Chat up any dude in the weight room about what’s in his shaker cup and chances are he’ll mention creatine. The ladies, though? Not so much.
For decades, women have shied away from the popular, well-researched fitness supplement, fearing it’ll make them ‘bulk up.’ However, despite the dark cloud of creatine myths out there, creatine isn’t just for guys. Here’s what top sports nutrition experts want women to know about creatine.
What Exactly Is Creatine, Anyway?
A combination of three naturally-occurring amino acids, creatine hangs out in our muscles and liver.
Creatine’s primary function: It helps us produce chemical energy called ATP. “One of creatine’s major roles within the body is regenerating ATP, which is our body’s quickest and most readily available source of energy,” says Lauren Link, R.D., C.S.S.D., Director of Sports Nutrition at University Athletics.
That means we need creatine for every body function that requires energy—from moving and exercising to keeping our organs functioning properly.
Our bodies produce some creatine on their own, but we also get it from high-protein animal foods like meat and fish.
Creatine And Fitness
Since creatine is one of our quickest vehicles for producing ATP, it’s particularly important for our fitness.
Though our body can also use sugar, fat, and oxygen to produce energy in other circumstances, creatine is our go-to during intense muscular effort, says Link.
Any move we associate with power and explosiveness needs creatine. Given that, supplemental creatine has become incredibly popular with anyone whose workouts emphasize sprinting, jumping, or lifting heavy things.
Regularly supplementing with creatine increases your body’s stores of phosphocreatine, the compound needed to produce ATP. This allows muscles to churn out more energy, increase power output, and do more work overall.
The result: You work out harder, your muscles grow bigger and stronger, and you see greater results both in the gym and in the mirror.
Decades of research support creatine’s effectiveness, highlighting its ability to boost muscular strength, power, and size. Case in point: One study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that sedentary women who supplemented with creatine long-term increased maximal muscle strength during resistance training by 20 to 25 percent more than women who took a placebo.
Women And Creatine
Though creatine has the same function in both men’s and women’s bodies, many women—even the super fitness-focused—have skipped out on supplementing with it.
Why? Well, for a couple of reasons.
For years, social norms and standards equated female attractiveness with being as petite and muscle-free as possible, shaping everything from our workouts to our supplement routines. Since creatine supports increased muscle growth over time, many women have long-feared the supplement would make them ‘bulk up.’
Another concern: water weight.
“As it’s absorbed into the body, creatine pulls water in with it,” explains Link. Though H2O is a necessary ingredient for muscle-building, the thought of retaining extra water turns many women off to supplementing with creatine.
What Women Should Know
In recent years, women have reclaimed the conversation around their bodies and fitness. The result: greater celebration of bodies of all shapes, sizes, and builds.
The more empowered to build strength (and confidence) women have become, the more interested in creatine they’ve grown.
Still, women who feel hesitant about taking creatine should know: It’s very unlikely they’d pack on anywhere near as much muscle as men when supplementing.
“There’s a big difference in male versus female hormones that promote muscle mass, so women shouldn’t fear that they will instantly bulk up!” says Link.
Men typically have larger muscle mass and more fast-twitch muscle fibers (which support explosive, powerful movements), so they typically see more drastic effects from supplementing with creatine than women.
Who Should Take Creatine
Anyone who lifts weights, sprints, or faithfully attends HIIT classes, can benefit from taking creatine, says Lauren Antonucci, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.S.D., C.D.E., C.D.N., sports dietitian and owner of Nutrition Energy. (Most of the research on creatine focuses on its weight-lifting-related benefits.)
Endurance athletes, like marathoners or triathletes, though, may not get as much out of the supplement. This type of exercise depends more on oxygen, and creatine doesn’t do much to increase aerobic capacity or oxygen intake.
Best Practices For Supplementing With Creatine
If you think creatine could help you reach your fitness (and body composition) goals, Link recommends looking for a supplement that provides 100 percent pure creatine monohydrate, the most-researched form of the compound. (BodyTech’s 100% Pure Creatine Monohydrate powder is unflavored and easy to stack with your other gym supplements.)
How Much Creatine To Take
To start reaping creatine’s muscle-boosting benefits ASAP, Link recommends taking five grams four times per day for up to five days to increase stores fast. (This is often referred to as the ‘loading phase.’)
Once you get your levels up, decrease intake to the ‘maintenance dose’—typically about two to five grams per day. According to Link, women with lower amounts of muscle mass can benefit from just two grams or so. Women with more muscle mass, though, may need closer to five grams.
How To Take Creatine
Though researchers still don’t all quite agree on the single best time to take creatine, shortly before or after exercise have both been proven effective.
Some research also suggests taking creatine alongside some carbohydrates boosts its effectiveness. Carbs stimulate our production of the hormone insulin, which then helps transport them (and creatine) into our muscle cells.
Regardless of how you take your creatine, Antonucci recommends supplementing for 6 to 10 weeks before evaluating your results. It’ll take about that long to notice any real changes in performance or muscle size.
Just remember: “You have to also put in the work! You’re not going to build muscle if you don’t work out,” says Dr. Lisa Young, Ph.D., R.D.N.
Your first step is to nail your workout routine; then add creatine into the mix.
About The Water Weight…
Yes, it is true that the average person puts on two to four pounds of water weight when taking creatine, says Antonucci.
However, men typically experience more water retention than women—and it’s typically most notable during the loading phase. Plus, while water retention and weight may fluctuate at first, they typically stabilize after a few weeks.
If women are hyper-concerned about water retention, they can typically avoid it by skipping the loading phase and sticking to less than five grams of creatine per day, Antonucci says.
If building muscle or boosting your fitness are top priority, an extra couple of pounds may certainly be worth it in the long run. Plus, those couple extra pounds really just indicate that your body is better-hydrated!