Creatine is a popular supplement used by athletes and gym goers with tonnes of evidence back it as one of the most effective supplements for improving strength, speed and muscle mass.1 However, one of the most prevalent side effects of creatine is weight gain.2 But this isn't necessarily a bad thing, or the kind of weight gain you might be thinking of.
In this article we're going to break down the facts and answer your questions surrounding weight gain caused by creatine.
- What is creatine?
- How does creatine work?
- Does creatine make you fat?
- Does creatine help build lean muscle?
What is creatine?
Creatine is naturally occurring compound found in foods like red meat, poultry and sea food.
An average 70kg male will typically store approximately 120g of creatine in their body. With supplementation it’s possible to increase this storage around 160g.1When your creatine storage is maximised, this is when you'll see the performance enhancing effects of increased strength, power, muscle mass and improved recovery.1
How does creatine work?
Supplementing creatine increases the amount of phosphocreatine (PCr) storage within the muscle cell which acts as an energy source during high intensity exercise such as weight lifting. Essentially, increasing your phosphocreatine storage will allow you hit more reps and recover better between sets, which in time, leads to increased gains in muscle mass.
In order for your body to produce phosphocreatine in skeletal muscle, creatine must enter the muscle cell via the bloodstream.3 As creatine enters the muscle cell it may draw water into the cell resulting in water retention and weight gain.4
Does creatine make you fat?
In short term studies, the evidence shows that creatine will increase body mass, especially if following a loading protocol.4 This will most likely be due to water retention in the muscle cell. In this instance, this is actually a good sign as it is an indication that your creatine stores are increasing which will lead to performance benefits.
In the long term, there will likely be a weight gain due to increased lean muscle mass.1 Maximal creatine store will increase exercise capacity (sets and reps) and improve recovery leading to improved training quality which will ultimately lead to an increase in lean muscle mass, which is definitely a good thing!
Does creatine help build lean muscle?
In the short-term, the weight gained during creatine supplementation will not be lean muscle but water retention in the muscle cell. The training adaptations occur once your body’s creatine storage have been maximised. Essentially, full creatine stores will allow you to hit more reps and recover quicker, leading to long term gains in lean muscle mass.
Teamed up with resistance training, those supplementing creatine will typically gain more muscle mass than those that don’t. The evidence suggests that this could be as much 1.8kg after 12 weeks of training.1
It has also been suggested that the swelling of the muscle cell caused by water retention can actually be one of the ways in which creatine increases lean muscle mass. The theory is that the swelling of the muscle cell acts as a trigger which sets off a cascade of metabolic reactions resulting in an increase of muscle protein synthesis.6
Find out whether creatine is right for you in our quiz...
Take Home Message
In the short term, creatine supplementation may increase total body weight. This is most likely due to water retention in the muscle rather than an increase in muscle or fat mass. Long term creatine alongside resistance training can lead to greater lean muscle mass gains due to increased training volume and recovery.
So, for whatever “water weight” gained, it’s probably worth it for the gains creatine makes in the long-term.
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Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you're concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.
- Buford, T.W., Kreider, R.B., Stout, J.R. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 4, 6 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-4-6
- Kreider, R.B., Kalman, D.S., Antonio, J. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 18 (2017).
- Guimarães-Ferreira L. Role of the phosphocreatine system on energetic homeostasis in skeletal and cardiac muscles. Einstein (Sao Paulo). 2014;12(1):126-131. doi:10.1590/s1679-45082014rb2741
- Powers ME, Arnold BL, Weltman AL, et al. Creatine Supplementation Increases Total Body Water Without Altering Fluid Distribution. J Athl Train. 2003;38(1):44-50.
- Antonio, J., Candow, D.G., Forbes, S.C. et al. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show?. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 18, 13 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w
- Kreider RB. Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations. Mol Cell Biochem. 2003 Feb;244(1-2):89-94. PMID: 12701815.