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December 7, 2022
Creatine supplements have long carried the mystique of being a “secret weapon” for athletes and bodybuilders chasing strength, power and muscle. To that end, creatine is often recommended and sold either as a standalone product, or it is paired in pre-workout blends alongside workout-enhancing ingredients such as nitric oxide boosters and caffeine.
But research into creatine has expanded far beyond the realm of sports nutrition. And with it, other ingredients have shown promise to dovetail with or expand upon creatine’s science-backed benefits for a range of populations, not just athletes.
Here’s how a new generation of supplements are pairing creatine with novel ingredients to maximize the impact on both sides.
For nearly as long as it has been studied for muscle and power, creatine has been studied for its potential to attenuate muscle loss in populations at risk for sarcopenia, and the elderly in particular. Recently, this side of creatine has borne fruit in the form of healthy aging-focused creatine products.
“While athletes have long realized the potential of creatine to increase performance, the health performance of creatine throughout the lifespan is just now coming into focus,” explains Robert Alber, vice president human nutrition of Alzchem Group, which manufactures the patented creatine product Creapure. “New creatine products are currently being introduced to market, especially for elderly people to maintain muscle power, fitness and brain health.”
Most recently, he pointed to German-produced product Livadur from Suppliva as speaking to the concerns of active aging adults.
Livadur combines Creapure with magnesium and vitamin D3, both of which play crucial roles in health muscle function, among their many other roles in bone, immune and mental health. And just as crucially, deficiencies in magnesium and vitamin D have both been associated in research with impaired muscular function.
Creatine and beta-alanine are both commonly seen on the labels of pre-workout supplements taken acutely prior to training sessions or athletic events. But considering the way both supplements work, it could be argued they make more sense to be paired and taken together chronically, as a sort of “athlete’s vitamin.”
Why separate them from the pre-workout ritual? Because the number one way to increase the effectiveness of both supplements isn’t taking them at any particular time of day. It’s simply to take them regularly, explains Adam Gonzalez, Ph.D., a pro natural bodybuilder and the chief scientific officer for the sports supplement company Shifted.
“Both beta-alanine and creatine can be treated like a vitamin, in the sense that they can be taken at any time during the day,” Gonzales says. “An acute dose of either beta-alanine or creatine monohydrate will not meaningfully impact a training session. The ergogenic effects are only realized after consistent supplementation, which allows for increases in muscle stores of both phosphocreatine and carnosine.”
It makes sense, then, that creatine has begun to appear on the label of certain multivitamin blends, usually those marketed to men. Likely to its noticeable (but harmless) side effect of skin “tingle,” beta-alanine is a far rarer inclusion in daily health supplements. But perhaps it should be, because pairing the two ingredients appears to do more than simply maximize their respective benefits. Some research indicates they also have a synergistic relationship that makes them more effective together.
For example, a study from 2006 found significantly improved changes in lean body mass gain and body fat loss in a group who took the two ingredients together for 10 weeks, far beyond those achieved from groups that took them independently. Similarly, strength improvements were also significantly greater in the combination group. The researchers concluded “creatine plus beta-alanine supplementation appeared to have the greatest effect on lean tissue accruement and body fat composition.”
But while muscle is where creatine is primarily stored in the body, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the benefits of the ingredient don’t stop there.
Supplement researcher Kristina Kendall, Ph.D., recommends the pairing of creatine and the common brain health ingredient phosphatidylserine as a potent combination for brain health. This is particularly promising for products targeting aging populations, one of the largest target markets of cognitive enhancement supplements.
“Creatine plus phosphatidylserine is a really promising nootropic and cognitive-enhancing combo,” Kendall explains. “Conveniently, both also work well with more than one dosing strategies: when taken chronically, like for 4-6 weeks, or when ‘loaded’ in higher doses for a shorter amount of time, like 5-10 days.”
While the exact mechanisms for mental enhancement of both ingredients are still being researched, a growing amount of research supports their respective effectiveness. Most recently, a 2022 review study titled “Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Brain Function and Health” noted, “In aging adults (68–85 years), creatine supplementation… improved measures of memory (forward number recall, backward and forward spatial recall, and long-term memory).” A 2020 review of phosphatidylserine and memory function likewise found “substantial evidence” that phosphatidylserine supplementation “improves memory function among older adults with mild cognitive impairment.”
These benefits might not end with older adults, though. Recent research has pointed to potential memory benefits for creatine among other specific demographics:
Women: A 2021 review study titled “Creatine Supplementation in Women's Health: A Lifespan Perspective” explained, “Females have been reported to have lower levels of creatine in the brain, particularly the frontal lobe, which controls mood, cognition, memory and emotion.” Because of this potential disparity, authors Abbie Smith-Ryan and others noted, “Supplementation may be even more effective for females.”
Vegetarians & Vegans: A 2022 review study titled “Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Brain Function and Health” noted several studies have found supplementing with creatine improved working memory in vegetarians to a greater degree than in omnivores. And while dietary creatine comes from animal products, most supplemental creatine products, including Creapure, are derived entirely from vegan ingredients.
While the athletic benefits of creatine continue to be a popular research topic, much of the ingredient’s other potential is materializing from a different type of research that could be characterized as “creatine for health.”
Much of this research was presented at the first-ever “Creatine Conference,” held in March 2022. This conference was organized by the Exercise & Sport Nutrition Laboratory at Texas A&M University, as well as by Alzchem Group and Creapure. Presentations from academic researchers covered the potential of creatine for vascular health, brain health and to help combat a wide range of aging-related health problems.
These presentations, all of which are viewable at Creatineforhealth.com, paint a picture of an ingredient in the process of redefinition. To match the developments in creatine research, the creatine products of the future will also have to step outside the gym—perhaps with some unexpected dance partners.
Read more about:Supplement Science
Nick Collias is a writer and editor with over a decade of experience working in the health and fitness industry. From 2016 to 2021, he was the host of the Bodybuilding.com Podcast, interviewing elite athletes and training thought-leaders on a wide range of exercise, nutrition and lifestyle topics. Additionally, he has worked for the last 20 years as a longform print and online journalist, as well as a book author, ghostwriter and editor.
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