Is Creatine a Must-Take Supplement? Unpacking the Science.

Is Creatine a Must-Take Supplement? Unpacking the Science.

Creatine. It's a word thrown around gyms and locker rooms, whispered among athletes, and a supplement seen lining the shelves of health stores.

But what exactly is creatine, and is it the magic muscle-building potion it's often touted to be? How safe is it to use, and if so, how much? Is it more than just a muscle-building supplement?

Well, thankfully, Dr Darren Candow - a world-leader in all things creatine and creatine-based research, was recently interviewed on The Ready State Podcast.

As it turns out, as one of THE most researched supplements in history, creatine (or more specifically, creatine monohydrate) is the "safest, most effective dietary supplement on the planet." 

So let's summarize what Dr. Candow had to say about the benefits of creatine, how/when to use it, and other highly valuable insights.

Remember: This information is intended for educational purposes only and does not replace direct contact with a healthcare professional. 

For the full podcast please click here:


Who is Dr. Darren Candow?

Dr. Candow is a professor and director of the Aging Muscle and Bone Health Laboratory at the University of Regina, Canada, who essentially stumbled onto creatine while completing research on protein in the late 1990s.

He has published 188 peer-reviewed papers and serves on the editorial review board for the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, Nutrients, and Frontiers.

In short, he is as knowledgable as anyone in the world about creatine.


Is Creatine Well Researched?

Staggeringly, Dr. Candow suggests that creatine has been researched over 1,300 times.

More research is still clearly needed - especially around creatine's impact on disease and dysfunction, but as mentioned above, it remains the "safest, most effective dietary supplement on the planet." 


What is Creatine?

Creatine is a natural compound created by our body via the kidneys, liver, and brain. It's built from protein building blocks (the amino acids arginine, glycine and methionine) we obtain from plant or animal based food - with red meat and seafood some of the best sources.

It is also synthesized in the brain.

Creatine serves as an energy source for cells throughout the body, with 95% stored in muscles and the rest in our bones and brain. Dr. Candow explains that having more creatine allows for better exercise performance.

And while creatine rose to prominence as a muscle-building supplement - which it still is, it should now be considered a "whole body supplement."


What are the Benefits of Creatine?

Creatine is known for building strength, power, and muscle mass. But there's emerging evidence for another key benefit: faster recovery.

Studies suggest creatine can:

  • Reduce post-workout recovery time: This allows athletes to train harder and more frequently without overtraining.
  • Strengthen the immune system: This is especially helpful for endurance athletes who put stress on their immune systems.
  • Minimize muscle breakdown: Creatine seems to have an "anticatabolic effect," helping preserve muscle tissue after exercise.

In short, creatine offers a two-pronged approach: it enhances performance and speeds up recovery, allowing athletes to train harder and more often.

Dr. Candow also suggests that creatine's benefits extend beyond muscle. It also has potential applications for:

  • Type 2 diabetes: Increased muscle mass can help regulate blood sugar.
  • Age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia): Creatine may help combat muscle loss in older adults.
  • Fat loss: Contrary to misconceptions, creatine might actually promote a small decrease in fat mass.
  • Various health conditions: Research suggests creatine may be beneficial for concussions, muscular dystrophy, sleep deprivation, and osteoporosis.

Dr. Candow says that nearly everyone can benefit from creatine supplementation - including children.


How Much Creatine Should You Take?

The amount of creatine you need depends on your individual size and goals. Research suggests that 0.1 gram of creatine per kilogram of body weight is a safe and effective dose for adults.

This means someone weighing 70 kilograms (154 lbs) would take around 7 grams daily.

Dr. Candow referenced three main creatine dosage strategies:

  • Loading Phase (Quick Fix): This is typically used by athletes who need a rapid boost for an upcoming competition. It involves taking 20 grams of creatine per day for 7 days, divided into 4-5 servings.
  • Daily Maintenance: This is a good option for those who want to take creatine for long-term health benefits or for general muscle support. The recommended dose is 3 grams per day, which replenishes the creatine your body naturally uses and loses.
  • Higher Dose for Older Adults: Studies suggest that adults over 50 may benefit from a slightly higher dose (around 0.14 grams per kilogram) due to age-related changes in metabolism.


When Should You Take Creatine?

Dr. Candow suggests you can genuinely take creatine at any time of the day.

However, taking it before, during, or after exercise may better help "recharge and refuel" the body.

For those who love a coffee, research suggests coffee and creatine may oppose one another. With this in mind, Dr. Candow recommended coffee pre-workout and creatine after!


What Should We Take Creatine With?

Instinctively, most people will consider what food or drink to add creatine to to aid absorption, however Dr. Candow suggested something completely different.


Taking creatine around your workout takes advantage of the increased blood flow, which helps shuttle creatine into your muscle tissues more readily.

For completeness, Dr. Candow also suggested combining creatine with protein or carbohydrates. Research suggests both can increase creatine uptake. 

He also mentions that it is important to increase general water consumption to balance out creatine's ability to pull water from our bloodstream into the surrounding cells.


What Type of Creatine is Best?

Dr. Candow didn't hesitate to clarify that creatine "monohydrate" is the most reliable and well-researched form of creatine available.

