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Fact checked by Andrew Lenau, ISSA CPT & Sports NutritionistFACT CHECKED
Considering taking creatine but wondering about whether it leads to weight gain? And if it does, what type of weight gain are we talking about? Does it make you gain fat? Add lean muscle mass? Cause water weight?
There are always a lot of questions surrounding supplements, particularly ones that have a reputation for being effective, like creatine. The good news is that since creatine is the most studied supplement in sports nutrition, we know exactly what's going on with it. And now we're going to share it with you.
This post will discuss:
Creatine is a non-proteinogenic amino acid that is naturally occurring and essential for life. One of the biggest misconceptions about creatine is that it's some sort of foreign substance. But it's not even close to being a foreign substance. On the contrary, you always have creatine stored in your body, in the form of creatine phosphate.
As a result of the massive amount of research on creatine and the best creatine supplements, we have learned that it's involved in an array of physiological processes.
A few of its non-performance benefits include maintaining muscle mass during times of injury1, improving brain health, cognitive function, and mental cognition2, and improving neuromuscular diseases such as muscular dystrophy and Parkinson's3.
And as far as improved exercise performance goes, in the world of sports and weight lifting, athletes benefit from taking creatine supplementation due to its role in our metabolic phosphagen system4.
The phosphagen system is one of three different metabolic systems, all of which have the same goal of producing more ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is a high-energy molecule that provides you with the energy required for muscle contractions.
When a muscle sends a signal, ATP releases a phosphate molecule in an exogenic reaction that releases energy. This energy is used to power the muscles and allow work (contractions) to take place. When we perform high intensity exercises, such as weight lifting and HIIT, our bodies require rapid regeneration of ATP in order to sustain the activity, primarily through our ATP-CP energy system.
But ATP isn't only used during intense exercise. Your body constantly needs ATP. Even when you sleep, your body uses an enormous amount to power your brain, respiration, and all other life-supporting functions.
To maintain your creatine levels, your body has three different systems, including the ATP-CP system mentioned above, to help constantly replenish ATP in muscle stores. Examples of activities fueled by the phosphagen system include sprinting, plyometrics, and lifting weights.
Now you know why creatine is essential. Creatine helps fuel the activities you do in the gym, which helps build muscle mass.
We mentioned that everyone already has their own creatine stores without consuming a dietary creatine supplement. This occurs mainly through diet as creatine is found in many different food sources, with fish and red meat having some of the highest concentrations. In addition, creatine can also be synthesized within the body with a process that utilizes other amino acids.
Most people tend to consume an adequate amount of creatine through their dietary choices. But sufficient doesn't mean we have as much as we can possibly store. In fact, the majority of the population has creatine stores that are only 60 to 80% full.
After the discovery of creatine supplements, it was discovered that people can optimize their creatine storage by filling their levels up to 100%! This means that by taking creatine supplements, you can supply more creatine to the phosphagen system.
And more creatine to the phosphates system means more energy and powerful contractions to tackle that ultimate 6-day workout split you've been eyeing.
Boosting your creatine stores enables your body to produce additional ATP, meaning more energy, which allows you to work out harder and for longer. This extra energy and work volume translates into several performance benefits, including increasing your strength to lift heavier weights and more reps. In addition, it improves your work volume, which translates into building more muscle and gaining mass.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition position's on creatine states the following as potential benefits from taking creatine supplementation5.
Those are some very impressive numbers. Creatine for the win!
Considering taking creatine but wondering if it will help you build muscle? It absolutely will help. When people speak about body weight gain, this typically refers to the addition of lean muscle mass.
This is thanks to creatine providing you with more muscular strength and work performed in the gym, leading to muscle hypertrophy. Just make sure you're following a proper weight training program that supports progressive overload and are eating more calories than you're burning.
While you will likely gain weight by way of muscle growth, creatine is not likely to influence the amount of fat you have or cause unwanted weight gain. However, creatine could help fat loss indirectly by allowing more work to be done in the gym and increasing body mass (lean muscle).
Also, you don't need to lose fat to achieve body recomposition. Studies have found that creatine supplementation combined with weight training can improve your body fat percent primarily through the addition of lean mass6. Even when the amount of fat remains the same, the additional muscle weight gain produces a better body composition.
Creatine will not cause you to gain fat. At the same time, it won't have a large effect on your existing fat either. And if you're considering taking creatine while cutting, we highly recommend it! Even if it doesn't impact body fat, it does help preserve and build lean muscle mass, especially important when you're reducing calories.
