Named after the Greek word kreas, meaning flesh, creatine is an amino acid derivative found in all cells in the body, but is stored primarily in muscle. It plays an important role in tissues where energy levels quickly rise and fall, such as muscle.
Creatine acts as a short sharp burst of recharge for our cells. Creatine also moves energy around the cell, from where it is generated to where it is needed.
As the name suggests, creatine is naturally found in flesh and is acquired through a diet rich in fish, meat and other animal products such as dairy. As creatine is important for all cells to function, our body also makes its own.
A diet containing animal products can account for 50% of daily creatine requirements, with the other 50% being made by the body.
Those on an animal-free diet will naturally have a higher burden placed on the body to meet its entire creatine requirement. However, under normal circumstances, a healthy person can maintain adequate creatine levels even if they choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Why do people take creatine supplements?
Natural and supplemental creatine have the same effect in the body – the concentration of creatine in a supplement is just much higher. This is why athletes often use creatine supplements to help them train and increase muscle performance.
The standard dosing regime for an athlete is an initial dose of 0.3g for each kilogram of body weight per day (so if you’re 60kg you would take 60 x 0.3 = 18g of creatine every day) for a week. Then an ongoing dose would be 0.075g per kg per day (or 4.5g per day for the same 60kg person). When your body reaches the threshold of creatine it can absorb, the excess will come out in urine.
Creatine is also important for brain function, as your brain uses a lot of energy. Some choose to take creatine to help boost alertness, and numerous studies are underway to assess whether creatine supplements might be useful for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and mild depression.
There isn’t enough information about the use of creatine supplementation in children, adolescents and pregnant women, so current guidelines recommend that they don’t take it. Those with pre-existing kidney conditions should also seek professional advice before taking supplements including creatine.
While the supplements are safe for the general public, there is no need to supplement a normal balanced diet with creatine products.