Creatine is one of the most widely used fitness and health supplement. But how about creatine for seniors, is it useful? Is it safe? I get these questions all the time, so I decided to make a Questions & Answer post to address the most common questions.
There’s a good reason why creatine is so popular among strength athletes. It’s the only supplement that has been shown conclusively improve performance in most users and it has been researched extensively. For some reason there are a lot of myths surrounding its safety, effects and effectiveness.
So if YOU are interested in trying creatine, don’t skip this post. You will know more than most athletes about the substance after reading through it!
So without further ado, let’s get cracking with the questions. I’ll start with more general ones and move in to more specific topics as we go, so you will find the most important knowledge right in the beginning.
If you happen to have questions about creatine that aren’t answered here, feel free to ask them at the comments section in the end and I will find the answer for you!
What is creatine?
Creatine is a chemical compound that is found in our cells naturally. It’s similar to amino acids in structure and it’s formed from the amino acids arginine and glycine. Within the human body creatine is formed in the liver.
Creatine is stored in the body in the form of phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine is used to make adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. ATP is what is used for fuel when your muscle cell contract. When you supplement creatine, your phosphocreatine stores increase, directly affecting muscle function through increased ATP buffer.
What does creatine do?
Creatine is most commonly supplemented for improving athletic performance. Since creatine increases the amount of phosphocreatine and ATP within the muscle cell, it provides benefits for high intensity anaerobic physical performance like sprinting, throwing and lifting weights.
Creatine doesn’t however provide any significant benefits to endurance so endurance athletes generally won’t benefit from using it in terms of athletic performance.
The effects of creatine on performance are somewhat individual. Some people don’t really benefit at all but some people will get a significant boost in their anaerobic athletic performance. This seems to be especially true for older athletes, as our bodies ability to replenish creatine inside the muscle diminishes as we get older.
Creatine is not considered as doping and it’s use is allowed in most sports and federations. Because creatine doesn’t have any significant side effects, it’s cheap and provides a benefit to most users it’s no surprise most professional athletes use it or at least have tried it.
Is creatine safe?
Generally speaking yes. Creatine is very safe. This is because it’s a compound our body manufactures in large quantities and it’s also found in many food sources. If creatine was toxic or dangerous in typically consumed amounts, you would have to be very careful about eating red meat. In all fairness red meat can have negative health effects but this is not due to creatine.
Since supplemental creatine can be eaten in much larger amounts than what you would typically ingest in you diet, the question is if creatine can be unhealthy in higher amounts? The data suggests there is no
There is some data suggesting that people with kidney disease, or that are in risk of kidney disease, should limit their consumption of creatine. This is because excess creatine is dispelled through urine in the form of creatinine (note, not creatine). Creatinine is used to asses renal function and sometimes excess consumption of meat, supplementing creatine or having high muscle mass can raise the creatinine levels over the recommended levels.
In these cases the high creatinine levels are likely not due to renal failure but it’s generally recommended to try and keep your creatinine levels within the recommended levels because this could mask a real issue.
To make it perfectly clear, there is no data that suggests that creatine itself is any way dangerous to your kidney function. It just raises the metric that is used to asses kidney function. So creatine is not dangerous to your kidneys but it can possibly mask kidney issues.
Besides masking possible kidney issues, creatine can cause digestive and gastric issues to some people. You should always start with a small dose and increase over time as gas, bloating and diarrhea are common side effects. These are however not really dangerous, at least in healthy people. If you have gastric inflammation issues or any other bowel problems, always talk to your doctor before introducing creatine to your diet.
What are the dangers of creatine?
Like we concluded in the “Is creatine safe?” answer, creatine is a relatively safe supplement. There are some side effects, interactions and possible health effects you should be aware of.
The first and most important one is that if taken in very high doses creatine might cause damage to the liver, kidney or heart. There is no long term studies done on the possible effects of very high doses of supplemental creatine.
However, medical experts have raised concern over the matter because the chemical and biological potential to cause harm to these organs is real. This is why you should never exceed the recommended daily dosage and talk to your doctor before starting creatine, especially if you have any existing problems with kidney, liver or heart function.
Common side effects of creatine are not generally dangerous, but can be uncomfortable. They include:
- Muscle cramping
- Stomach pain
- Weight gain (water weight)
- Water retention
- Heat intolerance
Due to the cognitive effect there is also some evidence that taking creatine can induce mania in people suffering from bipolar disorder.
Some drugs might interact with creatine increasing kidney stress and thus the risk of kidney damage. There drugs include at least:
- Nephrotoxic drugs like non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Caffeine and ephedra. Caffeine might decrease the effects of creatine. Combining ephedra to this mix can increase the risk of serious side effect like stroke.
What is the best creatine?
There are several different compounds of creatine sold as supplement. These include the industry standard creatine monohydrate and several other like creatine citrate, creatine ethyl ester, creatine malate and creatine pyruvate.
Even though they are different compounds, the effects are exactly the same. The body uses them to replenish phosphocreatine within the muscle cells and the brain. Most of these compounds have been invented for marketing purposes.
There are some differences in absorption and possible gastric side effects but generally creatine monohydrate is by far the cheapest, well tolerated and most researched compound. That’s why I recommend it. Even if it’s absorption rate is less than some of the more expensive ones, it’s dirt cheap so you can just take more.
Creatine benefits for muscle building?
Creatine is very beneficial for muscle building. Several studies have shown the positive effects of creatine on improving lean body mass, strength and power. This effect is also observed in older people.
