“Are there any truly effective creatine alternatives?” I asked myself. I thought I had an idea or two but I definitely didn’t know for sure. So I researched the answer as best I could and share everything I found in this article.
Creatine’s awesome, but is it necessary for building muscle?
Supplementing with creatine has been proven to boost your workout results, by enabling you to safely get stronger & grow muscle like no other fitness supplement. (1)
But there are reasons — good reasons — for not wanting to take it too, and I talk about that a little later.
The thing I wanted to know when I started researching expert information for this article was:
Can the benefits we get from creatine supplementation be duplicated by other (preferably natural) means?
In other words, what else can we swallow — that’s not bad for us — that’ll help us reach our strength & body transformation goals like creatine can?
Science resources included
As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science & medical resources, clinical studies, and nutritional data used in this article.
Is there an alternative to creatine?
Our bodies make a little creatine each day, but we need more than that for strength training & athletics.
Natural alternatives to man-made creatine will come from creatine-rich food sources like meat, chicken, & fish, but in low amounts compared to its powder form.
No supplement completely matches what creatine does.
But products like protein, EAAs, beta-alanine, & even caffeine each provide a reasonable substitute for one or more of creatine’s many benefits.
Here’s an overview of how the article will be flowing.
It’s good to know what creatine does
It’s important to have a good understanding of what it is creatine actually does, so we’ll look at how creatine works in a bit.
Knowing this is needed in order to try & replace all of the benefits creatine provides you while you’re working out.
Food & supplement alternatives to creatine
Later on I’ll share some supplement & diet ideas that (when combined) might help mimic creatine supplements’ powerful effect on our muscle & strength growth.
Reasons to just say no
Next I’ll start us off by listing a few of the common reasons people give for wanting to avoid supplementing with creatine.
Some are definitely valid & worth pointing out here.
But unfortunately other reasons I’ve come across are not grounded in facts & scientific proof but rather gym-bro rumors, and I’ll blow up a couple of those too.
Setting the record straight is always a good thing. 😉
Is creatine really necessary?
Decades & decades of strong, lean, and muscular bodybuilders, weightlifters, athletes & fitness models who never took creatine are proof positive that creatine is not needed to achieve impressive strength & muscle building results.
So no, creatine is not necessary.
(Good & bad) reasons to avoid creatine
Why avoid taking creatine?
Creatine is one of the most-studied fitness supplements ever, and it has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to enhance resistance training workouts. (2)
Creatine’s proven effective & safe.
We can get stronger, add more fat free mass, & build more muscle while strength training with creatine than if we were training without it.
Plus, long-term use of it by healthy individuals — even with extremely high dosing of 30 grams a day (!) — has never shown any adverse side effects whatsoever. (3)
Still, that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.
4 good reasons for not taking creatine
1. It’s not a necessity for strength training success, it can just get you there faster.
2. I just don’t want to hassle with taking a(nother) supplement.
3. I prefer to try & get my daily creatine naturally, from my foods.
4. I don’t want to spend the money on it. (Hmm OK, but…)
A few bad reasons for not taking creatine
I don’t want to spend the money on it.
I put this reason in both the good & bad sections because I think it has a valid place in both. There’s always a good reason not to spend money on something you don’t have to have.
One thing I’ll say over here on the Bad Reasons side is that creatine is cheap.
Like Dewey Cox’s drummer Sam says “It’s the cheapest drug there is.”
Well creatine’s the cheapest supplement there is, although ironically, it does the most good for the athlete/weightlifter of any supplement there is.
Later on I provide a couple of examples showing that both a pound of steak & nearly 2 pounds of cod — both of which will cost you several dollars — provide less creatine in them than a 25-cent, ½ a teaspoon dose of creatine monohydrate.
That’s right, at least 10-15 bucks’ worth of high-protein food gives you less creatine than a quarter’s** worth of powder.
And you haven’t even begun to deal with having to swallow & digest all that animal flesh yet either.
a quarter** – Here’s a bit of trivia for you. Creatine cost a nickel a serving for most of the 21st century…up until late last year.
