A supplement long used in fitness circles to beef up muscles may be coming to a Meal, Ready to Eat, or MRE, near you. Congress could soon ask the military to look at including creatine in MREs, the staples of field nutrition across the military.

The measure was included in the fiscal year 2025 national defense policy bill passed by the House. It will need final approval from the House and Senate before being added to the final defense bill. An official with the Natural Products Association, which represents manufacturers and retailers of organic foods and dietary supplements, told Task & Purpose the creatine language was added to the bill by a member of the House’s Republican majority.

The House measure, should it become law, is short on specifics. The legislation “encourages” the Department of Defense to add creatine to MREs, noting “a broad body of clinical research has shown that creatine can enhance muscle growth, physical performance, strength training, post-exercise recovery, and injury prevention.”

The use of creatine as a fitness supplement is not new but has increased in popularity in recent years. Fitness influencers on social media frequently endorse variations of creatine for muscle building and recovery.

In the military, a series of studies on active duty personnel a decade ago found that as many as one in three troops in special operations jobs used creatine as a regular supplement, but that it was far less common among the military population overall.

Meals, ready to eat (MREs) rest on a table during an MRE open-package inspection, April 6, 2018, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Erick Requadt. Airman 1st Class Erick Requadt

Other fitness supplements have been introduced to the military as early as basic training, where Army recruits are provided with Performance Readiness Bars, fortified with calcium and vitamin D, “to help promote muscle growth and stronger bones in trainees,” said LTC Randy Ready, a spokesperson for the Army Center for Initial Military Training.

At base exchanges, troops can buy protein powders, energy drinks and sometimes creatine. The DOD also includes creatine in its dietary supplement resource, also known as “Operation Supplement Safety.”

Brian Schilling, a University of Nevada-Las Vegas professor who teaches a course on troop and first responder human performance and does research for the U.S. military, said putting creatine into MREs could help troops already using the supplement “maintain their creatine levels a little bit longer” but he doesn’t think there will be a “huge benefit to the non-creatine user.”

“For instance, I just don’t supplement with creatine but all of a sudden it’s in my MRE so therefore I’m gonna perform better. I just don’t see it happening,” Schilling said.

For consistent creatine users, Schilling does agree that having the supplement in MREs makes sense for maintaining muscle mass in rugged environments where troops may find themselves.

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“It might help them maybe preserve some muscle mass assuming that they’re in some adverse conditions where they’re not eating normally and doing things normally like in a battlefield condition,” he said. 

The Army cautions its soldiers to consult the service’s registered dietitians, RDs. Holistic Health and Fitness Performance Teams have RDs and soldiers without an H2F team can consult dietitians at Military Treatment Facilities or the Armed Forces Wellness Center.

The science

According to the DOD, not everyone will find the same physical benefits when using creatine due to individual factors like diet. 

“There are both high and low responders. For example, since creatine in the diet is predominately found in meats, vegetarians are more likely respond well to creatine supplementation because they tend to have lower levels in their muscles,” according to the DOD.

Creatine can have positive effects on “strength, power, sprint performance, and muscle mass in athletes who engage in resistance training.” There is limited evidence to support creatine for improved aerobic and endurance performance, according to the DOD supplement resource page.

A 2016 review of studies on creatine in the military found varying amounts of creatine use and effectiveness. As many as one in three Special Operations troops have said they use creatine as a supplement, according to a 2010 study, while surveys of the wider military population has found that as few as 5% of all troops use creatine regularly. 

Studies on military personnel — which varied from new Army recruits just arriving at basic training to 24 Navy SEALs — have found hazy but similar stories: creatine can help with strength training — like bench pressing, pull-ups and jumping — but showed little help in endurance events like running and obstacle courses. Effects of creatine also seem to be more pronounced in troops like basic trainees who are not yet in top physical shape, versus in special operations troops who tend to exercise more regularly. 

But Schilling said for military purposes, the limited benefits for endurance doesn’t outweigh the overall gains for troops who need to “be a jack of all trades.”

“You might have to hump that pack for miles and miles and miles on end but then you also might have to sprint so you need a little bit of everything. I don’t think it’s necessarily a trade off where, well, if I take this, I’m going to hurt my endurance performance,” he said. “It may not help endurance performance but maintaining muscle mass is gonna help all kinds of performance.”

There are many variations of creatine available for purchase but Schilling said it’s mostly a marketing game in the supplement world where companies claim their creatine comes with less bloating. Schilling also said “bloating” isn’t even necessarily accurate.

“In the field, you wanna have as much water on board as possible,” he said. “When you carbohydrate load, you get the same thing because for every gram of carbohydrate, you store 3 g of water. So it’s very similar to carbohydrate loading.”

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