When you think supplements, you may conjure up an image of pricey products with hard-to-say names, backed by questionable science. Often called the most-studied supplement there is, creatine is the inverse. But the naturally occurring amino acid that your body stores and uses as an energy source is still widely misunderstood. Questions about its efficacy abound, but the first question asked about the supplement is almost always the same: does creatine make you gain weight? Here’s what the science says.
Does Creatine Make You Gain Weight?
Most people interested in supplementing with creatine are concerned with the perception that creatine adds significant weight to the body. The short answer to this question is yes, supplementing creatine does cause small amounts of weight gain in most people (1), but the amount is fairly low and the reasons for this weight gain vary.
How much weight does creatine add?
Depending on the bodyweight of the person supplementing creatine, weight added typically ranges between 2 to 4.5 pounds (2). Most of this weight is added in the first week or so of supplementation, often called the loading phase, in which a person will take more than the standard dose of creatine to accelerate the speed at which the effects—mostly just more power and stamina during workouts—take hold.
Most of the weight gain can be attributed to an increase in stored water weight, which happens because creatine is osmotically active, which is a fancy way of saying it isn’t absorbed into the body easily. It should be noted, though, that the available research isn’t solid on this front—basically, we think creatine may make you carry a tiny bit more water, but we’re not sure.
Does creatine make you fatter?
No, not at all. Trials as brief as a week and as long as two years have all affirmed this simple truth—creatine does not increase fat mass (3). In fact, creatine is more likely to result in a net decrease in body fat, as the primary reason a person would supplement it is its workout-boosting effects. A large meta-analysis of creatine supplementation trials that used adults (50 years old and up) as subjects found that creatine supplementation showed no statistically significant difference in fat mass when compared to adults on a placebo substance; in fact, those adults supplementing with creatine saw, on average, a little over a pound of fat mass lost (4).
What to do if you gain weight after taking creatine
If you’re still worried about gaining weight because of supplementing creatine, there are a few things you could do to limit this effect.
- Lower sodium intake: more sodium makes you retain more water, so if you want to keep that added water weight in check, monitor your daily sodium intake. The best way to keep it down is relatively easy—cut out as many high processed foods as possible.
- Lower carb intake: similar to sodium, more carbs also means more water in the body. You need carbs for the energy they provide, but keep the level of carbs you’re eating in check.
- Chill out a little: unless you’re competing in weight classed athletics or prepping for the stage at a bodybuilding competition, a couple pounds spread over your whole body will likely not even register for you, visually. Remember: it’s water, not fat mass. You’ll be fine.
Other side effects of creatine
There are very, very few known side effects to creatine supplementation for men or women, across age ranges, so long as you’re taking regular doses—typically 5g to 10g daily. There has been a number of observational studies that provide anecdotal—and uncontrolled—evidence that suggests creatine may cause mild muscle cramping or dehydration, but thus far clinical trials have not confirmed as much (3).
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is a substance stored in your body that helps it to produce more adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which you can think of as gasoline for your cells’ motors. Most creatine is stored in your muscles, with smaller amounts in your brain and testes. ATP, the stuff creatine allows you to produce more of, is an energy-carrying molecule that permits cells to function as they’re meant to. So, supplementing your creatine stores daily gives the cells that carry creatine—mostly your muscle cells—more energy. That energy can be put to use and benefit exercise in almost any form (5).
Why Take Creatine?
Creatine is one of very few verifiably ergogenic supplements—aka it can make your body perform better in fitness contexts. And if you think we’re just talking about power-driven fitness like football or weightlifting, think again—studies have confirmed creatine may benefit sports and activities as varied as swimming, field hockey, cycling, and more (6).
The Bottom Line
Creatine doesn’t make you fat, but you may experience slight weight gain when you first start taking it—usually between 2 to 4.5 pounds, depending on your initial bodyweight. This weight is thought to be water, mostly, and no fat mass.