Creatine was previously claimed to be an anabolic steroid, a type of artificial testosterone, and should only be used by male professional athletes. However, organizations such as the International Society of Sports Nutrition regard creatine as one of the most beneficial and safe sports’ supplements, per Healthline.

Creatine is not banned or screened by the International Olympic Committee, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Food and Drug Administration or the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

However, regardless of the dose or frequency of use, Stefany Veldhuizen, a registered dietitian at Northwestern Medicine at Central DuPage Hospital told USA Today, “It is always a good idea to consult your registered dietitian before starting supplements.”

What exactly does creatine do?

Creatine is a natural energy source that helps muscles contract during exercise and other types of physical exertion. Half of the body’s creatine is obtained from dietary sources while the other half is synthesized in organs such as the liver, kidneys and pancreas, according to Cleveland Clinic.

Creatine is also offered in supplements. Upon taking, it helps your body produce a high energy molecule, or ATP, and alters cellular processes. Taking supplements are popular among athletes and body builders to gain muscle, strength and improve exercise performance, per Healthline.

It is possible to naturally have low creatine levels due to decreased muscle mass, liver issues, dietary habits and pregnancy. Diagnosis typically involves blood and urine tests with a health assessment by a doctor, according to PharmEasy.

Benefits of creatine

Research shows creatine supplements may:

  • Be beneficial for vegetarians, who often have low levels of creatine, according Mayo Clinic.
  • Have anti-inflammatory effects, per an analysis published by the National Library of Medicine.
  • Have some anticancer properties, according to an analysis published by the National Library of Medicine.
  • Improve bone health, per Mayo Clinic.
  • Improve chronic fatigue conditions, according to an analysis published by the National Library of Medicine.
  • Improve cognition and brain health, per Mayo Clinic.
  • Improve strength, muscle size and exercise performance, according to Mayo Clinic.
  • Prevent injuries, per Mayo Clinic.
  • Reduce skin aging if using in creams, according to Mayo Clinic.
  • Support a healthy immune system, per an analysis published by the National Library of Medicine.
  • Support healthy glucose management, according to an analysis published by the National Library of Medicine.
  • Support mental health, per an analysis published by the National Library of Medicine.
  • Support reproductive health, according to an analysis published by the National Library of Medicine.

What are the disadvantages of taking creatine?

Some studies disagree with the benefits of creatine, finding damaging side effects that may occur, especially if taking too much:

Tara Schmidt, lead registered dietitian for the Mayo Clinic Diet, said to USA Today, “There is not enough evidence to know if it is safe in women who are breastfeeding or pregnant, or in people with diabetes, liver disease, Parkinson’s disease or bipolar disorder.”

How much creatine should you take?

According to a study published by the National Library of Medicine, take three to five grams of creatine monohydrate for optimal absorption before exercise or activity.

Per Veldhuizen, two to three grams of creatine monohydrate is generally safe. Even doses of five to 10 grams daily over several years has been safe, according to USA Today.

Check the supplement’s instructions or talk to your doctor about how much creatine you should take and if it is safe.

Other alternatives to creatine

Creatine supplements are available in pill, powder and liquid forms or energy bars, per USA Today.

However, you can also find natural creatine in food, primarily animal products, according to Get Swoly:

Animal products, high levels of creatine

  • Red meat.
  • Poultry.
  • Fish.
  • Pork.
  • Dairy products.

Vegan foods, low levels of creatine

  • Whole grains.
  • Legumes.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Vegetables.
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