Creatine is one of the most beneficial and researched supplements on the market, and a must in every seasoned lifter's stack of supplements. But should beginners take creatine too?
Yes, beginners should take creatine for optimum results. However, creatine cannot outperform bad training and diet habits. As a beginner, before you can experience all the benefits of taking creatine, you have to first sort your training, diet, and sleep.
This is the answer in a nutshell.
Keep reading to get a more in-depth understanding of:
And much more. If you are ready, let's get started with the 9 most important benefits of creatine.
1. Creatine increases strength
Creatine is one of the most beneficial supplements in terms of strength and power improvements for high-intensity exercises.
For instance, in one review which looked at 22 scientific studies, it was found that people who added creatine to their training programs saw an 8% increase in overall strength, 14% increase in weightlifting performance, and an increase in bench press power of up to a whopping 43%, compared to training without creatine.
Unsurprisingly, the strength improvements stay consistent across studies.
In another study, well-trained strength athletes followed a 28-day creatine supplementation regimen. At the end, they saw a 15% performance increase in bike sprinting, and 6% increase in bench press performance.
Therefore, taking creatine even as a beginner will have a positive effect on your performance.
However, this only applies to high-intensity exercise like weightlifting, sprinting, etc. As far as cardio is concerned, creatine doesn't seem to offer much of a benefit - unless it is high-intensity cardio.
2. Creatine benefits muscle growth
Creatine is one of the most beneficial supplements for muscle growth.
However, there are some misconceptions about this topic.
Namely, most people believe that creatine directly affects muscle growth. In reality, creatine puts you in a position to build more muscle, by giving you the energy and strength necessary to go that extra mile in the gym.
Therefore, creatine's effects on muscle building are indirect and dependent on your willingness to push yourself during training.
That said, scientific studies support the idea that creatine can help with muscle building.
A 12-week study looked at the effects of creatine in conjunction with resistance training on increasing muscle mass and strength. The group taking creatine saw a 2-3x increase in muscle fibers and an increase in bench press strength, compared to the group who took a placebo.
Therefore, taking creatine can definitely benefit muscle growth, although not directly.
3. Creatine gives you more training energy
Your body's main source of energy is adenosine triphosphate (ATP). When you are using your ATP energy system, the ATP molecules lose a phosphate group turning into adenosine diphosphate (ADP).
This new molecule is useless in terms of energy.
So what does that have to do with creatine?
Through creatine supplementation you are increasing the amount of creatine in your body, which is stored as phosphocreatine. This is when it starts to become useful.
When you exercise and ATP turns into ADP - from a useful energy molecule it becomes a useless molecule - creatine donates a phosphate group to the ADP, turning it back into ATP. Basically, by having a "storage" of creatine, you allow it to replenish the energy molecules faster, which in turn allows you to train harder.
This is why creatine supplementation can be beneficial.
It puts you in a position to gain more strength and muscle mass by allowing you to train harder.
4. Creatine is safe
This supplement is literally the most researched and scientifically backed from all the supplements available. Countless studies have shown creatine is safe and effective short and long term.
There are some misconceptions that it may cause kidney problems or hair loss.
According to multiple scientific studies - like this, this, and this - there is no correlation between taking normal doses of creatine and the development of kidney or liver conditions.
However, to err on the side of caution, you should ask a doctor before taking creatine if you have any preexisting conditions. If not, then you should be good to go so long as you take the normal dose (more on that below).
As far as hair loss is concerned, creatine does not cause it.
However, there is a caveat.
If you are predisposed to hair loss, it may be a good idea to avoid creatine.
Although there is no direct correlation between hair loss and creatine intake, creatine does seem to increase the values of a particular hormone, DHT, which is associated with hair loss. Unfortunately, the research is limited, so we will have to wait for more data before we can draw any conclusions.
5. Creatine improves your brain function
Even though most of the creatine in your body is used by your skeletal muscles, part of it is also used by your kidneys, liver, and brain.
The brain actually uses a lot of ATP reserves. Therefore, getting enough creatine either through your food or supplementation, is paramount for a well functioning brain. With creatine being only available in animal products, vegetarians and vegans need supplementation more than anyone.
So how does creatine improve your brain function?
In one study, vegetarians who took creatine had a 50% memory improvement and scored 20% higher in an intelligence test compared to their results prior to supplementation. This is thought to be largely thanks to an improvement in processing speed.
There is a caveat though.
Taking creatine doesn't seem to improve brain function in those who already have normal stores.
So if you are a vegetarian or vegan, or your diet simply doesn't consist of much animal products, you should consider taking a creatine supplement.
6. Creatine lowers bad cholesterol
Supplementing with creatine has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol - also known as "bad" cholesterol - and increase HDL - also known as "good" cholesterol.
