Creatine: An evidence based review of the Scientific Research.

Supplements are a complex and controversial area of sports science and can often be confusing. There are a huge number of different supplements on the market with different ingredients, and a lot of grand marketing claims flying around.



The quality of sports nutrition products varies hugely and if you want to find the right product for you, you need to do your research. Many ingredients used in supplements sound impressive but aren’t backed by reliable research – you might end up just paying for a fancy name on the label.  Lots of people also seem to think that sports supplements are loaded with steroids or other harmful substances.

What follows are some frequently asked questions about the popular supplement, creatine.  Here, we address what creatine supplements do and just as importantly, what they do not do. This information is taken from scientific literature and provided in a clear and impartial manner – allowing you to make informed decisions about creatine supplementation.

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a special kind of amino acid made from two common amino acids found in the protein you eat.  Creatine serves as a short-lived emergency backup to your cells energy storage molecule, ATP (adenosine triphosphate).

ATP ADP formation.png

The vast majority of energy-requiring processes inside the cell, require ATP. When cells and the tissues they form do anything energetic (e.g. muscle contraction), this also requires ATP. When you burn calories, you are doing so to regenerate your ATP pool.

When your cells are working hard and ATP levels are low, creatine acts as a portable battery charger, replenishing ATP at its own expense. This enables your skeletal muscles to perform hard work such as sprinting or resistance training a little longer, which is something that an athlete in training is obviously looking to do.

Creatine is also a key part of your pH balancing system. Burning calories to regenerate ATP generates organic acids – a little carbonic acid in aerobic conditions and a lot of lactic acid in anaerobic conditions.  The pH of tissues that periodically work very hard would be dangerously erratic without the pH balancing system.  Creatine neutralises acid, again at its own expense, to help buffer tissues against low pH.

Where is creatine found in the body?

Creatine serves as either an energy or alkali overdraft for the cell. Tissues that never work very hard, have no need for such an overdraft facility. Tissues that continuously work hard need a better, longer-term solution. As an example, cardiac muscle tissue can never stop working.

It has special adaptations to allow this and a very good blood supply. Creatine is a practical solution for tissues with a very variable and unpredictable workload.  Because of this, 95% of creatine in the body is found in skeletal muscle tissue, a tissue that occasionally works flat out but spends about 7 consecutive hours a day performing no work at all.

Why should I take a creatine supplement?

Creatine has a limited lifespan. It is degraded into creatinine and cannot be regenerated. It must therefore be continuously replenished. In addition, any new muscle tissue will need its own store of creatine. Therefore, creatine requirements increase as your muscle mass increases. Creatine is a micronutrient as opposed to a vitamin.

This means that your body can make its own, but there is a benefit to having it in your diet. If there is not enough creatine in your diet, your body can make it from your dietary amino acids. However, this means that a creatine deficient diet puts a drain on your amino acid pool, something that should be avoided if your goal is to increase your muscle mass.

While there is plenty of creatine in animal protein, it has difficulty getting into the body intact. Creatine is unstable in acidic conditions and will therefore have a poor half-life while passing through the stomach. It is no surprise then that clinical studies have shown that creatine supplementation does have measurable benefits.

Research suggests that it helps healthy adults in weight training by enhancing quantifiable attributes such as work capacity and recovery time.

Additionally, creatine supplementation appears to benefit patients with neurologic conditions such as Parkinson’s disease by slowing down the deterioration of brain function.

It appears to mitigate against sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is the normal loss of muscle mass and strength as we age that can begin as early as age 35. We see strength losses between ages 50 and 60 of about 1.5% per year and those losses will increase after the age of 60 by up to 3% per year.

So, creatine supplementation can actually help you to maintain strength and stay active.