The Best Natural Food Sources of Creatine
Many bodybuilders and athletes supplement with creatine to increase muscle size, strength, and power.
Supplementing with creatinine increases the available fuel to power a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) so that you can exercise harder and longer.
But supplements aren’t the only way you can increase your creatine stores — many foods are also rich in creatine.
This article provides a list of the best natural food sources of creatine and discusses whether it’s better to get your creatine from food or supplements.
Natural food sources of creatine
Most creatine is stored in the skeletal muscles, with small amounts found in the brain and heart (1).
This means that foods derived from skeletal muscle like meats, chicken, and fish, and to a lesser extent, dairy products, are the primary and best sources of creatine.
Even though some plant foods contain trace amounts, creatine is considered a “carninutrient,” in that it is only available in the diet from animal products.
However, creatinine is not considered an essential nutrient since your body can make it from amino acids — specifically, glycine, methionine, and arginine.
Fish — but not shellfish — tends to be the richest in creatine followed by pork, beef, and chicken. Milk contains minimal amounts of creatine.
Here is a list of creatine-rich foods and the amount they provide (2, 3):
|Food||Serving Size||Creatine Content (mg)|
|Shrimp||4 ounces (113 grams)||Trace amounts|
|Cod||4 ounces (113 grams)||341 mg|
|Herring||4 ounces (113 grams)||938 mg|
|Salmon||4 ounces (113 grams)||511 mg|
|Tuna||4 ounces (113 grams)||455 mg|
|Beef||4 ounces (113 grams)||511 mg|
|Beef broth||4 ounces (120 mL)||379 mg|
|Pork||4 ounces (113 grams)||568 mg|
|Chicken||4 ounces (113) grams||443 mg|
|Chicken broth||4 ounces (120 mL)||196 mg|
|Milk||4 ounces (120 mL)||13 mg|
The creatine content of these foods can vary significantly depending on the cut and whether the broths are produced from boned or boneless chicken and beef.
Fish, meats like beef and pork, and chicken are the best dietary sources of creatine since they are derived from skeletal muscle in which creatine is stored.
Factors that affect the creatine content in food
Your body can easily absorb creatine from food (4).
However, cooking can lower the creatine content of food.
Boiling meat, for example, increases the conversion of creatine to creatinine, lowering the available creatine content.
Creatinine is the breakdown product of creatinine.
One study found that boiling either chicken breast or stewing beef for 20 minutes retained about 90% of the creatinine whereas more prolonged boiling — up to 60 minutes — lowered the creatine content by 30% (5).
Food can also lose creatine when it leaches into the cooking water.
While the potential loss of creatine from food shouldn’t be a huge concern, you can likely retain most or all the creatine from fish and seafood by sticking with dry heat cooking methods, such as roasting, baking, and grilling.
Prolonged boiling can decrease the creatine content of food. Foods can also lose creatine if it leaches into the cooking water and the broth is not consumed.
Creatine supplements vs. creatine foods
Fish, meats, and chicken are rich sources of creatine.
However, you would have to eat several pounds daily just to obtain the same amount that you could get from one serving of a creatine supplement.
This makes creatine supplementation a better strategy for increasing your body’s creatine stores than trying to through diet alone.
From a cost standpoint, this is especially true, considering that creatine monohydrate costs an average of just $0.12 per gram on Amazon.com (6).
You’d likely need to spend several dollars to get the same amount of creatine from fish or meat.
Supplementing with creatine also spares your body from having to use the amino acids — arginine, glycine, and methionine — to produce creatine and instead use them for other important functions, such as producing proteins, nitric oxide, and glutathione, a powerful antioxidant (7).
Moreover, unless you consume several pounds of fish or meat daily, it would take several months for you to experience creatine’s benefits for exercise, brain health, and aging if you only tried to increase your intake of creatine from food.
However, these reasons don’t mean that you should avoid animal products — unless for reasons related to religion or personal choice — since they are rich in various vitamins and minerals that plant foods either don’t contain or contain in limited amounts (8).
Creatine for vegans
Vegans and vegetarians — except those who eat fish (pescatarians) — have significantly lower creatine stores than their omnivorous counterparts lower since their diets are void of meats and fish.
In fact, vegans and vegetarians have creatine stores that are up to 26% lower than omnivores (9).
While the body can make creatine from amino acids, all plant-based foods contain low levels of glycine and methionine, and most — except soybeans, peanuts, and nuts — have low levels of arginine.
This leaves creatine supplementation the only option to increase creatine stores in vegans.
Because vegans have lower creatine stores, they may experience greater gains in muscle size and strength.
Most creatine supplements are vegan-friendly.
Obtaining an appreciable amount of creatine from meats and fish would be very expensive and impractical for most people. This makes creatine supplementation a better option for increasing muscle creatine stores. Vegans and some vegetarians can greatly benefit from creatine supplementation since their diets are void of meats and fish.
How to supplement creatine and safety
The most common way to supplement creatine is to take 20–25 grams (split into 4–5, 5-gram doses) daily for 5–7 days and then 3–5 grams daily thereafter (1).
This strategy is the fastest way to optimize muscle creatine stores and experience creatine’s benefits.
Alternatively, you can supplement with 3–5 grams daily. This is just as effective as the first option, but it takes about four times longer to optimize your creatine stores.
Creatine HCl and monohydrate are two common forms, but monohydrate is the most well-studied and cost-effective.
Creatine monohydrate is usually sold alone as a power but you can purchase it in pill form.
You can also find it alongside other ingredients like in a pre-workout or protein powder.
The time in which you take creatine doesn’t matter since its effects are only realized once your creatine stores are optimized, so you can take it when it’s convenient. Just remember to take it daily.
Creapure and PharmaPure are two high-quality brands of creatine monohydrate that adhere to strict quality and purity standards.
NutraBio Creatine Monohydrate and Muscle Feast Creatine are two products that contain these forms.
Contrary to popular belief, creatine is remarkably safe and does not harm the kidneys (1).
Creatine supplementation may cause water retention and weight gain during the first few days of supplementation but this effect is only temporary and doesn’t occur in everyone.
Although creatine is most commonly supplemented for its sports performance-enhancing effects, it offers a range of other health benefits related to brain health and healthy aging (10).
The most common way to supplement creatine is by taking 20–25 grams for 5–7 days and then 3–5 grams daily thereafter. Creatine has a strong safety profile and almost everyone can benefit from supplementing it.
The bottom line
Creatine is a “carninutrient,” meaning it’s only found in animal products.
Fish and meats, including beef and pork, and chicken are the best natural food sources of creatine.
Supplementing with creatine rather than trying to consume adequate amounts through the diet alone is a more effective strategy.
Creatine is safe and, although it’s most commonly taken by athletes and bodybuilders to enhance exercise performance, it offers a range of health benefits related to brain health and healthy aging.