When many people think of creatine, images of bulky, male bodybuilders come to mind. But contrary to popular belief, creatine isn’t just for men looking to build muscle. Research has revealed the benefits of creatine for women who exercise – especially when it comes to building lean muscle without bulking.
So, if you spend at least a few days per week exercising — which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends for everyone — you might consider adding low-dose creatine to your supplement routine. Read on, and we’ll explain how these amino acids can provide the extra boost you’re looking for.
What is Creatine?
Essentially, creatine is an amino acid that our bodies store in our muscles to later use as an energy source. Whenever our muscle cells need fuel, they convert creatine into phosphocreatine – which is used to resynthesize adenosine triphosphate (ATP). (And ATP, if you didn’t already know, is a critical energy source for working muscles.)
While many people believe that creatine in and of itself makes you more muscular, that’s not necessarily the case. All creatine does is provide muscle cells with the energy to do more work – and that translates to greater strength and endurance while exercising.
Creatine is naturally found in many foods – including organ meat (liver, heart, kidneys), red meat, pork, and fish. And if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, creatine dietary supplements are a fantastic way to cultivate healthy levels in the body.
Benefits of Creatine for Women
Wondering if creatine supplementation is right for you? Here are some benefits of creatine for women:
Improve Strength & Performance
Research confirms that women who supplement with creatine significantly increase their lean body mass without gaining unwanted body fat. Additionally, creatine supplementation improves high-intensity exercise capacity, which allows women to work at higher heart-rate intensities. Not only that, but creatine enhances hydration levels and heat tolerance during activity, which can help improve a woman’s overall athletic performance.
Reduce Body Fat
Aside from increased upper body strength, one study found that women who supplement with creatine significantly reduced their body fat percentage within five weeks.
Enhance Recovery Time
Research suggests that creatine supplements enhance a woman’s recovery time and function between workouts. Additionally, they delay neuromuscular fatigue and are associated with reduced muscle cramping, muscle tightness, and muscle strains.
Slow the Progression of Neurological Diseases
Beyond the exercise-related benefits of creatine, research suggests that it slows the progression of neurological diseases. Not only that, but creatine can protect the heart muscles during a heart attack.
Additional research highlights creatine’s potential use throughout the aging process – particularly by strengthening skeletal muscle mass (which often declines with age) and increasing bone health (which is essential for women). Naturally, women have less bone mass than men – making them more prone to osteoporosis as they age. However, one study revealed that creatine supplementation slowed bone loss in women.
Support Mental Health
Women experience depression at a rate twice as high as men. This is largely due to hormonal fluctuations — particularly estrogen — throughout their lifetime and menstrual cycle. However, research has linked adequate creatine in the brain to elevated moods. Therefore, those with stress-related mental effects can benefit from creatine supplementation (as it stimulates creatine kinase and supports mitochondrial function).
Boost Cognition and Mental Performance
Beyond mood and mental health, some research demonstrates that creatine supports overall cognition and mental performance. And supplementation can help reduce mental fatigue and boost memory function – especially under stress.
Additionally, studies show that creatine positively impacts cognitive function involving temporary conditions that reduce brain creatine (like sleep deprivation, mild exercise, and stressful mathematics tasks).
Creatine best improves sleep during periods of stress and sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation lowers cognition, and it impacts women more often than men (thanks to our constant hormonal fluctuations and different means of processing stress). Therefore, women with insomnia or other sleep problems could benefit significantly from creatine supplementation.
Creatine Side Effects
And now, the question we’ve all been wondering: Does creatine have side effects? Rest assured that extensive studies on creatine supplementation have revealed no health risks, few (mild) side effects, and a variety of benefits for athletic women.
But of course, following the proper creatine dosage ensures you maximize this supplement’s benefits and minimize any side effects.
What Creatine Dosage Is Best?
When determining the right creatine dosage for you, consider how long you plan on supplementing. Generally, it takes a larger dose for the body to initially maximize creatine stores, usually referred to as a loading phase. Then, smaller, more regular doses are used to maintain that optimal level of creatine.
One study recommends taking two small doses — typically 3-5 grams — of creatine per day (instead of one larger, 10-gram dose) for reduced GI side effects. Of course, creatine dosage also depends on the size of your body, your level of activity, and your diet. Note that vegans and vegetarians will likely require higher doses of creatine to maximize muscle stores.
Does Creatine Cause Bloating?
Many women are concerned about bloating caused by creatine supplements. The only reason creatine may cause bloating is because it increases intracellular fluid (water between the cells) in your body, which can naturally cause fluid retention overall. However, this should go away once you become acclimated to it.
Can You Take Creatine While Pregnant?
Because creatine is considered a safe supplement for most individuals, there’s a potential benefit of creatine supplementation during pregnancy. However, a woman’s body (including her nutritional needs) changes dramatically throughout pregnancy, and more research is needed regarding the impact of creatine on a developing fetus. Therefore, you should always consult your healthcare provider before taking creatine while pregnant.
Our Favorite Creatine Products
Have the benefits of creatine for women convinced you? When it comes to selecting a creatine supplement, simple and straightforward are the ways to go. Additionally, make sure that the supplement you choose is certified by Informed Choice, USP, or NSF for Sport.
Need help getting started? Here’s a brief overview of our favorite creatine products:
Product #1: Thorne Creatine
Thorne Creatine contains just one ingredient: creatine monohydrate. It is NSF Certified for Sport (which is a third-party certification that tests for purity, potency, and the presence of substances banned in competitive sport) and is dairy, gluten, and soy-free.
Best for Vegans and Vegetarians
Product #2: Naked Creatine
This powdered creatine is creatine in its purest form – no additional ingredients included. Made from creatine monohydrate (creatine’s most researched form), it’s certified vegan, certified gluten-free, and third-party tested for purity and potency. The best part? It easily blends into drinks without an added taste.
Best for HIIT Workouts
Product #3: The Genius Brand Genius Creatine
In addition to creatine monohydrate, Genius Creatine contains several ingredients that are beneficial for high-intensity interval training (HIIT):
- Beta-alanine. These amino acids prevent lactate buildup in muscles.
- AstraGin. Is rumored to boost energy levels and support nutrient absorption (though research has yet to confirm this).
- Turmeric. Turmeric contains curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties that support recovery.
- Spirulina. This type of algae has been shown to reduce oxygen uptake during cardiovascular workouts.
Best Affordable Creatine Supplement
Product #4: Nutricost Creatine Monohydrate
This budget-friendly option has over 18,000 positive reviews, and it comes in both flavored and unflavored varieties. Not only is this creatine powder third-party tested by ISO-accredited labs, but Nutricost is headquartered in the U.S. Additionally, all of its products are made in a CGMP-compliant and FDA-registered facility.
Best for Recovery and Performance
Product #5: RSP Nutrition Creatine Monohydrate
This pharmaceutical-grade powder contains only five grams of creatine monohydrate per serving. And according to RSP Nutrition, this formula is optimized for superior absorption and won’t cause bloating. However, while it’s an affordable option compared to its competition, this brand doesn’t reveal which third-party labs conduct its testing.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, the benefits of creatine for women far outweigh the potential side effects. And if you’re interested in starting a creatine supplement, the five we listed are all great options. Ask your healthcare provider if creatine supplementation is right for you. And if so, get ready to build lean muscle, reduce body fat and even support your mental health.