And start taking it for your brain!
It’s one of the safest, most well-researched, and most effective supplements I know of.
Now there’s enough information already out there about creatine’s impact on muscle and ability to improve physiological metrics. What I want to do here is talk about creatine’s influence on the brain.
But before I get into the specifics, we need to learn the basics.
How does creatine work?
Creatine is a natural compound. It is not a ‘drug’. Your body already has loads of creatine in it. In fact, your body considers it so essential that it is constantly manufacturing its own creatine. Your creatine stores are further supplemented by the creatine that you eat from food, with red meat and seafood providing the greatest amount.
Most of your creatine is found in your muscles, but the remainder is in high-energy organs like the brain. Between your dietary ingestion of creatine and natural production, your creatine levels are sitting at about 60-80% capacity. Part of the reason for not being 100% full is that modern cooking methods degrade the creatine found in animal products (you’re not eating a bunch of raw meat, are you?). Here are some other common reasons your levels might be lower:
- You’re engaging in regular, strenuous activity.
- You’re eating a low-protein diet.
- You’re following a vegan or vegetarian diet.
- You are old.
Even if you don’t meet any of these criteria, it’s still difficult to physically eat the required amount of protein in a day to completely fill your creatine tank. This is where supplemental creatine can be useful – it is not degraded and can be used to reliably ‘top off’ your creatine stores (similar to a carb loading protocol).
But what does it actually do?
EVERY action in the body (thoughts included) requires an energy cost. The universal energy currency is adenosine triphosphate (ATP). You want to breathe? ATP is paid. You want to think? ATP is paid. You want to lift weights? ATP is paid. You get the idea. All of the food you eat gets converted into ATP eventually.
Creatine in the body comes in the form of creatine-phosphate (also called phosphocreatine). When your body needs to pay for actions, it harvests energy from an ATP by popping off one of its phosphates. Creatine-phosphate is sitting nearby to immediately donate its phosphate and resynthesize that ATP. No long, drawn out, digestion, absorption, transport, uptake, and metabolism of food stuffs required! It’s an immediate energy reserve for our ATPs.
Fun fact: The brain makes up 2% of our bodyweight but uses 20% of our energy! The only fuel sources the brain can use are creatine and carbohydrate. Yes, the brain can use ketones as a fuel, but this is a back-up. The brain will never resort to ketones unless forced.
Is creatine safe?
It is probably the safest supplement out there. The initial scare came from the increases in creatinine seen in individuals consuming creatine, and elevated creatinine is usually a marker of declining kidney function. However, creatine supplementation simply causes more creatinine to be produced directly (creatinine is a breakdown of creatine, consuming more means more has to be excreted). There is no data showing creatine consumption causes kidney damage.
There are only two established side effects:
- Cramping, nausea, and diarrhea IF you don’t consume your creatine with enough water.
- Weight gain – HOWEVER, the weight gain is water weight added strictly to your muscles (creatine binds water). It tones you up. None of the weight gain is added to fat or in making you feel bloated. Most people love this ‘side effect’!
What are the benefits to taking creatine?
There are many direct and indirect benefits to taking creatine. As I mentioned above, creatine supplementation tops off your creatine fuel stores. As such, you will see improvements in any process that uses creatine (spoiler – nearly everything).
Now you should know that heavy cognitive loads – like Esports training or studying for a big exam – drain the brain in the exact same way that heavy physical exertion drains the body. And I know you’ve felt this before (probably regularly). Mental fatigue leads to impaired mental performance in all the metrics you care about – things like memory formation, decision-making, reaction speed, hand-eye coordination, etc. go out the door. Not to mention just feeling terrible.
Creatine is an extra energy reserve, and helps you directly fight off mental fatigue and boost performance. Many people utilize creatine during periods of heightened stress or sleep deprivation with significant effect. In one study, they had students supplement with creatine for 5 days before a big math exam. Those who took creatine had more oxygen in their brain and reported significantly less brain fog.
Here’s some more awesome stuff creatine does:
- Improves hand-eye coordination and visual accuracy
- Improves short-term memory
- Improves intelligence
- Improves reasoning
- Suggestive evidence for improved working memory and processing speed
- Reduces symptoms of depression, especially in females, and seems to act synergistically with anti-depressant medications
- Improves overall feelings of wellbeing
What dose do I take?
You should take at least 0.03 g/kg/day. To calculate – find your weight in kg, then multiply by 0.03. This usually works out to be a couple grams.
Due to the safety, cost, and efficacy – most people opt to simply take 5g per day (1 tsp.). For people who are non-responders to a 5 g/day dose, going up to a 10 g/day dose has been shown to be beneficial. Typically, the non-responders at 5 g/day are those who already eat a lot of protein and have a bunch of muscle.
How do I take it?
Buy creatine monohydrate. It is the safest, most effective, and cheapest formulation of creatine (it is very rare in life that the cheapest version is the best version, be sure to take advantage). There are loads of other formulations that cost significantly more and offer no additional benefit.
I prefer powdered creatine instead of the pill version. The recommended dose would require you to take too many pills at once, which I’m not a fan of. I just mix my creatine into my smoothies or a glass of water (it’s flavorless).
Creatine doesn’t work instantaneously. We have data showing that it takes 2-4 weeks of continuous supplementation to boosts brain creatine levels by 5-15%. You might have heard about a loading protocol with creatine. There is no need to do it – it only shaves a day or two off your time to reach peak stores, which over a few week timeframe isn’t changing much.
Does creatine do anything else?
I’m glad you asked. Yes – creatine helps with all sorts of clinical metrics. Here are some of the (many) uses creatine is currently being investigated for:
- Injury prevention
- Concussion/TBI protection
- Spinal cord neuroprotection
- Neurodegenerative diseases like muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease
- Brain and heart ischemia
Pretty impressive, right?
I hate sounding like a sales person, but of all the supplements out there, creatine is one of the surest bets. I hesitate to label any compound a ‘magic pill’, but the more research that comes out about creatine, the more amazing I think it is. I have an even greater appreciation for creatine today than I did 10 years ago.
Update: Due to popular request, I am including a link to a brand I frequently recommend to my clients: Thorne Creatine.
This is the brand that I personally use. I initially chose it because I noticed lots of researchers were using it in their studies. It is about as clean as you can get. If you click the link above, I get a small kickback and you get the product at a 20% discount (won’t be visible until you make an account and link yourself to me). If you don’t want to use this brand, that’s fine. I won’t be offended. Shoot me a message and I’m more than happy to recommend some others for you.
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