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Pros & Cons of Creatine Supplements: Benefits, Drawbacks, & Dosage

Creatine, one of the most popular and well-researched supplements in the fitness world, is known for its role in improving strength, power, and muscle mass. This article delves into the benefits, potential drawbacks, and the proper dosage and timing of supplementation.

Shirtless man drops creatine supplement into a cup.

What are Creatine Supplements?

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in muscle cells. It helps your muscles produce energy during high-intensity exercise or heavy lifting. While the body produces creatine naturally, and it's also found in foods like meat and fish, supplementation can further boost the body's stores of phosphocreatine. This is key for the rapid production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary energy carrier in the body, especially during short bursts of intense exercise.


Why Take Creatine?

There are many benefits of taking creatine supplements. Let’s discover how this supplement can transform your workout routine!


  • Increased Muscle Mass: Creatine has been shown to support gains in muscle mass, possibly due to increased workout intensity and water retention in muscles.

  • Enhanced Strength and Power: Supplementing with creatine can lead to significant improvements in strength, power, and high-intensity exercise performance.

  • Accelerated Muscle Recovery: Creatine may help reduce muscle damage and inflammation, promoting faster recovery after intense exercise.

  • Cognitive Benefits: Emerging research suggests potential cognitive benefits of creatine, due to its neuroprotective qualities.


Potential Drawbacks

Before starting supplements, it's important to be aware of potential side effects.


  • Water Retention: Creatine can cause water retention in the muscles, which might be mistaken for genuine muscle gain and can affect weight classes in some sports.

  • Digestive Issues: High doses may cause digestive problems, such as bloating or stomach discomfort.

  • Kidney Concerns: Although largely debunked, there's a persistent myth that creatine harms the kidneys. While it's generally safe, those with pre-existing kidney issues should consult a doctor.


How Much Creatine Should You Take?

For most people, I would recommend taking 3-5 grams of creatine daily. Start with a smaller dose and gradually work your way up to acclimate your body to the supplement and avoid stomach discomfort.

Some athletes will do a "loading phase," where they will take much more to kick start their routine - this is not necessary for most people. During this loading phase, an athlete might take up to 20 grams for up to a week in an effort to see benefits faster, after this period they will resume a normal dosage. Do not attempt a loading phase unless you are very experienced with supplements, as that dosage is much higher than what is recommended.

Should You Take Creatine Before or After a Workout?

A common question among athletes and fitness enthusiasts is whether to take creatine before or after a workout. Let’s discuss the difference timing can make.


Creatine Before a Workout

Taking creatine before a workout is thought to saturate your muscles with this energy-boosting compound. The theory is that increased muscle creatine content will enhance ATP production, thus improving high-intensity exercise performance. However, creatine does not provide an immediate surge in energy; rather, it builds up in your muscles over time.


Creatine After a Workout

Recent research suggests that post-workout might be the optimal time for creatine supplementation. The rationale is that muscles are more receptive to nutrient uptake after a workout due to increased blood flow. This could potentially maximize creatine uptake and storage in the muscles, leading to greater gains in strength and muscle mass over time.


The Verdict

While the timing may offer slight benefits in specific contexts, the current consensus in the fitness and scientific community is that daily intake contributes the most to overall effectiveness. Consistent, daily doses will lead to the best results for long-term athletic performance and muscle growth. Creatine remains one of the most effective and safe supplements for athletes seeking to enhance strength, power, and muscle mass. As with any supplement, it's essential to consider individual health circumstances and consult with a healthcare professional to ensure safe and effective use.


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Scott Ryan, CSCS, *RSCC, CF-L1, CF-W, BFRC, Director- Fit Societe

A professional coach who specializes in Applied Functional Science, Strength and Conditioning, CrossFit L1, and Olympic Lifting. He attended New England College in New Hampshire obtaining a bachelor's degree in Kinesiology with an emphasis on Biomechanics. He has a passion for injury prevention and coaching, as he was a collegiate athlete who suffered sports injuries. His goal is to get athletes back to optimal shape as well as prevent future injuries.

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