What does creatine do to build muscle?

Man mixes a fitness preparation.

Some athletes resort to preparations containing creatine. What’s the point?
Dietary supplements with creatine are intended to help you build muscle quickly. However, this only works in certain cases.

If you want to build muscle mass and strength and/or improve your endurance, you may come across one or two nutritional supplements – including products with creatine. There are numerous suppliers on the Internet who sell creatine as powder, in capsules or in other dosage forms. But what does creatine really do? And: What are the dangers of taking it?

What is creatine?

Creatine (creatine) is a compound of carbon and nitrogen that the body can produce itself. This happens primarily in the liver, kidneys and pancreas with the help of the amino acids glycine, arginine and methionine. People also absorb creatine through meat and fish. Meat with little connective tissue is particularly rich in creatine. However, it is hardly contained in plants.

Creatine influences muscle building and muscle performance. It is involved in the energy metabolism of skeletal muscles and plays a particularly important role when it comes to short-term, intensive strain on muscles.

In muscle cells, creatine is largely found in the form of an energy-rich phosphate compound: creatine phosphate. During a short, intense exercise, the creatine phosphate is broken down and energy is released. This helps the muscles to achieve peak performance for a short time. Creatine is also said to have a muscle-regenerating and muscle-building effect. If there is a lot of creatine in the muscle cells, the muscles do not get tired so quickly during short and intense exercise.

Due to these properties, it is reasonable to assume that creatine in the form of dietary supplements can be useful in sports . But what good does that really do?

What does creatine do?

Creatine can be helpful for increasing performance during quick and short-term exercise. However, how effective preparations containing creatine are in each individual case depends on various factors – such as the dose, diet, type of sport, age or general fitness of the person. For example, untrained people can expect more positive effects than trained people.

Since the body produces creatine itself and it is also contained in meat and fish, it is usually not necessary to take supplements in order to be adequately supplied. This also applies to athletes.

An exception can be those who practice sports and eat a vegetarian or vegan diet. You may be able to benefit from supplementation and increase your muscle mass. However, this does not mean that vegetarians are deficient and should always take additional creatine. Rather, the body basically produces enough creatine – even without consuming meat and fish.

Buying creatine: What you should pay attention to

Those interested should consider a few things before purchasing. Basically, you should only get creatine from reputable sources. If the source is unknown or appears dubious, we strongly advise against purchasing it: then there is a risk that the product may contain banned additives or impurities such as heavy metals.

The combination in which the creatine is offered also plays a role. It is usually something called creatine monohydrate. Studies indicate that creatine in this compound can increase performance. However, this has not yet been proven for other compounds, such as those with malate, citrate, pyruvate or esters. It is therefore advisable to only use creatine monohydrate, if at all.

Risks and side effects

If you want to take creatine supplements, you should seek medical advice beforehand to be on the safe side. Athletes should have themselves checked regularly during the intake phase. Creatine is not suitable for children and adolescents.

Side effects when doses are too high

Excessive amounts of creatine can lead to side effects such as vomiting and diarrhea. Organs such as the liver, kidneys or brain may also be damaged. Even powder that is not well dissolved can have such undesirable effects. There is also evidence that the body produces less of its own creatine if it is taken as a dietary supplement over a longer period of time.

Risk of injury due to water retention

In the course of increased muscle building, increased amounts of water accumulate in the muscle cells when creatine is taken for a long time and/or in high doses. This causes your body weight to increase by around two kilograms. The risk of injury also increases because the water retention increases the pressure in the muscle cells.


When asked “What does creatine do?” What matters most is which person wants to take creatine as a dietary supplement. Normally it is not necessary to supplement with creatine. Additional creatine may be useful for athletes who do not eat fish or meat and want to increase their performance.


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