If you’ve spent time in the gym or researching strength-training routines, you’ve likely heard about creatine supplements. After adding a protein powder to one’s diet, creatine is often the first supplement bodybuilders and high-intensity athletes look toward when trying to reach their physique goals. Is creatine for you? Let’s find out.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is one of the most prevalent (and safest!) supplements on the market today. It is naturally occurring and can be found in muscle cells in both humans and animals. While it can be found in food sources (especially animal proteins like meat and fish), higher concentrations are most easily hit by adding a powdered supplement.
In a large study comparing some of the most popular supplements on the market, creatine was found to be the most effective supplement! It can even be beneficial for sedentary individuals to maintain muscle mass, which is great news for athletes on strict rest protocol during injury recovery. 
What Does Creatine Do?
Creatine is one of the natural sources of energy for muscle contraction. Both professional and amateur athletes will take creatine to improve muscle function, stamina, and growth.
Your body stores creatine (both the amount naturally occurring and the amount you supplement) as phosphocreatine in the muscle tissue. Creatine is credited with improving muscle mass, strength, explosive power, and speeding up recovery time when muscle tissues are torn during exercise.
Creatine also helps generate and regenerate adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is your body’s primary energy source. This is massively important to bodybuilders and strength athletes.
Is Creatine Natural?
Creatine is naturally occurring. In fact, it’s stored in your muscle tissue right now, even if you haven’t begun taking the supplement. Creatine is a molecule primarily made in the kidneys and liver. The building blocks for creatine are three amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine. These amino acids are then converted to creatine phosphate, which is stored in muscle tissue.
Fast Facts About Creatine
Before going any further, let’s break down some quick facts about creatine if you want information about it right away.
|Aspects of Creatine Supplementation||How to Take it Appropriately|
|What it Helps With||Muscle building, athletic performance, and recovery|
|When to Use It||Any time of the day; just use it consistently every day|
|How Much to Take||3-5 grams per day; 5 grams per day is best for most|
|How Long It Takes to Work||7 days with a loading phase, 28 days without a loading phase|
|Types of Creatine||Monohydrate, HCL, and micronized creatine are the most common|
|Different Types of Creatine Supplements||Powder, capsules, and gummies are the most common|
|Side Effects||Bloating, water retention, and stomach ache. These side effects are uncommon.|
We’ll cover all this information in detail, later in this article. Stick around to get all the details and the best advice.
What are the Benefits of Creatine?
Creatine has many noteworthy health benefits, particularly for strength and performance athletes like bodybuilders.
- Creatine helps your body to produce ATP, which will increase your energy and stamina during workouts.
- Creatine boosts the formation of proteins which helps your body to create new and bigger muscle tissue. 
- Increased creatine levels help reduce your body’s levels of myostatin, a molecule that can stunt or hinder muscle growth, thus making gaining muscle easier. 
- Creatine boosts brain function, which aids in your ability to make the mind-muscle-connection during workouts, making them more explosive and more efficient.
- Unlike other supplements, creatine benefits all athletes despite age or body composition, making it effective for both new and advanced lifters alike, no matter how many years you’ve been working out.
- Creatine is the most well-researched supplement on the market, with proven efficacy in double-blind tests, and can be directly linked to a significant increase in muscle mass during strength training routines. 
- Creatine helps your body to maintain consistent blood sugar levels, even when carb loading, leading to better-sustained energy throughout the day. 
- Creatine can reduce fatigue, even when exercising during stressful conditions like high heat or when eating a caloric deficit.
Does Creatine Give You Energy?
Creatine assists with the production of ATP, which gives your body energy to complete its daily functions. While it’s true that creatine does quite literally give your body more energy, it is not to be confused with a stimulant or pre-workout supplement.
Unlike caffeine, you will not feel a jolt of energy like the spark that comes from increased adrenaline or cortisol in the system, like pre-workout supplements can give you. It is more likely to provide an overall increased and even energy boost throughout the day.
Does Creatine Help Build Muscle?
Creatine not only helps to build muscle but also helps your body to maintain muscle and hold onto it, even if you’ve cut back on your lifts.
