Here is my experience using creatine to get stronger, what it is, how it works, and the evidence supporting its efficacy.
High performance athletes are always looking for an edge that can help them beat their competition. They try better training techniques, better diets, better supplements, better sleep habits, and some have even resorted to illegal and dangerous drugs. All in an attempt to run faster, jump higher, or be stronger than their competitor.
However, there is one supplement that is not a drug, is not a steroid, is not a vitamin, is totally safe, and has been proven to be highly effective at improving high intensity exercise and building muscle.
It’s called creatine monohydrate (I’ll refer to it as just “creatine” in the rest of this article).
Here’s another great thing about creatine. Researchers have now found that creatine might have a significant beneficial use in improving the health of older people. The current research literature shows that creatine will significantly improve muscle mass and strength in men and women greater than 50 years old.
I’m 65 years old, and if you tell me that there’s a totally safe, relatively inexpensive supplement that will allow me to run faster, jump higher, or be stronger, well then, I’m all in for that.
There is one caveat though. It only works if you engage in strength training.
(Please note that links to products in this article are affiliate links which means I’ll earn a small commission if you buy through the link with no extra cost to you. Thank you!)
What, you don’t strength train?
Me: Oh, you don’t engage in strength training?
You: No, but I’m thinking about it.
Me: How old are you?
Me: Do you know that if you’re over the age of 35, you’ll lose about 3% – 5% of muscle every decade? Even worse, you could lose 4% of your strength per year.
Here’s the danger. Muscle is the organ of longevity. Without good muscle, your odds of early frailty and the chronic diseases of aging increase greatly.
Okay, enough of that. You can read my recent posts on why EVERYONE, unless your doctor says you can’t, should be doing some kind of resistance training to build up good muscle.
If you are building muscle by doing some kind of resistance training, then creatine is going to take your muscle and health to the next level.
In this post, I’ll briefly relate my experience with creatine, tell you what it is, how it works, give you the evidence supporting its efficacy, tell you how to take it, and then present some common misconceptions.
My experience with creatine
I’m 65 years old, and I’ve been strength training for 7.5 years. When I started training, I had recovered about 90% from a 25-year struggle with severe chronic fatigue syndrome. Needless to say I was a weak 57-year-old.
I did do some training when I was in my late twenties, but I was never considered a naturally strong person. I was what some people would call a hard gainer.
About four months ago, I started to supplement with creatine. Since then, I have set personal bests in the overhead press and bench press. My deadlifts are also getting to where they were a few years ago, albeit I was younger then and at a heavier body weight.
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I’m literally getting stronger at 65 years old!!!
My own experimentation with creatine has found the hype to be true. I have gotten stronger, which means I can jump higher and run faster if I wanted to.
What is creatine monohydrate?
Creatine is a compound synthesized from three amino acids: arginine, glycine, and methionine. Your body naturally produces creatine, and it is formed in the liver and kidneys.
The building blocks for creatine come mainly from beef, pork, and fish consumed in your diet. Your body produces about 2 grams of creatine per day. Since creatine is used up by your body everyday, you have to continue enough of the previously mentioned foods everyday.
Most of your creatine is stored in muscle tissue.
How does creatine work?
Creatine facilitates the recycling of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), primarily in muscle and brain tissue. ATP basically provides energy to drive many processes in cells like muscle contractions and nerve impulses.
Now here’s something important. Researchers have found that higher levels of creatine will improve ATP efficiency that will allow for improved high intensity exercise capacity.
So it’s theorized that if your muscles become more efficient because of better energy supplied, an individual can train with higher volumes during resistance training sessions. Thus, a higher load on a muscle will eventually cause adaptation, leading to increased strength.
Another way in which creatine works may be by causing cell swelling through increased water via osmosis. This in turn may activate protein synthesis within muscle fibers.
Let’s look at some of the data that shows that creatine can increase muscle mass, strength, bone health, and decrease inflammation in older individuals who strength train.