I’m a vegan, and creatine comes from animals.
Creatine is made by the bodies of many animal species, including us humans, in our liver, kidneys, & pancreas. (4)
So it understandably could be thought of as an “off limits to vegans” supplement.
However, the powdered creatine sold as a supplement does not come from animals.
It is created in a chemical reactor by combining the synthetic chemicals sarcosine & cyanamide.
As a result, this artificially-made creatine monohydrate is therefore vegan-friendly.
Here, take a peek:
Creatine causes water weight gain.
Actually it is true that taking creatine can result in the gaining of a couple to a few pounds due to water retention.
This is not the same type of bloated, water weight gain commonly reported in our culture.
Creatine works by transporting your body’s energy cells known as ATP to your muscles, and water is drawn into your muscles to support this process.
Tip: You can skip the creatine loading phase.
A few people who attempt a high-dose loading phase with creatine — taking 20-25 grams per day for a week or so — experience temporary bloating in their belly.
For people whose bodies trigger this reaction, bloating symptoms are easily avoided by simply not doing a high-dose loading phase.
Fact: Common water retention is not caused by creatine.
On the other hand, typical water weight gain (AKA water retention) results in that bloated feeling in your belly, as well as possible swelling & puffiness in your ankles, hands, feet, etc.
Main influences for this type of water retention are:
- your hormones
- your diet
- your genetics
And here are a few common triggers for water weight gain:
- too much salt in your diet
- menstrual cycle or shifting hormones
- sedentary lifestyle
- too much standing (or sitting)
- air travel
- weak heart function
Creatine makes you go bald.
There is no evidence anywhere that creatine contributes to hair loss.
One small study showed creatine supplementation increased DHT, a male hormone linked to sometimes triggering hair loss. (10)
Creatine causes erectile dysfunction.
Stories floating around that creatine is responsible for male sexual problems are not based in fact.
There is no scientific evidence on the planet that supports the “creatine gives you E.D.” meme.
Other side effects supposedly caused by creatine
In their Position Stand on Creatine, the highly esteemed International Society of Sports Nutrition specifically addressed the B.S. about creatine that has been spread in our culture in the past decade or so.
Calling them “unsubstantiated anecdotal reports, misinformation published on the Internet, & perpetuate(d) myths”, they wrote:
“contrary to unsubstantiated reports, the peer-reviewed literature demonstrates that there is NO evidence that:
1) creatine supplementation increases the anecdotally reported incidence of:
- musculoskeletal injuries,
- muscle cramping,
- gastrointestinal upset,
- renal dysfunction,
2) long-term creatine supplementation results in any clinically significant side effects among athletes.” (13)
What creatine does
Here I want to briefly explore two chunks of creatine info that’ll be useful for us:
- How creatine works
- What creatine’s main benefits are
Knowing a little in these areas will be helpful for putting together a plan that’ll (hopefully) provide us much of the same benefits of creatine supplementation without having to take it.
How creatine works
Our body makes & stores its own creatine, and we also get creatine from some of the food we eat — most notably meat, chicken, & fish.
Creatine & our body’s energy
Creatine plays a critical part in our body’s energy process, meaning the energy we need in order to do anything, whether it’s breathe or walk or bench press heavy weight.
Creatine helps our body create (get it? 😄) more ATP, which is our body’s main energy source.
Whenever we exert ourselves we use up ATP, so having enough creatine stored in our bodies is very helpful when we’re engaged in short-term strenuous activities like weight lifting, sprinting, or HIIT cardio workouts. (15)
Creatine’s boost helps us do more
Creatine is not some “it does everything” wonder drug.
It’s a naturally-occurring amino acid-based compound that works wonders, but only in specific situations.
Luckily for those of us who’re dedicated to taking care of our bodies…
…the one place where creatine’s energy boost has been proven to help the most are with those brief, intense athletic movements like weight training & sprinting. (16)
The main benefits creatine provides
As I mentioned earlier, it’s good to know what creatine supplementation provides us when we’re choosing alternatives.
