Creatine Benefits: How This Supplement Works for More Than Muscle

Creatine Benefits: How This Supplement Works for More Than Muscle

Article at a Glance:

  • Creatine isn’t just for bodybuilders. This supplement benefits your mitochondria, your brain, and your muscles.
  • Creatine increases energy production in your mitochondria. That extra energy enhances brain function, muscle strength, and your overall performance.
  • Contrary to myths floating around online, creatine is safe and effective, and it’s loaded with benefits. Keep reading for dosage recommendations.

You might associate the word “creatine” with the weight room, but there’s a reason it belongs on your supplement shelf. Creatine benefits your mitochondria, your brain, and your muscles.  It’s no surprise that creatine has been a staple of the bodybuilding community for decades.

Here’s what you should know about the benefits of creatine. Long story short, it’ll make you stronger — both physically and mentally.

What is creatine?

Creatine supplements on table

Creatine is an amino acid that increases the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Your muscles use ATP to power their contractions — the movement of muscle against resistance, like when you lift a weight.

Here’s how it works: When your muscles contract, they turn ATP into a molecule called ADP (adenosine di-phosphate). Then, there’s a waiting period — and a lag in usable ATP — while your body turns ADP back to ATP. Creatine acts as a backup player, providing your body with extra phosphate groups to produce more usable energy.

That’s good news for the gym: When there’s plenty of energy available in your muscles, you have more explosive power in the weight room. It’s even better news for your mitochondria. Keep reading to find out why.

How creatine benefits your brain

Illustration of creatine benefitting brain

Your mitochondria are the foundation for a strong body and powerful mind. Also known as the “powerhouse of the cell,” mitochondria produce energy as ATP. Your body uses that ATP to fuel everyday activities, both in and out of the gym.

Some cells have more mitochondria than others. Your muscles need plenty of energy to power through your workout — but your brain is teeming with mitochondria, too. Thriving, happy mitochondria produce plenty of energy so you can think faster, feel better, and be stronger.

A 2018 study found that creatine supplementation plus regular exercise promotes the growth of new brain cells and may help alleviate chronic stress-induced depression. A double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial found that creatine boosts working memory and intelligence thanks to improved brain energy capacity.That’s right — since it improves memory and enhances your brain, creatine is technically a nootropic (aka a smart drug).

Even if you aren’t a bodybuilder, you should experiment with creatine. I recommend it in my book “Head strong” not as a way to get big, but as a way to make your mitochondria work better.

How to use creatine

Creatine pills in bottle

You’ll find a few different options with creatine supplements, but the original and best-studied is creatine monohydrate. In order for creatine to work, you need to get it to a high enough concentration in your muscles. You can either take 5 grams per day and wait about a month for it to kick in, or go through a “loading phase” if you want to feel the effects right away.

Creatine loading phase

Man drinking from water bottle during creatine loading phase

  • For one week, take 20 grams per day. That’s 5 grams, taken four times per day.
  • After one week, shift into maintenance mode. Take just 5 grams per day.
  • Creatine increases muscle hydration, so drink more water than normal during the loading phase.
  • To help creatine get into your muscles more effectively, pair it with glucose. I recommend a quarter teaspoon of raw honey.

One review suggests that it’s better to take creatine after your training session. I prefer to take it in the morning. Find what works for you.

Is creatine safe? Creatine side effects

Person standing on scale

Contrary to what you might have heard about creatine and kidney damage, this supplement is safe and effective. It’s not a steroid, it won’t give you cancer, and it won’t make you turn into the Hulk. Several studies have demonstrated that long-term creatine supplementation does not cause damage to the kidneys, liver, heart, or any other organ. It makes you stronger both mentally and physically, period.

Sure, you might notice some weight gain during the loading phase — as I mentioned earlier, that’s just water weight. Creatine increases muscle hydration, which means your body will hold onto a little more water than normal. That’ll balance out during the maintenance phase. And as for your mitochondria? They’ll love all the extra ATP.