It would be fair to say that there’s no other supplement in the fitness space that has created a buzz like Creatine.
It’s been the go-to supplement for athletes, recreational bodybuilders and gym rats looking for a little extra edge while continuing to stay on the ‘natty’ side of the fence.
It’s also one of the most researched chemicals in the world, that boasts of an excellent safety profile and is backed by tons of clinical studies.
Despite this, there’s a clear lack of clarity when it comes to how it affects your body weight.
There is a large percentage of the population that believes that creatine makes you gain weight or makes you look puffy.
Well, that’s partly true.
You will find your weight fluctuating in the first few days of ingesting creatine, as it increases your intra-muscular water retention.
But that’s not necessarily bad, as all the water weight that you gain will be within muscle tissue.
Not under the skin or subcutaneous. That’s what makes you look puffy.
If you are gaining subcutaneous water, then it has to do with your salt intake or your water intake, either of the two.
Coming to the intracellular water that Creatine makes you retain, the only thing that’s going to look bigger courtesy that, are your muscles. Perfect for you skinny armed guys and gals.
But the question still remains, does creatine cause you to gain weight? And if so, how much?
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s dig a little deeper into Creatine.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a naturally-occurring molecule produced by the pancreas, the liver and the kidneys. 95% of it is stored in your muscle though.
Apart from creatine supplements, it is also found in red meat, fish and a bunch of other food stuff.
Chemically, it is similar to amino acids and it is stored in muscle tissue as phosphocreatine or ATP, which is akin to an energy reserve that the body taps into during high intensity workouts.
Every time you contract a muscle, you lose a little ATP. Creatine just refuels it back.
Here’s the kicker.
Your muscle tissue has an ability to store more creatine than what your body can produce.
So, when you supplement with creatine, your phosphocreatine levels increase, which gives you more energy to fuel your workouts with.
That’s not all. Creatine also works via several other biological pathways that influence muscle mass and strength.
You can lift a little extra weight. You can add some extra reps. Everything sort of magically improves in the gym.
How Does Creatine Make You Gain Weight?
The big question that seems to be looming large over the health halo created by creatine, is “how does it make you gain weight?”
When you supplement with creatine, it is shuttled into your muscle tissue along with water.
This typically occurs in the first week or two that you start using creatine and you can gain up to 3 lbs. in a span of a week, in just water weight from the use of creatine.
The more muscle you have, the more the water retention which in turn means the more your weight will increase.
However, the increased intramuscular water will only make your muscles look bigger.
It does not increase your body fat levels.
In a nutshell, creatine does not make you gain fat.
That said, some people will look bloated and puffy when they take creatine. Here’s why.
You Need to Be Lean to Get the Most Out of Creatine
A lot of people complain that creatine has made them fatter.
In reality, it doesn’t.
It’s just that the muscle tissue under the existing body fat becomes engorged with water and hence, it appears that their fat tissue has expanded.
If you have a high body fat percentage, then you are bound to look round and puffy when the creatine draws water into your muscle.
That’s why it’s very important to have a reasonably low body fat percentage before you begin creatine supplementation if you do not want to appear round and fluffy.
Although, It’s completely optional mind you. If you have higher body fat using creatine is still perfectly fine.
You can get all the benefits of creatine even if you have high body fat levels, except for a ribbed, aesthetic physique. But hey you weren’t expecting a 10 pack set of abs off the use of creatine, were you?
If aesthetics are your goal, then my personal goal would be to try creatine when your body fat levels hover around 12-15%. If you are a woman – slightly higher.
Does Creatine Cause Facial Bloat?
In the early days of Creatine use, it was recommended by supplement companies that you preload creatine so that you saturate your muscles with it.
For one, it sold more bottles quicker.
A lot of athletes and newbies still follow this slightly outdated dosing protocol, where they use up to 5-times the recommended dose for 4-5 days.
Well, to be fair, although this is not what I do, there is a study that suggests that Creatine works best when your muscles are saturated with it.
If you were to take the recommended 5 grams a day dose, it would take weeks for your muscles to get saturated with creatine, which makes it appear like preloading is a great thing.
But, it is the preloading stage that’s most likely to cause bloating.