For me anyway, any alternative meant to replace taking creatine better have a track record of replacing at least some of the same benefits as creatine.
Knowing creatine’s benefits allows me to poke around the sports science & nutrition research to see what foods & supplements might also help us like creatine can.
Creatine offers both ergogenic (meaning, performance-enhancing) & muscle building benefits, and we look at a few of them next.
Creatine’s performance benefits
The ISSN (Intl. Soc. of Sports Nutrition) has done a heck of a job compiling & analyzing all of the sports science research trials done regarding creatine supplementation.
Last time I visited the National Library of Medicine’s database, I saw well over 300 published studies on creatine monohydrate supplementation.
Below is a short reference list that the ISSN put together of what are the most proven benefits that supplementing with creatine provides.
Here are a few ergogenic benefits:
- Increased single and repetitive sprint performance
- Enhanced recovery
- Increased work capacity & training tolerance
- Increased work performed during sets of maximal effort muscle contractions
And here are our two favorite “results” benefits:
- We have more lean muscle
- We are stronger
Knowing this list of creatine benefits is important.
Any alternatives to creatine supplementation we come up with need to provide us these benefits as well, at least partly anyway.
Food & supplement alternatives to creatine
I decided to present the “Summary” before I share all the details & the choices of creatine alternatives in food & supplement form.
Summary section before the fact(s):
*Even foods classified as high in creatine provide creatine at much lower amounts at much higher costs than creatine powder.
It takes nearly 2 pounds of cod (costing approx. $20) to provide the same amount of creatine as ½ teaspoon (now costing 25¢ these days) of pure creatine monohydrate.
*Creatine monohydrate is the only supplement on the planet that has strong, proven evidence of its effectiveness as both a muscle builder & an athletic/workout performance enhancer.
*Only 3 other supplements show strong evidence of effectiveness as a muscle builder, and only 6 other supplements have strong, proven evidence of effectiveness as performance enhancers.
OK, let’s start with supplement alternative hopefuls.
Below I’ll share my strict criteria for choosing the supplements I list here, but first, a personal word.
Here on heydayDo I lean heavily on facts proven by sports science, strength & conditioning research, & verified nutrition information to substantiate anything I share with you.
I do not make shtuff up.
And if I give any advice, I guarantee you will see a link referring you to the expert source of that recommendation.
Let’s first look for any viable sports & fitness supplements that when combined, might replicate some of what creatine can do.
We’ll look at food after that.
Creatine alternatives in supplement form
I divided what I consider decent creatine alternatives worth exploring into two categories:
- those in supplement form
- foods relatively high** in creatine
** relatively high – compared to other foods only. Definitely not compared to creatine powder though.
This first section looks at any worthy supplements that might be able to help replicate some of what creatine gives.
To quickly separate the wheat from the chaff, I’ve employed my pals at the ISSN, the top organization of sports & fitness supplement experts in the world.
ISSN Sports Nutrition Review
The International Society of Sports Nutrition maintains a comprehensive critical review of supplements marketed at us & sold under the broad categories of “fitness supplements” and “sports nutrition”.
Effectiveness of fitness supplements scrutinized
The ISSN’s meaning of review is that every published peer-reviewed clinical trial & research paper (from around the world) on any supplement falling under that fitness & sports nutrition umbrella is analyzed.
And when I say analyzed, I mean analyzed & compiled with other published trials to the point where it is very easy for them to see what the real evidence is & thus how effective a supplement is.
Or isn’t, as is most often the case.
There’s facts & then there’s marketing BS
I can safely say that the ISSN’s opinion on the majority of fitness supplements being waved in our faces is a lot different than what you’ll hear from the manufacturer — or from their endorsed social media influencer in your Instagram feed.
It’s so refreshing.
Using the ISSN supplement review here
The ISSN first published this extensive critique of sports supplements in 2004, and they’ve updated it twice since then.