Because it binds with water, you’ll likely see increased muscle tissue size within 5-7 days of adding it to your diet. These effects also enhance recovery time by helping your body repair torn muscle fibers during strength training.
Does Creatine Increase Testosterone?
While it is indisputable that creatine increases sport and muscle performance, there is no data showing a direct correlation between creatine supplementation and boosted testosterone levels.
If testosterone levels are a concern for you, natural ways to boost your t-levels include getting quality sleep, eating at a slight caloric surplus, and focusing on supplements like zinc, vitamin D, and magnesium.
Is Creatine Healthy?
Creatine is one of the safest supplements and is naturally occurring in many high-protein foods like beef and fish. Adding a creatine supplement to your stack is likely to only have positive side effects, and no studies have linked it to adverse health reactions.
If you are adding creatine to your routine because you are increasing your training intensity, be sure you support your body in other ways beyond just supplements. Before and after each lift session, ensure you are:
- Eating adequately
- Getting restful sleep
- Taking rest days when appropriate
- Implementing supportive care like stretching and foam rolling
Using these measures consistently in your workout routine, along with taking an appropriate dose of creatine, will give you excellent results.
How Much Creatine Should I Take?
The average dosage of creatine for most people is 3-5 grams per day. If choosing to do a loading phase, upwards of 20 mg can be taken. If you do a loading phase, most prefer to split their dosages throughout the day, such as with meals.
A long-term maintenance dose is 14 milligrams of creatine per pound of body weight or 30 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. For the average adult, the standard 3-5 gram daily dosage recommended by most manufacturers will be more than adequate to achieve full saturation.
Do You Need a Loading Phase for Creatine?
A loading phase is a period of time where an athlete takes a higher dosage of a supplement to better saturate the body in the substance before tapering off to a more standard dose. Creatine is a supplement where some athletes may prefer a 5-7 day loading phase in the beginning before taking their regular dose.
While this loading phase may have benefits, research is inconclusive on whether it is necessary or if the benefits carry enough weight to make it worthwhile. If you’re on the fence or confused about pursuing a loading phase, feel free to just take the standard dose and know you will still see results.
How Long Does Creatine Take to Work?
Taking creatine will start to have an immediate effect on the muscles, but bodybuilders are likely to see noticeable results after around 14 days, and peak saturation is usually achieved after 28 days of daily dosing.
The changes noticed will be better pumps during workouts, more energy, even energy levels throughout the day, and improved recovery time.
When to Take Creatine
Creatine can safely be taken for long periods of time and isn’t a supplement that benefits from cycling on and off. That said, many athletes may prefer to avoid taking too many supplements at once.
If you are searching for the best time in your workout phases to take creatine, you’re likely to notice the most benefits in a cutting phase rather than a bulking phase.
When bulking, you’re more likely to consume more natural creatine in food sources. During cutting phases, when many bodybuilders fear losing muscle gains, adding creatine can help you hold onto more muscle mass even when eating in a caloric deficit.
Should You Take Creatine Before or After a Workout?
Creatine works best when it’s taken over time, so the actual timing of consumption does not seem to have huge effects on the supplement’s efficacy. Most commonly, many athletes add it in with other powdered supplements like protein or pre-workout, which they take before they begin their workouts.
How to Take Creatine
Creatine is a supplement that can be found in multiple forms. The right choice will be whatever you find the easiest to incorporate into your routine. If you are already making shakes, simply adding creatine powder to them will be easy. If taking daily vitamins in gummy or tablet form is already in your repertoire, those forms are also available.
Types of Creatine
When searching for creatine supplements, you’re likely to see three different forms on the market.
- Creatine Powder: Creatine powder is the most prevalent form of the supplement. You can find both flavored and unflavored options, which you can mix with smoothies or simply into water.
- Creatine Capsules: Creatine capsules will have the same effect as the powder, but they may be easier for some to ingest if they aren’t a fan of powdered supplements.
- Creatine Gummies: For those that want the benefits of creatine but don’t enjoy taking pills and aren’t enthused with another flavored beverage, creatine gummies can be the least intrusive way to add a creatine supplement to a routine.
