Creatine: Even More Important for Brain Than Muscle?

If you’ve been working out or going to a gym for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of creatine. With tons of scientific support, creatine is highly acclaimed as a key supplement when the primary goal is to build muscle. But forget about muscle for a second. Creatine may actually be more important for your brain than it is for your muscles. That’s right, creatine is likely an important supplement whether you’re a fitness junkie or not!  In fact, creatine is being studied earnestly in anti-aging medicine as a means to protect your brain from degenerative damage and disease. And those types of changes that damage the brain (surprisingly) can start at an early age.

What is Creatine?

Creatine is an amino acid that is found in our bodies, primarily in muscle and brain tissue. We get a lot of our creatine from seafoods and red meat, however our bodies can also synthesize it (mostly in the liver and kidneys). In simple terms, creatine provides our cells with a greater reservoir of energy that we can access when needed.

Old News: Creatine for Strength and Performance

Because of its ability to increase cellular energy capacity, this translates to better muscle endurance, better motor unit recruitment (strength), and greater overall anaerobic capacity. Put these together, and you’re likely to make significant gains in lean body mass.

Anecdotally, creatine supplementation also causes you to hold more water in your muscles, which can actually help to improve your recovery from training and reduce overall muscle soreness.

Creatine for Brain Power and Protection

The discussion of creatine and the brain is really what’s new and noteworthy. Research on the effects of creatine on brain health is quickly accumulating, as studies have confirmed that it can help prevent the cellular degeneration linked to age-related diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and stroke. Research studies have indicated that creatine can also protect from brain cell damage caused by a lack of oxygen, by preventing ATP (energy) depletion, and reducing structural damage to the affected brain cells. This has greatly increased medical interest in creatine supplementation when it comes to traumatic brain injury, as well as degenerative processes.

However, creatine doesn’t just fight brain disease, it also supports optimal cognitive function. Studies show that creatine supplementation improves short-term memory, critical thinking and reasoning, and general cognitive performance, particularly in times of stress or sleep deprivation.

There is no arguing that brain health and function is crucial, so this research suggests that creatine may have much broader use than for athletes training to build muscle.

What Type of Creatine is Best?

There are many variants of creatine supplements, many of which tout an added benefit or reason for better suiting certain individuals. That being said, the vast majority of research studies (which show that creatine is effective) focus on creatine monohydrate. This is the most popular, available, and affordable form of creatine––check out CreaLean by Labrada Nutrition for a great example of a creatine monohydrate supplement.

How to Use – Dosage and Timing

Honestly, the bottom line is that you should take your creatine. There is little evidence to support a claim about an ideal time of day to take it, with a meal, or without a meal. Another once popular conversation involved the idea of creatine loading. Some argued that there were added benefits of taking larger daily doses when first starting creatine before eventually converting to a standard dosage. Whether you load with creatine or not, your body and cells will eventually become saturated with the supplement and you will get the desired benefits. I wouldn’t overthink it! Five grams per day is a commonly used amount for most people to support healthy brain and muscle cells. It is key to note however that if you have kidney disease, doses of creatine should be avoided altogether. However, as with all supplementation, it is best to contact your doctor first before beginning to take a new product.

About the Author: Brett Deters

Brett is a second-year medical school student who has been training and living a fit lifestyle his entire life. He holds an advanced belt in Brazilian Jiu Jiutsu and has been published multiple times in scientific, peer reviewed journals. Brett is the son of former editor-in-chief of Muscle & Fitness magazine, Dr. Tom Deters.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.