I’m using their most recent version for this section of our Creatine Alternatives article, which they released in Summer 2018:
Criteria for acceptable creatine alternatives
The ISSN have an excellent (& simple) table that summarizes all of their findings in a very easy-to-understand format, covering 50 or so sports & fitness supplements.
These are the:
chemical compounds, like creatine
macronutrients, like protein or carbohydrate
elements, like water
product type, like sports drinks
Two areas where effectiveness is graded
Supplements that have enough research & testing evidence to warrant getting a grade from the ISSN are judged in two categories:
*How effective is the supplement at enhancing muscle building
*How effective is the supplement at enhancing workout &/or athletic performance
Supplements can qualify for grades in both the muscle building and performance enhancement categories, if the body of research is sufficient in both areas to warrant a ruling from the ISSN.
But to date, only one supplement has qualified for grades in both categories.
Wanna guess who it is?
Supplements are assigned to 1 of 3 grades
Depending on what the sum total of results from all the sports science & clinical research trials says, a supplement is given one of these three grades:
* Strong Evidence to Support Efficacy and Apparently Safe
* Limited or Mixed Evidence to Support Efficacy
* Little to No Evidence to Support Efficacy and/or Safety
Only the strong survive
As I said earlier, there are 50 or so fitness supplements that have enough sports science evidence on their effectiveness (or lack thereof) to get graded by the ISSN.
Of those 50+ supplements, only 11 received the level I Strong Evidence to Support Efficacy.
Four are in the Muscle Building category, and seven are in the Performance Enhancement category.
“Strong Evidence to Support Efficacy” means it’s well-proven that the supplement works — in either boosting your muscle building or your workouts’ intensity, endurance, & recovery.
Here’s a peek at the ISSN table where all the supplements have been graded.
You may recognize several popular supplements that are social media darlings down in the Little To No Evidence To Support Efficacy grade.
Here’s the link since my graphic might be hard to read (sorry about that): ISSN sports supplement table
Bottom line on supplement alternatives to creatine
*Creatine has the highest recommendation a supplement can have, for its effectiveness as both a muscle builder and as a workout/athletic performance enhancer.
*It’s the only supplement ever to have such a distinction.
*80% of fitness supplements lack strong evidence as to their effectiveness.
*Since no other recommended supplement is in both categories, any creatine alternative plan using supplements will need to include (at least) one from both the muscle builders & performance enhancers categories.
*To try and duplicate creatine’s level of benefit in these areas, we got our work cut out for us.
Muscle building supplement alternatives to creatine
As you can see from the table, there are only three other proven supplements in the muscle building side:
- Essential amino acids (EAAs)
Essential amino acids (EAAs)
Amino acids are considered the building blocks of protein.
And nine amino acids are called essential because our bodies can’t make them, so we have to get them from our diet. (17)
They are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
Supplementing one’s diet with additional EAAs in sufficient quantity has been proven to stimulate MPS, muscle protein synthesis, the fundamental process of muscle building. (18)
Hundreds of sports science studies have shown that extra protein in your diet while you’re training hard athletically or weightlifting lots of weight greatly increases your body’s muscle-building capacity. (19)
And when the ISSN says protein supplementing (above & beyond your normal diet’s amount) increases your ability to build muscle, they are talking about any high-quality, lean protein source.(20)
They are not saying it has to come from protein powder.
Many of us building muscle or maintaining a muscular physique simply can’t get all our daily protein needs met from solid food.
Whether due to our daily schedule or to being unable to eat a lot of animal flesh & other protein-rich foods, many of us switch to the convenient & stomach-friendly option of protein powders.
HMB (β-Hydroxy β-methylbutyric acid)
(Note: This supplement works for beginners only; its benefit fades as you advance.)
HMB, a substance created in the human body, is a lot easier to say than its chemical name, Beta-hydroxy Beta-Methylbutyrate.
It’s made by our bodies when they break down that very important branched-chain amino acid called leucine.