All three of these will have nearly identical effects on the body, and the difference mainly will come down to personal preference. So choose whatever will be easiest for you to integrate into your routine.
Best Ways to Take Creatine Powder
If you choose to take the most common route, which is taking creatine in its powder form, you can ingest it in many ways. People commonly mix it with their protein powder or pre-workout powder before a workout.
Because the powders dissolve easily, they can also be mixed into your shakes or smoothies if you prefer to get more micronutrients in that way. This may be preferred for those who choose an unflavored powder as it is the easiest way to hide it with other flavors.
These days many companies make great-tasting flavored creatine powders, so simply mixing them with a few ounces of water can be the quickest and most pleasant way to ingest it.
Can You Dry Scoop Creatine Powder?
If you consume any fitness content through social media, you’ve likely seen athletes “dry scooping” some supplements. This is most commonly seen with pre-workout powders. Instead of mixing the powder with water and drinking it normally, some athletes will scoop the powder directly into their mouths, followed by a quick swish of water.
This method has no actual benefits, but some may prefer it or find it more convenient. While you certainly could dry scoop creatine this way, it’s a potential choking hazard or could spur a coughing fit. You’d be better off mixing it with water, as recommended by the manufacturers.
Side Effects of Creatine
Creatine is one of the safest and most thoroughly studied fitness supplements on the market. One of the reasons that it is so popular is there are very few noticeable side effects. When they are noticeable, they are often quite mild.
The most common side effect reported is an increase in bloating symptoms. This is because of how creatine binds with water in the body and can lead to water retention.
Some athletes find this bloating to be temporary during the first few weeks of adding creatine to their supplement stack. If you find bloating to be a long-term issue, consider trying micronized creatine, many find this solves the bloating problem.
Does Creatine Cause Headaches?
As far as current research suggests, there is no correlation between creatine and tension headaches. If you start to have headaches after beginning a creatine supplement routine, it is likely tied to other factors.
The most common are general dehydration, tension, or overexertion. If your creatine intake started as you began a more strenuous workout protocol, which is very common, it’s like that is the source of your headaches.
What Happens When You Stop Taking Creatine?
If you choose to stop taking creatine, you will likely have some or all of these noticeable effects:
- Less explosive force during your workouts
- A drop in overall energy level throughout the day
- You may feel general muscle weakness or mild loss of strength
- General feeling of fatigue can be common when first coming off creatine
- You may perceive a reduction in muscle mass, particularly in the feeling of a “pump” due to less water retention
- If you experienced bloating, that is likely to reduce within a couple of weeks of stopping
How Long Does Creatine Stay in Your System?
Creatine will always be in your system because it is naturally produced by the kidneys and liver and then stored in muscle tissue. If you have been supplementing creatine as part of your fitness routine, your natural creatine levels will be elevated. Once you stop taking creatine, your levels will deplete and return to normal within 14-18 days, depending on your diet and exercise routine.
If you choose to restart creatine after taking a break, you will notice the effects of the elevated levels in a similar time frame, about two weeks.
Creatine HCL vs. Monohydrate
When searching for the right creatine supplement to add to your diet, you may notice that some companies offer creatine HCL while others offer creatine monohydrate.
Both of these supplements are effectively doing the same job: increasing your body’s creatine levels to help with increasing ATP production and enhancing muscle building. Their functionality is quite similar. The main difference is the way the body absorbs them.
Creatine monohydrate is the supplement that has been around the longest and is creatine in its purest form. Companies will either isolate it in this form or further process it to reduce its molecular size and form micronized creatine.
Creatine HCL is newer to the market. It is made by combining the creatine molecule with hydrochloride. This binding is said to increase creatine’s solubility and stability over time.
Is Creatine Monohydrate or HCL Better for Bodybuilding?
Creatine Monohydrate and HCL both have the same function within the body. If your concern is a supplement that undergoes the least processing, standard creatine monohydrate will suit your needs.
If you prefer to prioritize efficacy or buying in large bulk quantities, you might feel added security in knowing creatine HCL will be more stable while sitting on the shelf.
