Creatine is the buzzword on the lips of bodybuilders and CrossFit enthusiasts. But sprinters on the track and in the pool find the substance helpful too. However, there is a lot of confusion around creatine, sometimes being erroneously compared to anabolic steroids. Also, some athletes, especially women, worry that taking it will make them look fat and cause unwanted weight gain.
Creatine does not cause a person to gain fat. It is an amino acid with zero calories that the body stores in its muscles for energy. However, when people increase their creatine levels, the body may temporarily retain some water. Later, the body may gain some weight in the form of lean muscle.
People are often startled that the scale initially increases when starting a new exercise program. They think, “But I burned more calories.” But the muscles are shocked by the unexpected vigor, responding by hoarding water as a dragon does with gold. However, if a person continues exercising regularly, the muscles stop being greedy with H20. Introducing creatine can cause a similar physical response.
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is the common name for methyl guanidine-acetic acid (yes, it’s a mouthful). It is a natural energy source for the human body, primarily for the skeletal muscles. However, about 5% of it is distributed in other bodily tissues and organs, including the heart and brain.
Creatine is essential for building muscle and to provide their energy and stamina. Consequently, some athletes find it beneficial to increase their creatine intake.
Where Does Creatine Come From?
The human body naturally makes this amino acid in the liver, pancreas, and kidneys, but only around 1 gram a day.
The rest of people’s creatine needs are obtained through eating. The primary dietary sources are:
- Red meat
Smaller amounts of creatine are found in vegetarian foods such as:
- Pine nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
However, getting enough creatine from non-animal protein sources is much more challenging. Thus, some vegetarians and vegans need to use creatine supplements to meet their needs. You can also check “Are Creatine Supplements Vegan?” to know more about it
How Does Creatine Work?
The body breaks off the phosphate ATP to have the energy to perform the muscular function. The process renders ATP into adenosine diphosphate (ADP), which the body can’t use. The more intensely you contract those muscles, the faster the ATP is transitioned into ADP.
But the body doesn’t have an endless supply of ATP. Thus, creatine swoops in, hooking up ADP with new phosphate and transforming it back into ATP.
Think of creatine as gas stations and ADP as cars with empty tanks, unable to deliver their energy loads. Creatine fills them back up, so the proverbial vehicles become helpful again in the form of ATP. The more gas stations in the body, the faster and longer the cars can keep refilling, delivering energy to your muscles.
Why Take Creatine?
Creatine is a helpful supplement for athletes seeking to get more out of a workout. For example, creatine might help you add another rep or two to each set if you are a weight lifter. Thus, the muscle will build slightly faster by the extended training session.
However, if you take creatine without putting the work in, there won’t be an increase in muscle strength or mass. It isn’t an anabolic steroid, which stimulates muscle growth. Instead, it combats fatigue, like caffeine, but for your muscles. The increase in muscle mass while taking extra creatine is essentially from your effort. Hence, creatine is not banned by USADA.
There is also evidence that extra creatine might reduce the frequency of unwanted side effects from exercise, such as:
- Injuries to bones, ligaments, muscles, nerves, and tendons
- Muscle cramping
However, don’t leave the water bottle at home. Creatine does not eliminate the potential for these problems, and if you don’t train safely, you can still end up injured.
Do Non-Athletes Take Creatine?
Some people take creatine for medical reasons. For example, there is research looking into using it for the following:
- Creatine-metabolizing syndromes
- Certain cognitive conditions, including those caused by aging
- Bone-health conditions
Research has also been done into using it for heart failure, but thus far has not shown the desired results. Creatine also failed to slow down Parkinson’s in certain studies, such as one published in 2015. However, research continues, including in other areas of mental health, including depression and anxiety.
Lastly, as mentioned above, some vegetarians and vegans might take creatine supplements as it is harder to extract enough from their regular diets.
Can Creatine Make You Gain Fat?
