You may have heard of or tried creatine if you are an athlete. Many athletes take creatine monohydrate supplements to help improve athletic performance but did you know there are also natural sources of creatine?
This blog post will give you the inside scoop on natural food sources of creatine, how much creatine to should take, vegan creatine options, and much more!
Plus, we will answer common questions about creatine like “Can teen athletes take creatine?” and “Does creatine cause weight gain?”
Keep reading to learn all about the benefits of creatine, where to find natural sources of creatine, and if your creatine supplement is worth it.
Disclaimer: This post was written and reviewed by Katie Schimmelpfenning, registered dietitian and swim coach. It is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Consult a doctor or dietitian about supplement questions.
Table of Contents
What is creatine?
Creatine is one of the most well-researched sports supplements that may help to improve your high-intensity exercise performance.
The majority of creatine consumed and produced by the body is stored in the muscles as phosphocreatine. The phosphocreatine provides extra energy for your muscles when doing activities such as squatting, sprinting, and HIIT swim workouts.
Creatine helps to replenish adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the cells via the phosphocreatine system. Simply put, creatine plays an important role in energy production that your muscles use during high-intensity activities!
How does the body get creatine?
There are 3 ways the body obtains creatine:
- The body can make creatine! Because creatine is an amino acid derivative, your kidneys, liver, and pancreas can make creatine using the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine.
- You can also increase your creatine levels by eating natural sources of creatine such as animal products. Keep reading to learn about high creatine foods below.
- Creatine supplementation may be another great way to increase your creatine stores! We recommend creatine monohydrate over creatine HCL and creatine ethyl ester nutrition supplements because they are typically less expensive and more researched at this time.
High natural sources of creatine
Because creatine is stored in muscle, animal proteins are the best source of dietary creatine.
However, in the cooking methods used to prepare animal proteins, the cut of meat, and whether the meat is boneless can impact the final creatine content (1).
Dairy products contain less creatine because there is no animal muscle in milk! Check out the highest natural sources of creatine below.
Animal sources of creatine
Check out the highest whole-food natural sources of creatine below: (3)
|Food||Serving||Creatine Content (g)|
|Herring||4 oz||0.75 – 1.1|
|Shrimp||4 oz||Trace amounts|
Herring is a great source of creatine and fatty acids both of which support brain function!
Natural sources of creatine for vegans
Plant-based foods such as grains and vegetables have very small, trace amounts of creatine.
However, since creatine is made in the body using glycine, arginine, and methionine we are sharing plant-based foods with these amino acids to help the body make creatine.
Check out these vegan foods that can help with creatine production:
- Pumpkin seeds: 1 cup is just shy of 7 grams of arginine! These make for a great added crunch on salads and soups (4).
- Sesame seeds: provide all three amino acids needed to make creatine in the body (5).
- Quinoa: 1 cup of cooked quinoa will boost the glycine and arginine on your plate (6).
- White beans: are an excellent way to increase fiber and plant-based protein, they contain all 8 essential amino acids but very little methionine.
Natural sources of creatine vs creatine supplements
Since creatine can be made by the body and is found in whole foods are creatine supplements worth it?
For athletes seeking performance-enhancing benefits, the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends 3-5 g of creatine per day (7).
The body is capable of producing 1-2 grams of creatine per day. But, as you can see from the table above it would take eating a whole pound of beef to reach ~1 g of creatine which is a higher creatine food!
Therefore, for an athlete, especially vegan and vegetarian athletes, to reach 3-5 g of creatine per day, we recommend help from a creatine monohydrate powder supplementation. One scoop is typically equivalent to ~5g of creatine monohydrate.
Creatine for plant-based athletes
Research has found that plant-based athletes have 26% lower creatine levels in comparison to meat-eating athletes (8). This is because creatine comes from muscle and plant foods do not have muscle (thankfully, HA buff broccoli anyone?).
Thankfully, creatine supplementation can help vegan and vegetarian athletes build strength and muscle! One study even found that it improved the short-term memory of vegetarians supplementing creatine (9).
Read on to learn more about the benefits of creatine.
9 Benefits of creatine supplementation
There are many potential health benefits of creatine supplementation such as:
- Increased Strength: Enhances the capacity for high-intensity, strength-based exercises.
- Increased Muscle Mass: Facilitates muscle growth by supporting protein synthesis.
