Does Creatine Cause Weight Gain?

Does creatine cause weight gain? Is it safe for women to take? How much should women take? Does it make you puffy or bloated? Is it okay for your kidneys? Should you take it before or after a workout, or does it matter?

These are common questions that I get about creatine, because it’s getting more love and attention in general on social media. I also take creatine personally, and anytime I mention it on social media or during a client consultation, I get a lot of questions!

Creatine has become an increasingly popular supplement, especially as more and more women are becoming committed to strength training. Athletes and serious trainees have been using it for decades to support sports performance, and newer research is highlighting other benefits (especially for active older women and plant-based exercisers).

I take creatine daily myself, and I am certain that it has helped me on my fitness journey. But many women are hesitant to take creatine – it has had extremely masculinized marketing for decades, and many women have reasonable fears about unregulated supplements and possible side effects. This is especially magnified by rumors that creatine causes weight gain and bloating.

So let’s dive into creatine – what it is, its benefits, how to use it, what brands I recommend, and separating fact from fiction.

What is creatine?

Creatine is a naturally-occurring substance in the human body, which is made by the liver, pancreas, and kidneys. It is stored (as phosphocreatine) mostly in the muscles and in the brain, and it is a form of energy. We use creatine primarily for high-intensity, maximal effort exercise – think heavier weightlifting and all-out bursts of intensity like sprints. Creatine greatly helps to reduce fatigue during workouts – this is super valuable!

Our bodies not only make creatine (about one gram per day), but we also get it through eating meat – especially beef, pork, chicken, and fish.

I encourage clients to think of creatine as a vitamin – just like we get nutrients through foods (and we actually produce a few vitamins internally), it can really help to supplement on top of our food intake. Plus, because creatine is primarily consumed through meat products, it can be especially beneficial for vegetarians and vegans to supplement with it.

What is creatine… not?

It’s not…

  • A muscle-building anabolic steroid
  • An immediate energy product (like caffeine)

It’s very hard to describe the difference between caffeine and creatine. Caffeine gives you general energy, and can make you feel jittery if you take in too much. Creatine gives you muscular energy over time, not right away. You don’t actually feel more energetic – you just can perform better with your exercise, and you notice that you feel much less tired from your exercise.

Creatine also has an extremely delayed, compounding effect – it’s not like caffeine, where you instantly feel a boost. With creatine supplementation, it can take 1-4 weeks to really feel the difference in your workouts. This is because it takes time for creatine to fully saturate your muscles.

What are the benefits of supplementing with creatine?

Like I explained before, creatine helps to power high-intensity, maximal effort exercise. Think: all-out sprinting, or improving your weightlifting and thus building more muscle. When your muscles are saturated with creatine, you naturally have more energy for higher-effort exercise, and you are able to “deliver” more in your workouts (doing more effective reps and sets). You also feel less fatigue, and can push more. And the higher your work capacity and intensity during a workout, the better results you get in terms of strength and lean muscle gain.

But the benefits of creatine aren’t limited to the energy and work capacity you experience during a workout – there are trickle-down effects afterward, too. Creatine supplementation helps with post-workout recovery, too, helping you bounce back faster from tough exercise sessions.

I have 100% experienced all of these benefits with creatine supplementation. My workouts feel easier, my exercise performance is better, and I am not so “beat” after workouts.

Also, creatine can help with cognition and mental health – one study showed that when women combined creatine supplementation with their antidepressant (compared to a placebo), their mental health improved twice as much, twice as fast.

Who benefits the most from creatine?

One group of people that certainly benefits from creatine supplementation is athletes. But over time, more and more research is demonstrating the benefits of creatine for everyday exercisers, too – especially active women over 35, and even more so if you are plant-based (or “meat light”). Let’s explore why this is…

  • As women move through their 30’s, the natural process of sarcopenia (muscle loss) begins to take hold for women more than men. This process accelerates over 40, over 50, and beyond. This not only affects body composition (making you feel softer and less lean, making fat gain easier), but also key functional strength and power metrics that promote vibrant, healthy aging. Strength training helps to reverse sarcopenia and keep it at bay, but this is greatly supported by a high-protein diet and creatine supplementation.
  • Because strength training is the key intervention for sarcopenia, it benefits women to have better, harder workouts. Creatine helps to provide and sustain energy during workouts, allowing you to deliver at a higher level and get more benefits. You also recover faster from exercise, which makes it easier to stay more consistent with workouts overall.
  • Because we get most of our dietary creatine through meat, many women who (for health or sustainability reasons) have decreased meat intake will benefit from supplementing with creatine. Many of my clients are plant-based or at least semi-vegetarian – if you’re over 35 and also plant-based, supplementing with creatine is a great idea.
  • There is also some evidence that creatine can improve bone density in older women!