Creatine increases muscle through several mechanisms. Firstly using creatine will increase the amount of phosphocreatine within the muscle cells like we talked about before. This increased phosphocreatine also increases the amount of fluid inside the cell, essentially pushing water inside the muscles. This will automatically increase your lean mass and make your muscles appear fuller.
Secondly creatine allow you to perform more work and lift heavier weights while strength training. The overall workload and intensity of workouts over time is the key factor for muscle and strength increase from strength training. Creatine allows you to train more in the same span of time, thus allowing greater adaptation in muscle mass.
Creatine has also been shown to potentially increase IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) levels within the muscle cells after strength training, at least in young athletes. There is also some evidence that creatine can reduce the amount of muscle damage during strength training, which would allow faster recovery and more muscle gain over time.
Is creatine a steroid
No, creatine is not a steroid. Steroids are biologically active compounds that have two functions: as component of cell membranes and as signaling molecules. Steroids have a broader meaning in biology and physiology but In layman terms steroids are the same thing as performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) that affect hormonal function.
Generally speaking steroids are chemicals that affect testosterone receptors with the intention of increasing protein synthesis and thus muscle mass and strength. They do this very effectively. People that take steroids can gain more muscle mass without training than normal people can even with training. This is why they are banned in most sports.
Creatine can improve physical performance in some exercises by 10 to 20%, but nothing like steroids. Creatine helps you pump out a repetition or two more on a hard lifting set but that’s it. When you consider that creatine is essentially a buffer for muscle energy stores, just like muscle glycogen you get from food, it’s function really doesn’t resemble that of steroids. So creatine isn’t a steroid in chemical, biological or functional sense.
Does creatine benefit the brain?
Yes. There is definitely some evidence that creatine can improve cognitive function. Our brain cells use creatine and phosphocreatine just like our muscle cells and supplementing with creatine can increase the available creatine within our brains.
There is evidence that lack of creatine levels is one of the reasons our cognition slows down and our memory becomes more scattered as we age. The same seems to happen with conditions like depression as there is evidence that creatine may work as an antidepressant or make other antidepressants more effective.
Does creatine prevent aging?
Creatine and anti-aging is a bit of a controversial topic. There is no scientific evidence that suggests creatine affects actual aging process of cells. Not to say that is possible in cases where lack of cellular energy is causing accelerated aging.
Creatine definitely helps with two symptoms of aging. Muscular atrophy and cognitive decline. As we age our muscle mass, strength and bone density decline. Aging can also cause decline in cognitive function and this is partly due to reduced amounts of phosphocreatine in the brain.
This study concluded that creatine supplementation in older adults increases muscle mass, enhances fatigue resistance, muscle strength and improves daily performance even when supplemented independently without exercise. The effects are even more pronounced when combined with strength training. They also concluded that higher brain creatine improves cognition and that creatine supplementation has been shown to increase brain creatine and phosphocreatine.
Considering that creatine is very expensive and safe supplement, it’s probably one of the best supplements for seniors looking to get back some of that youthful vigor. The benefits are substantial and may reduce the disease burden caused by loss of muscle mass and cognitive decline.
Creatine dosage for seniors
There isn’t a specific recommended dose for seniors. The general dose recommendation for athletes is to take four 5 gram doses for 5 to 7 days and after that 3 to 5 grams a day.
In this scientific review they reviewed the scientific literature for effects of creatine supplementation during strength training in older people. The doses used in most studies were either 4 times 5 grams for 5 days and 3 grams after that or just 5 grams a day.
It seems that the same dosing for seniors can be used for seniors as for younger people. Beware that there is a higher chance of having silent renal dysfunction in older age, so discuss the possible dosing with your doctor just in case.
When to take creatine?
It doesn’t really matter at what time you take the creatine, especially in the loading phase where you take four doses every day. There is some evidence that creatine is best absorbed when taken with fast carbs, like sugar.
This is why you should probably take the creatine after a meal and maybe with sip of fruit juice for example. But in all honesty, it likely doesn’t matter at what time you take. I like to actually mix it with my after workout protein shake.
Creatine and cholesterol?
There is some evidence that creatine can actually improve cholesterol levels. There are studies that show modest improvements of around 20% in cholesterol levels while there are several studies that conclude that cholesterol isn’t affected by creatine.
There definitely seems to be clear evidence that creatine will no affect your cholesterol negatively by increasing it. Also, if you supplement with creatine to improve your strength training results, you will likely see improvement in both cholesterol and blood glucose results.
Is creatine useful for menopause?
This is inconclusive. There is some evidence that the effects of creatine are different in men and women, and that the cellular effects of creatine in women are partly controlled by woman’s reproductive life, including pregnancy and menopause. Creatine supplementation may be beneficial for women under certain conditions, such as depression.
While creatine might not directly help with menopause symptoms like hot flashes, mood changes and sleep problems, it will definitely help with the associated loss of muscle mass and bone strength, especially when combined with strength training.
I hope you found my Q&A on creatine for seniors beneficial. If you have any questions, please leave them on the comments section below. I would be more than happy to answer them if I possibly can.
Creatine a supplement with definite positive effects for both the body and the mind and it seems the benefits might be even more significant for people with reduced energy due to things like age or depression.
What makes creatine even more great is the fact that it’s safe and very affordable. It’s my go to supplement and I recommend it to everyone, even if they are not interested in strength training. Give it a try, I bet you won’t regret it!
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