Is Creatine A Steroid? (Here’s Why Not)

October 6, 2023

If you are an athlete pursuing enhanced physical performance and muscle development, you might be looking into supplements to improve your performance in the gym. However, the line between supplements and steroids can seem blurry when looking at a supplement like creatine because they give similar physical and performance results – but is creatine a steroid?

Creatine differs from steroids in a few crucial ways. Firstly, its chemical structure fundamentally differs from that of steroids. Secondly, its mode of action within the body operates independently of hormone levels, making it a non-hormonal supplement.

Knowledge is power, and we will look at what anabolic steroids are, how they work, how starkly they contrast with creatine, and why choosing creatine for supplementation is a safe and sound decision for your health.

Is Creatine A Steroid?

Creatine is a non-protein amino acid found in low doses in foods like meat [1]. It increases performance by increasing the capacity of the body to produce ATP, the body’s energy “currency,” especially during anaerobic/power-type exercise [1].

This increases your energy output and ability to perform higher volumes of training. Creatine also improves recovery after workouts by enhancing protein synthesis [1,7].

Anabolic steroids are man-made versions of testosterone, a natural hormone found in both males and females, which, when combined with resistance training, aims to boost muscle size and strength by increasing muscle growth.

However, because steroid is a synthetic hormone, it has side effects on your hormonal system that can affect your health and quality of life [2].

While steroids are used in therapeutic settings, athletes often abuse them at very high doses [2]. In fact, it is not considered ethical to do studies using steroids at the high doses that athletes use because of the known harmful effects of steroids [3,4,5].

In contrast, more than 500 studies have been done on creatine, with no conclusive evidence showing adverse effects [6].

Is Creatine A Drug?

Is Creatine A Drug

Anabolic steroids are classified as drugs, whereas creatine does not.

Steroids fall under Class C, Schedule III controlled substances, overseen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and subject to the regulatory framework outlined in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) administered by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) [1,2].

In contrast, like numerous other dietary supplements, creatine aligns with The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (“DSHEA”).

This federal law in the United States establishes guidelines for defining and regulating dietary supplements. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees adherence to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) within this framework [1].

Without a physician’s prescription, possessing or administering anabolic steroids is against the law. Conversely, there are no legal consequences for possessing or consuming creatine.

Anabolic steroids are also classified as “banned substances” by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), while creatine is permitted to be used within competition [8].

For more information on what supplements and ingredients can be banned from sport, visit the WADA website here.

Is Creatine Safer Than Steroids?

Anabolic steroids were initially developed for clinical use in cancer-related diseases [2]. However, athletes started taking them for performance enhancement purposes [9] and in extremely high doses – up to 5 – 20 times higher than what is used in many clinical studies [10, 11, 12].

Because of the adverse side effects that occur when anabolic steroids are used, it is not considered ethical to even do intervention studies on athletes using doses equivalent to what athletes consume to improve their performance [2].

However, researchers looked at the doses of steroids and their effects on athletes already using them by using medical reports and questionnaires.

Many of these reports show that the majority of the athletes had adverse health effects.

Not only when using steroids but also after they stopped using them [12], including acne, fluid retention, blood pressure, sleeplessness, increased irritability, increased appetite, depression, hair loss, and reduced libido [10, 11, 12, 13, 14].

More severe side effects like heart attacks in healthy young athletes, thrombosis, heart failure, and even cardiac sudden death have also been reported [15, 16, 17, 18].  

Creatine is considered safe for diverse groups of people, from infants to the elderly. Research indicates that short- and long-term supplementation, even at doses as high as 30 grams per day over five years, is well-tolerated and safe for healthy individuals and various patient populations, from infants to the elderly.

Furthermore, maintaining a consistent low dietary intake of creatine, such as 3 grams per day, throughout one’s life can offer substantial health advantages.

Contrary to popular belief, creatine does not lead to hair loss, lead to weight gain, or cause dehydration.


Due to its distinct chemical makeup with no impact on the body’s hormones compared to steroids, creatine is not categorized as a steroid.

So, if you’re a creatine beginner and on the fence about using it because of this myth, know it is considered safe for use, not classified as a drug, and is not on the list of prohibited supplements while boasting many benefits for athletes!


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About the Author

Hanli is a Registered Dietitian with a special interest in sports nutrition. She has a Master's degree and is currently a PhD candidate focusing on adolescent athlete nutrition. She has published research in the Obesity Reviews journal and is a research coordinator at the Sport Science Institute of South Africa.

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