In the world of weight lifting and bodybuilding, gains are everything. The topics of how bigger your muscles have gotten or how heavy you can lift are in constant rotation. For you to keep up with everyone else, you have to ensure that you keep your body, and especially your muscles in tip-top shape. This is where foods with creatine come in.
In this article we will educate you on important facts to know such as ‘what is creatine’, when to take creatine, as well as give you examples of foods with creatine in them, so you can consume it straight from your diet instead of having to buy it.
Quick Facts About Creatine
Before getting into what foods help with creatine levels, what is creatine? Many people in the fitness world may just know it as a supplement and while this is true, the lesser known fact is that creatine is in fact an amino acid that is mostly found in the muscles and the brain. Here are some more details about it:
- It is an endogenous amino acid that is derived from three other amino acids – namely L-arginine, glycine, and L-methionine.
- The highest amount of creatine – about 95 percent is primarily stored in skeletal muscle with the rest of it found in the brain (3).
- Some trace amounts of this endogenous amino acid can also be found in the liver, pancreas and kidneys. In males, creatine can also be found in the testes (13).
- In the skeletal muscle, creatine is stored in concentrations of 100–150 mmol/kg dry weight (dw) of muscle (11).
- According to medicalnewstoday.com, this amino acid makes up about 1 percent of the total volume of human blood.
- Apart from the supply found in the human body, you can increase the levels of this amino acid by consuming certain foods. Foods with creatine naturally found in nature are listed further below in this article.
- You can also up these levels by taking some dietary supplements.
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What Does Creatine Do?
Foods with creatine are popular among professional athletes, weight lifters, and body builders because this amino acid is believed to help with: improving strength – To help you lift heavier weights and increase your performance and endurance, increase lean muscle mass for greater gains and in boosting muscle recovery after a workout (10, 7).
While foods with creatine naturally may be of more interest to bodybuilders and athletes, other people can also benefit from consuming them too.
- Can help people with muscular dystrophy. Patients suffering from damaged and/or weakened muscles can benefit from consuming foods with creatine. In 2001 a study showed that subjects who took creatine supplements recovered faster from muscle decline than those who took a placebo (6).
- Supplementation can help patients with neuromuscular diseases gain strength. A 1999 study found that creatine helped increase high-intensity strength in patients with neuromuscular disease (2).
With that being said, the biggest benefits of creatine seem to relate to muscle gain. In fact, according to healthline.com, food with creatine may help with muscle gain by:
- Improving cell signaling, which helps with muscle repair and growth.
- Raising anabolic hormones such as human growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor-1, insulin, estrogen, and testosterone (15).
- Increasing cell hydration. Hydrated muscle cells lead to increased muscle size.
- Reduced protein breakdown. Increased protein in the body contributes to greater strength and muscle mass gains when coupled with resistance exercise (4).
- Lowers myostatin levels as high myostatin levels can slow and inhibit the growth of new muscles (8).
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When To Take Creatine For The Best Results
If you are wondering whether to take creatine before or after a workout for the best results, the research on this is quite limited. To make matters even more confusing, the available research also has conflicting results. For example:
- In 2013, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, scientists conducted a study on 19 healthy recreational male bodybuilders to try and find out when the consumption of creatine worked best.
The men were divided into two groups – one was to take the amino acid supplement before their workout while the other group was to do the same after their session. All participants did weight training exercises five days a week for four weeks.
At the end of the study, researchers found that the men who took the creatine after exercise had lost more fat and had more lean mass than those who took it before their workout (14).
- A year later in 2014, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, other scientists did a similar study only this time, they used older adults – aged between 51 to 70 years old – as the test subjects.
The subjects were divided into four groups, all taking creatine supplements or placebo at different times and doing resistance training. After 32 weeks of this researchers found that creatine, regardless of timing, increased muscle strength more than the placebo, while the post exercise group showed the greatest gains in lean mass (12).
