For how long have you been taking creatine out of the same bottle? Do you even remember when you purchased it? Have you ever wondered why sometimes there is no expiry date on a bottle of creatine?
I recently found a very old bottle of creatine I had not used in months. Before I could take out any supplements, my mind alarmed me with a question: what if this has expired?
But then another thought popped up in my head: does creatine even expire?
And now that you are here, you are probably looking for the answer to that as well.
I was equally as confused as you might be right now. Fortunately, I’ve done all the hard work (searching through medical journals and what not) for you. I will explain everything with links to credible sources that you may verify on your own.
What Does The Expiration Date Mean?
Just because the ‘expiration’ or ‘best before’ date on the container of your product has passed does not mean the creatine has actually expired (1).
Well then, what exactly is the point of printing that date, right?
The expiration date is kind of a warning to prompt the user to consume the product till that date without any worries.
So let’s talk about the effectiveness of the creatine after it has ‘expired’ according to the date on the label. The thing is that it will continue doing its work, but with reduced efficiency. The same dosage as before will not yield the same results as it once did.
This is what we refer to as ‘loss of potency’ in medical terms.
Now you might be wondering why physicians or manufactures do not disclose this information. It’s because there are multiple legal restrictions and safety concerns regarding the use of products after expiry. This is why the makers are not usually allowed to comment on such matters (4).
Another major reason is that creatine is a high turnover supplement. This means you would consume it fairly quickly after purchase. This is why many drug manufacturers do not bother to fully research the exact time after which their product will expire.
Due to this lack of research, expiration or sell-by dates are hardly precise.
Interestingly, the expiration date is also a signal to pharmacists and other drug-store owners to get the product off their shelves by then. So to get rid of it, they will try harder to sell it off.
Keeping that in mind, it seems that the expiration date on creatine has less to do with the product actually becoming harmful. In fact, it has more to do with prompting sellers and buyers to finish it soon. More sales ultimately mean more profits!
Now, I’m not trying to suggest that you should ignore the expiry date altogether. I’m just saying that it might not exactly be what it’s made out to be.
As a rule of thumb, it is always a good practice to try to finish your stack of creatine before the expiry date.
Does Creatine Actually Expire?
Like almost every other ingestible product, creatine is also useless and possibly harmful to consume after a certain period of time.
The exact time varies depending upon the conditions in which you have stored the product.
On average, the shelf life of creatine is 36 months. What this means is that after production, you may use creatine for up to 3 years.
Having said that, creatine will remain effective for quite some time even after its shelf life. But we cannot exactly tell the duration of that period due to a number of external and internal factors (5).
It depends upon how you store it, and what exactly is the composition of the creatine, among other factors.
But what would happen after 36 months?
After the shelf life, creatine might still remain safe for consumption and display no outwardly signs of having ‘gone bad’. But chances are high that you may suffer from side-effects if you do take it (6).
Signs of Expired Creatine
Here are some signs you should check for which might help you determine whether your bottle of creatine is safe for consumption:
Lumpy – try to see or feel the texture of the supplements and discard them if lumps have formed.
Smelly – if there is a strong, pungent odor which is different from how creatine usually smells, do not use it.
Discolored – even if the overall color of the supplement has not changed, look for tiny spots with faded or dissimilar color.
If your stock of creatine shows any of these signs, do not use it (7).
And even if these signs are not so obvious, why would you risk your health like this? Expired drugs, especially those as strong as creatine, can have very harmful effects on the body.
Sometimes the expired creatine will look, feel, and smell the exact same as before!
Do not fall for this and risk a high chance of a serious medical problem (8).
Also, creatine is an inexpensive supplement so it would be better to throw away your current bottle and just get a new one.
You can get a gram of creatine for as low as 4 cents which will roughly cost you $11 per month. I know creatine is also sold at rates like 25 cents per gram which can amount to $70 per month. But even that is not very high – or at least not as high as the treatment for taking expired creatine can be!
How ‘Safe’ is Expired Creatine?
This is only for informative purposes so do not use any expired product – creatine or otherwise.
That being said, the way food expires or rots is very different from the way supplements and proteins such as creatine expire.
Expired creatine is not as injurious to health as food-based supplements are due to its chemical composition. Creatine comprises molecules that do not decompose or break down the way, say, fish oil and whey protein do (9).
This is exactly why creatine is much safer than food-based supplements even after months of expiration. It does not have any constituents which rot fast or release pungent odors, unlike the latter.
Expired creatine will most likely not cause any severe reactions. Nor will it result in adverse hormonal imbalance or similar medical problems. There have not been any reported instances of expired creatine causing medicinal issues.
Remember, this can vary for each type of creatine. Presumably, creatine with additives and flavors is more harmful than normal creatine after its expiry date (10).
Lastly, there is a concept of ‘buffers’ when it comes to medicinal drugs. This is the duration after the expiration or sell-by date within which it is safe to consume the product.
For creatine, the buffer is commonly believed to be 6 months. This means that you can take creatine for up to 6 months after the expiry date on the label.
But first make sure there are no signs of the creatine having gone sour, as I explained earlier.
Can You Prevent Creatine from Expiring?
Unfortunately, there is no way for you to completely stop creatine from expiring. But you sure can delay the process for a while.
This means that by taking a few precautionary measures you can use your creatine safely for much longer than the time specified on the container.
Here’s a breakdown of those conditions and tips:
Keep It Away from Sunlight
You should also make sure you’re not storing it in a very warm place. This is because various chemicals in creatine are photosensitive to light.
In fact, creatine is ‘extra responsiveness’ to sunlight. This might increase the risk of loss of potency, color, or beneficial effects of the creatine (11).
Keep It Dry
Ensure that moisture does not mix with creatine as that can lead to deterioration of the product.
Let’s get into the chemistry of creatine to understand how this can happen.
Keep the Container Sealed Tightly
Since air contains moisture, I recommend that you keep the creatine in an airtight container after every use.
As with any supplements you should always ensure that the disadvantages do not outweigh the advantages. Similarly, if you are mindful of the expiration of creatine and do not consume it after the specified date, you will be safe.
Now that you know that creatine does expire, no matter how long the process takes, it is best to avoid it after the date of expiration.
Remember, consuming any expired item can cause serious damage to your health.
So all you need to do is keep your creatine in a cool and dry place. Keep the container tightly shut to ensure it remains safe for consumption. This way you’ll be safe while you exercise and boost your energy with creatine (16, 17)!
If you still have any further questions, please use the comment section below to reach out to me. I’m sure the rest of the community would love to hear your thoughts as well.
The author of this article is not a licensed physician or M.D. The article is written for educational purposes only. Kindly refer to a licensed physician before considering any of the advice given above. The author does not claim to provide any sound medical advice or treatment.