Aside from protein, creatine has been the most buzzed-about supplement in the sports nutrition game for decades now. Still, even many of the most seasoned gym-goers hesitate to add it to their routine. (Lookin’ at you, ladies.)
One major reason for the skepticism: concerns that creatine makes you gain weight. Thing is, there’s much more to this story than meets the eye. Here’s everything you need to know about creatine and weight gain—and why the supplement has so much more to offer than the number on the scale.
What Is Creatine, Anyway?
Produced in the liver and pancreas (and found in animal proteins like beef and fish), creatine is a molecule our muscle cells use to produce chemical energy called ATP.
When our muscles need to contract, they break ATP down into ADP, explains Jacob Wilson, Ph.D., C.S.C.S.*D., CEO of the Applied Science & Performance Institute and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council. Creatine helps turn that ADP back into ATP, essentially restocking our muscles’ energy stores.
Though our bodies can’t use creatine to produce ATP indefinitely (they eventually switch to breaking down sugar or oxygen and fat for fuel), the molecule is crucial for our ability to perform short bouts of movement (like a box jump or heavy squat), adds Tony Castillo, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., dietitian and nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition. (Creatine is typically credited with fueling the first 10 to 15 seconds of any exercise.)
Why Supplement With Creatine?
Because of its role in the muscle’s energy-producing process, creatine has become one of the longest-used and most-researched supplements in sports nutrition.
“When we supplement with creatine, we increase the amount that is stored in our muscle cells,” says Wilson. “This allows us to improve muscular strength and power in tasks like sprinting, weight training, and even interval training.”
These improvements in strength and power go a long way over time. According to one Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise study, for example, men who took creatine throughout a 12-week strength training program made greater strength and muscle mass gains than men who took a placebo.
Read More: 6 Reasons Why You’re Not Building Muscle
Another study—this one published in International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism—found that cyclists who took creatine for just six days improved their performance in a high-intensity cycling test.
Not to mention, experts now believe creatine may offer cognitive performance benefits, too. “Since creatine is also stored in the brain, supplementing with it may support memory and focus,” Wilson says.
Though many people (especially gym-goers) can benefit from supplementing with creatine, Wilson and Castillo agree that it can be especially helpful for people who eat plant-based diets, since they consume less of it.
Does Taking Creatine Make You Gain Weight?
Now, the answer to the question everyone seems to ask about creatine: Yes, it technically does make you gain weight.
Don’t freak out just yet, though.
“Creatine brings water into the muscles, which can cause you to see an increase on the scale,” says Castillo. “However, that increase is not from fat.”
While most creatine users gain a couple of pounds while supplementing, exactly how much weight you gain depends on how much muscle you have. (The more muscle, the more creatine and water you can store.)
Why The Weight You Gain On Creatine Is GOOD
First of all, since creatine-related water weight gain is minimal, it won’t drastically affect what you see in the mirror. “If anything, your muscles will just look a little bigger,” says Wilson. “Nothing bad about that!”
Plus, that extra water “can help improve hydration status and has even been shown to improve exercise performance in the heat,” he adds.
And, of course, improved hydration and muscular strength and power can help you build more muscle over time, Wilson says. So if you want to get stronger or show off a more muscular physique, creatine can help you get there more efficiently.
How To Ease Into Creatine Supplementation
If you can look past the scale and focus on the performance (and eventual physique) benefits of supplementing with creatine, go ahead and start taking the standard five grams per day, says Castillo. Creatine monohydrate is the most-studied form. (We recommend BodyTech’s 100% Creatine Monohydrate.)
However, if you’re really concerned about weight gain, stick to about three grams per day, recommends Wilson. While this dosage will still max out your muscles’ creatine stores, it’ll take longer to do so, so you’ll gain any water weight over the course of a month instead of a week or so.
References & Further Reading
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Performance and muscle fiber adaptations to creatine supplementation and heavy resistance training.
- International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism: Oral Creatine Supplementation’s Decrease of Blood Lactate During Exhaustive, Incremental Cycling.
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