Creatine for CrossFit

Consider trying creatine? There are many reasons — from physical performance to mental ability — why you should.

Rob Wildman, PhD., RD January 19, 2015

Deep within muscle is a fierce nutrient that fights to extend high-intensity muscle action for as long as it can. That nutrient is creatine, and as creatine phosphate, it serves to drive rep numbers a little higher and extend sprints a little longer. 

Although creatine is produced naturally by the body and is available in commonly consumed foods, it found firm footing as a dietary-supplement ingredient roughly two decades ago. As a strength and performance supplement whose efficacy is supported by more than 100 research studies, creatine is very popular among CrossFit athletes. Despite creatine’s long history of use, researchers have wondered whether supplementation of this nutrient has other applications beyond muscle because it is found in other tissues, just to a lesser degree. In this article, we will explore some of the key benefits of creatine.

Muscle Magic

Creatine is naturally found in animal foods, with the best food sources being meats, poultry and fish. People who include these foods in their diet tend to get about 1 gram of creatine daily. Because of their increased focus on meat, Paleo- and Primal-type diets tend to deliver more creatine than a typical diet.

Creatine is also made in the body through the combination of three amino acids (arginine, glycine and methionine), and it is found in skeletal muscle, where it serves as a mighty anaerobic power source. Because it rapidly regenerates ATP, the body’s energy currency, creatine is particularly important when performing powerful movements and to extend the number of reps one can do. Greater exercise capacity, in turn, serves to increase the stimulus for gains in muscle strength and size. And it’s a never-ending cycle: Strenuous exercise can increase the absolute level of creatine in muscle, which leads to further increases in the exercise stimulus for muscle adaptions. Taking a creatine supplement essentially guarantees that muscles’ creatine capacity is fulfilled rather than hoping that the food you’re eating is giving you all the creatine your body can use.

Creatine And The Brain

Cognitive performance is often crucial to athletic performance. For CrossFit athletes, split-second decision-making during intense WOD exercises can impact time or rep outcomes. Simply put, high-level athletes require faster decision-making, fine-motor control and better memory recall. Like muscle, the brain uses creatine phosphate as a resource for rapid regeneration of ATP, so suboptimal levels of creatine phosphate in the brain might impact cognition. Researchers have already found that supplementing with creatine provides cognitive benefits to people whose diets deliver lower amounts.

Creatine And Bone

CrossFit athletes face tremendous bone stress when doing strength and power movements, and a stress fracture can take a CrossFit athlete out of training and competition for a considerable amount of time. So can creatine supplementation enhance bone integrity? Some early research suggests that it’s possible. While much of that research has involved older individuals, the underlying mechanisms may apply to CrossFit athletes training strenuously and risking bone injury. In addition, the body tends to lose bone mass during the process of aging anyway. Physical activity used to be the only reliable means to slow bone loss in the later decades of life, but now creatine supplementation appears to offer a dietary weapon.

So there you have it: more reasons to try creatine or to continue taking it. And as for what type and how much to take, the most studied and efficacious supplemental form is creatine monohydrate. It has been proven safe and remains less expensive than many of the other forms on the market. Aiming for 0.03 grams per pound of bodyweight is a sound recommendation — that’s the equivalent of 4 to 6 grams for most CrossFit athletes.


Nutrition Supplements

Join the Conversation


About the Author

Rob Wildman, PhD., RD

Rob Wildman, Ph.D., RD, is the author of Sport and Fitness Nutrition and The Nutritionist: Food, Nutrition, and Optimal Health and is the creator of TheNutritionDr.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TheNutritionDoc.