Author: Prof. Theo Wallimann, PhD

The French scientist, Michel Eugène Chevreul, discovered creatine (Cr) in 1832 as a new organic constituent that could be extracted from meat (“kreas” in Greek). In 1847, the German scientist, Justus von Liebig, chemically identified Cr as methylguanidino-acetic acid, a relatively simple guanidino compound. Today, we know that Cr is found in fresh meat and fish in concentrations ranging from 3 to 10 grams per kg wet weight. Justus von Liebig supported his laboratory largely by producing and selling meat broth, the famous Liebig’s meat extract or Fleischbrühe in German, which contained about 8% Cr (Sulser, 1968). This was obviously the first attempt to bring Cr supplementation into the public domain with a small spin-off company, as one would call it today, with more such to come in the 1990ies for selling Cr to athletes. In the 1880ies, creatinine (Crn) was discovered and it was realized that this compound was likely the natural breakdown product of Cr. In 1926, Chanutin surmised, based on what was probably one of the first Cr supplementation trials in the history of mankind, that creatine is absorbed by the intestine and, thus, can be taken up rather quantitatively from alimentary sources such as fresh fish and meat (Chanutin, 1926). In 1927, about a century from the discovery of Cr, phosphocreatine (PCr) was discovered (Eggleton and Eggleton, Fiske and Subbarow). For a review on the historic aspects of Cr, see Conway and Clark (1996).

Unfortunately, during the next decades, Cr supplementation was followed-up only with low-key research at most. Reminiscent of this time is that some body builders and weight-lifters resorted, as it was told, to “sweated beef”, a method to extract Cr from meat by hot steam, resulting in a highly Cr-enriched meat juice that was anecdotally said among the members of the “scene” to be beneficial for muscle growth and performance. Not to forget is the so-called “Jewish medicine”, a concentrated chicken soup from a fresh chicken boiled to perfection, used as traditionally inherited panacea within the Jewish community that served to “cure” almost everything. Finally, worth mentioning in the same context is the ritual consumption by the new mother of the after-birth placenta, which is also rich in Cr, a tradition followed by many ancestral civilizations. Could one of the most active ingredients in these concoctions have been Cr? Nobody knows, but in hindsight and in light of the present knowledge on the pleiotropic effects of Cr supplementation, it could have been the decisive active principle.

Serious, double-blinded and placebo-controlled research with Cr supplementation was started in the early 1990ies only, and the seminal papers on “Elevation of creatine in resting and exercised muscle of normal subjects by creatine supplementation” (Harris et al., 1992) and on the “Influence of oral creatine supplementation on muscle torque during repeated bouts of maximal voluntary exercise in man” (Greenhaff et al., 1993) initiated a big boost in Cr supplementation studies, mostly with athletes (Hespel and Derave, 2007). Interestingly, Roger Harris published his study in the very same year as Linford Christie (100 m dash) and Sally Gunnell (400 m hurdles) celebrated their Olympic victories, thereafter mentioning that they both ingested Cr.

Many of the several hundreds of publications from leading sports physiology laboratories around the world are clearly proving that Cr, in contrast to many other sports nutrition supplements, is a true ergogenic aid (Hespel and Derave, 2007). Nowadays, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of athletes of all proveniences are consuming Cr worldwide to boost physical performance, without any serious side effects, it seems (Persky and Rawson, 2007).

Fragment taken from: Wallimann, T. (2007). Introduction – Creatine: Cheap Ergogenic Supplement with Great Potential for Health and Disease. In: Salomons, G.S., Wyss, M. (eds) Creatine and Creatine Kinase in Health and Disease. Subcellular Biochemistry, vol 46. Springer, Dordrecht.


  1. Chanutin, A. (1926). The fate of creatine when administered to man. J. Biol. Chem. 67: 29–41.
  2. Conway, M., and Clark, J. (1996). Creatine and Creatine Phosphate: Scientific and Clinical Perspectives. Academic Press, San Diego, CA, USA
  3. Greenhaff, P.L., Casey, A., Short, A.H., Harris, R., Soderlund, K., and Hultman, E. (1993). Influence of oral creatine supplementation on muscle torque during repeated bouts of maximal voluntary exercise in man. Clin. Sci. (London) 84: 565–571.
  4. Harris, R.C., Soderlund, K., and Hultman, E. (1992). Elevation of creatine in resting and exercised muscle of normal subjects by creatine supplementation. Clin. Sci. (London) 83: 367–374.
  5. Hespel, P., and Derave, W. (2007). Ergogenic effects of creatine in sports and rehabilitation. Subcell. Biochem. 46: 245–259.
  6. Persky, A.M., and Rawson, E.S. (2007). Safety of creatine supplementation. Subcell. Biochem. 46: 275–289.
  7. Sulser, H. (1968). Die Extraktstoffe des Fleisches. Wissenschafts-Verlag Stuttgart. Handbuch II/2: 1267–1304.
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