Benefits of Creatine for Women
Ladies, it's time to rethink creatine. If you think creatine is a dietary supplement that comes in big plastic containers and is almost exclusively used by bulky, weightlifting men, you’re not alone. However, new research reveals benefits of creatine for anyone who leads an active lifestyle, either male or female, young or old, 5-days a week in the gym or stretching a resistance band while catching up on your favorite show.
Perhaps the most exciting is emerging research points to benefits beyond muscles and fitness, such as for cognitive, mood and longevity support—and may also specifically support women’s health across a lifespan.
Benefits of Creatine for Women
- Supports mood health and mental wellness
- Maintains muscle health as you age
- Promotes brain energy for cognitive health
Mood & Mental Health: A Woman’s Body Handles Creatine Differently
Research suggests creatine provides different benefits for women than men. One reason for that is because women have naturally lower levels of creatine in their muscles and brain (particularly in the frontal lobe region that influences memory, mood, cognition and emotion than men do.1
Women also have higher estrogen levels, and these levels may play a role in these differing levels of creatine. Sex hormones, predominantly estrogen and progesterone, have been shown to affect the expression of creatine kinase, which is the enzyme that helps chemically process creatine, thus altering the body’s creatine synthesis. Because of the increased flux of hormones around ovulation, these levels may affect how a woman’s endogenous creatine is synthesized in her kidneys and liver and then transported to the muscles and brain. In other words, the fluctuating estrogen levels inherent in a woman’s menstrual cycle can affect creatine levels throughout the body and brain. Since creatine levels in the brain influence mood and emotion, women may face additional challenges during their cyclical hormonal shifts that are often accompanied by struggles to feel calm and positive.
At least for women who haven't reached perimenopause, research suggests the timing of creatine supplementation may best sync up with the need for it, indicating that taking creatine around the time of ovulation may provide the most benefit by providing stores when they're lowered.
Because of the different creatine levels in the brain, women potentially have a lot to gain by supplementing to help increase their existing levels. Women may find additional benefits as increasing creatine concentrations in the brain helps to support a positive outlook. Both clinical and pre-clinical research in women has shown benefits of creatine supplementation on mood by helping to restore brain energy levels.1
The Big M and Changes to Bone and Muscle Health
Creatine supplementation promotes lean muscle mass and strength, especially when combined with resistance training, which is the context in which creatine is most studied to provide benefits.1 It’s important to note that creatine doesn’t do the heavy lifting, but helps support these efforts along the way.
Because of the hormonal changes that occur during menopause, women stand to lose higher percentages of bone density and skeletal muscle mass, both of which help keep a healthy body composition that’s critical to everyday function and mobility, particularly during the aging process.
Peri- and postmenopausal women may stand to benefit by supplementing with creatine for a similar reason. During these hormonal changes in a woman’s life, lowered estrogen levels change the creatine kinase activity, providing less support for muscles when they're needed most. These hormonal changes mean varying degrees of bone and muscle loss while fat is gained. It’s particularly important to help maintain a healthy body structure to ensure a wide range of daily function and movement to enjoy vitality as long as possible.
Creatine’s Cognitive Benefits
It may be easy to underestimate just how large and continuous of an energy supply the human brain, arguably the most complex organ, requires for daily function, consuming approximately 20% of total resting energy despite accounting for only about 2% of total body mass.5
For this ongoing need, creatine supplementation can provide energy for our hungry neurons by offering additional adenosine triphosphate (ATP, the cells' primary energy source)—a process called neural ATP resynthesis. Creatine research has shown how supplementation supports working memory and cognitive processing, particularly during more strenuous mental tasks, and may help to reduce mental fatigue.6,7 These benefits may be heightened in people with lower creatine levels, such as vegetarians and older adults, as brain creatine levels vary depending on biological and lifestyle factors.
Looking for more background? Let’s take a deeper dive…
What is Creatine?
Within the body, creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid derivative that plays a critical role in energy homeostasis. Found primarily in skeletal muscle (where as much as 95% is stored) it's also found in the brain, liver, kidneys and testes (around 5%). Naturally produced in the kidney and liver, creatine is synthesized from the amino acids arginine, glycine and methionine.
The body’s other supply of creatine comes from sources found outside the body, such as in foods like red meat, milk and seafood. Since it’s primarily found in animal sources, vegans and vegetarians often have lower amounts in their bodies.
Creatine can also be consumed as a dietary supplement in a variety of forms, such as powders and capsules, or blended into a workout supplement. While creatine comes in many types, the most common is creatine monophosphate.
