Creatine is so popular these days that it sometimes seems like you need it to build muscle. Everywhere you look, especially online, people are pushing creatine as a necessity for lifters and athletes, but it is actually needed for building strength and muscle?
You don’t need creatine to build muscle. Creatine helps give your muscles more energy, which helps you lift more weight, but it’s completely possible to build muscle and strength without it.
While you can build muscle without taking creatine, or any supplement at all, lifters and athletes who do take it see much better increases in performance. The simple answer was that you can build muscle without creatine, but the full answer goes much more in-depth.
I’ve poured over scientific studies to find the true answers, and below, I’ll go over all the different factors and caveats that you need to know about creatine and building muscle.
You Don’t Need Creatine to Build Muscle
I’ll put it simply again; you don’t need creatine to build muscle. This being said, there’s no way around the data; lifters and athletes who take creatine do see significantly more gains than those who don’t take it.
So what does all this mean? All the data from countless studies show that lifters who take creatine see 8% greater strength increases than the participants that don’t (more on this later).
This being said, the groups in the studies that didn’t take creatine, still saw increases in strength. While the goals of these studies were to prove that creatine helps build strength, they ended up also proving that you can build strength without it too.
While it’s definitely possible to build strength and muscle without creatine, you’re at a disadvantage as a lifter. Especially if you’re a competitive lifter, if you’re not taking creatine, the people you’re competing against are potentially gaining 8% more strength than you, even if you’re doing the same routine or lifting the same amount of weight.
If you’re looking for the creatine that’s most effective for building muscle, check out my article on my favorite one. I’ve used creatine for years now, and this is the only one I continue to use. I even added a discount code in there, so be sure to take a look!
Although lifters who take creatine see 8% greater gains, this is an average number. The actual performance increases ranged from 16% to 43%. So, while the creatine group of lifters saw 8% greater increases in strength, their actual improvements ranged pretty widely.
This just means that everyone responds differently to creatine, and everyone responds differently to exercise. If it’s easy for you to build muscle, even without creatine, you would still see better performance gains compared to someone that is taking creatine if they don’t respond well to it.
This 8% number is an average, and created from a large group of people. In 1 on 1 situations against another lifter, it’s anyone’s game.
Again, it’s completely possible to build muscle without creatine. After all, humans have built muscle without creatine, or any supplements at all for that matter, for thousands of years.
In fact, you get a lot of creatine just from a normal diet. Meat, fish, and even some vegetables, beans, and nuts contain creatine. Your body produces some of its own creatine, but you do need some coming in as well.
Creatine isn’t just a supplement, it’s also important for your metabolic system and brain function, making it a vital nutrient for your body.
On top of all that, it’s also a great supplement. It’s not needed to build muscle, but it can give you a boost in strength and muscle that you might need to improve your physique, or come out on top in your next competition.
Lifters Who Take Creatine See 8% Greater Increases in Strength (On Average)
In the main study that I went over, one group of participants were put through a creatine loading phase for one week. After this, they were given a maintenance dose every day, for the remainder of the study.
Another group was given a placebo for the study, which means that they thought they were taking creatine, but they were actually taking something else that has no effect on muscle growth.
At the end of the study, the group that took creatine overall saw 20% gains in strength, compared to their strength at the start of the study. The group that took the placebo saw 12% gains compared to their strength at the start of the study.
On top of this, participants who were previously untrained saw huge gains in strength compared to those who trained before the study (31% vs 14%).
All of this means that people who take creatine, on average, see 8% more gains in strength than people who don’t take creatine. Since the creatine group in the study saw 20% increases in strength, the obvious only solution is that creatine does work for building muscle.
Although, this doesn’t mean that people that don’t take creatine don’t build any muscle, as the placebo group also increased 12% in strength.
At the end of the day, you can build creatine with or without creatine. You can build muscle and strength just fine without creatine, but those who do take it see larger increases in strength over time.
Below, I’ll go more in-depth into the group that didn’t take creatine, as well as explain how completely possible it is to build muscle without creatine or any supplements at all.
Lifters and Athletes Still Build Muscle Without Taking Creatine
To put it short, it happens all the time. As popular as creatine may seem, not everyone takes it. In the study I mentioned earlier, you might have noticed that while the lifters that took creatine saw 8% more strength increases, the group that didn’t take creatine still saw strength increases of 12% over the course of the study.
This means that yes, it’s completely possible to build muscle and strength without taking any creatine.
Realistically speaking, you don’t need to take creatine at all if you’re a lifter or an athlete. Yes, it can be helpful for building muscle, and can give you a competitive advantage, but you don’t truly need it to build muscle.
Think of how far back human history goes, and then think of how long we’ve been using supplements like creatine. For the vast, vast majority of time, we haven’t had any supplements at all, and humans still built muscle just fine.
Of course, our bodies did produce it naturally, but for thousands of years people have built muscle and strength without taking creatine.
Again, as popular as creatine seems, I’m guessing the majority of athletes and lifters don’t take it. Many if not most of my friends, who do lift, don’t take creatine, and they build muscle just fine. If the data from the studies didn’t convince you that you don’t need creatine, hopefully that will.
