What Is Creatine? Your Guide to One of the Most the Popular Supplements

When everyone at your gym is taking a particle supplement, you may have one of two instincts: it must be the best thing ever or this is too good to be true, so what’s the catch? But here’s the thing about the best creatine supplements — they’re the real deal.

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But what is creatine? In a nutshell, it’s a generally safe and effective supp for boosting muscle growth and energy levels during training. Mind you, you’ll have to put in the work in the gym. Creatine won’t magically buff up your muscles on its own. In fact, there’s nothing magic about it. Here, you’ll learn all about how creatine works and why it can be such a boon to your workouts. 

Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.

What Is Creatine?

There are many types of supplements on the market, but creatine is pretty straightforward. It’s an amino acid that naturally occurs in your body and is stored in your skeletal muscles and brain. Since it’s present in your muscles and brain, getting more of it can help with muscle strength and brain health.

[Read More: Should You Take Creatine Before or After a Workout?]

You can increase your creatine levels by taking oral creatine supplements or eating animal-based protein sources like red meat. Vegetarians and vegans may get some creatine by eating foods containing the amino acids arginine, glycine, and methionine. These three amino acids are precursors to creating creatine. (1)

How Creatine Works

After ingesting creatine through a supplement or food source, your body stores it in your muscle cells as creatine phosphate — a type of phosphagen. Phosphagens help increase energy storage. Phosphocreatine, in particular, helps increase and refill ATP (adenosine triphosphate). 

ATP, known as the energy currency of the cell, is your body’s energy source for short-duration, high-intensity exercise like weightlifting and sprinting. When you want to find your one-rep max on your deadlift or are trying to shave time off your CrossFit benchmark workout, you need ATP. (2)

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[Read More: 14 Foods with Creatine to Fuel Your Next Workout]

You already have ATP in your muscle cells, but it burns out after a few seconds. Your body can use stored phosphagens to produce and replenish ATP more quickly. Since taking creatine increases your phosphocreatine stores, it can give you more energy for high-intensity exercise that uses ATP. (2)

A couple-second energy boost might not seem like much, but being able to eke out one or two more heavy reps per set can account for big gains over time.

What Science Says

Due to its role in energy production and muscle contraction during high-intensity exercise, creatine has been widely studied and used as an ergonomic aid for strength athletes, bodybuilders, and adults of all ages doing resistance training. 

Science shows a few key potential creatine benefits, with minimal side effects. When combined with resistance training and adequate nutrition, creatine supplementation can boost muscle growth, increase strength, and improve exercise performance. It may also contribute to brain health and specific neurological syndromes. (1)

[Read More: Benefits Of Creatine For Your Brain]

Here’s a breakdown of the scientific research.

Safety: The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) notes that several hundred studies show creatine is safe and effective at improving performance in anaerobic exercise, increasing lean body mass and muscle strength. (3)

Young Adults: A review of clinical trials from 2012 to 2021 investigated the efficacy of creatine supplementation on young adults performing resistance training. The review found it helped them improve athletic performance and increase muscle mass and muscle strength. (4)

Muscle Strength: In 2020, a study was done on young adults doing resistance training for six weeks. One group took a creatine supplement. The other took a placebo. The creatine group significantly increased their strength in the leg press and chest press. (5)

Muscle Growth: A 2022 systematic review and meta-analysis was done on 35 clinical trials of 1,195 participants to investigate the effects of creatine supplementation on muscle growth. Everyone in the studies took creatine. Some combined it with resistance training, some with mixed exercise, and some with no exercise. Those who did resistance training added two pounds of lean body mass, while the other groups did not. The outcome highlights that creatine alone doesn’t cause muscle growth — you have to do resistance training, too. (6)

