Many athletes and bodybuilders say that creatine is one of the most beneficial performance-enhancing supplements of all time. Creatine is believed to work great for increasing strength, muscle mass, exercise performance and reducing fatigue while training. But before you start taking creatine, have you wondered what it is and how it works?
Or perhaps you are already using creatine then you might ask yourself the question – “What happens if I stop taking creatine?”
Well, there are a few observable effects that can happen when stopping creatine use. But turns out that you have ways to limit them and there are no long-term drawbacks. There are a few myths out there on how stopping creatine use can have bad side effects just like steroids. That’s simply not true!
We are going to discuss what happens when you stop taking creatine. But before getting into that, we need to first talk about what creatine is and how it works in the body.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a micronutrient naturally found in muscle cells and is produced by some amino acids in the body. It also occurs naturally in red meats and some other foods, but is not an essential nutrient for everyone.
Chemically, creatine is composed of three amino acids: L-methionine, glycine, and L-arginine, and makes up about 1% of your entire body mass. About 95% of that is stored in your body’s skeletal muscles and the remaining 5% is found in the brain, liver and kidneys.
The total amount of creatine that your body stores depends on a number of factors like the anabolic hormones (IGF-1, testosterone etc.), lean mass and the amount of creatine intake through meats like beef, chicken etc. Around 1.5 – 2 percent of the creatine stored in the body gets converted to use every day by the liver, pancreas and kidneys.
How Does Creatine Work?
The principal mechanism behind functioning of creatine is simple. Your body’s muscles need energy to work, and they get this energy from the ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) and Creatine Phosphate reserves present in the body.
In order for the muscles to get this energy, the ATP molecules break down into ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate) and release energy along with other by-products. But in order to continue the process, the ADP molecule needs to be converted back to ATP by the addition of a phosphate group. This process takes time and uses the energy from the food you eat.
This energy cycle can be greatly sped by the use of creatine. When you consume creatine, it gets attached to a phosphate group forming phosphocreatine. Even before the ATP levels fall low, the creatine phosphate donates its phosphate group to ADP converting it back to energy-rich ATP.
The greater the amount of phosphocreatine is in your body, faster the ATP regeneration process will be. That’s why using a creatine supplement helps in larger muscle energy-capacity and faster recovery. Let’s quickly review the suggested benefits of creatine, before moving on to the effects of stopping creatine use.
What Are the Perceived Benefits of Supplementing With Creatine?
Creatine primarily helps in building muscles and improving health, and unlike many other nutritional supplements, it has been repeatedly shown to be effective and safe for the most part.
We already mentioned how creatine enhances the energy generation and thus allows you to have more intense workout sessions, increasing the weight you can hoist or perform a higher number of reps. This is the reason why it’s one of the most popular supplements among athletes and gym-goers.
Even research backs up some of the following uses and benefits of taking creatine:
- Creatine increases the strength: Researchers have found that creatine results in 8% higher gains in muscle strength on an average.
- Increased body and muscle mass: Creatine doesn’t directly contribute to muscle mass. The mass gains are associated with higher water-retention and increased intensity of the workouts.
- Enhances the recovery process: Creatine can reduce muscle damage and accelerate the recovery after intense training sessions or even an injury.
- Strengthen Cognitive ability: Evidence suggests that creatine can improve mental performance, memory and intelligence.
These are just a handful of the benefits of consuming creatine, there are dozens of more. Now that we know what creatine does in our body and some of the benefits that come with it, let’s get into discussing the effects of stopping creatine supplementation.
What Happens If You Stop Taking Creatine?
1. Smaller Appearance
We mentioned briefly that creatine increases the water-retention in your muscles, so they look much bigger when you are regularly taking creatine. Cycling off creatine will cause your body to start losing that water from your muscle cells, eventually taking away some of the size and weight of the muscles.
Besides the water weight, you will lose some of the muscle mass as well making you look smaller than before. This doesn’t mean that you lose muscle or the hardworking gains you made, just that the size of muscle cells is smaller leading to a decrease in muscle fullness. That’s why people suggest sticking with it once you start taking creatine, to avoid the illusion of a smaller physique.
2. Strength Decline
Another noticeable change you may experience coming off creatine is the decline in strength. Creatine results in faster ATP regeneration and increased energy supply, and when you stop taking it, your body will have less ATP supply and consequently less energy.
This means that you won’t be able to lift as much or as heavy, and will get fatigued quicker than while taking creatine. This reduction in the volume of training will limit the rate at which you use to make gains with creatine. Although there should not be any long-term problem, and with time and effort you can build this strength back.
This is why cycling off creatine would not be a good idea if you’re an athlete who needs to constantly maintain a competitive edge over others. However, it’s not much of a problem if you are just a casual lifter.
3. Reduced Natural Creatine Production
Creatine supplementation may develop overdependence on its external sources, and your body will stop or bring down the natural production of creatine due to the higher levels already present. When you stop using creatine supplements, the body won’t begin producing creatine immediately at the regular level.
Although studies suggest that there won’t be any permanent damage to the creatine-producing organs, it will take some time for the body to start producing normally again. After you give it a long enough period of time, your body will gradually recover and start synthesizing creatine at the normal levels again.
4. Reduced Resilience to Fatigue
You may feel fatigued coming off creatine, not only in general but while your training or workout routine. If you have been taking creatine when you have CF, stopping it will make the symptoms worse. The fact that you have less ATP being produced means that your body and muscles have less energy to utilize.
Since about 5% of the total body creatine is stored in the brain, a reduction in the creatine level lowers the production of certain neurotransmitters and brain hormones thus making you fatigued more. However, you should not be worrying too much about this, fatigue is one of the common effects of stopping creatine.
Other Related FAQs
1. Should you load Creatine Initially?
Loading involves consuming large quantities of creatine for the initial few days, which helps to saturate your muscle with creatine quickly. It simply speeds up the saturation process and is not necessary.
Even if you take 5g a day from the beginning, it will eventually saturate the muscles with creatine, only that it will take longer to do so. It really depends if you want to accelerate the process and start seeing the results early on.
2.What kind of Creatine should you take?
There are several types of creatine available in the market. Creatine Monohydrate is the most common and also the most researched one, and that’s the one you should be looking for.
3. Should you take creatine while cutting?
There is no reason to stop taking creatine while you cut fat. In fact, it will only help by supporting and preserving muscle during the cutting phase. Also, coming off creatine may give you misleading results due to the loss in water weight.
4. Should you cycle creatine?
You do not need to cycle creatine. Unlike steroids, creatine doesn’t result in permanent damage or shutdown of certain cells or organs, and your body will eventually return to the normal production level whenever you stop taking creatine.
Creatine is a very popular nutritional supplement and is proven to have a lot of positive effects, but hardly any negative ones. You don’t need to be a professional athlete to make the most out of creatine. Any competitive lifter, bodybuilder or a casual gym freak can get the benefits of it.
Researchers have shown that there are no real side-effects of taking creatine supplements for years, and the slew of uses and benefits it provides can give a boost to your gains. But that doesn’t mean simply using creatine will make you bigger and stronger. You still need to do the work, get rest and maintain healthy eating habits.