Creatine supplements increase lean muscle mass and enhance physical performance.
As such, many gym-goers, your friends and even professional trainers often confuse creatine with steroids. This prompts the question: “Is creatine a steroid?”
Creatine is not an anabolic steroid. Even if it helps to improve body composition and performance, it is a substance that is already found in the body.
Let’s discuss why creatine isn’t a steroid and learn more about its essential characteristics and differences from actual steroids.
- Creatine is not a steroid. Steroids are synthetically produced hormones. Creatine is produced from amino acids.
- Creatine and steroids have different mechanisms of work and molecular structures
- Creatine is legal in most places, steroids are not
- Creatine is legal in most sports, where steroids are banned
- Creatine is generally safe with fewer side effects. Steroids pose more risk of side effects – some temporary, some potentially permanent
- Both enhance performance through different mechanisms:
- Creatine works via increased ATP production in the muscle for improved performance in exercise that works towards maximal intensities. It also draws water intramuscularly
- Steroids increase performance far beyond what creatine can and beyond genetic limitations via various pathways such as increased muscle protein synthesis and activation of satellite cells in the muscles
Is Creatine a Steroid?
No, creatine is not a steroid. It is a substance that is NATURALLY produced and found in the human body.
The liver, kidneys, and pancreas are responsible for creatine production in the body. On the other hand, the muscles, brain, and testes are responsible for its storage.
In contrast to steroids, creatine has a different mechanism of function, chemical structure, and results.
Aside from these differences, both substances do not have the same legal status or side effects.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Creatine is one of the most effective sports nutrition supplements(1) available.
What Is Creatine and How Does It Work?
To help you better understand WHY the answer to the question “is creatine a steroid?” is a no, let’s talk about some things you need to know about creatine.
The most common form of creatine in the body is creatine monohydrate. It is composed of the L-arginine, L-methionine, and L-glycine amino acids.
Its HIGHER LEVELS result in increased muscle gains, higher strength and power, and weight gain. A randomized controlled trial also claims(2) that it can help enhance cognitive capacity.
Since stored creatine is found in the muscles, its higher levels help you produce more adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
FUN FACT: ATP is your energy source when you train. The higher your ATP levels are, the MORE ENERGY in your muscles have to contract at the maximal end of your training intensity.
As you train, your muscles contract. When they do, this breaks off a phosphate molecule from your ATP. This leaves you with adenosine diphosphate (ADP), which can’t be used for energy.
However, if you have MORE CREATINE PHOSPHATE stored in your body, a phosphate molecule can form ATP again from the ADP that you have.
This will give you more energy to work out for a longer period to build lean tissue mass.
The natural creatine levels in your body can be complemented by a carnivorous diet to maximize how much creatine your muscle cells store, but this can still be much further optimized.
This makes creatine an even more essential supplement for vegan and vegetarian diets.
What Is Creatine Supplementation Used For?
Many professional and non-professional athletes use oral creatine supplementation, most popularly in powder form, to IMPROVE their athletic performance and recovery.
It is commonly used in workouts, such as high-intensity interval training, weight training, and cycling.
Many athletes also use it in power sports with short, intense bouts of work like powerlifting, bodybuilding, football, and wrestling.
Benefits of Creatine Supplements
The positive effects of creatine supplementation are mainly why people ask the question, “is creatine a steroid?” in the first place. The benefits are the following:
#1 Increased Muscle Mass
Creatine can help with long-term skeletal muscle gain as it increases the amount of work your muscles can do.
Your higher muscle mass can help slow down the effects of reduced mobility that come with aging since you don’t lose muscle as fast.
#2 Improved Endurance
Aside from increasing the amount of work you can do, creatine use can also EXTEND your workout time. It improves endurance and allows creatine users to work for longer.
#3 Elevated Cell Hydration
Creatine hydrates the cell by drawing water into your muscles. This increases cell volume and gives your muscles a larger, fuller appearance.
#4 Reduces Protein Breakdowns and Muscle Loss
Taking creatine supplements helps stop your muscles from breaking down so that you don’t lose muscle. This enables you to not only build but also maintain muscle mass easier.
Risks & Side Effects of Creatine
The International Society of Sports Nutrition declares(1) that taking creatine supplementation appears to be mostly safe.
Despite this, there are a few side effects of creatine supplementation that you should keep in mind:
- Creatine retains water, which causes your muscle fibers and mass to increase your body weight. You may observe a relative weight gain when taking oral creatine supplements. This altering fluid distribution can also result in muscle cramps in some people.
- The recommended dose for creatine is 3 to 5 grams daily. If you go above this, you may experience digestive issues and diarrhea.
- If you have a medical history of damage relating to your liver, kidney, and blood sugar levels, creatine ingestion should come with your doctor’s consent first.Note: Creatine supplementation does not actually increase blood creatine kinase levels as some have suggested and in fact, helps lower this marker of muscle damage post-workout.
