Creatine is a popular sports supplement that increases muscle mass and improves sports or gym performance. But does creatine make you gain weight?
If you have been a fitness freak or an athlete, you are very well aware of the importance of sports nutrition in your life. To perform exercises like weight training and other physical activities, our muscles need strength and power. People often turn to supplements like creatine to enhance their power and endurance to perform rigorous exercises.
Creatine is an amino acid that is naturally produced in the human body and helps to supply energy to the muscles. It boosts strength, promotes muscle gain, and eventually improves performance in the gym or on the field.
Creatine often gets a bad rap for causing weight gain. Although healthy weight gain is crucial in maintaining lean muscle and enhancing sports performance, unnecessary weight gain can lead to hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. So, does creatine make you gain weight, or is it something else? Let’s find out.
What is creatine?
Taking creatine as a supplement has become a norm among fitness freaks, athletes, and bodybuilders. It helps their bodies produce more energy during high-intensity or weight training exercises. But what is creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid and a naturally occurring compound in muscle cells. The amino acids arginine, glycine, and methionine contain 1 gram of creatine in the form of creatine phosphate. Inside the body, creatine attaches itself to adenosine diphosphate (ADP) to form adenosine triphosphate (ATP). When ATP is converted to ADP, energy is released. ATP is the immediate source of energy for muscle cells. It particularly helps in muscle contraction.
The human body uses the amino acids glycine and arginine to produce creatine to fill up creatine stores. The rest are filled up with the food you eat. While some people get creatine through meat and seafood, others rely on oral creatine to improve athletic performance.
If you are into weightlifting and intense sports that require explosive, anaerobic power, you may need to increase muscle creatine stores. Creatine intake helps you gain lean muscle mass in the long run and improves performance in the gym. Additionally, it may improve brain function and also help lower blood sugar levels.
Does creatine make you gain weight?
So, does creatine make you gain weight? Since you might be concerned about creatine weight gain, it is essential to know, “will creatine make you fat?”
Well, studies National Library of Medicine: Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update have shown that creatine increases body mass, especially if you have opted for the loading phase protocol. The weight gain will be due to an increase in water weight(water retention). Creatine is osmotic. It attracts water and causes a rise in intracellular and extracellular water levels. However, this water retention is a good indicator that your body’s creatine stores are increasing.
In the long term, you will notice that it leads to increased lean muscle mass. However, it won’t cause you to accumulate fat. Creatine weight gain is primarily in the form of water weight and muscle mass. One scoop of oral creatine contains very few calories or none at all. And if you are eating a healthy diet and doing your routine physical workout, you are not likely to gain fat.
What to do if you gain weight with creatine?
Water weight gain with creatine is usually temporary. If you experience intracellular or extracellular water retention (the latter being more unhealthy than the former), here are some tips that can help:
- Creatine water weight gain can be reduced by increasing water intake. Drinking fluids stimulates urination, which helps to expel excess water from the body.
- If you experience creatine bloating due to water retention, reduce your carb intake. Make sure your carb intake is 225 to 325 grams per day.
- Exercise to lower water retention. Go for a daily 30-minute walk and do yoga to ease the discomfort of water retention.
- Reduce your sodium intake. Excess salt causes the body to retain water. Instead, eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in fiber.
- Increase intake of foods rich in magnesium. Eat plenty of whole grains, unsalted nuts, leafy greens, and dark chocolate.
- Eat more potassium-rich foods since they help with fluid balance. Bananas, tomatoes, and avocados are rich sources of potassium.
What are some myths and facts about creatine?
Many myths about creatine are prevalent among those who do not know much about it. Here are some creatine myths that need busting.
Myth 1: It increases body fat
Fact – “Creatine makes you gain weight by increasing body fat” is one of the most prevalent myths. But the truth is that creatine has barely any calories and hence is unlikely to cause any fat accumulation. The weight gain is due to mild, intracellular water retention, not fat accumulation. However, this water retention is temporary and eases with time.
Myth 2: Creatine is just for athletic performance
Fact – There is no doubt that creatine is one of the most effective supplements for improving exercise performance. However, the benefits of creatine go a long way beyond this. Many weight trainers rely on creatine since it increases lean mass and improves body composition. The increased muscle mass helps produce more energy to meet the demands of high-intensity exercises and recovery periods.
Myth 3: Creatine damages kidneys
Fact – It’s a long-standing myth that creatine can damage the kidneys. According to scientific studies PubMed: Effects of creatine supplementation on renal function, creatine supplements do not cause renal disease. This fact is also supported by experts who say that creatine and creatine metabolism products are removed by the kidneys and hence serve as an indicator of how well the kidneys are functioning. Creatine simply does not affect kidney function in healthy individuals.
Myth 4: Creatine is not for women
Fact – “Women shouldn’t use creatine”—this myth is widespread and accepted. However, this is not true. Both sexes would benefit from creatine supplementation. While men tend to gain lean body mass due to greater total muscle mass, women can also experience significant muscle gain and enhanced performance with creatine supplementation. Also, creatine may benefit women by reducing pregnancy complications and increasing bone mass density during menopause.