First time users who aren’t used to sudden water retention get paranoid as their muscles start to look bigger and rounder.
If your salt intake isn’t monitored, your face might look bloated too.
There’s an easy workaround though.
Do not preload Creatine.
It’s not some gospel written in stone. It’s just one of the ways to use the supplement.
You can get the same benefits even if you skip preloading completely and take the normal maintenance dose. Just that it may take a while longer.
In fact, in that same study, it states that there was a marked improvement in muscle output when Creatine was used in maintenance doses only, without loading it. Although not best, there is still noticeable improvement.
This is my preferred way. I use creatine on my off days and on my training days in a lower dose, as pre-loading is just not something I want to put my body through.
The best part is that the athletes in the study did not notice any increase in their body weight during the first two weeks of using creatine.
Does Creatine Make You Fat?
No, it does not.
In fact, by supplying your muscles with more ATP for explosive workouts, Creatine can help you do more intense cardio sessions, allowing you to burn more fat and packup on lean muscle, especially if you are doing cardio to build muscle.
It also helps improve your resistance training by allowing you to lift heavier, which should also contribute towards your efforts to burn fat.
But, the basic rules of fat loss remain unchanged.
You have to burn more calories than what you consume.
So, you’d want to start off by tracking your nutrient intake, calculating your TDEE, maintenance calories and create a workout plan that suits your goals.
Which Form of Creatine is Most Effective?
As Creatine’s popularity soared, manufacturers hopped on to the bandwagon with fancy terms peddling different versions of creatine with half-baked claims about better absorption and what not.
There’s Buffered Creatine, Creatine Nitrate and Hydrochloride which are sold under these claims.
These are overpriced money-grabs at best.
Good old Creatine Monohydrate powder works best.
It has near 100% absorption, it’s cheap and it’s readily available.
If you find the unflavored powder a tad unpalatable, you can find micronized creatine that dissolves readily in water or juice. No chunks of undissolved powder in this one.
I personally use un-flavored creatine. I pour my pre-workout (I often prefer preworkout without beta alanine) in my water bottle first, and then the creatine powder and mix it up well. I can’t tell it’s even there.
Although lately I have just been using the capsule version. Way more convenient.
You can check out the stuff that I use on amazon by clicking here.
Is Creatine Safe?
Creatine for women and men is rated GRAS by the FDA which means that it’s ‘Generally Recommended As Safe’ for consumption.
Also, there are numerous clinical studies that have analyzed creatine for safety and efficacy in athletes of all ages.
It has an excellent safety profile when consumed in reasonable doses.
It does tend to cause some minor abdominal cramping in some people. In very rare cases, it has been linked to kidney problems.
What are the Benefits of Creatine?
Apart from loading your muscle tissues with more ATP or energy, Creatine also has a plethora of other benefits.
- May help long term muscle growth: While Creatine doesn’t exactly help in the growth of muscle tissue, it does help increase the total volume or total work that you do in a training session by helping to improve stamina and endurance. Combined with the right nutrition, this is one of the key factors that stimulates muscle growth.
- Improves cellular repair: Creatine helps your body recover sooner from workouts by improving satellite cell signaling, which aids recovery.
- It stimulates the release of IGF–1: Creatine supplementation has been linked with an increase in the levels of Insulin-like Growth Factor-1, which is a key anabolic hormone.
- It reduces Myostatin levels: Myostatin is a protein that limits your ability to produce muscle. Without a cap on the amount of myostatin, your body could produce muscle tissue endlessly. Creatine reduces Myostatin levels slightly, which helps improve your potential for new muscle tissue.
- Prevents muscle breakdown: Maintaining muscle when you are in a calorie deficit is extremely challenging. Creatine prevents muscle breakdown which might be very beneficial if you use it during a cut. Also, the muscle hydration makes your muscles look pumped, which is a neat added benefit.
Creatine Does Make You Gain Weight Via Increased Water Retention
Here’s the takeaway from this blog post.
- Creatine does increase body weight by drawing more water into your muscles. It makes your muscles look bigger and improves performance during high intensity workout sessions.
- Don’t get hung up over the nominal movement on the scale as the positives far outweigh the water retention.
- Creatine does not make you fat.
Preloading creatine is not required and It may help you avoid the bloat.
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