Creatine is by far, the most popular fitness and weight lifting supplement in history with literally hundreds of peer-reviewed studies showing that it increases muscle power, allowing people to lift greater amounts of weight. This leads to people getting stronger. Having looked at more creatine studies than I care to admit, one thing stands more than any other: creatine research usually involves men. What about women? Do women need creatine? In this review, let's talk about the research involving women and this supplement. If you are a female weight lifter, you will be interested in what I found. See my review of supplements to avoid.
Other Creatine Reviews
For more insights on this supplement, see these other reviews
- Creatine and Injuries
- Does Creatine Cause Hair Loss?
- Do You Need To Cycle Creatine
- Creatine Nitrate Review
- Is It Safe For Kids?
What Is Creatine
Creatine is not a hormone so it doesn't work as steroids do. Rather it’s a compound the body uses when it has to make energy very, very fast. For the biology people reading this creatine donates its phosphate atom to ADP to remake the ATP molecule. This happens very fast, faster than other energy pathways (like burning fat or burning carbs).
The body naturally makes about 1-2 grams of creatine naturally. We make it from the amino acids:
People also usually get about 1-2 grams of creatine a day from the food they eat. Foods that contain creatine include chicken, steak, hamburger, salmon, tuna fish, turkey, etc. There is no creatine in fruits, veggies or grains. The way I often explain it to people is this way: Creatine is found in any food walks, swims or flies. In other words, any food that had a mom and a dad have creatine.
Vegetarians /vegans likely get less creatine in their diet because they avoid foods that contain it. On the plus side, vegetarians absorb creatine better than meat-eaters.
The form used in most dietary supplements is creatine monohydrate. This is converted to phospho-creatine in the body. It's phosphocreatine that we use when we are exercising.
Some supplements contain different forms of creatine like:
- Creatine HCL
- Creatine Nitrate
- Creatine Ethyl Ester
While claims for other supplements vary, the thing to remember is that most of the clinical research is mostly on the monohydrate form and not the others.
Creatine & Women Research
One study, published in 2006, involving 26 exercise-trained women who took part in a 10-week strength training program.. The women were split into a creatine group and a placebo group. The women in the creatine group took 0.3 g per kilogram for the first week (the loading phase) and 0.03 g per kilogram per week (the maintenance phase) for the remainder of the study.
These researchers saw no change in strength or body composition compared to the 13 women who only lifted weights.
While the amounts of creatine used in this study are acceptable, the thing to remember is the women were all used to lifting weights. In other words, these were not beginners.
While I like that the study involved experienced lifters, I wonder if the effects might be different if novice weight lifters were used?
This study is contrasted by an investigation involving 16 female lacrosse players. Here, researchers noted 5 weeks of supplementation was improved strength (1RM bench press). But, no change in body fat was seen. The women in this study took 20 grams of creatine for the first week (the loading phase) followed by 2 grams per day for the remaining 4 weeks.
One study looked at 10 weeks of supplementation in 19 untrained women (by untrained, I mean they did not regularly lift weights). Compared to those who took a placebo, women who took the supplement showed about a 20-25% improvement in weight lifted in the squat, leg press and leg extension.
Furthermore, strength was maintained, even after 10 weeks or not working out, in the women who received low-dose creatine (5g/day).
Most of the research involves younger people. Little involves elderly women. In one study, 16 older women were given the supplement for 1 week. This study noted creatine (0.3 grams per kilogram /the loading phase amount) improved performance on the 30-second sit to rise test.
Improvement in the 30-second sit to rise test is important because it may indicate a better ability to perform some activities of daily living. This can keep women in their homes longer and out of a nursing home.
One problem with this study though was that the placebo and creatine groups did not contain equal numbers of people. The creatine group had 10 people while the placebo group only had 6. I wonder if this unbalanced number might have played a role in the outcomes?
What we can say about the research overall is:
- most of the creatine research involves men
- most of the female-specific creatine research involves fit, women who exercise
- little research involves older women
- little research involves women who have health issues
Before Or After Exercise?
Some creatine experts recommend that people take this supplement 30 -60 minutes before exercise but this makes no sense to me. After exercise, the body is more primed to absorb, protein and carbs and the same is likely true for creatine. During exercise, the body is using the creatine that is already stored in the muscles.
I have never seen a clinical study finding that creatine is taken just prior to exercise enhanced exercise performance. Therefore, I say don’t worry about taking this supplement just before your workout. This ingredient is found in many pre-workout supplements. Now that you know this, you might ask yourself why that is?
Is the Loading phase Needed?
Studies in women show, that taking 20-25 g of creatine for the first week does indeed increase muscle creatine content. In fact, one study has noted that creatine uptake by muscle was greatest within the first 2 days of loading. So does that mean the loading phase is always needed? I don't believe so.
As far back as 1996, it was noted that taking only 3 grams for a month was just as effective as taking 20 grams for a week. This study did involve men, but I see nothing in the clinical literature showing women would respond differently.
Does It Work Better With A Keto Supplement?
One of the side effects of creatine is it can cause an increase in body weight. This is due to water retention. As such, might this increase in body weight be reversed if someone did a ketogenic diet – or took a ketogenic supplement? I have not seen any studies looking at this supplement used alongside a ketogenic diet (high fat/ low carbs/low protein).
Its possible a ketogenic diet might reduce some of the water weight but, because these diets are low in carbs, this might also reduce workout performance.
When it comes to ketogenic supplements, I know they are popular but I think the jury is out on them. I don't see much research proving they promote weight loss -or put people into ketosis.
See the Pruvit Keto OS Review
How Much Creatine Do Women Need?
From the research conducted so far, it appears that women can benefit from the same amounts of creatine as men. General recommendations for the loading phase are 20-25g per day for the first week followed by 2-3 grams per day thereafter.
Amounts to use can also be based on body weight. Here, one might use 0.3 grams per kilogram for the first week (loading phase) followed by 0.03 g/day thereafter (maintenance phase). For what it's worth, I've never believed the loading phase was needed. I'd stick to lower dosage and save some money.
Do Women Need To Cycle Creatine?
See the cycling creatine review for more insights on this.
So, Is Creatine Safe For Women?
While there is still more research on men, the studies to date show women can also benefit from creatine supplements. The research also shows its safe in healthy women. While that is good news, another question to ask is “do women need creatine?” I think that the answer depends.
For the female weight lifters reading this, I'd say yes, you can make an argument for this supplement. It will help you lift more. For the women who are not athletes, my general suggestion is to save your money and don't worry about this supplement. Let your body adapt naturally to exercise.