This paper and this study are fantastic female-focused studies on creatine.

While it seems like pretty much anyone would benefit from creatine, I do have a small note that creatine is the most beneficial (in terms of sports performance) for very high-intensity work, like weightlifting and all-out efforts like sprinting. It is less impactful for performance improvement when it comes to endurance cardio like running or biking.

… Why Does it Seem Like Creatine is for Men?

The answer is simple: marketing. For decades, the positioning of creatine’s messaging, packaging, and language has been very “bro” oriented. This is because creatine does genuinely help with lean muscle gain, which – for a long time – was not a popular idea for women. But now we have a much better understanding of just how important lean muscle retention actually is for women’s metabolisms and bone density (especially after 35 and even more so after menopause), and fortunately the marketing has begun to shift.

The challenge of sarcopenia is that women over 35 will not rapidly gain muscle overnight. Instead, strength training, supplementation with creatine, and a higher-protein diet will simply help women build and maintain muscle, rather than lose it as part of aging.

Now, brands like Thorne package creatine much more neutrally and attractively (more like a vitamin), which can help women feel more comfortable taking it.

What Brands Do You Recommend?

I currently recommend the Nutricost brand. It tends to be the most economical choice and is available on Amazon. I often recommend Nutricost brand in general because it is made in an FDA-registered facility that is GMP-compliant (“Good Manufacturing Practices”).

I also recommend Thorne for similar quality reasons, but it is more expensive.

I advocate for choosing supplements that are FDA-regulated and GMP-compliant. Many people do not realize that the supplement industry is extremely unregulated – it always helps to make choices of brands that submit themselves to extensive third-party testing, certifications, and regulations.

Is Creatine Safe? Does it Have Side Effects?

I did not take creatine until about three years ago when my own strength coach had me start supplementing. To be honest, I had never given it a second thought prior – I had always seen it as something very “bro” oriented, and in my mind it was a pre-workout ingredient (like caffeine). I had no idea what it is, but I assumed that it was dubious.

And I think I’m not alone in this perception – I think its long-term marketing has not helped it, and I also think there is a game of “telephone” that has happened regarding side effects. Most people “have heard” that creatine has side effects like kidney damage or hair loss or weight gain, but it’s not substantiated in any fact.

The reality is that creatine is one of the most well-researched sports supplements on the market, and no studies to this point have shown negative health effects of supplementing with creatine, even at very high doses over a prolonged period of time. While you should still adhere to package recommendations (more on that in a moment), there is no evidence that creatine is a substance that we should be overly worried about. In fact, most of the research shows the opposite: positive effects.

If you have a chronic health condition that requires management, you should always talk to your doctor about incorporating any new supplements, just in case there are prescription drug interactions. This is particularly true for kidney disease – if you have pre-existing kidney disease, and especially if you take medication for managing it, you should talk to your doctor about creatine.

However, it is interesting to me that women are dubious about taking creatine (again, I think because of its long-term marketing), but will eagerly take collagen peptides or “metabolism boosting” mixes or “de-bloating” blends or hair growth supplements. So much of what we worry about is influenced by marketing and packaging, as well as our insecurities. Creatine is incredibly well-researched and demonstrated to have positive effects on health, fitness, and aging, whereas many supplements that promise to improve appearance or weight loss just… don’t.

Does Creatine Cause GI Distress?

In normal doses, it technically shouldn’t. In high doses (as in, taking way more than the package recommendations), it possibly could. One study showed the effects of taking 10 grams of creatine all at once, which caused diarrhea. But in the recommended dose (3-5 grams per day), it should be well-tolerated.

If you try 3-5 grams per day and you feel that it’s causing bloating or GI distress, try splitting it into two servings of 2-2.5 grams per day, once in the morning and once in the evening. GI discomfort is probably dose-dependent, and simply by splitting the dose and taking less at one time, you can eliminate bloating or digestive issues.

Is Creatine Safe for Pregnancy or Breastfeeding?

Creatine, like many things, has not been extensively studied in pregnant or breastfeeding humans, because of the ethical challenges of conducting scientific studies with pregnant women. Certainly no study has shown it to be harmful. Because it is something that is made naturally in the human body and can also be consumed via meat, it’s not a foreign substance per se.