- Improved Exercise Performance: Delays the onset of muscle fatigue, leading to better overall performance in various physical activities.
- Enhanced Recovery: Speeds up the recovery process after intense exercise, reducing muscle soreness.
- Improved Sprint Performance: Particularly beneficial for short bursts of high-intensity activities.
- Brain Health Support: Shows potential neuroprotective effects and may support cognitive function by improving short-term memory and mental intelligence (10)!
- Potential for Neurodegenerative Diseases: Under investigation for its possible role in mitigating the progression of conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Safe and Well-Tolerated: Generally considered safe with minimal side effects for most individuals.
- Versatility: Suitable for a range of individuals, from athletes and bodybuilders to those seeking general fitness improvements and even older adults!
FAQs about creatine supplements
Read our answers to frequently asked questions and common misconceptions about creatine monohydrate supplements below!
Is creatine safe for teen athletes?
So far, research has supported that creatine appears to be both safe and effective for teen swimmers and teen soccer players (11)! There have not been studies reporting adverse effects of creatine supplementation for teen athletes. However, continued extensive research is needed for the safety of creatine use for teens.
We recommend teens and their parents speak with a doctor if they are interested in starting a creatine monohydrate supplement.
Does creatine cause balding?
Can creatine supplements damage kidneys?
Per the most recent studies and the International Society of Sports Nutrition, creatine does not cause kidney dysfunction or kidney damage. However, someone with impaired kidney function or kidney disease should likely avoid creatine supplementation (13).
Does creatine cause muscle cramps?
Studies that previously reported muscle cramps with creatine supplementation failed to control for the dose of creatine used as well as other supplements. In fact, 90% of the studies’ participants exceeded the recommended creatine dose of 5 grams per day (14).
This highlights the importance that extra creatine is not necessarily better! More recent research has since supported that creatine may actually prevent muscle cramps and support muscle contractions (15).
Are creatine supplements vegan?
Yes, creatine in supplement form is not sourced from animal products and it is usually vegan. Creatine monohydrate supplementation can be extremely beneficial for vegan athletes. Always double-check before consuming a product that it meets your dietary needs.
Should I take creatine before or after a workout?
At this time further research is needed to say for sure whether it’s best to consume creatine pre or post-workout. However, this research study by the International Society of Sports Nutrition post-workout creatine may be better for post-workout gains (16).
Is creatine loading necessary?
The International Olympic Committee reports that there is strong evidence to support that a creatine loading phase of ~20g of creatine monohydrate per day (spread out in 4-5 doses through the day) for 5-7 days followed by a maintenance phase of 3-5 grams of creatine per day may benefit high-intensity exercise performance (17).
However, in 2021 the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that “Smaller, daily dosages of creatine supplementation (3-5 g or 0.1 g/kg of body mass) are effective. Therefore, a creatine ‘loading’ phase is not required (18).”
Therefore, at this time we recommend working with a registered dietitian to learn if creatine loading is necessary for you.
Does creatine cause weight gain?
Creatine can lead to weight gain; however, the amount varies. When using the initial 1 week of loading ~20-25 g of creatine for 5-7 days followed by a maintenance creatine dose of 3-5 g for 28 days the weight gain varied from 1- 8 lbs (19).
Skipping the loading phase can prevent rapid weight gain and other potential negative side effects such as bloating and gastrointestinal upset (20).
Combined with nutrition and resistance training, long-term weight gain from creatine supplementation is not from fat mass but from muscle mass and water retention.
Creatine monohydrate supplements to consider
*Note, this section includes affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Before starting a new supplement talk to your doctor or dietitian.
We recommend athletes use powdered creatine monohydrate supplements that are NSF-certified for sport or Informed sport certified such as (ranked by price per oz from low to high):
The bottom line
Animal-based products such as red meat, fish, and poultry are the best natural sources of creatine. Plant-based foods contain the amino acids needed by the body to make creatine but very minimal creatine on their own.
Natural food sources of creatine may not be enough for athletes seeking to reap the potential performance-enhancing benefits of creatine!
If you are looking for a way to improve your high-intensity athletic performance, talk to your dietitian or doctor about trying a creatine monohydrate nutrition supplement.
Katie Schimmelpfenning RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, USA Swim Coach, and former Division 1 swimmer. She helps competitive swimmers fuel and train to optimize performance, recover faster, and prevent injury! She is passionate about spreading evidence-based nutrtion tips to help swimmers across the globe.