Step into any gym, supplement shop, or fitness fanatic’s house and you can’t avoid those shrine-like tubs, containing godly amounts of creatine.
One thing is clear about creatine: they’re one of the most popular performance-enhancing supplements on the market.
But before you muscle-building machines down a cup of costly creatine, it’s important to ask: can you get enough creatine from natural food sources? And if so, how much?
Creatine has been shown to build muscle and strength faster than not consuming creatine. So if you don’t take a creatine supplement, it’s recommended to aim for 1-2 grams per day from natural food sources. While you can get enough creatine from natural food sources, if you don’t eat animal products, you may want to consider taking it in supplement form.
Getting creatine how nature intended — from food sources — has benefits beyond supplements, including nutrients that can help support your body in making its own creatine. This is why we compiled a complete list of 30 natural food sources of creatine.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a substance that naturally occurs in our body. It’s created by our liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It’s found in our muscle cells where it helps muscles produce energy.
Creatine is an amino acid (protein building block). We get some creatine from our diet, mainly from animal products such as meat, fish, and poultry. Our bodies manufacture the rest. Creatine can also be made synthetically as a supplement.
When we exercise, we use energy and creatine. Once we use it, it decreases the creation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which leads us to feeling tired. This is why people take creatine supplements — to give that extra umph.
People typically take creatine supplements with the goal of increasing muscle size, reducing fatigue, and/or boosting athletic performance.
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Creatine is best known for promoting muscle gains and overall physical performance. But its benefits extend beyond fitness performance.
Creatine increases phosphocreatine stores. Phosphocreatine helps create adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which drives many processes in our cells.
ATP is the main source of energy for most of our cellular functions. It’s stored in our muscle cells and used within the first few seconds of intense exercise.
When we run out of ATP, our cells try to produce more. So essentially, more creatine gives you more ATP, which translates to better performance for quick bursts of exercise.
When our body needs creatine for energy systems such as ATP, it will convert the amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine into creatine.
Learn more about creatine and your energy systems: Can You Get Stronger Without Creatine? (We Examined 8 Studies)
A review of studies has shown that short-term creatine use can improve max power, work performed during sets of max effort, and single-effort sprints. However, not all studies showed a beneficial effect on exercise performance since creatine didn’t appear to be effective in improving running and swimming performance.
Basically the research shows that creatine can be helpful for quick energy workouts such as powerlifting exercise plans, rather than endurance exercise.
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Creatine supplementation during resistance exercise training has been suggested to increase fat-free body mass. However, it’s not clear if this is just due to an increase in intracellular (inside cells) fluid or if there’s an impact on protein metabolism.
In one study that explored the effects of creatine supplement on the size of muscle mass, there was no change in body mass seen in the control and placebo groups, but the body mass of the group taking creating increased by 2 kg. The change was attributed partially to an increase in body water content and also the intracellular compartments.
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Creatine can also significantly boost brainpower. A review of six studies found evidence that short term memory and intelligence may be improved with creatine. But the effect on long-term memory reaction time, and mental fatigue were conflicting.
Creatine has shown to have antioxidant properties that can help reduce age-related damage. Creatine can also reduce mental fatigue, and improve components of neurological disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.
These benefits have made creatine a substance of interest for fighting against age-related diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimers and stroke but more research is required to make definitive claims.
Creatine: Frequently Asked Questions
We can build muscle and get stronger without supplementing with creatine. The key is to focus on a diet rich in natural sources of creatine, the nutrients that support our bodies in making creatine, and eating enough balanced and healthy foods.
HOW MUCH CREATINE DO YOU NEED TO CONSUME?
In general, research shows that we need to replenish between about 1 and 3 grams of creatine a day, depending on how much muscle we have.
A standard diet contains about 1 gram of creatine per day and the rest is synthesized by our body.
So, to make sure to get enough creatine in your diet, it’s recommended to aim for 1-2 grams per day of natural food sources, if you don’t take a supplement.
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DOES COOKING REDUCE THE CREATINE CONTENT?
Before we share our list of 30 creatine rich foods, it’s important to note that cooking can actually cause meat to lose some creatine. The amount that decreases depends on the type and cut of meat, but it’s correlated with how long it’s cooked.
A good amount of creatine moves to the juice of the meat during cooking so it may help to consume this by making a sauce or pouring it over the meat as you cook it.
Check out the USDA cooking guidelines for appropriate cooking temperatures.
WHAT ABOUT VEGETARIANS AND VEGANS?
You’ll notice that creatine is mainly found in animal meat: more specifically muscle meat.