In a massive meta-review of published sports science trials & research papers from 1967-2001, HMB was found to be the only consistently effective muscle building supplement besides our buddy creatine. (21)
*HMB’s demonstrated the ability to increase muscle building in beginner weight lifters more than weightlifting alone. (22)
*It doesn’t work on experienced strength trainers for some reason, and its extra-muscle effect wears off after the beginner has been lifting for several months.
Performance-enhancing supplement alternatives to creatine
OK, now we move from substituting for the muscle-building benefits of creatine over to its ability to boost our workout tolerance, recovery, intensity, & capacity.
AKA “give us that extra Oomph”.
Proven performance-enhancing supplements
So there are 6 supplements besides creatine that received their Strong Evidence to Support Efficacy rating.
As a reminder, the “Strong Evidence…” ruling from the ISSN means that that supplement is proven many times over to be effective at — in this case — enhancing your workout performance.
Three of the 6 supps you are already very familiar with or are consuming:
- water & sports drinks
And two of them I’m not going to talk about:
- sodium bicarbonate
- sodium phosphate
That’s because I’ve never known, seen, or heard anyone in any gym I belonged to — in 40 years of strength training — say they used them.
Reading through the sports science literature just now, I discovered both have been tested & used effectively for elite athletes.
“Elite athlete” — hmm, something I am definitely not. How ‘bout you? 😉
That leaves us with just one supplement you may not know anything about, and it’s name is beta-alanine.
I’ve taken it off** & on since I first came across this ISSN supplement review a few years ago, and I know it helps me work out stronger & longer than I can without it.
(**- But sometimes I just don’t feel like downing any supplements, no matter how effective they are.)
Beta-alanine is an amino acid our body makes, and one of the things it does is act as a protector of our muscles during high-intensity exercise.
When regularly supplemented at a much higher dose than what we get from our body or from food, beta-alanine has been proven to:
* increase performance on short-term (1-4 minute) bursts of high intensity activities like weightlifting & sprinting (23)
* increase the time until fatigue sets in
* increase short-term muscle strength
* increase sustained power output time
Beta-alanine dosing per the ISSN position stand is 4-6g per day for 4 weeks to load it, then 2-4 grams thereafter. (24)
Prickly alert >>> I break it up into smaller 2-gram doses per day, because about 15 minutes after taking it, it gives you the same feeling as that tingly hot niacin flush.
The more beta-alanine you take at once, the more intense that prickly sensation is…so I keep it at a tolerable level for me with 2-gram doses.
Also know that its performance-enhancing effect will gradually become stronger over the first few weeks of taking it, because it takes 4 weeks or so for it to be fully effective.
3 familiar things that boost workouts
I want to point out a thing or two sports science research has found about caffeine, carbohydrates, & water/sports drinks that you may not be aware of.
My 2¢ take/guess on how each of these can potentially boost our workout performance is:
Caffeine — I used to drink a cup of coffee before I worked out since I train in the early part of the morning. I’m certain it gave my workouts an extra kick.
And several athletes & bodybuilders I used to train with got that pre-workout kickstart by taking caffeine anhydrous.
Carbohydrates — I’d heard/read that a few ounces of a “simple sugar” carb like a piece of fruit before the workout helps, so I do that too…taking it along with a small (2 tablespoons) bit of whey powder.
Water/Sports Drinks — My guess is that we simply train better when we’re fully hydrated, and the inclusion of the sports drinks here must have something to do with their electrolytes they provide.
Let’s see what the expert research has found…
Get some caffeine in your bloodstream before your workout and it can provide a boost to your workout in the following ways:
- improve your exercise performance
- increase your fat burning
- sharpen your focus
A couple of ways your exercise performance is enhanced by caffeine is that it can:
*stimulate the release of endorphins which elevate your mood & sense of well-being; (26)
*protect your glycogen (carb energy) stores, thus helping on the exercise endurance front. (27)
Note: You don’t need to take caffeine anhydrous powder; you can just drink a stiff cup of coffee. But if coffee’s not your thing, many pre-workout supplement stacks on the market use caffeeine anhydrous in them.