The study consisted of 34 individuals with cholesterol concentrations over 200 mg/dl. They were split into two groups: one group was given 5g of creatine monohydrate plus 1g of glucose, and the other was given a glucose placebo consisting of 6g of glucose. At the end of the study, the group taking creatine saw significant reduction in LDL cholesterol.
There was not much difference in total cholesterol levels though.
Controlling cholesterol levels can benefit your training performance, as well as keeping your heart healthy and preventing cardiovascular disease.
7. Creatine is mild enough for beginners
One of the things you may notice when you start learning more about fitness is that there are plenty of supplements to choose from. Or so it may seem.
In reality, there are only two supplements which are truly beneficial for weight lifting, with a third being recommended yet optional:
We will only focus on creatine for beginners, for the scope of this article.
Being the most studied supplement, with the most reliable results, and no long or short term side effects, creatine is the ideal supplement for beginners. It is the one and only supplement that is going to give you results whether you take it as a beginner or advanced lifter.
And, unlike protein, it is harder to come by from a balanced diet.
8. Creatine has no long or short term side effects
As mentioned before, creatine is the single most studied supplement in the world.
One study examining the long term side effects of creatine supplementation over a period of 4 years found there were no adverse health effects in any of the 26 athletes who participated in the study.
Mind you, there can be some short term effects linked to consuming too much creatine at once.
To be more specific, you may experience stomach upset, vomiting, or nausea if you consume more than 10g of creatine in one serving. Therefore, if you want to do a creatine loading phase where you have to consume 20g of creatine per day, split the dose in 5g servings taken throughout the day.
Doing so will prevent any potential digestive tract issues.
9. Creatine may lower blood glucose levels
If you are a beginner who wants to take creatine to lose weight, you may benefit from one of its properties.
Research suggests that creatine may lower blood glucose levels. In doing so, it may help you on your weight loss journey. When you have high blood glucose levels, your pancreas produces more insulin. This is an issue because your body burns fat when your insulin levels are low.
More research is needed to draw a clear conclusion.
However, taking into account this benefit, as well as the others listed above, maybe you should take creatine as a beginner.
Should beginners take creatine?
Now, even though there are lots of benefits linked to creatine supplementation, some people would argue that beginners won't experience them - especially the ones related to training performance.
In this part of the article, we will look at the arguments for and against creatine for beginners.
The case for creatine for beginners
Those who support this idea believe that creatine works for beginners the same way it does for advanced lifters. To be more precise, it can help beginners exert more effort by giving them extra energy reserves.
Aside from that, there is the added argument that building your creatine reserves takes time - up to a full month - unless you start with a loading phase.
For this reason, those who support the idea that beginners should take creatine believe that the sooner you start supplementation, the sooner you can enjoy the benefits of this supplement.
The case against creatine for beginners
Those who believe beginners shouldn't take creatine argue that, as long as their training and nutrition is on point, beginners will grow at the exact same rate with or without creatine.
The reasoning behind this is pretty simple: newbie gains.
Newbie gains are rapid increases in strength and muscle mass occurring to individuals who have not previously been trained. They are basically rapid adaptations of your body to new stimuli.
The case goes that, as long as you train correctly and consistently, you will have results as a beginner.
And having in mind all of the benefits listed above…
We also believe that beginners don't have to take creatine. We would argue that, in the first 3-6 months of training, beginners will not feel any benefits coming from creatine, as far as training performance is concerned.
However, if you still want to take creatine as a beginner, here's how you should do it...
How to take creatine as a beginner
Whether you are a beginner or advanced athlete, the way you take creatine will stay the same.
The most important thing in terms of creatine supplementation is actually taking it. If you don't skip days and are consistent with your intake, you are doing things 99% correctly.
So how much creatine should you be taking?
How much creatine you take depends on whether you want to start with a loading phase or begin directly at maintenance levels.
Once the loading phase is over, you will follow it up with a maintenance phase.
Should you load? Not necessarily. The only benefit of a loading phase is that you will experience the benefits of creatine faster - within a week - than if you had started with the maintenance dose.
Extensive research has shown that there is no clear benefit between taking creatine pre-workout or post-workout. However, as far as timing is concerned…
It was found that you will experience most creatine benefits if you take it in the proximity of your workout - that means 30 minutes before or after your workout. Whether it is before or after doesn't matter, as long as it's not long before or long after.
Therefore, if you shoot for 30 minutes around your workout, you are golden.
With that said, the most important factor is actually taking your supplement and not forgetting.
The bottom line
So, should beginners take creatine?
We wouldn't say they "should" but they can certainly benefit from it in terms of strength, power, muscle mass, energy, and so on. However, we believe beginners should optimize their training and nutrition before considering supplements.
With that said, there is a chance that in the first 3-6 months creatine won't do much for beginners because the newbie gains will offset the absence of creatine.
All in all, creatine is a great supplement which has been extensively researched and it can only benefit athletes, regardless of their experience in training.
Over to you.