Most strength athletes can rattle off the benefits creatine like the list of the their favorite exercises: more muscle mass, bigger lifts more intense workouts. Creatine has been shown in study after study to deliver all of that and more, but did you know that recent scientific research suggests that the amino acid may actually increase your testosterone levels?
That may sound outrageous to you at first, but you’ll probably be surprised by what science is finding out about the link between creatine and testosterone.
Be forewarned, though, because the news is not all rosy.
Several studies have tracked testosterone levels along with other blood markers during a period of elevated stress, comparing the effects of creatine supplementation against a placebo.
For instance, in 2004, JS Volek led a research project to study the effects of creatine supplementation during periods of acute overtraining. In this case, 17 young men trained with weights five days per week for four weeks, and their performance in the bench press and squat was monitored throughout.
Various blood markers, including testosterone, were also tracked for the duration of the study.
The researchers found that, while, both the creatine users and the placebo group saw their testosterone levels drop significantly, the creatine group maintained higher total and free testosterone levels.
This seems to suggest that creatine has the potential to protect testosterone levels when you’re especially stressed.
While protecting testosterone is important for any man, serious lifters are interested in increasing our testosterone if we can do it safely and legally. So is there any evidence that creatine can help boost testosterone?
Surprisingly, some research does suggest a positive correlation.
For instance, a 2011 study carried out by CJ Cook and colleagues examined the effects of caffeine and creatine supplementation on rugby skills during a period of sleep deprivation. While both the caffeine and creatine groups maintained their performance better than a placebo group, subjects taking creatine showed a slightly elevated salivary testosterone level.
Similarly, in 2001, BK Schilling led a review of available research into the long-term effects of creatine usage and found that creatine users tended to show an increase in testosterone levels over time.
More striking was a 2015 study of the effects of short-term creatine loading on testosterone levels by researchers in Iran. The scientists found that, at the end of a week-long period of heavy supplementation coupled with weight training, subjects taking creatine showed significant increases in testosterone and DECREASES in cortisol when compared to the placebo group.
While the studies above lend some support to the idea that creatine may increase testosterone levels, related research out of Stellenbosch University in South Africa raises questions about creatine’s safety.
The 2009 study examined the effects of creatine loading over a three week period on a group of 20 male rugby players who were given either creatine or a glucose placebo. Creatine doses were 25 grams per day for the first week and five gams per day for the next two weeks.
The results showed almost no difference between blood levels of testosterone due to creatine use, but a HUGE increase in dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. How huge? Try 56% in seven days, leveling off to 40% over the last two weeks of the study.
Now, if you’re not familiar with DHT, you should know that it is a close relative to testosterone, and, in fact, about 5% of testosterone is converted to DHT in healthy men. While testosterone is highly anabolic, DHT is extremely androgenic, and that’s where the trouble begins.
Anabolic substances help you lift more weight and shuttle nutrients toward building bigger muscles. ANDROGENIC substances, on the other hand, enhance male features such as forehead ridges, body hair, sex drive, and, in adults, male pattern baldness.
While DHT is important in the development of teenage boys, you generally want to maintain normal levels once you’re an adult. Aside from baldness, DHT has been linked to prostate problems and heart disease, and steroid users go to great lengths to reduce their DHT levels during an anabolic cycle.
The effects of creatine on testosterone levels are still not fully understood, and what we do know is not all positive. While some of the short-term studies DO suggest increased T levels with creatine use, testosterone has been a secondary concern for most long-term studies, so experiment design was not necessarily optimal.
More concerning are the possible health effects associated with elevated DHT levels. If those results can be replicated on a consistent basis, we may have to rethink our take on creatine safety.
Right now, science has no firm answers about creatine and testosterone, but there is plenty of hard evidence that creatine can help you build strength and muscle size. For most, that’s reason enough to include creatine on our training tables.