Myth 5: Creatine won’t work unless loaded
Fact – It is generally believed that the creatine loading phase is necessary for its efficacy. However, this is not essentially true. Following the loading phase protocol will allow you to see quick results since it will boost the creatine stores at a faster rate. But that has nothing to do with effectiveness. That means, although the non-loading approach will take longer to reap the benefits of the supplementation, it will surely show the results sooner or later.
Myth 6: Creatine causes hair loss
Fact – A notion about creatine supplementation that is prevalent among men is that it can lead to hair loss. The notion stemmed from a study that observed a significant increase in DHT (Dihydrotestosterone) levels after creatine use. DHT is known to induce male pattern baldness and female pattern hair loss. However, it will only cause hair loss if you are genetically predisposed to the condition. So, if you have a predisposition to androgenetic alopecia, you must be mindful regarding creatine supplementation and consult a doctor first.
Myth 7: Creatine Monohydrate should be taken with sugar
Fact – It makes sense to take creatine monohydrate with sugar since your muscles will absorb creatine effectively when insulin is present. However, muscle tissues can absorb creatine on their own. That means taking creatine without sugar is just as effective. Further, to increase creatine absorption, you will have to consume large doses of sugar or carbs, which can negatively impact your fitness goals.
Why is creatine necessary?
Creatine helps maintain a continuous supply of energy to muscles that are involved during vigorous exercise or physical activity. Oral creatine supplementation also builds strength and endurance by building lean muscle, which eventually boosts athletic performance. Besides muscle strength, it may heal muscular disorders in people struggling with muscular dystrophy.
Oral creatine can increase creatine levels in the brain in people suffering from GAMT deficiency or AGAT deficiency. Dietary creatine has also been shown National Library of Medicine: Dietary creatine intake and depression risk among U.S. adults to improve symptoms of depression in people.
What are the benefits of creatine?
As stated above, creatine benefits the body in multiple ways. Some of the benefits of creatine are discussed in detail below:
1. Allows muscle cells to produce more energy
Creatine helps produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the basic form of energy for muscle cells. During exercise, the ATP molecule breaks down to generate energy. This allows muscles to produce more energy during high-intensity exercises and eventually engenders better exercise performance.
2. Speeds up muscle growth
Creatine is a highly effective supplement for increasing lean muscle and body weight. A study National Library of Medicine: Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Muscle Strength and Optimal Individual Post-Activation Potentiation Time of the Upper Body in Canoeists has shown that taking it for 5-7 days in a row increases muscle size. Over the long term, it helps to grow muscle fiber, which will boost gym performance.
3. Boosts high-intensity exercise performance
Creatine supplements increase phosphocreatine stores. This results in producing more ATP energy to fuel muscles to meet the energy demands during high-intensity workouts.
4. Supports various muscle functions
Creatine is also known to improve muscle endurance, muscle growth, muscle strength, recovery, and sprint ability. It also increases resistance to fatigue and ballistic power.
5. Can fight neurological diseases
Many neurological diseases occur due to the reduction of phosphocreatine in the brain. Creatine comes into play here since it helps to restore the phosphocreatine stores and hence slows down the disease progression.
Are there any side effects of creatine?
Generally, creatine is safe, with no to minimal side effects. However, high doses can put you at risk of kidney, heart, and liver problems. Lower doses of up to 3-5 grams daily for up to 1.5 years and high doses of up to 25 grams daily for up to 1-2 weeks have been safely used.
For the long term, doses of up to 10 grams daily for up to 5 years are safe. However, some people may experience some minor side effects, such as:
- Muscle cramps
You should stop taking creatine supplements if you experience adverse side effects. Also, people with liver or kidney problems or those who are already on medication should consult their doctor before starting the supplementation.
How to start with creatine supplementation?
If you regularly consume meat and fish, your creatine stores are 60–80% full. However, you can maximize the stores via creatine supplementation. Experts recommend a creatine loading phase to see positive changes faster. Here’s how to follow the creatine loading protocol:
- Take 20 grams of creatine every day for 5 to 7 days, and keep each serving at 5 grams. This way, you have to consume it four times a day.
- After the loading phase, you can start taking a lower dose, usually between 2–3 grams daily.
- Vegetarians or people who do not eat red meat can rely on 5 grams a day for maintenance.
- If you do not want to load at all, simply take 5 grams of creatine daily for a month.
- Finally, it’s not recommended to settle for high doses of creatine, like 20 grams a day, since it will be converted to formaldehyde.
Creatine is one of the most effective and safest ways to boost energy stores and increase exercise or athletic performance. However, it can cause some water weight gain, which is usually temporary. Apart from rapidly producing energy, it improves brain health, lowers blood sugar levels, and increases bone mass density during menopause.
Vegetarians who do not eat meat or seafood can consider creatine supplementation with creatine monohydrate. We recommend consulting a healthcare provider before starting the supplementation, especially if you have a genetic predisposition to hair loss.
|National Library of Medicine: Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update
|PubMed: Effects of creatine supplementation on renal function
|National Library of Medicine: Dietary creatine intake and depression risk among U.S. adults
|National Library of Medicine: Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Muscle Strength and Optimal Individual Post-Activation Potentiation Time of the Upper Body in Canoeists