Creatine plays an integral role in cellular energy by helping the body make adenosine triphosphate (ATP), commonly referred to as the "energy currency" of the cell. Creatine exists in cells in the form of phosphocreatine, helping to recycle this energy that provides building blocks for energy and can be used for everyday functionality within our muscles and brain. Supplementing with creatine increases the available pool of cellular phosphocreatine which can accelerate this recycling process, making more energy available for fuel, particularly for high energy demands, such as intense physical or mental activity.2
Our bodies require a continuous store of creatine, and we must continuously replace it, which happens mostly from dietary sources and the production that happens in our bodies. It’s estimated that approximately half of most people’s daily creatine comes from dietary sources while the body makes the other half.3
What Type of Creatine is Best?
While there are multiple types of creatine commercially available, it’s worth noting that creatine monohydrate has the most evidence supporting its effectiveness and performance-supporting abilities. This form lends itself well to supplementation because the monohydrate form of creatine is similar or identical to creatine produced in our liver, kidneys and pancreas, and helps supply energy to muscle cells.
Regardless of type, creatine has regularly been shown to increase lean muscle strength and mass, increase intracellular water levels, which may signal muscle growth and enhance recovery after strenuous exercise. It’s great for anaerobic work capacity, which means exercises engaging in repeated high energy bursts without a long duration, such as sprinting, weightlifting and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).4
How Much Creatine Should I Take and When Should I Take It?
Creatine is best consumed right before, during or after exercise. However, since consistency in taking supplements provides optimal benefits, you may need to incorporate it at a time that will ensure regular consumption. Dosage depends on your body weight and in consideration of how much creatine you may be getting from your diet, particularly if you consume animal products. If you don’t consume animal products, make sure your creatine supplement is vegan.
To help prime metabolic pathways, research typically uses a loading phase of 20 g of creatine a day for five days, and then a maintenance phase of 5 g per day. Accumulating evidence indicates that you don't have to "load" creatine. Research establishes that lower daily creatine supplementation, such as using 3-5 g per day for increasing intramuscular creatine stores, leads to benefits.2
Our bodies aren't one-size-fits-all. The loading phase may not apply for women in the same way that it’s used in men or bodybuilders. It’s best to consult with your healthcare provider on what may be the best dose of creatine to incorporate into your regimen and alter as needed. Research supports better results with exercise, particularly resistance exercise, however, incorporating creatine into your routine can also be useful for daily muscle use as we age.7
As a best practice, it’s a good idea to check in with your health care provider or doctor to ensure you get the dose that works best for you.
Why Women Worry About Taking Creatine
Many women have avoided taking creatine because of its ability to increase cellular hydration, where fluid soaks into muscle fibers making them look bigger and bulkier. While this may be appealing to body builders or even to help bolster waning muscles as bodies age, perhaps unsurprisingly a lot of women don’t want to look bulkier or gain weight and have shied away from supplementing with creatine.
Turns out that while creatine supplementation does promote a well-hydrated environment that can be indicated by water mass gain, this is more prevalent among males utilizing a loading dose. Male bodybuilders can also increase their weight, which is seen as a good thing in this population, by taking creatine with a much higher amount of carbohydrates, something that's optional. For females using a typical dose (2-5 g per day) and consuming a regular diet, these fears are likely unfounded as stated in Smith-Ryan: “A considerable amount of evidence indicates that creatine is an effective aid for increasing strength, power and athletic performance in females without marked changes in body weight”.2
Multiple studies also suggest that weight gain due to the initial water retention that happens with this kind of creatine supplementation is only temporary and doesn't alter total body water relative to muscle mass over longer periods of time.2
Is Supplementing with Creatine Safe?
Creatine is generally well tolerated. Research indicates that regular use of an oral creatine supplement is safe when used appropriately, long term. Creatine supplementation has been safely used at doses of up to 30 g daily for up to five years in healthy individuals and in a number of patient populations ranging from infants to the elderly.8
Overall, women have a lot to gain from creatine supplementation. The female body has a lower store of creatine kinase within muscles. Further, the hormonal changes that happen across the female lifespan alter creatine levels, which affects amounts found in the body and brain by causing them to fluctuate. With the mental and physical demands of modern life, a boost to mental and physical energy and wellness is something women can probably use just a little more of.
That big plastic container on the shelf? That might just be for you—whoever you are. The latest research supports that creatine can help all of us to optimize our energy stores to be able to make the best of our busy lives.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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1. Creatine Supplementation in Women's Health. Nutrients. Read source
2. Common Questions and Misconceptions About Creatine Supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Read source
3. Creatine Metabolism. National Institutes of Health. Read source
4. Creatine Supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Read source
5. Effects of Creatine Supplementation. Nutrients. Read source
6. Effects of Creatine Supplementation. Nutrition Reviews. Read source
7. Use of Creatine in the Elderly. Amino Acids. Read source
8. International Society on Sports Nutrition Stand on Creatine. Journal of the International Society on Sports Nutrition. Read source