Keeping an eye on creatine

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Article
Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 27 No. 1
Volume 27
Issue 1

Creatine has seen impressive sales growth, but state legislation putting age limits on the purchase of creatine products in the sports and weight management categories may pose a dilemma.

Photo © AdobeStock.com/Volodymyr Shevchuk

Photo © AdobeStock.com/Volodymyr Shevchuk

A well-established ingredient in the sports nutrition category, creatine is seeing renewed interest and impressive sales growth as the ingredient finds a new and growing audience. According to The Vitamin Shoppe’s “Health & Wellness Trend Report 2023,” sales of creatine products were up by over 160% in 2022 and another 23% through April of 2023. The same report cites SPINS data based on the 52 weeks ending March 2023 that shows creatine sales increased by over 120%. According to data SPINS shared with Nutritional Outlook, based on the 52 weeks ending December 3, 2023, creatine has seen double-digit growth in the performance and energy product categories in the mainstream supplement channel. The ingredient grew 46% in the performance category and 20% in the energy support category. In 2022, by contrast, the 52 weeks ending Oct. 30, 2022, creatine fell 14% and 3% in those categories, respectively, though has remained a top seller in those categories.

A reason for this sales growth, argues The Vitamin Shoppe, is that the demographic for creatine is expanding from body builders and gym enthusiasts to women, older consumers, and even vegans in response to emerging research that creatine may support healthy aging, brain health, and muscle loss in older individuals. Scott Dicker, market insights director for SPINS, notes that he is observing similar trends.

“This is this is an ingredient that I was watching very closely this year. We see it’s a long-established ingredient, it has been well studied for its efficacy and safety, and it’s also expanding demographics,” says Dicker. “There’s less of a stigma around women using it, there is some research specifically for women, and it’s trending on social media by some female influencers. We’re seeing aging populations using it as well to retain muscle. There’s new research around cognitive support. So, all the ingredients – no pun intended – were there for it to have a really strong year.”

The main draw for creatine has been its positive impacts on muscle strength, and sports performance,1 but emerging research does point to broader benefits. In older subjects, for example, one recent study found that a maintenance dose of 0.1 g/kg per day paired with whole-body resistance training for one year resulted in increased bone area as well as increased muscle density in the lower leg.2

While women may have been concerned about using creatine to increase strength and athletic performance for fear of excessive weight gain, this concern has been largely unfounded.3 Women may however benefit from a different dosage strategy compared to men. There is even some animal research that suggests creatine supplementation may be beneficial for pregnant women, while women going through menopause may be able to use creatine as a possible countermeasure to menopause-related decline in muscle, bone, and overall strength.3 

When it comes to cognitive health, there is research that suggests creatine supplementation may attenuate mental fatigue, and improve cognition, executive function, and memory.4 These benefits can tie into physical fitness to complement improved physical performance in athletes with enduring cognitive function while also opening up the potential for use outside of sports nutrition.

While creatine appears to be seeing broader adoption and sales, there is a movement to turn public opinion against dietary supplements marketed for muscle building or weight management. This movement, led by the group STRIPED (Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders), has lobbied successfully across multiple states to have legislation introduced to set age restrictions for purchasing these dietary supplements. They are advocating for these restrictions because they believe there is a connection between eating disorders and the usage of dietary supplements that are marketed for weight management and muscle building among youths. Industry advocates have consistently pushed back against these claims, saying that research from STRIPED fails to establish a causal relationship between the two.

Only one of these bills has been signed into law, in New York state. The law specifically names creatine as one of the restricted ingredients while giving a pass to other popular products such as protein. It’s not yet clear how this kind of legislation will impact the sales of creatine. Restriction for the time being remain isolated to New York, although as of the writing of this article, the California State Assembly has revived a similar bill after a veto from the governor at the end of 2022.

Dicker is cautiously optimistic about the impact state legislation will have currently, but does forsee problems if the laws continue to proliferate and pass into law. “You probably will see some impact on it. It’ll be interesting to watch. If other states start to pass some kind of, you know, similar copycat laws on it, that could be a big hindrance actually.”

This would particularly be the case if they can successfully enforce restrictions on ecommerce sales of these products. However, considering creatine’s growth into other health categories, losses in some states may be offset by success in healthy aging, women’s health, and cognitive health. Manufacturers should not be discouraged by these developments and should continue to advocate for themselves to their state legislators, and become involved with trade organizations.

To learn more about our Ingredients to Watch, listen to our conversation with SPIN's director of market insights, Scott Dicker, on The Nutritional Outlook Podcast.

References

  1. Shih-Hao, W.; Kuan-Lin, C.; Chin, H.; Hang-Cheng, C.; Jian-Yu, C.; Sheng-Yan, Y.; Yi-Jie, S. Creatine supplementation for muscle growth: A scoping review of randomized clinical trials from 2012 to 2021. Nutrients. 2022, 14 (6), 1255. DOI: 10.3390/nu14061255
  2. Candow, D.G.; Chilibeck, P.D.; Gordon, J.J.; Kontulainen, S. Efficacy of creatine supplementation and resistance training on area and density of bone and muscle in older adults. Med & Sci in Sports & Exercise. 2021, 53 (11), 2388-2395. DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002722
  3. Smith-Ryan, A.E.; Cabre, H.E.; Eckerson, J.M.; Candow, D.G. Creatine supplementation in women’s health: A lifespan perspective. Nutrients. 2021, 13 (3), 877. DOI: 10.3390/nu13030877
  4. Kreider, R.B.; Stout, J.R. Creatine in Health and Disease. Nutrients. 2021, 13 (2), 447. DOI: 10.3390/nu13020447
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