If you’re interested in learning about the benefits & risks of caffeine powder, I researched the topic deeply and wrote about it here on heydayDo: Benefits & Risks of Caffeine Anhydrous.
Water & sports drinks
It was just as I’d guessed earlier: water’s about being hydrated for your workout. Here’s the money quote from the ISSN on water:
“The most important nutritional ergogenic aid for athletes is water and limiting dehydration during exercise is one of the most effective ways to maintain exercise capacity.
Before starting exercise, it is highly recommended that individuals are adequately hydrated.” (28)
You can read their recommendations using that link and searching for the Water section of their Supplement Review.
Basically they say the sports research shows that downing a lot of water is critical to maximum performance; no mystery there.
Concluding supplement alternatives
OK, that’s it for the supplement side of alternatives to creatine.
We can see there are a few options for both muscle building & exercise performance boosting.
Onto the foods with (at least a little) creatine in them.
Natural creatine alternatives
In this section I’ll share with you a list of foods that are “high” in creatine, high meaning when compared to other types of food.
Including one of these in a meal (or meals) every day is a good idea if you’re trying to get the creatine effect in your workouts without supplements.
The Foods High In Creatine is a short list since creatine is only found in decent quantity in meat, chicken, & fish…that’s it.
And they don’t have very much creatine in them compared to a typical pure creatine supplement.
Keep in mind as you read the creatine amounts in the foods below that the usual daily dose of creatine monohydrate powder is 5 grams, which is 1 teaspoon’s worth that currently costs between 20¢ & 30¢.
A thought to chew on… 😉
A pound of steak has less creatine in it (2 grams) than a ½ teaspoon of creatine monohydrate powder (2 ½ grams).
And a pound of steak will run you anywhere from 8 to 30 bucks, depending on the cut.
Meanwhile, that ½ teaspoon/2.5 grams of creatine monohydrate — which has more creatine in it than that pound of steak — costs between a dime & a quarter, depending on who you buy it from.
Yep, 10-25¢ per 2.5 grams. (Remember, the normal daily amount taken by athletes & weightlifters is twice that.)
Creatine from our diet + what our body makes is enough
Our bodies make between one and two grams of creatine a day, and the typical person with no diet restrictions eats another 1-2 grams a day on top of that.
And that 2-4 grams per day of creatine is enough to build muscle & increase your strength without the need to supplement any more into your diet. (30)
One thing to keep in mind though…
Multiple sports science studies have similar results like this one: The Effect Of Creatine…On…Muscular Strength & Body Composition, where groups of experienced weight lifters were split into a creatine group and a placebo, non-creatine group.
The groups taking the creatine often doubled the strength & muscle gains measured in the placebo groups.
In the study I shared the significant difference in strength & muscle gains took only 28 days.
Strong, good-looking muscles were around before creatine was
And like I mentioned earlier, there were thousands if not tens of thousands of lifters, bodybuilders, athletes, & physique models who built awesomely strong & awesome-looking bodies looong before anybody even knew what creatine was.
Look at this Arnold Schwarzenegger pic from the late 70s, pre-steroids and 15 years before creatine first hit the scene in the 90s in a product called Phosphagen:
I’ve had this copy since 1982, so I know that picture of him was taken prior to the book publishing in 1977.
There’s no creatine in Arnold’s body, but a whole lot of good food & hard work.
Speaking of food…
The best natural creatine alternatives…
…are the foods we can eat that have the highest amounts of creatine in them, compared to the rest of our food choices.
And that means meat (beef, chicken, pork, wild game) & fish.
Period. End of story.
Word to vegetarians & lacto-ovo-tarians
There are only trace amounts of creatine in protein-rich things like dairy products & eggs, and zero to next-to-no creatine in vegetables.
That’s why vegetarians & vegans have less available creatine stores in their bodies.