Endurance Exercise: Some evidence shows creatine may also help with physical performance in other types of exercise outside of anaerobic and resistance training. Taking creatine supplementation with carbohydrates and protein has been shown to help replenish muscle glycogen stores more than carbohydrates alone. It may be helpful for endurance and sports athletes who need rapid muscle recovery. Evidence also suggests it can help reduce muscle damage. (7)

Older Adults: Multiple studies show that creatine supplementation can benefit older adults by increasing muscle mass and strength while reducing the risk of falls. It also may help people with sarcopenia, the gradual loss of muscle associated with aging. (7)(8)

Older Adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis was done on studies of older adults taking creatine supplements while doing two to three days of resistance training per week for seven to 52 weeks. It covered 22 studies and 721 participants of all genders, ages 57 to 70. Creatine supplementation helped increase lean muscle mass and muscle strength in participants. (9)

Vegetarians: A 2020 systematic review found that creatine supplementation may benefit vegetarians and vegans. Since creatine is present in animal products like red meat, vegetarians may have naturally lower creatine levels. The review notes that there needs to be more research on vegetarian athletes. (10)

Brain Health: Creatine supplementation can increase creatine levels in the brain and potentially improve brain health. Research shows it can help older adults by improving cognitive function. It may also help people with depression, Alzheimer’s disease, or traumatic brain injuries. (11)

Neurodegenerative Diseases: There has been research on whether creatine supplementation can help people with neurological issues like muscular dystrophy, Huntington’s Disease, and Parkinson’s Disease. Thus far, research suggests that it has minimal to no effect on treating these disorders. (12)

Potential Side Effects of Creatine: Creatine is considered safe and has no researched significant harmful adverse effects. The primary side effect of creatine supplementation is short-term water retention, which may lead to temporary weight gain. It was initially reported that creatine could harm your kidneys. Research now suggests that following the recommended dosage is safe for people without kidney disease. (7)

How to Take Creatine

Before trying creatine or any dietary supplement, it’s important to check with a healthcare provider.

The ISSN recommends the following protocol for taking creatine. (1)

Consume 0.3 grams of creatine monohydrate per kilogram of body weight daily for five to seven days.

Take three to five grams of creatine daily to maintain your creatine levels. This dosage should increase your creatine stores in three to four weeks.

Credit: Kirill Gorshkov / Shutterstock

[Read More: 4 Creatine Side Effects You Need to Know About]

It was previously believed that you needed to go through a “loading phase” to build up your creatine stores gradually. A 2021 analysis of creatine research suggests that a creatine loading phase is unnecessary. The analysis agrees with the ISSN’s recommendation to take a moderate amount (three to five grams daily) for best results. (7)

You can take creatine at any time — whether before or after your workout — for it to be effective. 

Types of Creatine

There are a few forms of creatine, though creatine monohydrate is the most widely studied and effective at increasing muscle creatine stores.

[Read More: The 9 Best Creatine Supplements for Men]

Research shows that other types of creatine — including creatine salts, creatine ethyl ester, creatine nitrate, creatine dipeptides, buffered creatine, creatine hydrochloride, and creatine serum — are not as effective as creatine monohydrate. (7)

Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine monohydrate has been repeatedly shown to be most effective at increasing creatine stores and improving exercise performance.

[Read More: 8 Best Creatine Supplements for Women]

Creatine monohydrate has more creatine per gram than any other type, and it gets absorbed quickly into your blood and muscles. It is the best form of creatine for supplements out there. (1)(7)

Creatine Ethyl Ester

Research shows creatine ethyl ester does not increase athletic performance or muscle strength. (7

Creatine Nitrate

Creatine nitrate combines creatine with nitric acid and water. Since nitric oxide can improve vasodilation and exercise performance, product makers believed that combining them would further improve athletic performance.

[Read More: Creatine Vs. Pre-Workout — Differences and When to Take Each]

Still, research shows it is less effective than creatine monohydrate. (13)

Your Takeaways

When you’re into weightlifting, you need plenty of ATP for energy for those high-intensity, heavy lifts

The use of creatine, through supplements or food, can increase your stored phosphocreatine, which helps replenish your ATP quicker

High creatine levels can give you better muscular contractions and improve your athletic performance.

