- Creatine supplements can help you work out harder and for longer and shed fat, according to studies.
- Our experts agree powdered creatine monohydrate supplements are the best option.
- The right creatine supplement for you depends on your goals, needs, and budget.
Creatine is one of the most popular workout supplements – but it’s also one of the most well-proven supplements to improve sprint performance, maximal strength and power, and lean body mass, explains Angie Asche, RD, CSSD, founder of Eleat Sports Nutrition and author of Fuel Your Body: How to Cook and Eat for Peak Performance.
“Any athlete or active person who is consistently training at high intensities may benefit from creatine supplementation,” Asche added. What’s more, a large 2017 study analysis found creatine is safe to take both short and long-term (up to 5 years).
Creatine is found in our muscle cells, and it’s instrumental in producing the energy our bodies run on (called ATP), especially for an intense workout, explains Martin MacDonald, PgCert, PgDip, a clinical performance nutritionist and director of Mac-Nutrition. Your muscles will take longer to fatigue, so over time that can add up to performance and muscle gains, says both MacDonald and plenty of studies.
In addition to letting you work out harder, for longer, it’s also helpful for retaining muscle mass if you’re recovering from an injury, and for vegans and vegetarians who tend to have lower phosphocreatine stores, Asche adds.
For more info on how much creatine you should take, potential side effects, and more, jump to the bottom of this guide.
Here are the best creatine supplements
- Best creatine supplement overall: Optimum Nutrition Micronized Creatine Monohydrate Powder, Unflavored
- Best creatine supplement made with Creapure: Muscle Feast Creapure Creatine Monohydrate Powder
- Best creatine supplement for athletes: Thorne Research Creatine
- Best hypoallergenic creatine supplement: Pure Encapsulations Creatine Powder
- Best quick-dissolving creatine supplement: Bodylogix Creatine Monohydrate Powder
What we like: 240 servings per tub, pure creatine monohydrate
Check out the label of Optimum Nutrition’s Micronized Creatine Monohydrate Powder, and you’ll see that it lists just one ingredient: creatine monohydrate. According to the experts we interviewed for this article, that’s a major plus because you don’t want or need anything else in your creatine supplement. Unlike other creatine powders on the market, this one should last you for several months because it contains 240 5-gram servings, and at a really reasonable price. Because it’s micronized (processed to improve solubility), this supplement dissolves easily in water, juice, or any other liquid. The only potential downside is that the tub doesn’t come with its own scooper. That said, you can use a rounded teaspoon as a serving size.
The best creatine supplement made with Creapure
What we like: Main ingredient comes from a reputable manufacturer, certified vegan
When it comes to supplements, ensuring they contain what they say they do is a major concern, as the FDA doesn’t measure the effectiveness, safety, or purity of nutritional supplements. That’s why many people opt for creatine supplements made using Creapure, a pure form of creatine monohydrate made in Germany. There are several different supplement brands that use Creapure in their creatine supplements, and Muscle Feast’s version is among the best. Not only is it a great value with 168 servings in a tub, but it was also recently certified as a vegan product. This product isn’t micronized, but it still dissolves well in liquids and is flavorless, so you won’t notice it whatever drink you mix it with.
The best creatine for athletes
What we like: High quality standards, NSF certified
Supplement purity is especially important for athletes, who can be disqualified from competing if they test positive for any banned substances. Sometimes, athletes aren’t aware of banned substances that are in their nutritional supplements. Though that might not seem like a common occurrence, it can happen.
Thorne Research’s unflavored creatine is a top pick for athletes because of the rigorous quality testing it undergoes. Thorne tests all their supplements in-house four times for quality, purity, and stability. Plus, this creatine supplement is NSF Certified for Sport, which is one of the top third-party supplement certifications. This mark essentially means the supplement doesn’t contain any banned substances, and that what’s on the label matches what’s actually in the product. Thorne also uses Creapure as the main ingredient, which means you can count on the creatine being high quality and easily mixable.
The best hypoallergenic creatine supplement
What we like: Free from unnecessary fillers, well-regarded manufacturer
If you have a milk, soy, egg, or wheat allergy, it can be tricky to find the right creatine supplement, as some manufacturers can’t guarantee that their products won’t contain traces of these allergens. This is particularly true for brands that make protein powders that use these ingredients. Pure Encapsulations prides itself on being safe for those with food allergies, and is well-known in the supplement space for being a reliable source of high-quality supplements. This unflavored creatine powder is made up of 100 percent creatine monohydrate, is certified gluten-free, and is free from unnecessary binders, fillers, and preservatives. It clocks in at 4 grams of creatine per serving and is available in two tub sizes (8.8 ounces and 17.6 ounces).
The best quick-dissolving creatine supplement
What we like: Mixes seamlessly, NSF certified
For some people, a gritty texture makes it really difficult to get their creatine supplement down. Micronized creatine goes through extra processing to make it more easily dissolvable, so if this is a concern, it’s best to opt for a supplement that clearly states it’s micronized. Bodylogix’s version is unflavored, NSF Certified for Sport, and made from pure creatine monohydrate. The tub comes with 60 servings, or enough to last at least a couple of months. Those who don’t want any fillers in their supplements will be glad to know this product doesn’t contain any dyes, additives, preservatives, colors, flavors, or sweeteners.