Creatine monohydrate is easily recognized by the body and nearly identical to what's produced in the liver. This allows our tissue to absorb it more quickly and efficiently.

Dr. Candow also made a point to clarify that other creatine products - often with fancy names and claims, are often just marketing tactics. He stated that for a creatine supplement to be effective, it obviously needs to raise blood creatine levels. However many of these other forms have not been shown to do this effectively, making them potentially useless.

Pleasingly, creatine monohydrate is often the cheapest, safest and obviously most evidence-backed.


Frequently Asked Questions

Here are a few more important considerations covered by Dr. Candow: 


1. Is Creatine Safe?

Described as one of the most researched supplements in history, studies have consistently shown that creatine is safe for long-term use at recommended doses.

There were NO negative effects observed on the kidneys, liver, or cardiovascular system.


2. Does Creatine Cause Weight Gain?

The short answer is yes.

Creatine supplements can cause a temporary increase in weight, but it's mostly due to water retention. This happens because creatine draws water into our muscles.

This initial weight gain is most noticeable during the first week, especially if you're following a creatine loading phase (taking a higher dose for a short period). This phase is common, but not necessary, to see creatine's benefits.

If you would prefer to avoid the rapid weight gain, Dr. Candow suggested taking a lower dose (3 grams per day) and evenly spreading that throughout the day.


3. Does Creatine Cause Gastrointestinal Issues?

Again, the answer is yes, it can.

However, Dr. Candow clarifies that this is often associated with high doses of creatine - usually during a loading phase.

He suggests buffering this with smaller, more frequent doses.


4. Can Creatine Dehydrate Your Muscles?

Dr. Candow explains that creatine actually "super hydrates" muscle tissue by drawing water into the area.

In theory, this should also help to decrease any risk of cramping, especially for athletes exercising in hot environments.


5. Is Creatine Safe For Kids?

"One hundred percent."

Dr. Candow suggests there is strong research on creatine use in children - with little to suggest it isn't just as safe as adult use.

Again, as creatine is naturally synthesized by the body already, he sees no evidence to question the safety of supplementation - especially when creatine is highly involved in brain, muscle and bone development.

Like any good researcher, Dr. Candow admits more research is always needed. But everything is positive thus far.


6. Is Creatine Good For Vegans

Vegans may in fact benefit THE MOST from creatine.

Dr. Candow explains that the best indicator of a person's responsiveness to creatine is existing levels of creatine in the body. The less you have, the more you may likely benefit.

So a vegan who eats no red meat or seafood, may get little creatine from their diet, and therefore respond best to supplementation. Alternatively, someone on the carnivore diet will tend to respond less. 


7.  Is Creatine Helpful For Treating Concussion?

Dr. Candow explains that a concussion "drastically reduces the amount of creatine in the brain."

He noted that concussion research in kids has shown that high doses (0.4 gras per kilogram) "substantially improved" all the post-recovery measures like cognition, speech, and self-care.

Again, more research is needed in this space.


8. Do You Need To Cycle Creatine? 

There is no evidence to suggest you need to cycle creatine.

However, if for some reason you needed to skip taking it, Dr. Candow suggest that creatine stays elevated in our muscles for ~30 days and in the brain for ~90 days after taking it for 4-6 weeks prior.


9. Can Creatine Help With Menopause?

Dr. Candow's research team conducted a long-term study on the effects of exercise and creatine supplementation in postmenopausal women. This was the largest study of its kind, involving over 200 women who participated for two years.

With 0.14 grams per kilogram a day, they found an increase in bone strength (but not density), improved walking speed, and improved lean muscle mass. There were no significant side effects from this high-dose creatine compared to the placebo group.

As was his general message throughout the interview, he recommended prioritizing exercise for bone health and general well-being and use creatine as a potential supplement to enhance the benefits of exercise.


10.  Is It Safe to Take Creatine While Breastfeeding or Pregnant?

Dr. Candow deferred to his colleague Dr. Stacey Ellery - a world-leading researcher on creatine and pregnancy.

At this stage, creatine definitely has promise for improving fetal development and health, but because safety is paramount, more research is needed.


11. Which Supplements Are Actually Research-Backed and Effective?

Staggeringly, Dr Candow suggests that "99% of supplements are useless".

Most are, unfortunately, more marketing spin than beneficial to our health and fitness.

The five supplements he championed were caffeine, creatine, beta-Alanine, sodium bicarbonate, beetroot juice, and logically - protein for recovery.

12. Is Creatine Beneficial Without Exercise?

Importantly, exercise seems to be the key that "unlocks the magic of creatine."

However, Dr. Candow does mention some research in older populations where just creatine alone helps strength and function.

There have also been some improvements noted with cognition and post-concussion without exercise, suggesting creatine may help the majority of people in some way with or without exercise.



Dr. Candow provided as huge amount of helpful, researched-backed insights into the use of creatine.

However, what was most impressive was despite his glowing endorsement of creatine, Dr Candow still made sure to remind us all that at the end of the day creatine is still just a supplement.

It is the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.

Creatine should not replace a well-balanced diet and exercise. But it may have a wonderful ability to enhance the effects of both.

A big thank you to Kelly and Juliet Starrett for having Dr. Candow on their podcast!


For the full podcast please click here:


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