What Are Anabolic Steroids and How Do They Work?
If the question “is creatine a steroid?” leads to a no answer, what then are steroids?
Steroids are synthetic or man-made versions of hormones.
They are compounds that have a shared structural feature of four conjoined cycloalkane rings. They contain the steroid molecule, which has three cyclohexane rings and a cyclopentane ring.
One of the most common steroid molecules is cholesterol. It is the MAIN COMPONENT of steroid hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen.
NOTE: Human growth hormone (HGH) releasers or fat burners that you can buy over the counter are powders or pills that some people consider steroids. These are usually not steroids in technical, scientific, or legal terms… nor are they usually as effective, if effective at all. Though, you should beware that some supplements you can buy over the counter have no medical use, and are therefore “lgeal, but DO convert to steroids once inside the body
What Are Anabolic Steroids Used For?
Anabolic steroids are ideally used as a treatment for hormone problems in men and women, like delayed puberty and loss of muscle tissue from diseases.
However, some athletes MISUSE steroids to build larger muscles and enhance physical fitness.
Examples of this include injectable testosterone, nandrolone and other, more exotic compounds that mimic testosterone but with varying anabolic and androgenic effects.
Benefits of Anabolic Steroids
Steroids come with two main advantages that people seek:
#1 Increased Muscle Growth
The anabolic effect of testosterone increases bone density, builds muscle mass, and assists muscle repair.
Steroids promote muscle growth and repair by increasing or imitating testosterone or nandrolone.
#2 Superior Athletic Performance
Steroids can create stronger bones and more powerful muscles. As such, they can IMPROVE an athlete’s size, strength, endurance, and agility.
Risks & Side Effects of Anabolic Steroids
It also comes with notable downsides that you should be aware of:
- Steroid use is only safe for a short amount of time under medical supervision. Even then, you’re not necessarily safe from the side effects, either short or long term. It’s illegal use or abuse may cause LONG-TERM DAMAGE depending on its dosing, frequency, and duration of use.
- It affects the cholesterol levels of the body, which results in an increased risk of heart problems. Some steroids overwork the kidneys and may cause scarring and long-term kidney damage.
- High levels of oral steroids also cause toxicity in the liver and, as a result, irreversible liver damage.
- Dependence on hormone supplementation may reduce natural testosterone levels in men.
- It may cause increased aggression, lower sperm count, breast growth, testicle shrinkage, varicose veins and baldness in some users. Some of these side effects are temporary, some may be permanent.
- Its other risks revolve around the hormone disruption that it causes in women. This may result in irregular periods, breast shrinkage or enlarged tissue growth, body hair growth, increased clitoris size, and voice deepening.
- Because steroids mess with your hormone levels, both men and women users may suffer from infertility with prolonged use and high dosages.
What Are the Differences Between Creatine and Steroids?
Understanding the answer to the question “is creatine a steroid?” would be better by highlighting the following differences between creatine and steroids:
Creatine supplementation is usually in the form of creatine monohydrate. It is usually sold as a powder, which you dilute in water and drink.
Steroids can either be in the form of pills or injectables.
Many users prefer taking injections to avoid the steroids passing through the liver and causing potential damage.
The chemical structures of creatine and steroids are the most significant difference between the two because they are far different from each other.
Creatine is made up of amino acids, while steroids are composed of a mix of four conjoined cycloalkane rings.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association and International Olympic Committee allow for creatine use in sports.
You won’t be banned for creatine use, but you would for hormone or steroid use.
It islegal to buy in most places,and you can buy creatine WITHOUT a prescription.
Possessing and selling steroids without a prescription is illegal and comes with penalties (in varying degrees of seriousness) in many parts of the world.
So-called “legal steroids” are only dietary supplements that do not have the same effects as performance-enhancing steroids.
But beware of research chemicals which you may legally be sold over the counter that DO convert to steroids once inside your body.
I remember my early lifting days when my gym would sell pro-hormones legally over the counter at reception to anybody. (Thankfully, I had no idea what they were at the time or I too could have unknowingly taken them as a bog-standard supplement in my mid teens!)
How They Work
Creatine works by providing more ATP. It recharges the ATP of your muscles to give you more energy to build more muscle and train longer.
The initial lean body mass you gain is through intramuscular water being pulled into your cells.
Steroid hormones work by increasing testosterone levels.
They push the body to produce higher T levels and, therefore, increase the rate of protein synthesis, recovery, muscle damage repair, increase muscle satellite cells and facilitate building more muscle, more quickly.
The risks and side effects of creatine supplement use are mostly minor and temporary. Examples include stomach ache, gas and possible muscle cramps.
The risks of steroids are more serious and potentially permanent.
Hormonal imbalances can cause irreversible changes in the body. They may also cause damage to the heart, liver, and kidneys.
Though experienced users will mitigate these side effects with other hormones or supplements, but there are no guarantees and some side effects will be unavoidable.
