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Optimum Nutrition Creatine Review: Is It Safe and Effective?

By Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RDN, LN

Medically Reviewed by Natalie Olsen, MS, RDN, LD, ACSM-EP

Published on April 1, 2022

Dietitian Rating:

4.8

About This Rating
The average rating of this product is calculated based on the evaluation of the following factors:
  • Support for Claims:4.0
  • Ingredient Safety:5.0
  • Value for the Price:5.0
  • Brand Transparency:5.0

Optimum Nutrition Creatine is a supplement that increases muscle size, strength, and power. It contains a form of creatine called creatine monohydrate, which has a strong safety profile and most everyone can benefit from it.

Written by
Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RDN, LN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Human Nutrition and Exercise Physiology
Gavin P. Van De Walle obtained his master's degree in human nutrition and exercise physiology, during which, he researched the impact of nitrate supplementation on exercise performance and published in findings in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Medically Reviewed by
Natalie Olsen, MS, RDN, LD, ACSM-EP
Registered Dietitian, Certified Exercise Physiologist
Natalie is a registered dietitian, functional medicine practitioner and certified exercise physiologist with over 15 years experience in the health and wellness industry and holds a Master's degree in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine through a collaborative program provided by the University of Western States and the Institute of Functional Medicine.

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Optimum Nutrition Creatine Review: Is It Safe and Effective?
Photo credit: iStock.com/Kobus Louw

Pros

  • Creatine increases muscle size, strength, and power.
  • It's micronized, allowing it to mix easier in liquid.
  • It's free from substances banned in sports.

Cons

  • It can cause temporary water retention.

What Is Optimum Nutrition Creatine?

Optimum Nutrition Creatine is a supplement that contains creatine monohydrate as its only ingredient.

Creatine is naturally found in animal products, namely red meat and seafood.

Your body also naturally contains creatine, primarily in the skeletal muscle. It is produced in the liver and kidneys from certain amino acids. (1)

Each serving of Optimum Nutrition Creatine provides 5 grams of creatine monohydrate powder.

If you’re not a fan of powder, Optimum Nutrition Creatine is also available in capsule form.

Optimum Nutrition Creatine uses a branded form of creatine monohydrate called Creapure. Creatine monohydrate is the most well-studied, effective form of creatine. (1)

Creatine has consistently been shown to increase muscle size, strength, and power when combined with exercise(1)

Optimum Nutrition Creatine is intended for use by healthy people as a part of a healthy, balanced diet and exercise program.

The creatine is micronized or ground into very fine particles so that it easily mixes with liquid.

Optimum Nutrition Creatine is unflavored, so you can mix it with water or your favorite beverage using a spoon or shaker cup.

The timing in which you take creatine — for example, before or after your workout — isn’t as important as just taking it daily.

This is because you only experience the benefits of creatine once your muscles become fully saturated with creatine, which can take up to several weeks, depending on the supplement strategy.

There are generally two ways to supplement creatine. (1)

The first method — called the loading phase — involves taking 20–25 grams (4–5 scoops) of creatine per day for 5–7 days, followed by taking a maintenance dose of 3–5 grams (1 scoop).

The second method involves skipping the loading phase and taking the 3–5-gram maintenance dose.

Both methods are equally effective, but it takes about four times longer to experience creatine’s benefits using the maintenance dose strategy. (1)

Glanbia Performance Nutrition is the parent company of Optimum Nutrition as well as other leading sports and lifestyle nutrition brands, including SlimFast, Isopure, and Bio-Engineered Supplements and Nutrition (BSN).

Summary 

Optimum Nutrition Creatine is a creatine monohydrate supplement that supports muscle size, strength, and power.

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Is It Effective?

Optimum Nutrition Creatine claims to support energy recycling and explosive movements.

Energy Recycling

Creatine works by replenishing a molecule in your muscles called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the energy currency of the cell. (1)

ATP is composed of three phosphate groups that — when broken — supply your muscles with energy to lift a heavy weight, for example.

When a phosphate molecule is broken to produce energy, ATP becomes adenosine diphosphate (ADP).

The creatine’s job is to replenish the phosphate, recycling ADP back to ATP to keep this energy system — called the phosphagen energy system — running.

In this way, supplementing with Optimum Nutrition Creatine increases the available fuel in your muscle to power ATP.

This increased fuel allows you to perform a few extra repetitions, lift heavier weights, and tire less easily, leading to gains in muscle size, strength, and power. (1)

Indeed, two reviews involving dozens of studies showed that creatine supplementation significantly increased muscle size and strength on several lifts, including bench press, leg press, and squats. (2, 3)

These gains in muscle size and strength occurred independently of the participants’ sex, age, and training experience, suggesting that most everyone can achieve gains in muscle size and strength from creatine supplementation.

