No matter whether you are a newbie in the gym or a seasoned athlete with years of experience, if you’re keeping an eye on the news and discussions in the fitness world, you have probably heard about creatine, and might have considered taking it.
Creatine has been gaining popularity in the fitness world, and is being widely used by many people. Moreover, it is one of the most researched supplements out there.
What is creatine, though? What is its mechanism of action?
Does combining the keto diet with creatine work well?
And, most importantly, is it safe?
Let’s find out the answers to all of these questions – and more.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a naturally occurring non-protein amino acid found in red meat and seafood. It is naturally found in the human body – 95% of our creatine deposits are stored in the skeletal muscles, while the remaining 5% are stocked in the liver and brain. Most of it (about two-thirds) is stored as phosphocreatine, while the remaining one third is stored in the form of free creatine.
Creatine is used by the body in the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is then used in the generation of energy during high intensity non-aerobic exercise (such as lifting weights, for example).
When you supplement with creatine, you are boosting the levels of available phosphocreatine, which is then used in the metabolism of ATP. As a result, you will have more energy while exercising, and will be able to perform better and have more endurance. Essentially, this will allow you to do more sets and reps of a given exercise before you feel exhausted, thus improving your overall performance.
Your body produces some of the creatine your muscles need, while the rest of it needs to come from your diet, and eventually from supplementation, if you decide to take it.
The dietary requirements for creatine will vary based on your muscle mass – simply put, the more muscles you have, the more creatine you will need. A well-established safe and effective dose is between 3 to 5 grams of creatine daily.
What Are Creatine’s Benefits?
It Boosts Your Energy Levels During Exercise & Helps You Perform Better
As discussed above, creatine plays an important role in the production of ATP, which means that it will improve the energy available to your muscles during a workout. This will help you go on longer and be able to work with heavier loads, which will ultimately result in achieving your goals faster.
It Enhances Recovery & Prevents Injury
Research shows that creatine can help enhance recovery and prevent injuries while you train (1). These are important benefits whether you’re a serious athlete or an older adult who has been recommended resistance training by their doctor to aid in bone health.
One study found that creatine improved the recovery rate of knee extensor muscle function during injury. It has also been shown to reduce muscle soreness and inflammation in marathon runners. This indicates that creatine has a place in your diet even if you’re an endurance athlete and not someone who does heavy weight lifting (2).
It Increases Muscle Mass
Creatine helps increase your muscle mass in a few different ways. As outlined above, creatine helps you perform better in the gym – being able to perform better and lift heavier when exercising means that your muscle mass will increase, if you are taking it systematically.
It Prevents Muscle Loss
Creatine helps keep cells well-hydrated and slows down protein breakdown, making it an excellent aid in preventing the loss of muscle mass (5).
It Might Be Beneficial For A Number Of Brain Conditions
Creatine has been studied in relation to brain health, too, and the results look promising. It has been shown to have a positive effect on diseases, such as some types of seizures, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and more (6, 7, 8).
Additionally, creatine has been shown to have a beneficial effect on the cognitive function of older individuals (9).
The brain also needs ATP to function properly, similarly to muscles, and ATP depletion is detrimental to cognitive health. That’s where creatine comes into play.
How is Creatine Used?
If you decide to start taking creatine, opt for creatine monohydrate, which is the most effective form of creatine available on the market, and also typically the least expensive. Go for the powder form, which will allow you to mix it in a liquid of your choice.
When you first start taking creatine, you can start with the so-called “loading phase,” where you take 20 g of creatine for five days up to a week. Some people might experience an upset stomach with creatine, so such a high dose is best split into 5-gram segments consumed four times a day.
The purpose of the loading phase is to help you achieve a quick increase in muscle creatine stores. After the initial phase is over, you should continue taking 3 to 5 grams of creatine per day.
You don’t necessarily need to load on creatine, though. You can very well just start with a regular dose of 3-5 g per day and continue with it over a long period of time. There aren’t side effects associated with prolonged use, or oversaturation of creatine stores, so you can stick to that regimen for a long time – it’s a supplement that you don’t need to cycle.
Is Keto And Creatine A Good Combination, And Is It Safe?
Keto and creatine go very well together. There are no contraindications to combining them. It’s safe to take creatine while doing keto and many people have achieved very good results with combining both.