At the end of the day, creatine is just a helpful tool. You can use it to build more muscle. You can use it to give yourself an advantage in competitions, and you can use it to give yourself an extra boost in strength.
Don’t get me wrong, I love creatine. I like the benefits of the strength boost, and the extra energy in the gym. But is it necessary for building muscle? The answer is still no.
You’re at a Disadvantage If You Don’t Take Creatine
I mentioned this a bit earlier, but I’ll go more in-depth. No, you don’t need creatine, but if you don’t take it, you might actually be at a disadvantage.
If you’re not a competitive lifter, imagine that you are. If you already are, then you’re off to a great start. Now, if everyone that you’re competing against is taking creatine supplements, but you aren’t you’re at a huge disadvantage.
To be specific, if you’re the only one not taking creatine, but everyone you’re competing against trained the same way and lifted the same amount of weight, you’re still at an 8% strength disadvantage. This might not seem like a lot, but it adds up pretty quickly when we’re talking about hundreds of pounds on the bar.
To combat this, there’s a few things that you could do. The easy way is to start taking creatine. This puts you on a level playing field with lifters who already take creatine, and gives you an advantage over those that don’t.
If the easy way isn’t for you, you can do it the hard way. The hard way is to lift 8% more weight and train 8% harder than every lifter you’re competing against.
That sounds hard, but it’s definitely possible. Lifters outperform each other by 8% all the time, but you have to put in a lot of work. If you start taking creatine, and combine it with 8% more training than your competitors, you’ll be outperforming almost everyone.
While you might be at a disadvantage without it, creatine isn’t the end all be all to lifting. Even without it, it’s still possible to come out on top over athletes that are taking it, and have the same routine as you. Below, I’ll explain why this is possible.
Some people think that you should stop taking creatine before a competition, but not everyone. If you want to know if you should stop taking creatine before your next competition, read my article that goes over exactly that!
Creatine Affects Every Athlete Differently
Creatine, as well as every other supplement, affects everyone differently. On top of this, everyone responds differently to strength training. For example, for two people that have the same routine’s and lift the same amount of weight, one of them might build more muscle than the other. Let’s go over a few different scenarios.
Imagine that you’re a lifter with pretty good genetics. It’s always been easy for you to build muscle, even without supplements. Another lifter that you’re competing against is taking creatine, but has always had a harder time building muscle. In a scenario like this, it’s completely possible for you to build more strength than them, even if they’re taking creatine and you’re both lifting the same weight with the same routines.
In this scenario imagine two lifters. One of them is taking creatine and has good genetics for building muscle. The other one isn’t taking creatine, and has pretty bad muscle genetics. The second lifter has a huge disadvantage when it comes to building muscle and strength.
If you were the second lifter, wouldn’t you want every advantage possible? If it’s already hard for you to build muscle because of genetics, you should be taking every advantage you can get.
So no, you don’t need creatine to build muscle, but if you have other disadvantages, you should take advantages of the benefits from creatine.
In the studies I mentioned earlier, the results from lifters that took creatine varied from 16% to 43%. This is a huge difference, and there are many factors, but two of the biggest factors are how you react to creatine, and how you react to strength training.
On top of different responses to training and muscle, there are a million other factors. How much sleep you get each night, how optimized your diet is, even how you’re feeling the day of the competition can all impact the end results.
On top of all the different variations I’ve already mentioned, there are also many different types of creatine. If you want to learn about all of them, check out my article on the 12 different types of creatine!
Creatine Helps Build Muscle, but It Isn’t Necessary
So, what you should be getting from all this is that yes, creatine can help you build muscle and strength, but you don’t need it. It can give you a competitive advantage if you use it the right way, or it can be a disadvantage if you choose not to take it. Whether it’s an advantage or a disadvantage for you, either way you can build muscle just fine.
As I said earlier, you should look at creatine and other supplements as tools. Yes, they’re helpful, but they’re almost never necessary. When you’re taking creatine just remember that it’s a tool. As much as creatine can give you an advantage, it can’t build muscle for you.
Creatine can help, but at the end of the day, it’s still you doing the work and building the muscle. Creatine isn’t magic, and you still have to put in time in the gym to see results.
Don’t get me wrong; creatine is a great supplement, but it won’t build muscle for you all on its own. Whether or not you decide to take creatine, focus on increasing your efforts while you’re lifting. This way, no matter what supplements you’re taking, you’re practically guaranteed to build muscle.
In fact, if you focus on putting work in instead of focusing on supplements, you can get an even bigger advantage over lifters that are relying on creatine and other supplements to build muscle.
On top of that, there are a lot of other things you can do to increase your strength without creatine. Below, I’ll go over some of these strategies for building more muscle without supplements.
Maximizing Performance Without Creatine
By now, you know that you don’t need creatine, but you can build more muscle if you do take it. This being said, there are a lot of things you can do to maximize and optimize your performance without creatine or any supplement at all. What are these things?