Evidence supporting the muscle improving effects of creatine in older people
In 2013, a meta-analysis involving 357 older individuals with an average age of 63.6 years was reviewed.
It revealed that individuals who took creatine and did resistance training (RT) for an average of 12.6 weeks showed a greater increase “total body mass and fat-free mass with no effect on fat mass as compared with RT alone.”
Also, the creatine + RT group showed “increased chest press and leg press one-repetition maximum to a greater extent than RT alone.”
The reviewers do note that it’s difficult to analyze the data and form absolute conclusions because of different RT protocols.
However, they do conclude that,
“The results from this meta-analysis are encouraging in supporting a role for creatine supplementation during RT in healthful aging by enhancing muscle mass gain, strength, and functional per-formance over RT alone.”
Another analysis on the effectiveness of creatine when combined with RT among older people was performed in 2017.
The review included 721 participants, both men and women, with a mean age of 57–70 years, randomized to receive creatine supplementation or placebo. RT was performed 2–3 days/week for 7–52 weeks.
Individuals with chronic conditions (e.g., osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Parkinson’s disease, and type 2 diabetes were excluded.)
The review found that the creatine-supplemented groups had significantly greater increases for lean tissue mass, chest press strength, and leg press strength.
The reviewers concluded,
“The important outcome from this meta-analysis is that creatine supplementation during resistance training results in ~1.4 kg greater increase in lean tissue mass than when placebo is consumed, and this translates to significantly greater increases in upper body (ie, chest press) and lower body (ie, leg press) strength in older adults.”
This recent meta-analysis of over 500 individuals confirms what the previous two meta-analyses found. Creatine supplementation with RT significantly increased lean tissue mass, chest press strength, and leg press strength as opposed to RT without creatine.
The analysis went into some detail on optimal amounts of creatine that should be consumed for maximal improvement. I’ll cover that a little later in the post.
Creatine Supplementation Plus RT In Older Women
There is not a lot of studies done concerning specific older women and creatine supplementation. It appears that there is a sex specific difference in creatine storage between men and women.
“Females may have higher intramuscular creatine stores (at rest), which may blunt their responsiveness to exogenous creatine, thus they do not appear to experience reductions in muscle protein catabolism (compared to males).”
Nonetheless, a 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis by Candow et al. which included 211 women (>60 years old) concluded that,
“Older females supplementing with Cr experience significant gains in muscle strength, especially when RT lasts for at least 24 weeks in duration.”
They do point out, however, that, “given the level of evidence, future high-quality studies are needed to confirm these findings.”
Okay, it’s pretty clear that supplementing with creatine is going to get you greater gains when resistance training.
But does supplementing with creatine provide benefits to other parts of your body?
Creatine Supplementation And The Brain
Several studies have reported “significant improvements in some aspect of cognitive processing following creatine monohydrate supplementation.”
Researchers believe that the mechanism for this is improving ATP function, thus increasing energy supply to the brain.
There have only been a few studies done concerning creatine supplementation and older individuals. However, there is some evidence that creatine does improve cognitive performance.
Creatine Supplementation And Bone Health.
There is some evidence that creatine supplementation and resistance training for over a year may have some beneficial effect on bone health.
Creatine’s Possible Anti-Inflammatory Benefits
Low-grade inflammation is a characteristic of the aging process. Many longevity researchers have called this process inflam-aging.
So a key longevity strategy is to eliminate as much inflammation in your body as possible.
There is some evidence in animal studies that creatine supplementation has reduced some markers of inflammation.
Researchers have also found that creatine will reduce inflammation caused by some aerobic activities like swimming, soccer, or running. But they have not found that it reduces the inflammation caused by strength training.
Overall, researchers feel there needs to be more investigation into this aspect of creatine. See here.
Is creatine effective for women?
