Creatine is a popular supplement used to improve exercise performance (
It has been studied for 200 years and is one of the most scientifically supported supplements on the market (
In addition to bolstering your exercise routine, creatine may offer other health benefits (
This article explains how creatine improves exercise performance.
Creatine’s main role is to enhance energy production in cells.
To understand how it works, you need to understand something about how your cells produce energy.
The most basic form of energy in cells is a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This is the “energy currency” your cells use to perform many of their functions.
ATP runs out quickly when you are exercising intensely.
This brings us back to creatine. About 95% of the body’s creatine is stored in your muscles in the form of a molecule called creatine phosphate (
Creatine phosphate can help you replenish ATP, giving your muscle cells the capacity to produce more energy.
The more creatine you have, the more energy your muscle cells can produce during high intensity exercise. This leads to enhanced performance (
Although creatine’s primary benefits are enhanced energy production, it can also increase strength and muscle gain (
Creatine helps produce ATP, your cells’ most basic form of energy. This increases energy production during high intensity exercise and leads to improved performance and increased strength and muscle gain.
Research suggests that creatine is one of the most effective supplements available for high intensity exercise (
In fact, several hundred studies have investigated its effects. Over 70% show a positive effect, while the other 30% show a small or insignificant effect. Meanwhile, no negative effects have been found (
The improvements range from 1–15%, on average. The upper end of this range could take months or even years to obtain from training alone (
In one study, creatine was shown to significantly reduce the time needed to complete 40-meter sprints (
Another study found a 3.7% improvement in cycling power after a 4-day creatine load. Other research also shows it can improve running sprint performance (
Short-term supplementation also improved elite swimmers’ sprint speeds to a greater extent than training alone (
Among soccer players, creatine improved 5- and 15-meter sprint speeds. It has also been shown to improve sprint and jumping performance, which may be beneficial in a variety of team sports (
Creatine supplements have been shown to enhance high intensity exercise performance by up to 15%.
Creatine is also one of the best supplements available for strength- and power-based exercise (
This is because ATP energy is crucial for these exercises. They are often short in duration (under 30 seconds) and performed at a very high intensity.
One 6-week training study found that creatine helped add a 15% increase in weight (11 lbs or 5 kg) to a 1-rep max bicep curl (
A weight training study found that creatine increased maximum squat and bench press strength (
The same study also reported a 20% increase in testosterone levels in the creatine group, compared with only 5% in the group not taking creatine (
Among college football players, creatine improved 6-second sprint performance and total workload during strength training (
Another study tested explosive power and weight lifting strength, finding that creatine helped improve explosive jumps and the number of repetitions for bench press (
The majority of studies show that creatine can improve strength and power, for both athletes and beginners.
While creatine is beneficial for short duration, high intensity exercise, research shows that it has fewer benefits for lower intensity endurance exercise.
One cycling study compared creatine’s effects during both high and low intensity exercise, finding it only improved high intensity performance (
A large review of the research also found significant improvements for short duration work, but less of a benefit for endurance exercise (
Endurance exercises are low in intensity and rely less on rapid ATP regeneration. This makes creatine’s role less significant (
However, one possible benefit of creatine is its ability to improve your training sessions, which may improve endurance performance in the long term.
In one study, it increased the number of intervals and subsequent amount of training endurance athletes could complete (
Therefore, creatine may provide a benefit for endurance athletes who include sprints, high intensity intervals, or strength work in their training.
The current short-term research suggests that creatine supplements provide little or no direct benefit to endurance performance.
There are several forms of creatine available, some of which are marketed with bold claims that are unsupported by research.
The most studied and proven form is creatine monohydrate, with hundreds of studies to support its safety and effectiveness (
Creatine supplements can increase muscle creatine stores by 10–40%, depending on you and your current levels (
If you have low stores, you may see even more noticeable improvements.
A loading phase is the fastest way to maximize the amount of creatine in the muscles. It involves taking a high dose for a few days, and then a lower dose after that (
This usually means 20–25 grams of creatine per day, in 5-gram doses, for 5–7 days. Then this is followed with a maintenance dose of 3–5 grams per day (
Some research has shown that creatine absorption may be improved with protein or carbs, so taking it with a meal may be best (
To supplement with creatine, take 3–5 grams of creatine monohydrate daily. You can maximize your muscle creatine content by “loading” with 20 grams per day for the first 5 days.
Creatine is one of the most scientifically valid supplements on the market.
One form — creatine monohydrate — has been studied the most extensively. It’s also the cheapest type available.
A typical dose is 3–5 grams per day, but you can also take 20 grams for 5 days to rapidly elevate your muscle creatine stores.
In high intensity exercise, creatine can improve performance by up to 15%, and it can also help you gain muscle and strength.
Creatine has little to no benefit for lower intensity endurance exercise, but it may be beneficial if you also include high intensity exercises in your training.
Additionally, creatine is safe for long-term use. No research has shown any long-term issues in healthy individuals.