Creatine is a supplement often used by athletes to gain muscle. While it may be helpful to take creatine supplements to boost your muscles, speed and energy during exercise, creatine weight gain and other side effects may also occur.
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An adult taking creatine may gain about 1.5 to 3.5 pounds initially, then gain up to 6 pounds of muscle mass if taken longer term. Fortunately, the weight gain associated with creatine is typically due to an increase in muscle mass rather than body fat, as well as water retention in the muscles.
Creatine’s Benefits for Your Body
Creatine is used as a supplement to boost athletic performance and recovery. But it's also an amino acid found naturally in your body — particularly in the muscles and brain — and produced by the liver, according to the Mayo Clinic. Without any supplements, your body naturally uses its own creatine to provide your muscles with energy. Taking it as a supplement during periods of intense lifting or workouts and fueling your muscles with more creatine, may be beneficial.
While the Mayo Clinic states that taking creatine supplements may aid in improving strength and fitness during exercise, research supporting its effects on other parts of the body or on certain diseases is still unclear. It's been known to cause an increase in body weight, mainly due to creatine water weight. That being said, creatine is considered safe and potentially beneficial to athletes needing a boost in strength.
Improving muscle strength: A November 2018 study published in Nutrients found that athletes showed an increase in muscle strength, as well as reduced muscle damage, when combining creatine supplements with intense training compared to athletes who didn't take creatine.
Another February 2017 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found similar results when analyzing the effects of low-dose, short-term creatine use in young soccer players.
The improved muscle power may be due to the increase of creatine providing your muscles with more energy through the form of phosphocreatine, which then produces adenosine triphosphate, or ATP.
Your muscles use ATP for energy during high-intensity workouts. More energy allows you to lift more or move faster, which then starts the cycle of your muscles growing. This is why creatine is a popular supplement for athletes from a variety of sports, including running, cycling, basketball, volleyball and weight-lifting.
Boosting rehabilitation: In addition to simply providing additional energy for your muscles to do more, creatine has been shown to possibly aid in your body's recovery after a workout or injury, according to a June 2017 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Taking creatine before or after a workout may aid in restoring your muscles after they've been put through a lot of work.
Exploring other benefits: Researchers have been examining creatine's benefits when it goes beyond muscle-building and performance. The evidence on this; however, is a bit more unclear.
The June 2017 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition also reviewed research that found creatine supplements may potentially aid the brain and protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. The same study also reviewed other research examining creatine's benefits in protecting against aging, lower cholesterol and reducing fat in the liver.
However, more research is needed on all these fronts to discover if creatine supplements can really do more than boost muscle strength. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a July 2017 study found that creatine did not reduce symptoms or appear to improve anything in people with Huntington's disease.
The Mayo Clinic also notes that while there isn't enough evidence to support a link between creatine and improved heart health, creatine may be beneficial as a topical cream to reduce skin wrinkles in men. Further research is needed to determine creatine's further health benefits.
Negative side effects: Creatine may also be associated with negative side effects if taken at high doses or for a long period of time, like muscle cramping, stomach pain and dehydration, according to the Mayo Clinic. Other unwanted side effects may include diarrhea, dizziness, water retention and nausea. However, creatine is generally deemed safe when taken at recommended doses.
Creatine and Weight Gain
Creatine has often been associated with temporary weight gain. But the good news is that creatine water weight gain is typically due to an increase in water retention or muscle growth, not fat. Within the first week, you may see average creatine weight gain of about 1.5 to 3.5 pounds, then see an increase of up to 6 pounds of muscle mass if taken longer.
Creatine weight gain may also be impacted by other factors, including how intense your weight-lifting or training is. The intensity of your workout contributes to increased muscle mass.
In addition to an uptick in muscle mass weight, you may also experience an increase in creatine water weight. Creatine intake may boost intracellular water volume, according to a January 2018 study published in Sports Health. This increase in your muscle's water retention may also contribute to the average creatine weight gain you may experience.
On average, however, creatine weight gain is not typically significant enough to make a huge difference in weight beyond a boost in muscle mass or water weight. In an August 2017 study published in Annals of Oncology, researchers examined whether creatine would aid in weight gain for people with cancer and anorexia/weight loss syndrome. They found that it didn't help them gain more weight than the placebo.
Use Creatine Correctly
Before beginning your search for the best creatine powder or supplement, remember that creatine can be naturally found in certain foods, like red meat and seafood. A pound of beef or salmon can provide you with 1 to 2 grams of creatine, and you can also find it in tuna and in small amounts in milk.
But if you're looking to get an extra boost of the best creatine powder into your diet beyond what your body gets from what you eat, you can find creatine in a variety of forms. Those include capsules, chewable tablets, powder, energy drinks and bars.
The most common type of creatine is creatine monohydrate. While there are other types of creatine, like creatine hydrochloride, liquid creatine and creatine ethyl ester, the best creatine powder is widely considered to be creatine monohydrate. It's the most widely used, considered one of the safest and can be found in various products and powders in stores and online.
According to MedlinePlus, it's important to take creatine in appropriate doses that are deemed safe. For adults, it is considered safe to take doses of creatine at 25 grams per day for up to two weeks. At a lower doses, it should be safe to take creatine for up to 18 months, and it may be safe to take doses lower than 10 grams a day for up to five years.
However, the Cleveland Clinic notes that while many athletes take creatine supplements, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate nutritional supplements, and the long-term effects of creatine are still unknown. Before taking creatine, it may be helpful to discuss your supplement plan with your doctor.
- International Center for Sports Nutrition: "Answers to Your Top 10 Questions About Creatine"
- Mayo Clinic: "Creatine"
- Nutrients: "Effects of 4-Week Creatine Supplementation Combined With Complex Training on Muscle Damage and Sport Performance"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "Effect of Low Dose, Short-Term Creatine Supplementation on Muscle Power Output in Elite Youth Soccer Players"
- Sports Health: "Creatine Use in Sports"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Safety and Efficacy of Creatine Supplementation in Exercise, Sport, and Medicine"
- International Immunopharmacology: "Beyond Muscles: The Untapped Potential of Creatine"
- National Institutes of Health: "Major Trial Does Not Support Use of Creatine for Early Huntington’s Disease"
- Annals of Oncology: "A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Randomized Trial of Creatine for the Cancer Anorexia/Weight Loss Syndrome (N02C4): An Alliance Trial"
- MedlinePlus: "Creatine"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Creatine"