It’s no secret that creatine is one of the best dietary supplements for amateur, professional bodybuilders and athletes. But you’ve probably already heard people touting about creatine bloating and are concerned about that.
Creatine has been repeatedly shown to be safe and very effective for muscle gains and improvement in strength and performance. It also has no major side effects in case you decide to go off it after a while. But some people experience a bloating effect when they first start taking creatine.
There are many myths and false opinions floating around creatine, which is probably the most common one – Does creatine make you bloated?
In this article, we’re going to debunk these myths and explain what creatine bloating is, it’s causes and some effective measures you can do to minimize the effect.
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is a compound made up of three amino acids: glycine, L-methionine and L-arginine. It’s naturally produced in your body by the liver, kidneys and pancreas at about 1-2 grams per day. Most of this is stored in the body’s skeletal muscles and brain and provides energy to the muscles.
Creatine is also found in some foods like red meats and seafood, albeit in tiny quantities. This makes creatine supplements cheaper and a more efficient alternative to increase creatine levels in the body.
Creatine makes up about 1% of your entire body mass, but this can vary depending upon several factors like the lean mass, anabolic hormones (IGF-1, testosterone etc.) and whether you’re consuming creatine-rich food.
Who should Supplement with Creatine?
The most common application of creatine is among bodybuilders and athletes. It can increase muscle fiber growth two or three times more as compared to training without it. It helps in gaining muscle mass due to increased duration and intensity of workouts. If you aren’t gaining muscle, having Creatine could help you, However you should also be informed about how stopping the intake of Creatine can affect your body.
But the great part is that it’s not just bodybuilders who can reap the benefits of it. In fact, the uses are far and wide.
Some studies even show that creatine might be effective for skin-aging, age-related muscle diseases, and improving children’s attention and mental performance. Any time the body is having trouble metabolizing sufficient amounts of creatine, its supplementation can be beneficial.
If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you can also benefit from the extra boost in energy from creatine. For anyone with a normal workout routine, creatine is not essential. But if you’re someone aiming for bodybuilding gains and are not taking creatine yet, you might be leaving a lot of the gains on the table.
How Does Creatine Work?
Your muscles need energy to perform any physical task, and they get this energy from the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in your body. The ATP molecules break down into adenosine diphosphate (ADP) releasing a phosphate group and energy.
To continue providing energy, the ADT needs to be replenished back from ADP by adding a phosphate group; however, this process is slow, and your body can’t keep up the supply of ATP. That’s where creatine comes in.
Creatine combines with phosphate molecules to form phosphocreatine, which donates its phosphate group as soon as the ATP levels become low. The higher the creatine levels will be in your body, the more rapid this ATP regeneration process will be. Also, the natural creatine reserves get used up too quickly to make any sustainable energy supply, so its supplementation is very helpful if you’re looking for longer high-intensity workouts.
Now that you know how creatine enhances the body’s energy regeneration process, let’s answer the question you’re here for – Does creatine cause bloating?
Creatine Loading And Bloating
Most people associate creatine and bloating with what is known as the loading phase, and it’s important to know what that means.
When they first start to take creatine, some people take a high dosage, say 20 grams, for the first week or so. This quickly saturates the muscles with creatine and results in increased muscle mass due to higher water retention in the muscles.
The loading phase is followed by a maintenance phase, where you take the typical 5 grams (or 0.01 grams per pound of body weight) creatine per day to maintain its levels.
The excessive water retention in the muscle fibers during the loading phase is what some may perceive as bloating. This is, in fact, a misuse of the term, as water-weight is not bloating. Creatine doesn’t cause you to store water subcutaneously, which means the whole idea of creatine causing bloating isn’t entirely correct.
If you want to avoid the initial soft or puffy look due to water retention, you may entirely skip the loading phase. There’s no downside to it except that it’ll take you 3 to 4 times to saturate the muscles with creatine.
How To Avoid Creatine Bloating?
You’ll only start seeing the difference once your muscles are saturated with creatine, and the loading phase helps reach the saturation point earlier.
You can skip the unnecessary loading phase and start with the regular maintenance dose if you want. This would minimize the bloating, and it comes with no negative effects other than it would take 3-4 weeks.
Besides that, the bloat could probably be from the food on the bulk. If you’re on a high calorie ‘bulking diet’, you may experience increased subcutaneous water retention and consequently a soft and puffy ‘bloated’ look.
This can commonly happen if you’re not properly tracking your macros, leading you to wrongly assume that it’s the creatine causing the bloat when it’s just the result of the high food intake.
These are the two most critical points you should remember to avoid creatine bloating. You don’t need to follow the loading phase, in fact when you combine the high creatine dosage with the excessive calorie intake through sugar etc.; you end up having an extra 500-600 calories which will lead to higher subcutaneous water retention.
Which Type Of Creatine Is The Best To Avoid Bloating?
There are several creatine types, each with its own set of usage instructions, but the most common and researched one is creatine monohydrate.
The other categories of creatine include creatine hydrochloride (HCL), buffered creatine (Kre-Alkalyn) or creatine nitrate, which are often marketed as ‘creatine that doesn’t cause bloating’, but it’s, in fact, the other way round.
There are lesser studies behind these other types of creatine, and the unnecessary hype around them might be attributable to them being much more expensive.
Research backs up the fact that creatine monohydrate is completely safe and has an almost 100% absorption rate, and that the newer forms of creatine are not necessarily safer or more effective. In addition to that, Creatine monohydrate causes the least subcutaneous water retention and is the most effective form among them.
Pursue these steps to ensure you avoid creatine bloating
1. Supplement With Modest Dose
After the initial loading phase, your muscles will be fully saturated with creatine, and you only need to subsequently take a lower dose (3-5 grams per day) to maintain the muscle stores.
There is no reason to go overboard with your maintenance dose, in fact, it’ll have the opposite effects. Taking too much creatine after your muscles are saturated will only cause the liver, pancreas and kidneys to absorb more, thus significantly increasing water weight and muscle mass.
2. Keep Your Sodium Intake In Check
High-fibre foods are not solely the cause of bloating. Consuming a lot of salt can be a big factor too. More sodium can lead to increased water retention and halt digestion, which may lead to bloating and gas problems.
Salt is required at about 2.3 grams per day, and too much salt intake can hamper the gas production in the gut. While taking creatine, try reducing your salt consumption by avoiding highly processed and other sodium-rich foods.
3. Don’t Go Overboard With Your Daily Calories
Both the quality of food and the amount of calories are equally important. Bloating can occur if you are going overboard with your high-calorie diet. It can also occur if you’re accustomed to protein and fat-based foods and suddenly start consuming many carb or sugar-rich foods.
Excess sugar causes the gas to build up as it’s harder to digest. You should avoid processed foods with a lot of carb or sugar.
4. Drink Water. Plenty Of Water
We have iterated several times that creatine causes a lot of water to be pulled into your muscles. If you’re not drinking plenty of water, especially during the loading phase, it can result in dehydration. Dehydration can cause bloating as well as digestion issues. An easy way to avoid that is drinking at least 2 litres of water a day, or possibly more.
We hope this article has cleared all your doubts regarding creatine and bloating. Creatine remains to be extremely popular in the fitness industry as one of the most effective bodybuilding supplements.
Creatine bloating might concern you if you’re new to it or due to some supplement companies’ shady marketing tactics. You might experience it during the loading phase, but as you saw, it’s nothing more than increased water retention.
There’s nothing to worry about the extra water content in your muscles, and the strength gains you make while taking creatine far outweigh the few extra pounds of water weight. If you prefer, skipping the loading phase might help to minimize creatine bloating.