strength gains, it’s impossible tell you precisely how much your performance will improve. Still, it should be enough to be noticeable. So, expect to be able to crank out an extra couple of reps per set, and you may also feel recovered sooner after reaching creatine saturation.

You should also notice some additional benefits to creatine supplementation on reaching saturation, including a clearer mind, improved memory, and more comfortable joints. However, most creatine users are more interested in the muscular and performance benefits of taking creatine.

Creatine and Special Populations

While creatine is generally considered safe for the average exerciser, there are some special population groups who should not use it or only use creatine with medical supervision.

These include the following:

1. Individuals with Kidney Disease

The kidneys are the filters of the body. They help get rid of waste and also synthesize and metabolize several important compounds, not least creatine. In short, you can’t live without your kidneys.

However, chronic and acute kidney disease cause kidney impairment, and taking supplemental creatine puts even more load on this vital organ. In fact, impaired kidney function is often diagnosed by measuring creatinine levels, which is a by-product of creatine metabolism.

With this in mind, people suffering from kidney disease should avoid using creatine as it may be too much for their kidneys to handle.

2. Individuals with Liver Disease

Like the kidneys, the liver also plays a role in creatine processing and synthesis. Liver conditions, including fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, and hepatitis, impair liver function. Using creatine could potentially worsen liver diseases.

3. Diabetics

While creatine can help you lose weight by improving your body’s relationship with insulin, this can also be a drawback, especially during diabetes management. Creatine is an added variable that can disrupt your blood glucose levels. People with diabetes should consult with their doctor before using creatine, as it may be necessary to adjust their medication.

4. Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women

Creatine MAY be safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Still, there is limited research on the effects of creatine during pregnancy. Because of this, it’s probably best to err on the side of caution and avoid using creatine at this time.

5. Individuals Taking Certain Medications

Creatine may interact with certain medications, such as diuretics, blood thinners, and drugs used to treat heart disease. With this in mind, you should speak to your prescribing doctor if you routinely take a medication and are worried about unwanted interactions.

6. Children and Adolescents

Almost all of the studies on creatine involved adults. Consequently, there is no information regarding the effects of creatine on developing bodies. This means that creatine is not recommended for anyone under the age of 18. It maybe safe, but like with pregnancy, we don’t know, so it’s probably not worth the risk.

7. Individuals Prone to Dehydration

Creatine diverts water to your muscles, causing water retention. This can potentially increase the risk of dehydration, especially in hot and humid conditions. Dehydration can cause headaches and cramps, and some people are more prone to it than others. If you have a history of dehydration, you may want to avoid creatine or make sure you increase your water intake.

8. Individuals with a History of Rhabdomyolysis

Rhabdomyolysis occurs when lots of muscle is broken down very quickly, usually during intense physical activity. Rhabdo can cause damage to the kidneys, electrolyte imbalances, multi-organ failure, and even death. Creatine could potentially exacerbate this life-threatening condition, so it’s best avoided if you have a history of rhabdo.

9. Those with Gastrointestinal Issues

Some people have stomach sensitivities and are prone to feeling unwell. Creatine, especially during rapid loading, can cause stomach cramping, nausea, or diarrhea, worsening any existing gastrointestinal issues.

Creatine Before and After – FAQs

We’ve schooled you on the ins and outs of creatine, but you may still have questions. No problem, because we’ve got the answers you seek!

1. Is creatine safe for everyone?

After over 30 years of use and decades of research, most studies have found that creatine is effective and, more importantly, generally safe.

However, no supplement is 100% risk-free, and some population groups should not use creatine, including pre- and post-natal, diabetics, people suffering from liver or kidney disease, and those prone to dehydration.

The chances of developing problems due to creatine are minimal, but they aren’t zero. Subsequently, you use creatine at your own risk. Speak to your health care advisor if you have health concerns regarding creatine.

2. How long does it take to see results from creatine?

Creatine starts working immediately, but you probably won’t notice much effect until you have ingested about 140 grams and reached full saturation. This can be achieved in a week using a loading protocol or over a month using the gradual build-up approach.

However, on reaching saturation, you should start to experience benefits from creatine, including increased muscle size and strength, more energy, and weight gain.

3. Do I really need to take five grams of creatine per serving?

Most creatine supplements are supplied with a five-gram serving spoon. Five grams is a good-sized dose and works well for most people. Creatine tubs often contain 500 grams, so that five-gram measuring spoon means you’ll get a nice, round 100 doses per container.

That said, not everyone needs to take five grams of creatine at a time. Smaller-framed individuals and women may experience benefits from less.

