Creatine for Athletes

Written by Jennifer Tanzi and Brooke Sadler | Reviewed by Emily Fultz, Dietitian

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a substance that is predominantly located within muscle cells.  Your body has the capability to produce it through amino acids, but you can also acquire it through food.  Dietary sources of creatine include red meat, chicken, pork, and fish.  You require 1-3 grams of creatine per day, half from the diet and the rest synthesized within your body.  Since dietary sources come mainly from animal products, vegetarians and vegans may have lower amounts of creatine in their muscles, but they are able to produce enough endogenously.  

What Does Creatine Do?

About 95% of creatine is stored in muscle cells and this compound can improve athletic performance.  This stored creatine is a form of energy and helps to produce more ATP, a high energy molecule, when exercising.  This stored energy is utilized when performing heavy lifting or high-intensity exercise.  When you are sprinting or powerlifting, your energy stores are depleted quickly.  During this short bout of exercise, your body relies on the stored creatine to boost your energy stores and complete the intense exercise.   

Should You Take Creatine Supplements?

Taking creatine through a supplement has been extensively tested over decades for safety and efficacy.  But supplements are not regulated by the FDA, which means that not all products are safe.  Therefore, it is important to look for well tested products. Our preference is to see Informed Sport or NSF Certified on the label.  Research has concluded that taking 3-5 grams of creatine per day is sufficient.  Benefits, however, only occur if engaged in very short, high intensity exercise.  While sprinters may see results, long distance runners may not.  The following are reported benefits of creatine supplementation:

  • Improved strength—increase maximal strength and power by 5-15%
  • Increased anaerobic power output—improve sprint performance by 5%
  • Reduced fatigue

Are There Side Effects?

Creatine supplementation at the dose of 3-5 grams per day has been shown to be safe in those over aged 18.  Some athletes who have sufficient creatine stores before supplementation may be non-responders, meaning they do not have any performance benefits.  There are reports of weight gain, but this is minimal and due to intracellular water in muscles.  If you are engaged in high intensity exercise and want to improve performance creatine may be right for you.  But keep in mind that many sports supplements contain multiple ingredients that may be harmful, so carefully read labels and do your research. A dietitian can help determine if the supplement is right for you.


Cooper, R., Naclerio, F., Allgrove, J., & Jimenez, A. (2012). Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), 33.

Kreider RB, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2017; doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z.

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