Summary

Creatine is proven effective for increasing muscle fuel and has been shown to increase muscle size and strength.

Explosive Movements

There are three main energy pathways that your muscles rely on to produce energy.

Creatine powers one of these systems — called the phosphagen energy system — which is the most rapidly available energy source.

This system provides your muscles with the energy needed to perform explosive-type movements, such as weight-lifting, sprinting, throwing, hitting, and jumping.

Sports that rely on these movements — and therefore athletes who could benefit from creatine supplementation — include football, basketball, soccer, hockey, volleyball, combat sports, powerlifting, as well as track and field events, like sprints, hurdles, relays, shot put, and discus.

To this point, creatine supplementation has been shown to increase muscle power and strength, as well as sprint performance, by 5%–15%. (4)

Conversely, while less beneficial for endurance sports or activities — such as long-distance running, cycling, and cross-country skiing — creatine may enhance recovery from these activities. (5)

In addition, creatine has benefits outside of exercise performance related to brain health and healthy aging that may make supplementation worthwhile. (1)

Summary 

Optimum Nutrition Creatine is most effective for movements and activities that require quick bursts of explosive energy — such as weight-lifting, sprinting, throwing, and jumping — but may offer recovery benefits for endurance-related activities.

Support for Claimed Benefits

Below is our summary of the available evidence for the claimed benefits of Optimum Nutrition Creatine, based on the available research:

Energy recycling4/5
Explosive movements4/5

Side Effects and Safety

With over 500 peer-reviewed studies, creatine monohydrate is arguably the most effective and safest sports supplement available for people of all ages, from infancy to the elderly. (6, 7)

However, the safety of creatine is frequently called into question by media reports and even some medical doctors.

The most commonly cited safety concern surrounding creatine supplementation is that it harms the kidneys, but there remains no evidence to support this belief in people with normal kidney function. (8)

This belief likely stems from a misunderstanding of creatine metabolism.

Creatine is metabolized or broken down to creatinine, which is filtered from the blood by the kidneys and eliminated in the urine.

Because healthy kidneys filter creatinine — which would otherwise increase in the blood in people with impaired kidney function — blood creatinine levels are commonly used as an indicator of kidney health.

However, creatinine levels are elevated in people who supplement with creatine, have higher dietary intakes of creatine, as well as people who have higher amounts of muscle, since muscle is where creatine is stored. (6)

Without this understanding, it’s easy to see why creatine supplementation could be presumed to cause kidney damage since it can elevate a marker commonly used to assess kidney function.

However, for those who have pre-existing kidney issues, it is best to speak to your doctor about supplementing creatine. (9)

Still, creatine supplementation is known to cause temporary water retention and weight gain, especially if you choose the loading strategy.

This water retention is harmless and short-lived, lasting only a few days. (6)

Other commonly reported side effects of creatine supplementation include stomach discomfort, muscle cramps, and dehydration.

But these effects are anecdotal, and some research suggests that creatine users actually experience fewer cramps and dehydration compared with non-users. (6)

Summary 

There is no strong or consistent evidence to suggest that creatine supplementation causes kidney damage, stomach discomfort, muscle cramps, or dehydration.

Creatine supplementation, however, can cause temporary water retention during the first few days of the loading phase.

Cost and Where to Buy

Optimum Nutrition Creatine is one of the most popular creatine supplements, so it’s widely available.

You can purchase it directly from Optimum Nutrition’s website or other online retailers like Bodybuilding.com or Amazon.

Popular supplement retailers like Walmart, GNC, The Vitamin Shoppe, Vitamin World, and local supplement stores are also likely to carry Optimum Nutrition Creatine.

Optimum Nutrition Creatine powder is available in 5-gram servings of 30, 60, 120, or 400. All sizes are unflavored.

The cost can range from $11 to $65 ($0.10 to $0.37 per serving), depending on the number of servings per container and where you purchase it.

The capsules are available in 2.5-gram servings of 50, 100, and 150, and range in price from $34 to $70 ($0.40 to $0.70 per serving).

The capsules provide 2.5 grams per 2-capsule serving, so you would have to take at least 4 capsules daily to reach the 5-gram maintenance dose.

Optimum Nutrition Creatine tends to cost more when compared with other retailers if you purchase it directly from the Optimum Nutrition website.

However, you get a 30-day money-back guarantee if less than 75% of the product has been used, which the other retailers might not offer.