About creatine supplements
How much creatine should you take?
The common advice you’ll hear on creatine dosage is to take 5 grams of creatine per day. That dosage will work, MacDonald says, but there is a more efficient way to ensure your muscles are saturated with creatine.
“The fastest way to saturate the muscle with creatine is to consume 20g or ~0.3 grams per kg of body weight a day of creatine monohydrate for seven days,” MacDonald says. So if you weigh 60kg (132 pounds), you’d take 18 grams of creatine per day for a week. MacDonald recommends splitting this across 4 doses a day to reduce the chances of GI distress.
After seven days, you can go down to a maintenance dose that is one-tenth of this (0.03 grams/kg of body weight per day). So using the 60kg person example, that’d be 1.8 grams a day. There’s no harm in taking the standard dose of 5 grams a day, MacDonald says, but you don’t need that much to maintain your levels.
Are there any side effects of taking creatine?
As mentioned above, higher doses of creatine (more than 5 grams at a time) may cause digestive discomfort. Also, don’t be surprised if you see the scale jump right after you start taking creatine. It can cause water weight gain due to your muscles holding more water than usual. But in terms of your health, studies have shown that you can safely take up to 30g per day for at least 5 years.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t take creatine?
Experts emphasize that overall, creatine is a safe supplement to take. “The only caution worth mentioning is in those who have pre-existing issues with their kidneys,” MacDonald says. If you have any kidney problems, it’s smart to check in with your doctor before starting creatine. Also, those on medication should always check with their doctor before use, Vichill adds.
How long should you take creatine supplements?
You can take creatine indefinitely. “In fact, long-term supplementation has been shown to have lasting improvements on performance, and a positive effect on lean body mass over time,” Asche says.
Do you need to cycle creatine doses?
You may see recommendations about cycling creatine, for example, supplementing for 12 weeks and then taking 4 weeks off. The rationale behind this was that since we produce less of our own creatine when supplementing, it’d be smart to give your body a break to “recover” and start producing more creatine again. But this advice is outdated and unnecessary, MacDonald says. “While we produce less creatine in our bodies when we supplement, it goes straight back up whenever we stop taking creatine.”
What types of fitness goals does supplementing with creatine make sense for?
Supplementing with creatine makes the most sense for people who want to improve their athletic performance, maintain muscle mass (including after injury), or gain muscle mass. If you’re trying to cut significant weight, for example, there may be no point in supplementing with creatine, says Abby Vichill, MS, RDN, LD, founder of FWDfuel Sports Nutrition.
It’s also worth noting that creatine needs to be combined with proper training and nutrition for best results. Simply taking creatine without eating a diet to support lean muscle gain, or without training in the right capacity, will not cause your performance or results to magically shoot through the roof, Vichill says.
Are there any other benefits to taking creatine?
Aside from creatine’s athletic performance and muscle gain benefits, there have been a host of discoveries relating to health and the use of creatine, according to MacDonald. Creatine is also found in the brain, and research in young children with traumatic brain injury has shown creatine may help reduce the post-traumatic amnesia, the time needed in an intensive care unit, and the time needed for recovery of communication and locomotion, MacDonald says. “This has led to current research on creatine use in sports that lead to regular concussions such as rugby and boxing.” Similarly, some research shows there may be some promise in the use of creatine to benefit other brain concerns such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
What to consider when buying creatine supplements
According to nutrition pros, there are only a few key things to look for when buying a creatine supplement.
First and foremost, you want to get creatine monohydrate. “There are many many different versions of creatine out there, all touted as having superior benefits,” MacDonald says. “However, monohydrate is the most well-studied version of creatine, and other versions have yet to show any extra benefit in the research.”
You also want a supplement that’s purely creatine monohydrate, with no other ingredients. “My advice would be to get a product that says ‘Ingredients: 100% Creatine Monohydrate’ and nothing else,” MacDonald notes. These products will be flavorless, so they can be added to any non-caffeinated drink (caffeine may interfere with creatine’s effects), or even sprinkled on top of your cereal.
Both MacDonald and Vichill recommend powdered creatine over pills, as it’s easier to adjust your dose and generally less expensive.
Lastly, you’ll ideally want to look for a creatine supplement that’s certified by a third-party organization such as NSF or Informed Sport. This is because supplements are not regulated as closely as food products. “Creatine supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and thus may contain contaminants or discrepancies in quantity or quality,” explains Ashley Nader, RD. “Whether you’re an athlete or not, look for a third certification,” she advises. This ensures that what’s inside the package matches with what’s on the label.
Because the safety and efficacy of anything you put inside your body is incredibly important, we thoroughly researched both creatine as a supplement and the specific brands we recommend here. That included speaking to a handful of experts, namely:
- Angie Asche MS, RD, CSSD, founder of Eleat Sports Nutrition and author of Fuel Your Body: How to Cook and Eat for Peak Performance
- Martin MacDonald, MSc, PgCert, PgDip, a clinical performance nutritionist and director of Mac-Nutrition
- Abby Vichill, MS, RDN, LD, founder of FWDfuel Sports Nutrition
- Ashley Nader, RD, founder of Be Well By Ashley