Creatine doesn’t make you gain fat. The substance has no calories. However, some people experience water retention when increasing their creatine intake. But this is not permanent.
In addition, creatine can aid in the buildup of lean muscle mass, which will add weight. However, this type of “creatine gain” isn’t fat, and the additional muscle will increase a person’s metabolism.
Connection Between Creatine & Weight Gain?
Creatine became associated with weight gain as weightlifters and bodybuilders used it to increase muscle mass. People erroneously thought of it as a steroid-like substance that increases muscle tissue. Instead, any muscle gained while on creatine results from training harder.
Creatine is also associated with weight gain due to the tendency for people to initially experience some water retention. However, it generally goes away in twenty-eight days, nor does it happen to everyone.
Some people even like the water gain because it makes the muscles look slightly bigger. But, alas, that is temporary unless they work to increase their strength and muscular endurance.
What To Do If You Gain Weight On Creatine?
Not everyone is okay with carrying around extra water weight for a few weeks. Thus, there are some ways to reduce or avoid the initial water retention caused by adding extra creatine to your diet.
Reduce Salt When Starting Creatine
Sodium is notorious for causing bloat. But reducing your salt intake when starting creatine can help counteract some initial water retention.
Reduce Carbohydrates When Starting Creatine
Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap these days. But there are many health benefits to eating complex carbs. Nonetheless, they do encourage water retention. Thus, reducing your regular carb intake can help mitigate bloat from starting creatine.
Don’t Increase Fats When Starting Creatine
It’s natural to increase the fat in a diet when reducing salt and carbohydrates. The body is looking for extra energy and flavor, both of which can be found in fat. But adding extra to your diet will increase your caloric intake that could be converted into fat rather than muscle. Instead, try bulking up a meal with more vegetables and select leaner proteins.
Does Creatine Raise The Risk Of Gaining Belly Fat?
Creatine does not cause a person to gain fat. Any increase in belly fat would be due to dietary changes. Many people do try creatine for the first time while also embarking on a new eating plan. Sometimes these regimens overestimate how many calories are being used during training. Thus, while some of the additional calories may be converted into muscle, the rest will be stored as fat.
Can Creatine Make You Look Thinner?
Creatine is not a weight-loss substance. However, the body does use more calories with longer workouts. Also, the metabolism increases with greater muscle mass. Thus, with a controlled diet, a person may reduce their body’s fat percentage while taking creatine. The result is more defined muscles and a leaner physique.
Are There Other Risks Of Taking Creatine?
Even things that are good for you can cause harm in high doses, including water and carrots. More is not necessarily better. Creatine can cause unwanted side effects if introduced too quickly or taken in too high quantities. The general recommendation for creatine supplementation is 3-5 grams a day.
Side effects from creatine are typically minor, such as:
- Muscle cramps
If you are experiencing these symptoms, stop taking creatine. If you wish to try taking it again, begin with a much smaller initial dose and increase slowly.
There are a few athletic endeavors where it is common to ingest more than 3-5 grams of creatine. However, these athletes gradually increase their creatine intake and don’t consume the full amount in one go but spread it throughout the day. Nor do they continuously ingest these high levels. Instead, this is for a specific period of training. You can check When to Take Creatine? to know more about it.
Continuously taking creatine at unusually high quantities can lead to damage to essential parts of the body, such as:
Lastly, if you suffer from any heart, kidney, or liver disorders taking creatine supplements could make these issues worse. Thus, speaking to your doctor first is essential.
The Bottom Line
Creatine supplements do not cause an increase in body fat. Thus, if a person feels they “look fat” after taking the amino acid, it is from water weight which will be gone in a few weeks. However, reducing salt and carbohydrates will lessen this effect. Nor will creatine create bulky muscles. The only way to increase muscle mass while on creatine is to do more repetitions and lift heavier weights. For more information on creatine, check out our article on creatine side effects and myths to learn more about it..