Remember, if you are focusing on fat loss, the best way to monitor your weight is by controlling your caloric intake through a healthy diet.
One common complaint about creatine is that it leads to water retention, and this is likely where creatine got its reputation for causing weight gain.
Remember that creatine is stored within your muscles. Due to it being osmotic, creatine will draw water into your muscle cells. But this isn't a bad thing as water makes up 79% of your skeletal muscle composition.
Having extra-hydrated muscles have even been found to be more anabolic as in they are more capable of increased muscle mass.
When you gain muscle, you are also going to experience water weight gain due to the muscle's natural composition. ISSN found that while creatine bloating may occur during your loading phase (see below), over time, the additional water weight gain is directly proportional to your muscle weight gain.
Back in the 90s, when creatine first became known to the general public, creatine and its usage were a bit sensationalized.
Fortunately, since then, hundreds of studies have been done, including ones examining its safety. And other than a few case studies (patients with a decline in kidney function) or animal studies (rats being fed an equivalent of 140g a day), no research or review has found any evidence of adverse effects. This includes long-term studies of up to five years.
Studies have also been done on children and the elderly with no harmful effects. The bottom line is taking creatine as directed is perfectly safe. You could even take expired creatine and while it may not be as effective, it would likely still be safe.
Do you mean other than packing on muscle as you tackle this killer full-body workout plan?
In all seriousness, there are some minor issues that a small minority report when taking creatine. The most common one is an upset stomach.
If you find that you experience this, the easiest thing to do is take smaller doses. Creatine does not need to be taken all at once, so split it up if you need to.
You can learn more about creatine's safety and side effects in our article: Is Creatine Bad For You?
Creatine is one of the most effective dietary supplements on the market that can cause weight gain by adding more muscle mass. You just need to know how to dose creatine correctly to see best results. And as far as when to take creatine? There have been some benefits linked to taking it post workout, but to be honest, the most important thing is taking it consistently every day.
Here is what you need to know about how to dose your creatine and the ideal type to take.
Creatine monohydrate was the first creatine to be sold as a sports supplement. Due to its massive success and effectiveness, there have been other creatine variations released.
The most popular alternative forms of creatine are creatine HCL (for more information on this, we have an entire article dedicated to comparing the differences between creatine HCL vs. monohydrate) and buffered creatine. Their primary "benefit" is that they offer better absorption rates meaning you don't need to take as much. As a result, they are less likely to cause any type of stomach distress. However, it's important to note that they are not better than creatine monohydrate.
In fact, we suggest taking creatine monohydrate as it's the cheapest and works awesome. As far as creatine pills vs. powder, that's personal preference! Just make sure it's creatine monohydrate.
Remember above when we spoke about the missing 20 to 40% in your creatine storage? This is why people usually use a creatine loading protocol when starting to take creatine.
During the loading phase, you take several high doses of creatine, totaling 20 to 25 grams per day, for five to seven days. If you are prone to stomach issues, you can simply take lower doses more frequently. In addition, be sure to drink plenty of water.
Also, keep in mind you don't need to follow this loading scheme. Its only purpose is to fill your stores faster, but it's not mandatory.
Instead, you could take 15 grams for 10 days or 10 grams for 15 days. You could even take 5 grams (the maintenance dose) for 30 days.
The point being you don't need to take the highest dosage to see results, particularly if it causes stomach issues. There are other ways to take creatine so experiment if needed.
After your loading phase, creatine supplementation is easy. Take 3 to 5 grams daily, preferably with a high carb meal or drink.
We like to mix it with a big cup of juice but putting it in a post-workout shake with plenty of carbs is another easy choice. Make sure to use one of the best protein powders so your shake is extra tasty.
And as far as what happens when you stop taking creatine, the good news is that as long as you continue training hard, you should be able to maintain your gains. Having said that, there are no negative long-term effects of continuing to take it, so you could continue dosing at 3 grams per day if you wanted to.
Creatine makes the list of top ergogenic aids. It has been shown to improve body composition and athletic performance. And it's almost guaranteed to help you put on muscle mass through muscle hypertrophy.
The only negative is that oral creatine supplementation loading may cause some water retention and bloat. If this occurs, take smaller doses at first.
Creatine provides additional energy that will help you reach your goals, whether it's to gain more weight or assist with weight loss. All gym goers should utilize this supplement for the best fitness gains.
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