No matter whether you’re new to exercise or a highly experienced athlete, creatine can still help you by boosting your energy and output in the gym, which translates to more muscle growth. And muscle is awesome, because it will make you look toned, fit, sexy, and will help you burn more calories even when you just sit around and do nothing.
Contrary to popular belief, creatine doesn’t need to be taken with carbs in order to be effective. However, some research suggests that co-ingesting creatine with carbs may enhance creatine retention in your muscles (10). This doesn’t mean you should increase your carb intake if you’re on a low-carb diet, though. You should still see benefits, especially if your goal is to get lean and toned.
You don’t need to take it before your workout either – you can take it whenever you want, and the easiest way to ingest it is to just mix it with some liquid – water, coffee, a protein shake, etc. The most important thing with creatine is consistency – as long as you take it every day, you will be keeping your creatine stores high.
Keep in mind that creatine should mostly be used as a part of a workout program, and not as a general energy booster (which it isn’t). If you’re not doing some sort of resistance training or high intensity exercise, creatine won’t be of that much use to you (unless you fall in a specific group where it might be beneficial for you due to its brain health benefits, in which case we’d recommend you to take it under a doctor’s supervision and advice).
If you’re just starting out with keto and with working out, you can definitely add creatine to the mix, if your goals include muscle growth.
Creatine does, in fact, cause some water retention in the muscles, which is why the scale might go 1-3 pounds up when you first start using it.
This will be somewhat similar to the water you retain if you accidentally consume too many carbs (enough to kick you out of ketosis) – but do not panic – creatine DOESN’T kick you out of ketosis. It just makes your muscles retain some water by a different mechanism. It doesn’t cause bloating. However, some people might experience stomach discomfort at higher doses. If that seems to be an issue, just stick to a dose of 3-5 grams and do not do a loading phase.
If you decide to take creatine, your best bet is to take it every day, and not just on workout days, to achieve best results. If you go on a holiday and won’t be working out for a week or two, you can still continue taking creatine.
Precautions and Remarks
Although it has been established that creatine is perfectly safe for healthy individuals at doses of 3 to 10 grams a day, do not take creatine in case you have kidney or liver problems, as it is still unclear whether it might make these worse for some people. If that’s your case, it’s better to err on the side of caution and just aim to consume sufficient creatine from food (red meat and seafood).
As discussed above, creatine will cause some water retention. If you suddenly “gain” a couple of pounds when you first start taking it (typically between 1 to 3-4), do not fret – it’s water weight.
Some people simply do not respond to creatine, which has to do with genetics and there is not much you can do about it. You’ll notice whether you’re a non-responder by actually not experiencing the benefits of creatine discussed above, and especially the boost of energy during your workouts – if it’s completely absent after 2-3 weeks of taking it, creatine might just not do that much for you.
Additionally, as creatine is found in red meat, if you’re already consuming a lot of it, it’s possible that your creatine stores aren’t really depleted in the first place. That being said, vegans and vegetarians seem to profit a lot from creatine supplementation, as they are more likely to be deficient in it.
Contrary to what some might believe, creatine is not a steroid and doesn’t share any of the anabolic steroids side effects.
Is creatine safe on keto? Yes, definitely. It has an amazing safety profile and is one of the most researched supplements out there.
Is creatine beneficial for highly active individuals? Yes, it will very likely be beneficial for you if you’re working out (that is, unless you’re a non-responder, which you’d figure out in a couple of weeks).
Is creatine worth taking by people who aren’t working out at all? Probably less so. It has some neuroprotective properties, so this might be worth looking into. However, it doesn’t act as a general energy booster.
What is the best form of creatine? We recommend creatine monohydrate in a powder form from a trusted source.
Should you be taking creatine? That entirely depends on your goals, and is up for you to decide. If you want to gain some more muscle and achieve better muscle definition (i.e. look more toned), creatine might be very useful for you and should be added in your keto supplement list.
Keep in mind, however, that the best way to make your muscles pop is to actually lose body fat – creatine won’t create a six pack if your diet isn’t on point. When it comes to weight loss, diet is the number one most important factor, and keto is one of the best diets out there to help you achieve your goals.
So, what is your own experience with creatine? Have you taken it already, and if yes, how did it work for you? Did you do a loading phase? Share your thoughts with us and our readers in the comments below – we’d love to hear from you!