ExerciseNutrition What is Creatine?


What is creatine? Should you be using it?

In this article I will be discussing what creatine is, the types you should be taking, and whether you should be taking it pre or post-workout.

Creatine is used widely in the market from using this substance to treat brain disorders and heart failure to simply using it for a better “pump” during a workout.

What exactly is Creatine?

Creatine is made of 3 amino acids consisting of L-arginine, glycine, and L-methionine. The amino acids aid in the production of protein in the body which needs a total of 20 amino acids for optimal performance. This consists of essential and non-essential amino acids.

To break it down simply, essential amino acids aren’t produced in the body and have to be found through outside sources such as animal proteins like eggs and poultry.

Creatine is considered to be a non-essential amino acid therefore, it is naturally produced in the body. This amino acid is produced at a rate of 1-2 grams/day with 90-95% of it being stored in the muscle. [1.]

The 3 amino acids that make up creatine:


Produces nitric oxide (NO) which benefits those with diabetes and hypertension [3]. Reduces high blood pressure, and enhances sexual function [2]. Arginine is also beneficial during times of illness [5] Although arginine is a precursor in the production of NO it doesn’t seem to have an effect on anyone who has a sufficient amount of NO being produced in the body [4] (aka most people).

This amino acid is known to have a poor absorption rate, so taking it orally can be seen as unnecessary [6]. A study done by Fahs CA in 2009 determined this by testing the effects of arginine taken orally with 18 participants during resistance training and found that there was no effect. There has been a study that found a dramatic increase in their VO2 max (how well the body utilizes oxygen) however when taking two grams of arginine for 45 days [6].

The side effects of this amino acid include bloating, diarrhea, and headaches in some people.


This amino acid helps break down and transport nutrients, for example, glycogen, as well as produce two proteins called collagen and gelatine which promote joint function and growth [7]. Reduce negative symptoms in people with diabetes, ulcers, and arthritis, [7].

A study was done that showed improvement in sleep quality with a diet that included glycine (3g/day) which can benefit those who struggle to sleep/have insomnia. Glycine has a calming effect on the brain [8],[9],[10]. Glycine’s ability to form gelatine and collagen (which make up the gut lining) can help those who have food allergies and food sensitivities.

These two proteins can soothe the lining of the GI tract and also rebuild tissue that prevents food particles and bacteria to escape the gut (inflammation occurs when these particles enter the bloodstream) [7]. This amino acid also has the properties to heal alcohol-induced liver damage, roughly 30% more than the control group used in this experiment [15].

There were no side effects to taking this daily according to a study taken over several weeks with supplementation of 90 grams of glycine a day [16].


This essential amino acid aides in the production of new blood vessels and is proven to reduce the risk of certain cancers [17] as well as tremors in people with Parkinson’s disease [18].

In a study done in 2014 Methionine had a negative impact on bone mass but enhanced bone strength overall [18]. This protein also benefits gut health and immune function during inflammatory states [19]. In essence, this amino acid works at its optimal performance with people who are aging or with an illness.

What are the types of creatine?


Considered top-tier creatine. Most of today’s research uses this specific type therefore it’s the most backed-up form of creatine on the market. There are many variations to this type but in the end, if an equal dose is given it should deliver the same results [19].

This type can also increase water content in muscles which can increase muscle growth by swelling of the cells [20].


Almost overthrowing Creatine Monohydrate (CM), this form is known to have better absorption rates but is found to be worse at increasing creatine content in the muscles and blood [21].


Was first highly supported for its superb absorption rates, this creatine linked to a study stating that it was 38 times more soluble than CM [22] but because there have been no comparison studies done with this form and since it has been tested on animals instead of humans, there isn’t enough proof that it is just as effective or even more so than CM.


They call this the buffered protein because in this type of creatine an alkaline powder is introduced, thus giving it a buffered form.

This was done with the intention of decreasing negative side effects and making the dose more potent but unfortunately, a study took place to compare with the almighty CM and it failed to deliver it without side effects and held to the same standard as CM with functionality [23].

In other words, it wasn’t proven to be better or worse than CM.


Pretty self-explanatory but this was made to be the on-the-go drink for your pre/post-workout needs for those who didn’t have time to mix the powder with liquid beforehand. With many studies proving it to be especially worse than CM, this type of creatine falls short in many ways.

Studies have shown creatine breaks down in the presence of liquid within several days [24]. Another study showed a comparison with cyclists that took CM versus liquid creatine and found that only with CM powder did their output increase by 10% [25].


This form has magnesium attached to the molecule. With a lack of studies, one study taken to compare CM to Creatine Magnesium Chelate shows that there wasn’t a significant difference between the two [26].