This is why health educators such as Precision Nutrition suggest that creatine supplementation (more on this to come) may be more beneficial in those on a plant-based diet.
But if you do eat meat, then the following will provide a list of 30 natural food sources high in creatine.
30 Natural Food Sources of Creatine
The foods listed below are in order of highest to the lowest amount of creatine per 100grams of food.
|Food Source||Creatine (Amount/100g of food)|
|1||Herring Fillet (raw and dried)||1.1g|
|2||Beef patties (raw)||0.9g|
|4||Beef steak gravy (juice cooked from meat)||0.9g|
|8||Black pudding (blood sausage)||0.6g|
|9||Dry cured ham||0.6g|
|10||Lamb, top round||0.5g|
|15||Beef cattle heart||0.3g|
|17||Beef cattle cheek||0.3g|
|29||Nestle Good Start||0.002g|
Creatine for Vegans
Creatine can be produced by our liver. It’s synthesized from the amino acids (protein building blocks): arginine, glycine, and methionine.
Vegetarian sources: dairy products (milk, cheese).
Vegan options include seeds (pumpkin, sesame) and nuts walnuts, almonds, pine nuts), legumes (beans, peas), and seaweed.
Vegetarian sources: dairy products (milk, cheese).
Vegan sources: seeds (sesame, pumpkin, pistachio) spirulina, seaweed, watercress, and spinach.
Vegetarian sources: eggs, milk, ricotta cheese.
Vegan sources: tofu, brazil nuts, white beans, quinoa.
However, studies show that vegetarians tend to have lower amounts of creatine in their muscles. Research suggests that creatine supplementation may be of particular use for vegan athletes.
Note: Vegans First lists down a more extensive list of vegan sources of methionine with the precise measurements per 100 calories. It might be a helpful resource of strict plant-based eaters.
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Creatine Supplement Concerns
It’s always best to get nourishment from food but there are certain situations in which supplements can be helpful. This includes a deficiency, disease, or if we simply can’t get enough from the foods we eat.
But before stocking up on tubs of creatine, it’s important to understand some concerns about the supplement industry.
As reported by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, supplements in the United States don’t have to be registered with a government agency.
Most supplements are manufactured and synthetic. The nutrients are the same, but the structure is slightly different. This means that we may be getting a form that our body can’t absorb well. Research shows that the way our bodies absorb the nutrients may not be as efficient as through food.
Many supplements also contain sneaky ingredients such as colorings, sweeteners, flavors, coating, fillers, and binders. They are typically added but not always marked on the label.
Some of these ingredients can cause reactions such as an upset stomach, sensitivity, and allergies. And other more dangerous ones have shown to damage DNA, the immune system, and increase risk of heart disease.
Always consult your doctor or nutrition professional before starting any new supplement.
Creatine Supplements and Dosages
Creatine in the form of creatine monohydrate is the most extensively studied and clinically effective supplement form of creatine when it comes to muscle uptake and ability to increase high-intensity exercise.
However, creatine monohydrate may not be effective for everyone. Precision Nutrition notes that about 20% of creatine users may not respond well to supplements because they already have a high enough dietary intake of creatine from whole foods.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), there is no compelling scientific evidence that the short- or long-term use of creatine monohydrate has any detrimental effects on otherwise healthy individuals when used in doses of up to 30 g per day for 5 years.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) the fastest way to increase muscle creatine stores may be to consume about 0.3 g/kg/day of creatine monohydrate for 5-7 days followed by 3-5 g/day after. This helps maintain elevated stores.
Precision Nutrition suggests taking a break from creatine supplementation after using it for 12-16 weeks.
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Creatine is one of the most pop
ular performance-enhancing supplements out there. It’s many benefits include muscle mass gains, physical performance of quick exercise, and helping the health of our brains.
But we don’t need to pour our salaries into supplements, unless we don’t get enough from natural foods, such as in the case of being a vegan.
The key is to focus on a diet rich in natural sources of creatine (aiming for 1-2 grams per day) supporting our bodies in making creatine (eating arginine, glycine, methionine foods), and eating an overall nutritious and balanced diet.
About The Author
Lisa is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) with over 15 years of experience in nutrition, fitness, and mental health coaching and education. She studied Foods and Nutrition at San Diego State University and earned a Master of Science in Holistic Nutrition at Hawthorn University.
Having certifications and experience in group exercise, intuitive eating, coaching and psychotherapy, and digestive wellness, she’s enthusiastic about the relationship between the body and mind.
She’s dedicated to helping people understand how to implement healthy habit change, while gaining a deeper understanding of what makes them feel their personal best.