- Demand increases and supply-chain woes have led to a creatine shortage.
- One athlete said he’d seen prices for the muscle-building supplement triple in the past two years.
- Suppliers predicted the shortage and price hikes could remain until 2023.
Creatine, one of the most effective muscle-building supplements, has long been a cheap, reliable standby for boosting the fitness routines of bodybuilders, athletes, and fitness buffs.
But demand increases, supply-chain challenges, and transportation delays are creating a shortage, Justin Allen, the chief operating officer at Onnit, told Insider. Onnit is an Austin supplement seller that was acquired by Unilever last year.
The shortage arrived as interest in creatine spiked — retail prices have soared 150% since April 2021, supplement sellers at The Vitamin Shoppe told Insider.
Gym rats say they’re willing to keep shelling out money for the benefits of the supplement, since there’s so much evidence that creatine improves muscle, strength, and even brain health.
While the price of creatine is unlikely to drop anytime soon, according to supplement-industry insiders, athletes say they are keeping up their gains by buying in bulk. For people who can’t find creatine or afford the extra cost, trainers recommend other fitness hacks to make the most of your gym sessions without it.
Creatine is one of the most well-researched fitness supplements for muscles and performance
Creatine is an amino acid that’s naturally produced in the human body and stored mainly in muscle tissue to provide energy. It works by helping your body produce a steady supply of a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the chemical currency of energy in your cells. Having more ATP supply during exercise means your muscles can work harder and maintain intensity for longer periods of time, which translates to more muscle growth and strength gains.
Extensive research has found it’s safe for most people, Scott Forbes, a sports nutritionist and professor at Brandon University, said.
For athletes, it can help improve performance and build muscle, but it can also benefit people outside the gym, since evidence suggests it supports cognitive health.
Demand for creatine has skyrocketed at the same time supply-chain issues squeeze supply, sellers say
Rachel Jones, a vice president at GNC, said shortages had been driven by increased demand, sourcing, transportation, production, and competition between companies.
“It’s the perfect storm,” she told Insider in February.
Sales of creatine products at GNC have increased nearly 90% year over year in 2022, Jones said.
The creatine sales spike coincides with people returning to gyms after pandemic lockdowns. Crunch Fitness reached record-high membership by the end of 2021, according to the Bloomberg-owned analytics firm Second Measure. Planet Fitness said in a recent earnings call the company ended January with a record 15.6 million members, surpassing pre-pandemic levels.
Shoppers may have a stronger appetite for creatine, but many are having a hard time finding it at stores.
Forbes said athletes had approached him for advice on where to get creatine. People in Canada and the Midwest told Insider they’d also had a hard time buying it locally, particularly outside major cities, and had to shop online and sometimes switch brands to resupply.
“Macro supply-chain challenges are continuing to impact creatine availability,” Jones said.
Jack Gayton, Divisional Merchandise Manager at The Vitamin Shoppe said creatine was the supplement most affected by supply constraint, labor shortages, and logistical challenges in stores.
Creatine prices have tripled, but people are willing to pay extra for the benefits
For people who have been able to find creatine, the cost has gone up dramatically, between 20 and 300% depending on the type, brand, and region, consumers told Insider.
Sulman Aziz Mirza, a psychiatrist who has been taking creatine for a decade to support his strength-training regimen, said he was shocked to see the recent prices.
“The price had nearly tripled, and I was totally caught off guard because creatine has always been the cheap effective standard,” he told Insider.
He said it cost him just over $22 to buy a kilogram of creatine-monohydrate powder in 2020 — last month, the same amount set him back nearly $60.
Part of the sticker shock comes from the fact that creatine has previously been one of the cheapest supplements on the market, Marc Lobliner, a professional bodybuilder and the CEO of MTS Nutrition, said.
“We were so spoiled,” he said.
Comparatively, creatine is still more affordable than many supplements on the market, including flashy pre- and post-workout formulas. Personal trainers and gymgoers said they’re unlikely to be deterred from buying it.
“If you’re serious about training, you’re going to cut out something else before you cut out creatine.” Lobliner said.
Mirza said he didn’t plan to stop taking creatine because it’s worth the extra money for improvements to his stamina in the gym.
“It’s undeniable. If you’re working out, you have to be taking it,” he said.
One supplement seller says supply-chain disturbances overseas are a bigger factor than domestic ones
Allen of Onnit said since most creatine was manufactured in Germany, China, and Japan, problems with labor shortages and logistics were starting overseas. Chinese factories are facing an increasing shortage of workers, and Germany’s aging population is also creating a labor shrinkage.
Creatine supply has also been squeezed because of delays at the Port of Shanghai, Allen said. The number of ships in Shanghai waiting to take off has increased 34% over the past month to 344, Reuters reported.
Allen predicted the creatine shortage would last until the end of the year and could extend into early 2023.
The shortages don’t mark disaster for fitness buffs, though — trainers say you won’t lose your gains if you stop taking creatine and that you can even take a short break without noticing much of a difference.
“The fatigue might start to set in a little sooner, or you may not get that extra rep on the last set,” Andre Adams, a master trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine, said.
Other supplements with evidence supporting their benefits include beta alanine, essential amino acids, and caffeine. You can also get creatine from foods like beef and fish, though you’d have to eat a lot of food to get the amount of creatine in a tiny scoop of powder, Adams said.
Supplements, no matter how effective, make up a small percentage of overall fitness progress compared with foundational health habits, according to trainers and nutritionists.
“Creatine is not something I’d consider essential, especially for people starting out. Your healthy diet and macronutrients are more important,” Adams said.