Therefore, you may want to adjust your creatine intake based on your weight. Use our online creatine calculator to determine your ideal dosage.

4. Is creatine suitable for vegans and vegetarians?

Creatine is suitable for vegans and vegetarians, provided it is synthetically made and not derived from animal sources. Most modern creatine supplements are synthetic and labeled vegan-friendly.

However, it’s essential to read the label or consult the manufacturer to ensure the product meets vegan or vegetarian standards. Look for the vegan-approved stamp to ensure your product is vegan-friendly.

As an aside, creatine is especially beneficial for non-meat eaters as plant foods tend not to contain much naturally occurring creatine. Conversely, it is present in most meats and fish. Vegetarians and vegans often experience superior effects from creatine compared to their meat-eating compatriots.

5. Do I need to cycle creatine?

Creatine is only beneficial while it’s in your system. Stopping and then restarting creatine supplementation means you’ll lose some of the benefits and then need to re-saturate your cells. Taking creatine does not suppress natural creatine production, so that’s not a worry, either.

As such, there is no need to cycle on and off creatine, and the only reasons to stop using it are adverse side effects or that you no longer want the benefits provided.

Read more about creatine cycling here.

6. What is creatine HCL?

Creatine monohydrate is the most common and popular type of creatine. However, it’s not the only one available. Creatine HCL is made by combining creatine molecules with hydrochloride, not water. Hydrochloride makes creatine HCL more soluble and easier to absorb. In fact, creatine HCL is 38 times more soluble than regular creatine (11).

Because of this, you won’t need to use as much creatine HCL compared to monohydrate and should achieve saturation faster. In addition, HCL is less likely to cause side effects because it won’t cause dehydration.

However, there is a downside to creatine HCL – it’s cost. Creatine monohydrate is very cheap, while HCL costs more. This may be a barrier for some people.

If you struggle with the side effects of creatine monohydrate, creatine HCL could be a viable alternative. That said, if you have no issues with monohydrate, there are no real benefits to switching to HCL, and you should spend the money you save on chicken or protein powder!

You can read more about creatine monohydrate vs. HCL here.

7. Creatine did nothing for me – what gives?

While creatine undoubtedly works, degrees of effectiveness can vary, and some people are “creatine non-responders.” About 30 percent of creatine users fail to see much in the way of benefit from this supplement (9).

While it’s impossible to say why creatine works better for some than others, it’s hypothesized that those with naturally high creatine levels cannot increase their levels much beyond their current baseline. Hence, taking more creatine offers no real advantage.

Suppose you fail to experience benefits from creatine. In that case, you may already have high creatine levels, perhaps because of genetics or because you eat a lot of meat and fish.

So, if you try creatine for a few months and notice no benefits, you could stop taking it. However, it’s worth noting that it may still be providing some hidden advantages, such as improved cardiovascular and brain health.

8. Is creatine a steroid?

Contrary to what some people in the media report, creatine is NOT a steroid. Steroids are synthetic versions of testosterone, the primary male hormone. Testosterone is both anabolic and androgenic, meaning it builds muscle and plays a part in the development of the secondary male sex characteristics, such as facial hair growth and a deeper voice.

Abusing steroids is bad for your health and is linked to many premature deaths in bodybuilders and other strength athletes.  

While some experts suggest that creatine may increase testosterone production, these effects are mild at best and cannot compare to those of steroids. The difference is like being given a million dollars (steroids) and earning a few extra bucks doing household chores (creatine) – the effects couldn’t be more different.

So, no, creatine is not a steroid. It’s a naturally occurring substance made by your body and also found in food. We hope that finally puts this matter to bed!  

Closing Thoughts

It’s hard to deny the popularity of creatine, and much of that popularity lies in that, unlike many other supplements, it works! It’s been around for three decades and studied for almost as long, so anecdotal and scientific evidence support its use.

Creatine is cheap, safe for most people, and can help you build muscle and strength while potentially improving aspects of your health. What’s not to like?

However, while creatine is effective, those effects are relatively mild. It won’t turn you into Mr. Olympia overnight. In fact, most studies report its impact as “slight.” While that might sound disheartening, it’s important to remember that any additional gains are usually welcome; it’s why we train and eat our protein!

So, as long as you have realistic expectations, you’ll probably appreciate how creatine affects your muscles and workout performance. But if you are looking for something with a steroid-like effect, creatine is not for you.

And the best way to discover how well creatine works? Try it for yourself!

After all, we all respond differently to this supplement. Some people get a lot from creatine, while others get nothing at all. The only way to determine which group you fall into is to start using it.

Don’t forget to let us know about your creatine experiences in the comments section below.


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