What comes to mind when you think of creatine? Is it a mental image of a hulked-out guy with bulging veins?
If that’s the case, you might want to consider the woman setting a new personal record at the squat rack. Or the sweet old lady in your gym’s pool. Or to any of the long and lean women in the yoga studio. Or to your co-worker, who says she has to fit super-short workouts in between her kids' activities.
After all, creatine, which is arguably the most extensively studied supplement on the market today, is just as (if not more) beneficial for women than for men, says Abbie Smith-Ryan, Ph.D., assistant professor of exercise and sport science at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
And the benefits extend far beyond the gym. Apart from helping women max out their workouts and results, creatine can help women kick depression, feel more energetic, earn promotions at work and sidestep chronic disease.
So What Is Creatine?
Creatine is a natural compound that’s produced by the body and contained in limited quantities in meat. Within the body it converts into creatine phosphate (CP), which then shuttles into the body’s anaerobic energy system to keep your cells fed with quick-acting energy, says Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., sports nutrition consultant and author of “Power Eating.”
However, it’s easy to burn through your body’s natural energy stores. And particularly in those who consume little or no meat, levels can be pretty low to begin with.
For that reason, many nutritionists recommend women take three to five grams of creatine monohydrate — the most studied and effective form — per day. (Of course, be sure to talk to your doctor before adding anything into your health routine.) You can mix it into water and drink it with a meal or put it into a protein shake, Smith-Ryan says, noting that some data suggest that consuming creatine alongside carbs helps with absorption.
Time of day is up to you. If you’re about to do a high-intensity workout, supplementation before or during can be great for both performance and recovery. Or, if you simply need a 3 p.m. pick-me-up, a glass of water with some creatine can help you charge through the rest of your day, Kleiner says.
But don’t just take our word for it. Here’s the science behind the many reasons why every woman should take creatine.
1. You’ll Rock Your High-Intensity Workouts
When you’re lifting heavy weights, performing Tabatas or running sprints, creatine helps you train harder and longer by maximizing your body’s ability to produce explosive energy, Smith-Ryan says. That’s because women can burn through 50 to 70 percent of their creatine phosphate stores in just five to 30 seconds of high-intensity exercise.
So heading into the gym with more creatine in your tank can mean churning out greater lifts, more reps and faster sprints. In fact, one Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research review of 22 studies concluded that, on average, creatine supplementation ups the number of reps a lifter can perform by 14 percent.
2. You’ll See Better Exercise Results
Creatine can fuel your muscles even after your workout, aiding in muscle repair, helping to better replete CP stores and even regulating muscle pH, Smith-Ryan says. Translation: Your body springs back faster and better after every workout.
Plus, while creatine doesn’t change body composition directly, by improving your high-intensity workouts and your ability to recover from them, creatine consistently results in increases in fat-free mass, according to one review in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
“If every time you train you are able to work just a bit harder or longer, you’ll ramp up the effects of each session and get better cumulative results,” Kleiner says. Bonus: More muscle means a faster metabolism.
3. Your Brain Will Run at Top Speed
Your muscle fibers aren’t the only cells that run on creatine. So do your brain cells, says Kleiner, who notes that the main reason she takes creatine herself is to promote cognitive health and function. After all, in one University of Sydney study, taking five grams of creatine monohydrate per day for six weeks significantly spiked participants’ intelligence test scores and working memory performance.
That’s because, apart from your brain using some CP for energy, creatine supplementation has been found to have strong anti-inflammatory effects in the brain, Kleiner says. That makes creatine a leading candidate in research around the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a review from the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
4. You’ll Ward Off Depression
An energized brain is a happy brain. Case in point: In a 2012 American Journal of Psychiatry study, when depressed women took antidepressants and five grams of creatine monohydrate per day, they were twice as likely to experience a remission of depressive symptoms compared to women taking antidepressants without creatine.
5. You’ll Cut Your Risk of Heart Disease
Creatine supplementation may soon be considered a staple of a heart-healthy lifestyle, just like omega-3s and cardio. A 2015 study in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found strength-training adults who take creatine have lower levels of homocysteine. What’s that? It’s a metabolic byproduct associated with a greater risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
6. You’ll Be Better Hydrated
Those eight glasses of water a day will only get you so far. But creatine may help take you the rest of the way. Research from Smith-Ryan published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine shows that creatine usage significantly increases hydration by bringing water into the body’s cells — muscle cells included. As an added benefit, that extra hydration in your muscles makes them look that much stronger.
7. You May Fight Cancer
While the research still has a way to go, there’s hope that creatine may one day be a powerful ally in the fight against cancer. In one 2016 University of Sao Paulo study, creatine supplementation reduced the growth rates of malignant tumors by 30 percent. Researchers believe that creatine does this by reducing levels of acidosis (a significant drop in pH) and oxidative stress in and around the cancerous cells.