Who gets the most out of it?

Studies prove that creatine has a significant effect on body composition for those who performed anaerobic (short bursts of activity ex. sprints, heavy lifting) compared to aerobic activity that involved swimming or jogging [0] .

Although it seems that most studies use older adults as an example, because of their loss of muscle mass with age ( [11], [14] ) its still a known fact that there is an improvement in upper limb strength while supplementing with creatine [12]. It’s just deemed inadequate without some sort of increased physical activity [13].

Yes, women can take creatine too!

The first thing I want to say is there is no need to fear “bulking” up. Gaining muscle is sufficiently harder for women first of all and to get a decent amount of muscle it would take a lot more than creatine to get there.

Furthermore, men have been found to obtain more water retention (that leads to bloating) and weight gain more so than women [30]. As long as you are having 3-5g daily and not overloading on the dosage you shouldn’t experience the side effects that go along with it.

Creatine dosage:

Most people believe they need to take high doses of creatine daily (up to 20g/day) when you can supplement with 3g/day and although the process will be slightly slower you still get a sufficient amount of creatine as an end result. Once muscle creatine is elevated it’s only necessary to take 2g daily to regulate creatine levels [27].

Should vegans/vegetarians take this supplement?

I definitely recommend creatine to vegetarians/vegans when bodybuilding because it’s such a fundamental component to increasing muscle content.

A study on vegetarians that took creatine as a dietary supplement proved that it can increase muscle content by up to 40%. Vegetarians also have marginally lower urinary creatine excretion rates which in term means they don’t produce as much as somebody with the average diet [27].

Is there any serious side effect to taking this supplement?

Although creatine does have minor side effects (bloating, upset stomach, and cramping) with some additional water weight (2-3lbs the first week) [29], no serious side effects have been discovered [19].

Should you be taking creatine before or after your workout?


Taking creatine before a workout is based on the idea that ingesting more creatine involves taking in more ATP aka your muscles will have more of a power force during a workout… But does this statement hold true to its word?


Taking creatine after exercising seems to have more benefits than taking it beforehand even though the difference is only slight. Your body is depleted of nutrients after an intense lifting session, so it makes sense that you would want to take in all the nutrients you can get right afterward. [28].

With the lack of side effects (for example cramping, nausea, and heat exhaustion) interfering with the workout because of fluid depletion, and with creatine uptake being at its highest level post-workout makes this an ideal time to take a creatine supplement.


A study published in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2013 a study group of 19 bodybuilders were split into groups where some would take 5g/cr before their workout while the other group took 5g/cr after their workout during a push/pull cycle for 5 days. The end result of the study found that both groups had equal/similar results that showed improvement. [29].

What is recommended is to have your daily dose of creatine with a large meal that consists of roughly 50 grams of carbs and protein for enhanced creatine retention [30].

During a cut or bulk?

The goal while cutting is to retain muscle while losing fat.

Taking in a sufficient amount of creatine while cutting would be essential especially if you are cutting carbohydrates from your diet and your energy is lacking. This is because creatine helps maximize your overall power force which allows you to maintain more of your strength and lean muscle.

Furthermore, with the body holding onto all the lean muscle, this will further increase your metabolic rate since muscle is metabolically active tissue and burns its own calories [31].

Even though water weight is still a possibility, if you are taking the recommended amount (3-5g/daily) you can easily avoid this. Supplementing creatine also has zero impact on the amount of fat you lose.

The goal with bulking in mind is to gain muscle with a minimal increase of fat %.

Supplementing with creatine during this process can help your body exert more force into your daily workouts and extend the duration as well. Most people see this as the “bulking” supplement and although I do as well, it outshines the positive effects it has on you during a cutting phase. With both phases surrounding the need to keep muscle mass, creatine is necessary for both.

Creatine might not be as effective as we think?

According to an article by sports nutritionist Jeremy Likness, he states that although the performance of muscle is evidently better with the presence of creatine, supplementing with it isn’t necessary for muscle contraction. He also states that there is evidence that PCr/Creatine ratio decreases with the usage of supplementation [27].

While supplementing with creatine, could also result in a greater oxygen deficit, and doesn’t seem to stimulate protein synthesis. A study on animals showed that muscle creatine transport protein is downregulated in animal skeletal muscle after long-term high-dose.

My takeaway:

Creatine is a supplement that I recommend to anybody aiming to achieve lean muscle mass, whether it be bulking or cutting. Most evidence points to this supplement having a positive impact on muscle mass versus a negative one.

When supplementing with this product I recommend 3-5g daily to keep its levels at maintenance. Taking it post-workout seems to be the slightest bit more beneficial to avoid any negative side effects.

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