Creatine, best known for its ability to build muscle and enhance athletic performance, is also critical for digestion, mental health, protecting your hearing, and keeping your skin vibrant and youthful. This page provides supplement recommendations and a searchable database of the creatine content of 140 foods.
Who Needs Creatine?
Creatine is one of the most effective supplements at supporting athletic performance ever studied. But creatine isn’t just for athletes. It’s for everyone.
Most of us have about 120 grams of creatine in our body and lose two or three grams a day in the urine as it degrades to a closely related compound, creatinine. To make up for this, we synthesize an equal amount of creatine every day.
We also obtain creatine from food. If we were to eat one to two pounds of meat per day, as many hunter-gatherer groups did, we would obtain all this creatine from our diet rather than having to synthesize it. Most of us eat less creatine than this, though, and you can estimate how much you eat using the food database below.
Why Creatine Is So Important
Creatine is needed to recycle ATP, the fundamental unit of energy we use in all of our cells. Creatine is best studied in the context of sports performance, where it has been shown in scientific studies to improve weight lifting, cycling, jumping, sprinting, and swimming.
While 90% of creatine is found in our muscles, it is also found in high concentrations wherever there is high demand for energy:
- In sperm, creatine provides the power used to flip the tail and swim up the vaginal canal. This suggests that creatine is important to male fertility.
- In our eyes, creatine provides the power needed to translate light and darkness into the electrical signals that generate vision once integrated within our brains. This suggests that creatine is important to healthy vision.
- In the hairs of our inner ear, creatine provides the power needed for high-sensitivity hearing, balance, and equilibrium. In mice, creatine supplementation protects them from noise-induced hearing loss.
- In our stomach, creatine provides the power to pump the stomach acid needed to digest our food. In the intestines, creatine provides the power needed to absorb nutrients. Our intestines have large finger-like projections known as villi that provide the enormous surface area needed for nutrient absorption, and the cells at the tips of the villi need to be replaced every few days. Creatine provides the large amount of energy needed to replace these cells on such a quick schedule. All of this suggests that creatine is very important to digestion and gastrointestinal health.
- In our skin, creatine provides the power for the production of the keratin that lines the outer surface. It powers hair growth, too. It even powers the production of sebum, which keeps our skin water-proof and lubricated. When scientists study isolated skin cells, topical application of creatine protects them from the damage induced by ultraviolet light. Creatine also provides the power for wound healing. All of this suggests that creatine can help maintain vibrant, healthy, youthful skin.
- Our brains are only two percent of our bodyweight, but consume twenty percent of our energy. This huge energy demand is largely provided by creatine.
Several hundred people worldwide have been diagnosed with genetic disorders in the ability to make creatine. Although this does indeed hurt their muscle power, the most harmful effects occur to their nervous systems: children fail to develop on time, both physically and mentally; they suffer from intellectual disabilities, including speech delay, and often cannot form full sentences; and they display behaviors characteristic of autism and hyperactivity disorders. They also suffer from terrible gastrointestinal distress, including frequent vomiting, acid reflux, and difficulty feeding.
While nearly all of us are capable of making creatine, the great difficulties faced by those who cannot emphasize the importance of creatine to neurological and digestive health.
In fact, otherwise healthy women diagnosed with major depression can improve their depression by taking five grams of creatine per day.
Perhaps creatine supplementation also might improve fertility, eyesight, hearing, digestion, skin health, and other aspects of mental health or just sheer brain power.
Which Creatine Supplement to Use
If you choose to use a creatine supplement, I recommend using anything that contains Creapure as its only ingredient. Creapure is the highest purity creatine available and is repackaged under many different brand names. It is micronized, which reduces the chalkiness and makes it easier to get down, and it is creatine monohydrate, which is the most effective form and the one used in most research.
From among the various options, I recommend Optimized Nutrition micronized creatine powder. If you buy a single bottle, it is available for Amazon Prime free one-day shipping, and costs $13.60 per bottle, which is 2.3 cents per gram or 11.5 cents per day when taken at 5 grams per day. You can save 5% if you subscribe to it, 15% if you subscribe to at least four other items, and 20% if you also pay with an Amazon store card.
If you expect to take creatine while traveling, I recommend getting Optimized Nutrition creatine caps. Carrying around capsules is a lot easier than little baggies of powder. This raises the price to about 14 cents per day but the convenience may well be worth it.
How Much Creatine To Use and When to Take It
The standard dose of creatine is 5 grams per day. Many athletes start with a “loading phase” where they take this dose four times per day to yield a total of 20 grams, and keep this up for four or five days before reducing the dose to the standard 5 grams.
Some people may get full benefit with as little as three grams per day, but there is no harm in taking five, so I recommend just taking five. Without a loading phase, it might take you about four weeks to fully get all the creatine into your muscles. If you are patient, the loading phase is not necessary, and skipping it will reduce any possible side effects, such as bloating or other digestive distress.
The absorption of creatine is near complete under almost any conditions. However, taking it with a carbohydrate-containing meal prevents you from peeing it out and helps push it into your muscles. Taking it after a good workout also helps it reach the muscles better.
Nevertheless, micromanaging your creatine dose is unlikely to be very important over the long-term. Just taking five grams per day whenever it is most convenient will allow you to reap full benefits over time.
Creatine in Foods
Creatine is most abundant in red meat, pork, poultry, and fish. There is much less in dairy, eggs, and shellfish. Creatine is mostly in muscle meat; organ meats such as liver, heart, and kidney have very little.
Cooking degrades creatine. The exact amount lost varies widely according to which cut is being cooked, but it always increases with the degree of doneness. For example, one study found that steak cooked medium lost 27% of its creatine, while steak cooked well done lost 35%. A significant amount of creatine moves into the juices of meat during cooking, so saving the juice for consumption will allow you to consume more creatine.
It generally takes one to two pounds of muscle meat per day to yield 3-5 grams of creatine. This is well within the scope of what many of our ancestors ate as hunter-gatherers. We may not be able to eat this much creatine from food because we may have other priorities that require restricting meat or increasing our consumption of other foods. So, creatine supplementation is a way to achieve the high end of the creatine consumption possible within a natural, whole foods diet.
The database below has 140 entries for foods, cooked and processed in various ways. Have fun looking through the database, and let me know in the comments if you notice any trends among the foods that you think I should add to the main article.
The Database: Creatine in Foods
How to Use the Creatine Database
If you want to see all the foods in the database ranked from highest to lowest in creatine, simply hit the search button without changing anything. You can also do the same for a specific category by doing a blank search after changing “all categories” to one of the other choices. If you want to search for a particular food, enter it within the search bar. You can also search for specific keywords such as “cooked” or “dried.”
If you find an entry of interest, I recommend doing a separate search for the term to compare it to other values. For example, if you notice that the top-ranked food is dried herring, before forming any conclusions you should search the database for “herring” to see all the other entries for that food. The reason is that some foods are entered twice, and with values from one source being larger than another. You might not see these differences when browsing the data because they may be far apart in the rankings.
Each entry has a “view more details” link, where you will be able to find any special notes about the entry as well as the reference it came from.
Ready? Head back up to the food database!
Scientific references for the food values are found in the “view more details” link of each entry in the database. Scientific references for the background information are included with the accompanying podcast.
To learn more about creatine, including the basic science of what it does in the body and the practicalities of supplementation, check out the accompanying podcast:
Let Me Know What You Think!
Have you supplemented with creatine? Would you like to share your experience? Did you notice anything cool in the database you want to point out? Let me know in the comments!