Effects on the Body
Creatine alone may not increase muscle mass without workouts.
It works to provide more energy to fuel the intensity and duration of your workouts.
It also pulls intracellular water into the muscles (this is beneficial).
They will also produce far greater and more extreme results, far more quickly and take you beyond your genetic muscular potential, where as creatine will not.
NOTE: Before I get bro’s who use steroids in the comments accusing me of disrespect, none is intended.
I know steroid users have to work hard to grow, but the growth when you’re OUTSIDE of the gym becomes easier and faster when you’re using and you’ll obviously grow beyond your genetic limits where a natural won’t.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
You may have more questions than “is creatine a steroid?”, so we made sure to address them below:
Is Creatine Considered a Drug?
No, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not consider creatine a drug.
Unlike drugs, the standards for creatine products aren’t regulated. They can differ in terms of quality, quantity, and added ingredients.
They are readily available in drug stores, supermarkets, and online stores. You do not need a prescription to buy creatine.
Does Creatine Boost Testosterone?
No, it does not (5). Creatine supplementation does not affect your testosterone levels.
It positively affects your ATP levels and gives you more energy to work out harder and longer at maximal intensities.
Is Creatine a Banned Substance in Bodybuilding and Sports?
No, it is not. The International Society of Sports Nutrition allows the use of creatine. It is not considered an illegal performance-enhancing drug.
Using creatine does not guarantee improved performance because every athlete trains differently. If you are not working towards maximum intensities, creatine isn’t as useful.
But if you are, it is one of the most effective natural supplements in sports nutrition. Which brings us to..
Can Creatine Be Considered a “Natural” Supplement?
Yes, creatine is a natural supplement.It is a combination of amino acids that the kidneys, liver, and pancreas produce naturally.
It is also an amino acid that is NATURALLY PRESENT in red meat, milk, and seafood.
Does Creatine Affect My Liver and Kidney Function?
It doesn’t affect the liver and kidney functionof healthy individuals. However, people with kidney or liver disease need medical consent before taking this dietary supplement.
The creatinine level in the blood is used as a gauge to check for liver and kidney disorders.
Creatine supplementation will increase the creatinine levels (waste product of creatine) in your blood, but this is a natural by-product of taking creatine, and it has not been proven to have adverse effects on liver and kidney functions.
Nevertheless, you should always stick to the recommended dosage.
People with health issues should consult with their doctor first so that high levels of creatinine aren’t masking any underlying health issues.
What Steroids Deliver Similar Results to Creatine Supplements?
Legal steroids are not designed to deliver similar results to creatine supplementation because they have completely different mechanisms and functions.
Therefore, there are no steroid alternatives to creatine, which increases ATP energy instead of elevating testosterone levels.
If you were still doubtful about the question “is creatine a steroid?”, hopefully you now realize that steroids and creatine use completely different mechanisms to increase lean mass and muscle protein synthesis.
How Long Does It Take for Creatine to Work?
It takes about four weeks for creatine to work if you take it REGULARLY.
You can see the full effects of creatine in your body if you take the recommended dosage of 5 grams per day.
This will saturate your muscles for you to have sufficient creatine phosphate levels to work out harder.
For faster saturation and results, you can take up to 20 grams per day for one week if you want to do a loading phase.
With this method, you can expect results as soon as two weeks due to faster muscle saturation.
One of the first few signs you’ll notice is a few pounds of water weight gain, intramuscularly (this is INSIDE the muscles, which is a positive thing).
After this, you’ll observe a significant increase in your energy levels while you train at the end of maximal intensities.
Conclusion: Is Creatine a Steroid?
When it comes to the question, “is creatine a steroid?” we can definitively answer, no.
Creatine is not a steroid.
Their chemical structures, legal status, functions, and effects have significant differences.
Creatine supplementation is much safer than taking steroids, but that’s not to say steroids can’t be taken sensibly and ideally, you’d be under medical supervision and getting regular blood work to check markers of health while you use.
Nevertheless, the risk will be higher when using steroids recreationally, than creatine.
It is best to consult your medical doctor first, before taking any supplement, especially if you have liver disease, kidney disease, or high blood pressure.
(1) International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine
June 2017. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 14(1)
(2) Rawson, E.S., Venezia, A.C. Use of creatine in the elderly and evidence for effects on cognitive function in young and old. Amino Acids 40, 1349–1362 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00726-011-0855-9
(3) The Effects of Supraphysiologic Doses of Testosterone on Muscle Size and Strength in Normal Men. July 4, 1996
N Engl J Med 1996; 335:1-7
(4) Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Nov;31(11):1528-34. doi: 10.1097/00005768-199911000-00006.
Effects of anabolic steroids on the muscle cells of strength-trained athletes
(5) J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021; 18: 13. Published online 2021 Feb 8. doi: 10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w
Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show?