Creatine doesn’t work on its own. All research shows that you must do resistance training while taking creatine supplements. 

Combined with resistance training, creatine can help you increase your muscle strength and build muscle mass. It may also boost brain health. 

While many forms of creatine are on the market, creatine monohydrate is the unanimous choice for best results.


Here, we’ll address some common creatine questions.

What does creatine do to the body?

When you take creatine, it gets stored as phosphocreatine. You can build up your creatine levels and increase your stores. This can increase your ATP — the energy source for high-intensity training.

What is the difference between creatine monohydrate and creatine citrate? 

Creatine monohydrate is creatine and water. It has the highest concentration of creatine. Creatine citrate combines creatine with citric acid and has a lower concentration of creatine.

What is the best way to take creatine? 

The best way to take creatine is a moderate dose of three to five grams daily, mixed in with water or another beverage — like pre-workout or your post-workout shake.

What are the benefits of creatine?

Creatine can help improve athletic performance and increase muscle strength when combined with resistance training. When you eat enough calories and macronutrients, creatine can also help you build muscle mass. Creatine may also boost brain health. 


Kreider RB, Kalman DS, Antonio J, Ziegenfuss TN, Wildman R, Collins R, Candow DG, Kleiner SM, Almada AL, Lopez HL. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Jun 13;14:18. 

Dunn J, Grider MH. Physiology, Adenosine Triphosphate. [Updated 2023 Feb 13]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. 

Buford TW, Kreider RB, Stout JR, Greenwood M, Campbell B, Spano M, Ziegenfuss T, Lopez H, Landis J, Antonio J. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007 Aug 30;4:6. 

Wu SH, Chen KL, Hsu C, Chen HC, Chen JY, Yu SY, Shiu YJ. Creatine Supplementation for Muscle Growth: A Scoping Review of Randomized Clinical Trials from 2012 to 2021. Nutrients. 2022 Mar 16;14(6):1255. 

Mills S, Candow DG, Forbes SC, Neary JP, Ormsbee MJ, Antonio J. Effects of Creatine Supplementation during Resistance Training Sessions in Physically Active Young Adults. Nutrients. 2020 Jun 24;12(6):1880. 

Delpino FM, Figueiredo LM, Forbes SC, Candow DG, Santos HO. Influence of age, sex, and type of exercise on the efficacy of creatine supplementation on lean body mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Nutrition. 2022 Nov-Dec;103-104:111791. 

Antonio, J., Candow, D.G., Forbes, S.C. et al. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show?. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 18, 13 (2021).

Candow DG, Forbes SC, Chilibeck PD, Cornish SM, Antonio J, Kreider RB. Effectiveness of Creatine Supplementation on Aging Muscle and Bone: Focus on Falls Prevention and Inflammation. J Clin Med. 2019 Apr 11;8(4):488. 

Chilibeck PD, Kaviani M, Candow DG, Zello GA. Effect of creatine supplementation during resistance training on lean tissue mass and muscular strength in older adults: a meta-analysis. Open Access J Sports Med. 2017 Nov 2;8:213-226.

Kaviani M, Shaw K, Chilibeck PD. Benefits of Creatine Supplementation for Vegetarians Compared to Omnivorous Athletes: A Systematic Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Apr 27;17(9):3041. 

Roschel H, Gualano B, Ostojic SM, Rawson ES. Creatine Supplementation and Brain Health. Nutrients. 2021 Feb 10;13(2):586. 

Forbes SC, Cordingley DM, Cornish SM, Gualano B, Roschel H, Ostojic SM, Rawson ES, Roy BD, Prokopidis K, Giannos P, Candow DG. Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Brain Function and Health. Nutrients. 2022 Feb 22;14(5):921.

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