If safety is a concern, there is much less research on creatine HCL because it is newer on the market. Thus far, no research indicates that adding hydrochloride has any adverse effects.
All in all, the best type of creatine for your bodybuilding journey will be the one you take consistently. So pick one that you find confidence in, and that is easy or pleasant to consume.
What is Micronized Creatine?
Have you ever heard of micronized creatine? It is exactly what it sounds like: creatine in micro-sized particles! Micronized creatine is creatine monohydrate with particles that are 20x smaller than regular creatine powder particles.
These smaller particles are created through a process called RESS: Rapid Expansion of Supercritical Solution. This extraction process reduces the particle size, increasing solubility and creating a much more concentrated product. 
Is Micronized Creatine Better for You?
Whether or not micronized creatine is truly better for you is still up for debate. However, two main benefits are often repeated in the fitness space. The first is that the smaller size can help your body to absorb it more quickly and in greater concentration, though those effects would most likely be minuscule.
The second, which will be more applicable to many athletes, is that many who switch to micronized creatine find it can be easier on their stomachs and can reduce bloating. If you’re an athlete who enjoys the benefits of creatine but has gastrointestinal side effects, you may find micronized creatine to be a great fit.
Best Creatine Supplements for Bodybuilding
For creatine monohydrate powder, I would recommend buying it in bulk since it’s much cheaper per serving, which is ideal considering it is a supplement that is to be taken long-term. It can be bought in bulk from either Bulk Supplements or MyProtein.
Bulk Supplements Creatine
MyProtein Creatine Monohydrate
The Bulk Supplements monohydrate powder is an industry favorite for many reasons. Most notably, the texture is very fine and dissolves thoroughly in water, making it an excellent choice for those with sensitive palates. MyProtein also makes a great monohydrate powder. Their brand is well-trusted because all their supplements are made in-house and are rigorously third-party tested.
Best Creatine HCL Supplement
Kaged Creatine HCL
For a creatine HCL supplement, I recommend the Kaged Creatine HCL. It is available in unflavored or flavored powder or tablet form. If bloating concerns you, their formulation is likely your top choice. Their formulation is also vegan, non-GMO, third-party tested, and has a reputation for superior solubility.
Best Creatine Pills
Huge Creatine Monohydrate Pills
For a creatine pill, I recommend the Huge Supplements Creatine Pills. Each tablet is a small dose, making it very easy to customize your stack and get the correct dose for your goals. They also offer discounts for new customers.
Best Creatine Gummies
SWOLY Creatine Gummies
For a creatine gummy, I recommend the SWOLY creatine gummies. These strawberry gummies each pack 5 mg of creatine and are a convenient and tasty choice for those who just don’t want another powdered or pill supplement. They are also gluten and gelatine free.
Best Micronized Creatine Powder
1st Phorm Micronized Creatine
For a micronized creatine, 1st Phorm is a good option. 1st Phorm is a well-recognized brand endorsed by many high-achieving bodybuilders and strength athletes. This powder easily mixes with any liquid and pairs well with their powdered pre-workout. If you’d like to know more about 1st Phorm’s creatine, we wrote a full review on it here.
Can You Get Creatine from Real Foods?
Like many other supplements that are great for our bodies, they are naturally occurring in many of the common foods most loved by bodybuilders and strength athletes:
- Herring is considered a “super fish” because they carry high amounts of amino acids, antioxidants, omega 3’s, and naturally occurring creatine (1.5g per 4 oz serving).
- Chicken has .8g per 4oz serving and is a staple in many bodybuilding diets because of its high protein and low-fat content.
- Pork is another strong contender with .6g per 4oz serving. Pork is also high in other beneficial micronutrients like zinc and potassium.
- Beef has nearly as much creatine as pork, with .5g per 4oz serving.
- For those looking for lighter fare, salmon also has .5g per 4oz serving but is lower in fat than most beef cuts. Similar to herring, it also has high amino acids and omega 3’s.
Creatine is one of the most prevalent supplements in the fitness community, and that’s for a great reason – it’s massively beneficial to almost anyone looking to build muscle mass. Ensure that it’s a supplement you take regularly to ensure proper saturation and maximize its benefits.