I remember a few years ago when I mentioned creatine to a then-coworker of mine. He responded with an expression of revulsion and said:
“I used that stuff and it just made me fat.”
I hated to have to break it to Dan; handing him the cold, hard truth:
“Creatine didn’t make you fat, Dan; shoveling down too many calories did that. Sounds like creatine just took the blame.”
“Does creatine make you fat?” There’s not a friggin’ calorie in the stuff – not in pure creatine. If someone with common sense asks “does creatine make you fat”, I’d assume the question must carry the intrinsic connotation of creatine causing fat gain indirectly. Otherwise, a simple reading of the label on the side of a creatine product could answer anyone’s variance of the question ‘does creatine make you fat.’ That’s where they’d find out that creatine itself has no calories.
So if the “does creatine make you fat” inquiry is a question pertaining to indirect causation, by what mechanism could creatine possibly do this? Let’s just look at what we know about creatine supplementation so we can get to the bottom of this.
“Does Creatine Make You Fat?” No… but the carbs that go with it can
Creatine is best used in conjunction with a hefty dose of high glycemic carbohydrates. The reason is that the carbohydrates spike insulin levels which then help drive both the carbs and creatine into the muscle cells. For this reason, creatine products often contain a serving of high glycemic carbs within the dosage of creatine. In fact, as much as a 10 to 1 ratio between grams of sugar and grams of creatine are recommended and often used for the best transport of creatine into the muscles.
Obviously, sugar really can make us fat. If additional daily calories are consumed for the purpose of raising blood sugar for creatine transport into muscle cells, these calories can cause fat gain if they exceed the number of calories burned off. There’s no rocket science here; consuming more than we use causes bodily fat deposits. So even though creatine itself doesn’t make a person fat, a creatine supplementation program that includes hefty calorie increases via carbohydrate loading could contribute to a gain of body fat. Thus, overall calorie intake versus calorie usage needs at least a rudimentary monitoring in order for this to be avoided.
‘Does Creatine Make You Fat?’ No… but it can cause water retention
Water retention often gets mistaken for body fat. How many times have you monitored the bathroom scale and found your body weight jumping up five to ten pounds after a weekend of reckless eating and drinking – only to find it back down again after just a few days of better self control? Such short-term gains and losses of weight are more often attributable to fluctuations of sodium and water than of cellulite.
Creatine monohydrate – arguably the most effective form of creatine supplement – can cause significant water retention. Oftentimes this intracellular accumulation of water can amount to body weight gains of between five and seven pounds. This is especially so during the few days of pre-loading the muscles with higher doses of creatine monohydrate. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as “cell volumization” – the assumed benefit of which being better subsequent anabolism from its experience. Although the veracity of this purported benefit is debatable, what’s obvious is how the bloating from this excess water can easily be mistaken for fat. But water retention from creatine intake is no more fat-producing (or anabolic) than water retention from a few days of excessive sodium consumption.
As a side note: There are some people who assume that creatine’s effectiveness in boosting muscle growth is via its water retentive quality. This is unlikely, however, as the water retention appears extraneous to creatine’s main means of effectiveness: its ability to provide the raw material for increased ATP production.
‘Does Creatine Make You Fat?’ It’s the long-term effect that matters
Creatine’s effectiveness at helping build muscle is indirect. It’s a performance enhancing supplement that can augment the execution of volume output by extending repetitions of sets with heavy workout weights. Consistently improved workout performance can, in turn, lead to significantly greater long-term muscular development. This greater muscular development can actually make fat-fighting easier by providing a faster metabolic rate.
So should those asking the “does creatine make you fat” question be celebrating that “creatine makes you lean” instead?
The key word here is ‘can’; improved workout performance can lead to greater muscular development, but it won’t necessarily. It needs to be combined with adequate recuperation for the muscular growth formula to be complete. My experience has shown that adding effective creatine supplementation to an effective muscle building workout regimen often requires a higher number of inter-workout rest days in order for the addition of creatine to build more muscle mass. It makes sense when you look at it this way:
Better workout performance = increased muscle tissue breakdown = more tissue repair requirements = need for more recuperative rest days between workouts.
'Creatine supplements' can help build muscle indirectly by enhancing workout performance. This can increase metabolic rate, which helps burn calories and body fat.
The increased muscle tissue teardown from improved workout performance makes sense. Creatine supplementation enhances anaerobic workout performance by providing the raw materials for additional ATP production. ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) is adenosine bound by three phosphate molecules. It’s the “onsite fuel” for quick and powerful contractions of the muscles that can be made without even having to first take a breath (‘anaerobic’ as opposed to ‘aerobic’). When muscles contract in this way, ATP releases its phosphate-bound energy to the contractile tissue. Since this is the expenditure of locally stored energy at the cellular level, it’s expended rather quickly (within a matter of seconds). This necessitates the production of more ATP via its conversion from ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate).
That’s where creatine steps in. The body uses stores of PhosphoCreatine to rapidly convert ADP into new ATP via its “donating” of a phosphate molecule to the ADP. This is the most efficient method for the cells to rapidly create needed anaerobic energy since the ATP molecule is rather big and cumbersome In contrast to PhosphoCreatine molecules. With more stored creatine via supplementation, the cells have more “fuel” to draw from in producing ATP for muscular performance.
The body produces creatine and also obtains it from consumption of particular foods. It’s produced by the liver, kidneys, and pancreas by using three amino acids for its production: aginine, glycine, and methionine. The body produces approximately two grams per day via this method. Creatine is also obtained naturally from foods that are high in creatine content such as beef, fish, and milk.
Supplemental creatine simply allows for more workout intensity to be applied to more weight for a greater number of repetitions in each set. This is the definition of better bodybuilding workout performance. But this can only be translated to more muscle mass (solid body weight) over time if it’s combined with a smart training/recuperation strategy.
And… increased body fat is NOT a side effect of creatine use. It’s only a byproduct of calorie intake in excess of what’s necessary for muscle growth and daily activity.