Keep in mind, though, that it takes at least a week of creatine loading before you begin to experience any results. (1)

Summary 

Most popular supplement retailers — whether online or in-store — carry Optimum Nutrition Creatine due to its popularity. The price can vary significantly depending on where you buy and whether you prefer powder or capsules.

Buy Optimum Nutrition Creatine

How Optimum Nutrition Creatine Compares to Other Brands

Due to its popularity, effectiveness, and relatively low cost, most established sports nutrition companies have a creatine product.

Most companies use creatine monohydrate, so beyond price, there isn’t much difference in terms of the product’s effectiveness or safety among companies.

However, not every creatine monohydrate product is third-party tested for banned substances like Optimum Nutrition Creatine, giving it an edge above other products that choose to forgo this dedication to purity.

Optimum Nutrition Creatine also uses a branded form of creatine monohydrate called Creapure, which not every supplement company uses due to its higher cost.

Creapure is produced in Germany and is subject to rigorous quality control to ensure each batch is pure and of high quality.

NutraBio and Dymatize are comparable to Optimum Nutrition Creatine in that they are similar in price, utilize Creapure, and are tested for banned substances.

Other companies may try to differentiate themselves by using a different form of creatine — such as creatine hydrochloride, creatine ethyl ester, creatine nitrate — but these forms are less studied and, based on the current data, inferior to creatine monohydrate for increasing muscle energy and strength. (6, 1)

Summary 

Most established sports nutrition brands carry a creatine product, but not every company tests their product for banned substances or uses Creapure — a branded, high-quality form of creatine monohydrate — like Optimum Nutrition.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is creatine an anabolic steroid?

Creatine is a tripeptide compound, meaning it's made up of three amino acids. It does not possess the structure necessary to be classified as a steroid, nor does it influence hormones as an anabolic steroid would. (6)

Does creatine cause hair loss?

Creatine is thought to increase dihydrotestosterone (DHT) — a hormone implicated in hair loss — but research suggests that creatine supplementation does not significantly affect DHT or cause hair loss. (6)

Does creatine cause weight gain?

Creatine can cause weight gain due to water retention, but this effect is only temporary and tends to only occur when taking large doses of creatine, such as during the loading phase. (6)

Is creatine safe for teens?

Many dietary supplements, especially sports supplements like creatine, carry a warning label stating that the product is not intended for people under the age of 18.

However, this warning label is more for liability protection and not necessarily based on safety data, which suggests that creatine supplementation appears to be both safe and beneficial for teens. (6, 1)

Is creatine vegan?

Creapure — the brand name of the creatine monohydrate used in Optimum Nutrition Creatine — is vegan since it's manufactured from raw materials not derived from animal products. (10)

The Bottom Line

Optimum Nutrition Creatine is a popular creatine supplement that increases muscle size, strength, and power by increasing the availability of fuel to your muscles.

It’s most beneficial for activities that require quick, explosive energy — such as weight lifting, sprinting, and jumping. However, some research shows it may be beneficial for longer-duration sports as well.

Although creatine supplementation has been suggested to impair kidney health and lead to dehydration, muscle cramps, and stomach discomfort, no strong or consistent evidence supports these claims.

However, if you have pre-existing kidney issues, speak with your healthcare provider before supplementing.

Creatine is known to cause temporary water retention and weight gain during the first few days of the loading phase.

Beyond this side effect, creatine is well-tolerated and very safe for people of all ages.

While there are countless creatine products on the market, Optimum Nutrition Creatine is one of the best options owing to its use of a high-quality, branded form of creatine monohydrate — called Creapure — and third-party testing as a commitment to purity and quality.

Buy Optimum Nutrition Creatine

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  1. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine - PubMed:
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28615996/
  2. Creatine Supplementation and Upper Limb Strength Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis - PubMed:
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27328852/
  3. Creatine Supplementation and Lower Limb Strength Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses - PubMed:
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25946994/
  4. Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations - PubMed:
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12701815/
  5. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show? | Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition | Full Text:
    https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w
  6. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show? - PubMed:
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33557850/
  7. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine - PMC:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5469049/#:~:text=Available%20short%20and%20long%2Dterm,of%20health%20and%20performance%20benefits.
  8. Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Renal Function: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis - PubMed:
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31375416/
  9. Potential Adverse Effects of Creatine Supplement on the Kidney in Athletes and Bodybuilders - PubMed:
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30367015/
  10. What is Creapure®? | Creapure:
    https://www.creapure.com/en/creapure/what-creapure