- Optimize your diet
- Maximize your recovery
- Optimize your training and routine
Whether or not you’re taking creatine, there are some “best practices” for strength and muscle building that you should be following. If you’re not taking creatine, these things are even more important for making sure that you’re getting the most out of every lifting session. Below, I’ll go more in-depth into these things.
Optimize Your Diet
Here’s a saying you might have heard before; abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym. The same thing applies to strength and muscle building. If you’re not taking creatine, you’re muscles need every bit of energy that they can get.
This is why it’s vital that you optimize your diet. It’s important to get every necessary nutrient in order to actually build muscle. You need to eat carbs and fat for energy, and you need protein to build muscle.
Without protein, it’s impossible to build muscle or strength, no matter how much you lift in the gym. When you lift weights, it tears down your muscle fibers.
After you’re done, while you’re recovering, your muscles rebuild themselves stronger than they were before, mostly thanks to protein. One of the best ways to maximize your muscle and strength gains is to optimize your diet and make sure that you’re getting all the essential nutrients.
Maximize Your Recovery
As I mentioned above, recovery is when you’re actually building muscle. In one study I found, the more sleep participants got every night, the more efficiently they built muscle. Additionally, participants that didn’t get enough sleep had a much harder time building muscle.
On top of getting enough sleep, it’s important that you have enough time between your lifting sessions to recover. As I mentioned earlier, after you lift, it makes tears in your muscles.
While you’re recovering, they rebuild themselves better and stronger than they were before. If you lift again before they’re done recovering, it ruins your ability to actually build muscle.
So, it’s important to recover after working out. Make sure that you get enough sleep every night, and that you give yourself enough time between workouts.
Optimize Your Training and Routine
On top of recovery and diet, it’s also important that you’re optimizing your lifting the right way. Some people lift without any set routine, and do whichever exercises they feel like on that day.
Lifting strategies can get pretty complicated, but one of the simplest ones is to build and stick to a routine. Without creatine, it’s going to be a little harder to build muscle, so it’s even more important that you’re lifting efficiently.
Building a routine helps you keep track of your lifts, as well as make sure that you’re actually making progress and improving. At the end of the day, following a routine is a great way to make sure that you’re building muscle efficiently, with or without creatine.
Getting Extra Creatine Naturally
I’ve mentioned this before, but creatine is essential for your body, whether you’re a lifter or not. Your body actually produces a lot on its own, and on top of that, many common foods contain creatine. Creatine is important even if you don’t want to take it as a supplement, and you can get it naturally. Here are a few natural sources of creatine:
- Red meat (beef, lamb)
- Fish (salmon, tuna)
- White meat (pork, chicken)
While your body does produce its own creatine, its also important to get it from foods. While creatine isn’t needed to build muscle, if you’re a vegan, or don’t eat a lot of meat, it might make more sense for you to take it as a supplement. I actually wrote an article on why vegans should take creatine, so check that one out next!
Since humans produce their own creatine, most animals do too. That means most animal meat contains creatine as well. Red meat, white meat, fish, and even other foods like cranberries all contain creatine naturally.
Without creatine, you’ll get tired more easily, and you may be at a higher risk of developing neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. Creatine is very important for muscle building, as well as functions in the brain and the organs.
If you’re interested in what else happens when you don’t take creatine, I wrote an article on everything that happens when you stop taking creatine, so check that one out too!
Creatine is important, even if you’re not a lifter. It’s not needed to build muscle, but it’s important for essential functions in our bodies. If you’re not taking it as a supplement, it’s important to make sure that you’re getting enough from natural sources.
How Creatine Actually Increases Strength
By now, you probably know that you don’t need creatine to build muscle, but you might not know how it actually functions in your body, and how it improves your ability to build strength. Below, I’ll give you a quick rundown on how creatine actually works to boost your strength.
If you took highschool biology, you’ve probably heard of ATP before. ATP is what our body’s use as energy. More on this in a little bit.
Creatine stored in reserves in your muscle cells, in the form of “phosphocreatine.” When you take creatine as a supplement, all you’re really doing is filling up and adding to these reserves.
Creatine is easily converted into ATP. When your muscles need more energy, like while you’re lifting, it can convert its stores of creatine into ATP very easily, which gives you more energy.
So, creatine doesn’t directly build muscle. This being said, it does give you more energy, which lets you lift more weight, or work out for longer, which does build muscle.
Imagine you’re at the gym, and you’re on your last set of a lift. You might start to get tired, and you might not be able to do another set. If you’re taking creatine, it may give you the energy you need to do one more set of every lift that you’re doing!
So no, creatine isn’t going to build your muscles for you, but it’ll give you the energy you need to get more weight lifted, therein building more muscle.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that you don’t need creatine to build muscle. You can build more muscle by taking creatine, and it might give you an advantage in competitions, but it’s not necessary.
On top of this, creatine is important for basic functions in your muscles, organs, and brain. Thankfully, even if you don’t want to supplement with creatine, you can get it naturally from almost every type of meat.
At the end of the day, creatine is a tool. It’s not necessary for building muscle, but it can help you get to where you want to be.