As I mentioned before, women may have greater intramuscular creatine than men. This could be the reason women don’t show the amount of improvements men experience with creatine supplementation.
However, from the study above, we know that older women do respond well to creatine when combined with strength training.
Nonetheless, the top creatine researchers determined that,
“In summary, there is accumulating evidence that creatine supplementation has the potential to be a multifactorial therapeutic intervention across the lifespan in females, with little to no side effects.”
The research concerning creatine and women presented in the above linked article is informative and well worth reading.
How much creatine should you take?
This recent 2021 meta-analysis on creatine dosage found that,
“…older adults wanting to improve whole-body lean tissue mass and strength may expect these benefits from creatine supplementation (i.e., ≥5 g) either daily or only on training days during a resistance training program.”
The analysis also found that individuals suffering from sarcopenia or frailty might benefit by taking a loading dose of ≥20 g/day for 5–7 days.
I personally take 5/d. I add the creatine powder to my whey smoothie. It’s an established fact that protein absorption is attenuated in older people. While I don’t know if this applies to creatine, at 65-years-old, I’ll err on the higher side.
Competitive athletes, who may desire to get their creatine saturation up quickly, also often engage in a loading phase. This strategy would be oral creatine for 5–7 days with a dosage of 20–25 g/day, often divided into smaller doses throughout the day (e.g., four to five, 5 g servings/day). Then a maintenance dosage of 3-5g/day.
Does creatine have adverse effects? (And Other Common Questions)
Okay, it sounds like creatine is too good to be true. Things usually are when they have these kinds of benefits. But not with creatine. It appears that there are no short term or long term severe adverse reactions.
There has been some speculation that creatine is an anabolic steroid or that it causes hair loss or that it causes kidney damage.
These are all untrue.
Dr. Jose Antonio and other top researchers involved with creatine research have presented a thorough analysis debunking the creatine myths. Their 2021 study includes evidence-based scientific evaluation of the current literature. See here.
Here is a summation of their conclusions. All of them are backed up with links to current research.
(1). Creatine supplementation does not always lead to water retention.
(2). Creatine is not an anabolic steroid.
(3). Creatine supplementation, when ingested at recommended dosages, does not result in kidney damage and/or renal dysfunction in healthy individuals.
(4). The majority of available evidence does not support a link between creatine supplementation and hair loss / baldness.
(5). Creatine supplementation does not cause dehydration or muscle cramping.
(6). Creatine supplementation appears to be generally safe and potentially beneficial for children and adolescents.
(7). Creatine supplementation does not increase fat mass.
(8). 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.
(9). Creatine supplementation and resistance training produces the vast majority of musculoskeletal and performance benefits in older adults. Creatine supplementation alone can provide some muscle and performance benefits for older adults.
(10). Creatine supplementation can be beneficial for a variety of athletic and sporting activities.
(11). Creatine supplementation provides a variety of benefits for females across their lifespan.
(12). Other forms of creatine are not superior to creatine monohydrate.
Also the International Society of Sports Nutrition has taken a very favorable stand on creatine supplementation. You can read their position here.
Okay, it seems that no matter what age you are and you are strength training, creatine supplementation is going to improve your strength and muscle even more. There may even be other health benefits included. This longevity hack really is a no brainer.
Of course, before you take any supplement, check with your doctor to make sure it is okay for you.
If you’re not strength training, you should be. See my post on how to get started: How To Start Strength Training Over 40.
That’s it for today. Blessings until next time.
Read this next
- How I’m Using Creatine To Get Stronger - February 17, 2022
- How to Set Up a Home Gym: A Look at Our Garage Gym - January 26, 2022
- 65 Years Old And Getting Stronger: How We’re Doing It! - January 20, 2022
- If You’re Over 40 You’re Probably Losing Strength. You Must Deal With It Now! - January 4, 2022
- Get A Good Grip: How Your Hand Grip Strength Predicts Longevity - August 17, 2021