Personally, creatine is one of those supplements that has been a game changer for me in terms of my overall strength and fitness. Outside of protein, it is the ONLY consistent supplement I have taken for the last 10 years straight. My reason being – It simply WORKS! We know that real muscle growth happens in the last one or two reps of a set. Creatine pushes our last few reps a bit further.
A few years ago I had a big dilemma. I didn’t know if it was okay to continue using creatine while adopting the ketogenic diet. Is taking creatine on keto safe? Does creatine kick me out of ketosis? Do they counteract each other as energy sources? It turned out that creatine was not only SAFE but a VERY BENEFICIAL to take on the ketogenic diet.
Creatine is absolutely safe to take on the ketogenic. However, there are a few caveats.
Creatine and Keto: Things You Need to Know
Let’s start out with the 30,000 ft view. Here are the most important takeaways from this post.
1. Creatine Does Not Affect Ketosis
Creatine and Ketones work in separate energy systems and do not directly affect one another.
2. Water Retention
Creatine (like keto), alters body water composition. It is even more important to consume enough fluids and electrolytes while taking it.
3. Questionable Effectiveness without Carbs
The effectiveness of creatine with keto may not be the same as with a high carb diet.
4. Stress on the Kidneys
Creatine may cause an increased amount of stress on your kidneys, but healthy individuals are completely fine to take it.
Despite only being in public view since the early 1990’s, creatine is one of the most well-researched supplements to date. It is widely viewed as one of the safest performance enhancing supplements and possibly one of the most effective.
Benefits of Taking Creatine on Keto
Creatine can help restore your athletic edge. With keto, we remove carbs and reduce protein. As a result, this diet can reduce athletic performance – especially prior to metabolic adaptation. Creatine steps in here to restore energy levels and increase athletic performance.
Ketones and creatine work on separate energy systems and do not interfere with one another. So, it is safe to combine the diet with creatine supplementation. You also don’t need to worry about creatine affecting ketosis. [*]
On average creatine has been proven to increase strength by up to 10%. It is particularly helpful for any explosive exercise under 90 seconds. When you are resting between sets, creatine phosphate is working overtime to convert ADP back into ATP so that you are ready to go for your next one. ATP is our cellular fuel source and we create it from a number of different energy sources such as sugar, fat, and protein. Creatine is created from the amino acids in protein that we consume. But, we can also make it endogenously. [*]
After a set, it normally takes about 3–5 minutes for creatine to restore energy levels back to their highest point.
Keto is a “moderate” protein diet. Too much protein can kick us out of ketosis briefly. But, even so there are those of us who are very active. We need a bit more protein to maintain athletic performance. I think that is just fine. But, here is the thing… We normally get creatine from the protein we consume. That is the most effective way to get it in your system outside of supplementation. So if you have reduced your protein consumption, creatine supplementation is the only way to go. Supplementing creatine on the ketogenic diet will give you that extra boost of energy when you need it most.
Creatine and Brain Health
Some studies suggest that creatine could help cognitive function even when the person isn’t exercising. While it is generally recommended to exercise with creatine, we may still see some benefits without being physically active. [*]
Creatine can be especially beneficial when you are sleep deprived. It helps to maintain a level of alertness and resistance to fatigue. Higher brain concentrations of creatine correlate with this quality. [*]
Creatine has also been shown to reduce cognitive impairment from age-related decline. [*]
Creatine Brain Health Benefits
- Increased cognitive function even without exercise
- Increased tolerance to sleep deprivation
- Reduced cognitive impairment from natural aging
Effectiveness of Taking Creatine on Keto
Carbs and Creatine
It is possible that creatine is less effective when taken without carbs. But, there is competing research about this claim.
Several studies have analyzed the connection between creatine and carbs with glycogen stores. It is possible that creatine aids in glycogen re-supply when combined with exercise. This would increase the total amount of glycogen available in the muscle. [*]. It is suggested that total glycogen stores can be increased when consuming carbohydrates with creatine. [*]
However, A 2005 study by Carnegie School of Sport did a study with high caliber swimmers finding the opposite. They compared the performance of swimmers between two different groups. The first group ingested 5g of creatine daily by itself. The second group ingested 5g of creatine with 100g of a simple carbohydrate. All subjects swam faster after either dietary loading regimen. But, there was no major difference between the two groups. [*] We might glean from this that carbs are not necessary to experience the benefits of creatine.
Key Takeaways on the Effectiveness of Taking Creatine on Keto
- Creatine is going to effectively boost performance on keto.
- Carbs are not necessary to supplement with creatine but may have some impact on results.
Creatine Responders and Non-Responders
Some people may react to creatine differently depending on their regular levels of creatine and the type of muscle tissue they have.
A study has been done comparing responders and non-responders of creatine supplementation. It was found that people with an already high level of creatine (150 mmol/Kg dry mass) did not respond to creatine supplementation. [*] They also found that people with a higher percentage of type 2 muscle fibers, were more likely to benefit from creatine supplementation. Type 2 muscle fibers are the quick twitch muscle fibers. Athletes often have higher levels of this fiber type. [*]
Choosing a Creatine Supplement
Choose a creatine that does not have additional flavorings added. It can be harder to predict the actual content of the creatine and some forms may use maltodextrin or dextrose as a drying agent. In most creatine supplements, there shouldn’t be any hidden carbs or sugar though. [*]
Creatine Monohydrate is the most well researched and also the cheapest form of creatine available. Most experts agree that it is also the most proven type as well. I’ve used HCL, kre-alkalyn, and Monohyrdate forms. Truthfully, I haven’t noticed much of a difference in results between any of these. They all work for me. But, I would recommend just sticking with the Monohydrate form for cost reasons.
Risks of Taking Creatine on Keto
Generally, the only risk associated with taking creatine on keto is the increased strain on the kidneys. Most of these reports are one-off’s where the person already had renal or other health problems. Creatine then aggravated an already bad situation. In addition, people who are not following the proper dose recommendations of creatine, are more at risk for kidney issues. [*]
Keep in mind, the kidneys are generally more actively flushing fluids and electrolytes while on keto. So, creatine could cause them to work a bit harder than usual. When combining high protein with low carb, this can exacerbate the effect.
The reason for this is that protein causes additional calcium loss. This can contribute to higher uric acid in the kidneys. [*] While Keto is generally considered to be a “moderate” protein diet, this is something you want to keep in mind as you could be adding additional stress on your kidneys.
One of the best ways to reduce risk of kidney problems (like stones) while taking creatine on keto, is to consume more fluids and to eat more vegetables. This is going to reduce the acidity of urine by diluting it and counterbalancing with potassium. Uric acid in high concentrations cannot dissolve correctly and may form crystals. Ketones naturally increase the acidity of urine.
Key Takeaways on Creatine Risks
- Main risk is kidney health but is not a concern in healthy individuals.
- Combining high protein with low carb is an additional kidney stressor
- Mitigate the risk of kidney stones and other problems by consuming liquids and vegetables.
Natural Creatine Production
While you are supplementing creatine, your body will decrease natural creatine production. But, after stopping supplementation, it will start making creatine after a brief period of time. [*]
Long-Term Use of Creatine
Long-term use of creatine has not been studied. It has only been in the last 30 years that creatine has been available as a supplement. So, it isn’t known what kind of effects the supplement has on the body past this point in time. But, as far as we know to this point, creatine is a very safe supplement to take.
Interested in further reading on ketogenic athletic performance? Check out our post on 5 Key Reasons why Keto Athletes Can be very Competitive in 2018. Some of the best ultramarathoners in the world have used low carb diets to achieve success.