This is an interesting article about creatine in pregnancy – if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant and you have questions about creatine, check it out.

I think that creatine in pregnancy is particularly difficult to study (in terms of observational research) because it begs the question: is the woman who takes creatine during pregnancy an already healthy, fit, exercising woman? Because certainly that impacts prenatal and neonatal outcomes as well.

But as a woman who has been pregnant (and had difficulty getting pregnant, and also experienced several losses), I also viscerally understand the concern of taking anything “extra” that has not been rigorously studied. When I was pregnant and postpartum, I always stuck with the recommendations of my obstetrician, just to be on the safe side. I even remember the anxiety of taking Tamiflu in my first trimester with Gabriella when I was practically dying of the flu – my obstetrician urged me to, but I was still so full of fear because it wasn’t a Class A (i.e., super-safe and well-studied) drug.

Because of the difficulty of running studies on pregnant women (there are clearly some ethical issues involved), we might not see clear research on creatine and pregnancy for a long time. It’s certainly not in the category of methylfolate, which women are urged to take regularly if there’s even a chance they could become pregnant. But there’s certainly no evidence to suggest that you shouldn’t take creatine when you’re pregnant, either.

Follow the recommendations of your obstetrician and evaluate your own level of comfort, too!

How Much Creatine Should I Take?

Again, the general recommended dose for creatine is 3-5 grams per day. This can be in powdered or encapsulated form. I blend the powder into my smoothies (or oatmeal, or just water) once per day. When you first start, it will take about a month to feel a real difference in your workout performance, recovery, and mood/cognition.

You can also do a “loading phase” when you first start taking it, to encourage faster absorption and saturation. The loading phase means that you would take that 3-5 gram dose four times a day for 5-7 days. I literally have never done a loading phase and never strongly recommend it to my clients – I think it is more helpful to simply incorporate it into your regular routine (which will help you to remember to take it daily), and just wait the month for full saturation. Taking something four times a day can be hard to remember.

Creatine is meant to be taken daily, indefinitely, to enjoy the best results over time. Think of it like taking a vitamin.

What Time of Day Should I Take Creatine?

Because creatine doesn’t provide instant energy like sugar or caffeine, it’s not vitally important when you take it. Some studies show no difference in timing. Another study recommends that you take it after exercise, with protein and carbs. But there’s certainly no consensus, and the important thing is that you do take it, daily.

Does Creatine Cause Weight Gain?

Ahhh…. the big money question.

Does creatine cause weight gain?

In short, no.

Does it possibly cause “weight gain” from an increase in lean muscle mass? Yes. Can it cause a little extra water retention, because of the extra energy storage in the muscles? Yes.

But to be clear, this is not out-of-control, puffy water retention, or actual fat gain. Energy storage in muscles is typically associated with water. For example, glycogen energy storage in the muscles holds onto more water, as well. Because of this, simply eating more carbohydrates can cause more water storage in the muscles because of glycogen. I would very much compare the effect of creatine to this experience – your weight might sit a few pounds higher, but you’re not going to feel massively bloated – the “weight” is in your muscles, not causing gut distension or distress.

I think that if you start creatine (especially if you do a loading phase), you should expect a little uptick in your weight, but no real change to your measurements or visible body composition.

So Should You Take Creatine?

Just as with any supplement, you should evaluate it based on:

  • Your own health conditions (and your medical team’s recommendations)
  • The quality of the brand of the supplement (is it third-party tested and FDA-regulated?)
  • Your own goals

If you are a healthy, active person, there is no reason not to take it – you might be surprised at how much more you can squeeze out of your workouts.

For me, creatine has been a no-brainer. I have seen amazing improvements in my strength and lean muscle mass since I started taking it regularly. I truly get a lot more out of my workouts than I did before. But do you need to take it to have great workouts, build muscle, and bounce back well from exercise? Of course not. It’s up to you!

Ultimately, I want you to make decisions based on the best research available – not based on predatory marketing or “telephone game” style misinformation. So I hope this article was helpful in dispelling myths about creatine, and giving you the solid information you need to make a decision for yourself!

Rachel Trotta

I am a Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Physique and Bodybuilding Specialist, and Women's Fitness Specialist. I live in New Jersey in the NYC metro area, and I coach clients online all over the world. As a trainer and health writer, my mission is to make healthy living sustainable for the average person. I’m also a wife, mom, nature lover, runner, avid cook, weightlifting aficionado, history nerd, travel addict, and obsessive podcast listener. Get in touch!

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