Foods high in creatine
The grams of creatine listed are approximate, and are per the normal USDA serving size for meats & fish — 100 grams, which is about 3 ½ ounces.
Most red meat creatine numbers I saw have it providing just under a gram per serving (0.9g per 3 ½ oz. meat). (32)
Steak provides about 1 gram of creatine per ¼ pound.
Ground beef also has a gram of creatine per quarter pound of meat.
Besides your choice of steak and ground beef/hamburger, this category also includes game meat like venison & buffalo.
Not all pork products make the good creatine source team, as you’ll see later on in this section.
But a lot of pork lovers’ favorites do, like chops, ham, tenderloin, & other unprocessed forms of pork.
Most unprocessed pork cuts like chops & tenderloin provide in the neighborhood of ¾ of a gram of creatine per serving.
Cured ham has a little less creatine in it than the pure pork we just looked at; it has 0.6 of a gram per serving.
The “Creatine Amounts In Food” lists I came across didn’t list every type of fish people eat, but there are enough choices to see what’s up.
And what’s up is that herring & salmon have the highest amount of creatine in them as far as fish go.
They both have around 0.9 grams per serving just like red meat, so that’s good news for people who have issues with red meat.
And if you can stomach raw herrings (unlike me), you’ll get even more creatine per serving, a little under 1.5 grams per serving.
Other popular favorites like tuna and cod have a little less than ½ what salmon & herring do, but still enough creatine in them worth eating & worth mentioning here.
The food with the highest amount of creatine in it; who knew? That raw herring I mentioned that provides you with 1.5 grams of creatine per serving.
Salmon provides a gram or so of creatine in a 4 oz. serving.
Tuna has about a half a gram of creatine in every 3 ½ ounces.
Raw fish will have a little more creatine in it, since cooking any creatine-rich food reduces the creatine in it. (31)
White fish like cod has only about ⅓ of a gram of creatine in it per 3 ½ oz. serving.
One-third of a gram’s not much, and that’s about as low as I’ll go in this list as far as recommended creatine sources goes.
How much fish equals a dime’s worth of creatine powder?
You’d need to eat just under 2 lb. of cod to get the same amount of creatine (2.5 grams) as a ½ teaspoon of pure creatine monohydrate, which would cost you somewhere between 10 & 25¢.
$30 for 200 doses of 2.5 grams = 15¢ each
Source: Bulk Supplements 1kg bag on Amazon
Cod Filet, Whole Foods:
1.75 lb. for 1 dose of 2.5 grams of creatine @ 12.50/lb. = $22
I’m definitely not telling anyone to jump on the creatine train, but just let that math ($22 vs. 15¢) sink in; I didn’t expect that & found it surprising.
Chicken has roughly the same amount of creatine in it as the tuna — just about ½ a gram per 3 ½ ounce serving.
Meats without much creatine at all
Perhaps not surprisingly, popular processed meat products have less creatine in them than even cod.
So I excluded them from the Foods High In Creatine list, except for mentioning them down here in the “You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, Baby you’re no good…” section:
- hot dogs / frankfurters
Summary of creatine alternatives
Well there we have it: several options we can mix & match as needed that can (hopefully) do a good job of mimicking creatine’s delivery of performance enhancing and muscle building benefits.
Supplement alternatives to creatine
- Essential amino acids
- Pre-workout carb
Food alternatives to creatine
- Red meat
- White fish
Below are answers to a couple of common questions asked about creatine supplementation, starting with a video from Jeremy Ethier on how to best use creatine for muscle growth.
Is creatine loading necessary?
You don’t have to use a loading phase when starting on creatine, but it’s important to understand that skipping the loading phase causes a 3-4 week delay before it starts working on your muscles.
When Do I Take Creatine?
Research shows that taking creatine hours away from your workout is not as effective as taking it immediately before or after you train, with no conclusive proof that either before or after is better.
Related articles here on heydayDo
I hope that my article on these possible alternatives to creatine is useful to you, and I wish you well on your fitness journey.