So where does this leave us? When should you take creatine? Before or after a workout? The answer is that it doesn’t matter. Take it whenever it is convenient to you – you will benefit either way. However, it is advisable shortly before or after exercise as taking it too early or long after your workout may not yield the same results.
This effect was realized in 2006 after a study where participants were divided into two groups – one taking the supplement right before and after their workout while the other took the supplement in the morning and evening.
After 10 weeks of this, researchers compared all the subjects and realized that the group that took the amino acid supplement close to exercise gained more muscle and strength than the group that took creatine in the morning and evening (9).
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What Foods Can You Eat With High Creatine Levels?
While most people prefer to get their creatine from store bought supplements, you can get them naturally and easily from foods with creatine. Some examples of such food sources are as follows:
- Beef. When it comes to foods with creatine protein from animal sources such as beef have the highest amounts of this amino acid derivative. According to livestrong.com, every 1 to 2 pounds of beef has about 1 gram of creatine.
An important fact to note is that cooking meat reduced the amount of this amino acid by about 5 percent. This doesn’t mean that you should start having your steak rare – Boiling and stewing are the recommended cooking methods that will help retain the best creatine levels.
- Pork. Like beef, pork is also a good food source of this amino acid. A paper by the University of Delaware Chemistry Department estimates these levels to be at around 1.4 to 2.3 grams of creatine per pound (1).
- Salmon. Another health source of creatine is this popular healthy fatty fish that is rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Medicalnewstoday.com states that a pound of salmon has about 1 to 2 g of creatine while dmarge.com states that a kilogram of this fish will give you about 4.5 grams of the same.
- Herring. When it comes to foods with the highest amounts of creatine, herring knocks everything out of the park with levels reaching 3 to 4.5 grams per pound.
According to a study in the Journal of Food Science and Technology Research, if you want to get the highest levels of creatine from herring, you should consider drying it first. Drying herring for 8 days produces a lot more levels of this amino acid in the fish (5).
- Chicken and rabbit meat – According to healthyeating.sfgate.com, chicken and rabbit meat have the same levels of this amino acid, which is about 4 and 5 grams per kilogram of flesh.
Like all meats, however, cooking reduces these levels. It is sometimes suggested that you get free range raised animals as they are said to be foods with creatine in high amounts.
At the end of the day, foods with creatine are red meat, milk and fish. While the levels may vary, as long as you are consuming these foods constantly in your diet, you will be okay.
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Foods With Creatine Vegan
Are there vegan food sources with creatine? Unfortunately, no, there aren’t any vegan foods with creatine. If you would like to get this amino acid in your body, vegan creatine supplements are your only answer.
Some sources such as medium.com, advise readers to eat plant based amino acid sources such as pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, nuts, sesame seeds, and cooked quinoa seeds to help their bodies produce more creatine, naturally.
Foods To Avoid With High Creatine Levels
As we have seen above, animal products are the only foods that have creatine in them. If your doctor tells you that you have too much creatine in your body, then you may have to quit these protein sources for a while.
The Bottom Line
This amino acid is very important to athletes and bodybuilders and if they want to see more muscle gains and improved performance then they should aim to consume more foods with creatine in their diets. However, if you feel like these foods are not giving you enough of this amino acid, supplements work too – but be sure to first consult your doctor to find the best supplement for you.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Creatine (n.d., udel.edu)
- Creatine monohydrate increases strength in patients with neuromuscular disease (1999, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effect of Drying on Creatine/Creatinine Ratios and Subsequent Taste of Herring (Clupea pallasii) Fillet (2013, jstage.jst.go.jp)
- Effect of oral creatine supplementation on human muscle GLUT4 protein content after immobilization (2001, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations (2003, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effects of oral creatine and resistance training on serum myostatin and GASP-1 (2010, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy (2006, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise (2007, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Methylguanidine (n.d., sciencedirect.com)
- Strategic creatine supplementation and resistance training in healthy older adults (2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The distribution, metabolism and function of creatine in the male mammalian reproductive tract: a review (2001, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength (2013, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Role of Anabolic Hormones for Wound Healing in Catabolic States (2005, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)