Creatine Supplementation: When to Use, How to Take it & Safety

Creatine is a substance produced by the kidneys and liver. It is used to provide energy to the muscles, as well as promote muscle fiber growth. Creatine helps with gaining muscle mass, improving physical performance and decreasing risk for injury. 

Although it is naturally produced by the body, many athletes use creatine supplements to boost their performance. 

Creatine supplementation should be monitored by a registered dietitian or doctor. It should be taken in accordance with each person’s health history and nutritional needs.

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What it’s for

Creatine can be used for the following goals:

1. Improving physical performance

Skeletal muscles contain high levels of creatine, which provides energy to muscular fibers. It helps to prevent fatigue and increase performance when weight lifting. This substance can also stimulate muscle gains, as it promotes the absorption of fluid by the muscle cells. 

For this reason, it is common for athletes who weight lift or engage in high intensity sports to supplement with creatine, as it provides them with more energy, boosts their endurance and performance, and prevents injury. 

2. Treating muscular diseases

Some studies show that creatine can be used to treat muscular diseases, like muscular  and fibromyalgia. Because it can improve muscular strength, it can influence a person’s ability to complete physical day-to-day tasks. 

However, more studies are needed to show the benefits of use and the therapeutic dose needs, as some reports show that high doses of creatine in people with muscular diseases can worsen symptoms. 

3. Preventing Parkinson’s disease 

Parkinson’s disease is related to changes in the way mitochondria function. It has been noted that creatine can act directly on muscle cells, which can improve its overall functioning and prevent or delay the progression of Parkinson’s. Despite this, more studies are needed to verify the therapeutic dose and duration of use to prevent Parkinson’s.

4. Preventing chronic disease 

Some chronic illnesses, like diabetes and heart disease, can be prevented with creatine use that is accompanied by regular physical activity and a healthy, balanced diet. Creatine can help to build lean muscle and improve bone density, which are both associated with a lower risk of these diseases.

How to take creatine: 3 supplementation plans

To take creatine, you should dilute creatine powder in water or in your beverage of choice (like a smoothie or milk). Some creatine powders contain additionally flavoring, and these are usually mixed in water. Pure creatine powders are more often diluted in smoothies or natural juices. 

It is important to consume creatine with a carbohydrate, particularly one with a high glycemic index. This will generate an insulin peak, which will facilitate the absorption of creatine into the body. 

Creatine supplementation should be monitored by a doctor or registered dietitian. You should engage in intense physical activity and maintain a balanced diet when taking creatine, as this will ultimately promote muscle gains and prevent side-effects. 

Creatine supplements can be taken the following 3 ways: 

1. 3-month supplementation 

This is the most used way to supplement. It involves taking 2 to 5 g of creatine per day for 3 months. You should then discontinue supplementation for 1 month, and then start another cycle of 3 months if necessary. 

2. Overload supplementation

This plan consists of taking 0.3 g of creatine for every kilogram (or 2.2 lb) of body weight for the first 5 days, making sure to take this total amount over 4 to 5 doses throughout the day. This allows for the muscle to be saturated. 

You should then reduce your creatine dose to 5 g per day for 12 weeks, making sure to take creatine while strength training on a regular basis.

3. Cyclical supplementation

Another way to take creatine is on a cycle, which consists of taking 5 g per day for 6 months, then discontinuing for 3 weeks, and restarting it again. 

Common questions

Some questions than can come up while using creatine are: 

1. How long should I take creatine for?

Creatine supplements should be taken for approximately 2 to 3 months at a time. Supplementation should be monitored by a doctor or registered dietitian. 

2. Is there an ideal time of day to take creatine? 

Creatine can be taken at any time during the day, as it has a cumulative effect within the body that is not immediate. There is not need to take creatine at a specific time every day. 

3. Is creatine harmful?

Taking creatine within its recommended doses is not harmful, as the recommended doses are usually low. This ensures that the kidneys and liver are not overloaded. 

The safest way to take creatine, however, is under the guidance of a doctor or registered dietitian. It is important to stay within the legally recommended doses and to have a health care professional periodically affect its effect on your body. It’s important to exercise regular and follow a balanced diet to ensure that energy gained from creatine is burned and that muscles are able to recover accordingly. 

People with a history of kidney or liver disease should consult a doctor before starting this supplement. 

4. Can you gain weight with creatine?

Creatine generally does not cause weight gain. One of its side effects, however, is muscle cell swelling. This may cause muscles to appear more swollen, but it is not related to water retention. 

Some supplements, however, may contain other substances like sodium that can lead to water retention and weight gain. 

5. Can creatine help you to lose weight? 

No, creatine is used to increase muscle mass and strength to improve physical performance. It should not be used as a weight loss resource.

6. Is creatine safe for older adults? 

Scientific evidence regarding the use of creatine in older adults is limited. There are some studies that show that regular use does not lead to creatine toxicity, liver problems or kidney disease, and it is deemed to be safe for use by the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 

Possible side-effects

Creatine is a substance that is naturally produced by the body, and therefore it is generally not associated with any side effects. Nonetheless, supplementing with high doses of creatine without careful monitoring by a healthcare professional can impact kidney function and cause stomach discomfort.

Other side effects that can occur with inappropriate doses, especially when you do not supplement with a balanced diet, can include dizziness, muscle cramps, increased blood pressure, water retention, abdominal bloating and diarrhea.