Most people who want to gain quality weight will go straight to mass gainers and whey protein shakes. They’re some of the most popular muscle building and weight gain supplements – but creatine for weight gain is still an underrated and misunderstood concept.
You can’t exist in the fitness world without knowing about creatine. It’s the most popular supplement for performance improvements other than protein powders – and is both well-studied and inexpensive.
Today we’re going to shine some light on what creatine is and how it works. We’ll discuss creatine and weight gain – as well as its effects on performance, muscle function, and fat mass.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a raw material that your body uses to produce energy. It’s a key component in the phosphagen energy system. This is basically a building block of a high-energy compound your body uses to fuel high-intensity exercise like sprinting and jumping.
Supplementary creatine exists to boost your pool of available creatine, and thus energy stores. It does this in muscles, particularly, which is why it’s become so popular among athletes and bodybuilders alike.
The changes to weight happen here in the muscles, while the energy-boosting effects are important for a wide range of different cells and tissues. Energy status is a key factor in cell health, giving creatine some effects that most people overlook.
Creatine for weight gain is centered around a few factors that are independently important:
- Strength- and endurance-boosting
- Water and fluid retention
- Interaction with weight loss and gain
Understanding how creatine works helps you to control the weight effects it has on the body. We’re going to look at these individually and how they contribute to your weight status and any changes to weight.
When Should You Use Creatine?
Before you get into supplements, remember that weight gain is the result of proper dieting and training. You can’t out-supplement a terrible diet or training regimen. Calories will always rule your weight gain or loss, while the macronutrients your diet is made up of determine what that weight is.
If you’re looking for top quality weight gain then you need to ensure that:
- You’re eating more calories than you’re using (above your TDEE)
- You’re getting plenty of protein – and ideally complete protein from good sources
- You’re providing your body with enough carbs to support your activity levels
Before including supplements in your diet, always make sure that you’re getting at least 80-90% of your caloric and macronutrient requirements through high quality whole foods. Sustainable and consistent lifestyle habits are key for driving high quality weight gain.
Your body needs calories and macronutrients to make weight gain possible. Supplements like creatine don’t cause weight gain without the right diet. The background of eating enough and training properly are key to making weight gain work. Be willing to wait to see weight gain, adjust your calories up patiently if you’re gaining weight, and focus on quality habits.
If you’re eating above your needs at around 300-600 calories of surplus per day, you’ll gain roughly 1lb of weight every 1-2 weeks (depending on your size).
Benefits of Creatine?
Creatine improves your strength and endurance by producing creatine monophosphate in the body (1). This is used to turn Adenosine diphosphate into triphosphate – or ATP – the energy source muscles use to produce work.
When you consume more creatine – either through food or supplementation – you’re able to increase both your stores of ATP and your ability to produce more. This helps with all kinds of exercise, improving energy availability, and even reducing your vulnerability to fatigue. It’s an energy system that is deeply important to how you perform and recover.
Power Output and Strength-Endurance
This is visible in areas where the ability to produce peak force repeatedly is required. Areas like sprint intervals and high-intensity weight training require ATP stores and synthesis, especially for strength-endurance and repeated high-intensity bouts.
According to Mark Tarnopolsky, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and medicine and director of the neuromuscular and neurometabolic clinic at McMaster University Medical Center in Ontario, “The best effect of creatine is seen only when it is combined with resistance training”.
This is the key: Creatine should be used to support hard workouts, more effort, and increasing your training volume. That drives muscle growth and thus weight gain – the pairing is essential to get the most from your creatine supplementation.
Endurance and Other Exercise
Creatine also has positive effects on all kinds of exercise – even showing better performance during aerobic exercise (2). These benefits span the range of different exercise types and training styles – which is why creatine has become so popular with a wide range of athletes and fitness enthusiasts.
Recovery and Growth Benefits
Post-exercise recovery and growth are predicated on the way that you fuel your body and provide a pro-growth environment. This comes down to the protein and energy levels you are providing, through things like diet and sleep.
Creatine’s role on muscle energetics have also been tied to more effective muscle growth, where the additional energy availability and cell hydration improve muscle protein synthesis. This is the main process that is required for building bigger muscles.
When your muscles have plenty of energy, cells are hydrated, and you’ve got appropriate amino acid levels (especially Leucine) your body produces more proteins to replace and build on the ones found in muscles.
This produces bigger, stronger muscles – the daily loading of creatine is one way to boost this energy availability without eating more calories.
Research on the role of creatine in recovery and muscle growth is less consistent than other areas, but it’s definitely good to cover your bases (3). It’s an effective factor in better workouts – and potentially in boosting muscle growth afterwards – and all without major health risks and available at a low price.
Health and Wellbeing
Cell energetics don’t just improve the way that your muscles perform, but their health and wellbeing. High-energy cells stay alive longer, have improved recovery prospects, and are less at-risk of oxidative damage and other internal risks.
Creatine is a great contributor to muscle cell health, reducing the unnecessary turnover of muscle proteins. It helps provide new proteins while supporting the old ones, ensures cell hydration is effective, and helps you maintain a positive anabolic environment in the muscles.
Elsewhere, supplementary creatine is a great way to reduce the processing of other compounds. Things like SAMe are reduced by getting creatine from diet instead of having to manufacture it internally, which can be a really helpful way to improve heart health and wellbeing.
This is something we rarely talk about, but it is how creatine improves your heart and nervous system health. It’s one of many protective effects of creatine that is only starting to get more attention as we realise that creatine is a nearly-essential nutrient and a key player in health!
Does Creatine Make You Gain Weight?
Creatine will make you gain weight – even if your diet doesn’t change in any other way.
However, creatine does not make you fat. It’s important to remember that weight and fat are not the same thing, and you can gain weight without gaining fat. Transient weight is a huge factor and creatine’s effects on weight have nothing to do with gaining fat.
Instead, creatine increases your total weight by increasing your absorption and retention of water. This is because creatine is an osmolyte – a compound that draws more water into cells, specifically muscles. The weight gain seen is from water retention in the muscles specifically, and not typically in the fat cells.
So, not only does creatine produce transient weight gain, it’s also in the muscles – where you want it. This is how it improves things like force and endurance capacity, by providing a more replete muscle environment with water, carbs, and essential nutrients for energy systems.
This is a completely different experience to the water retention you’d typically experience from being inactive and eating junk food. Water retention on creatine is functional – it has a clear role in your performance, and the gain in the muscles simply translates to looking bigger for most people.
Water weight on creatine is very different from what most people experience. Creatine responders are going to gain weight – not fat – from taking creatine, and specifically weight we all want. It’s a way of ‘swelling’ muscles that contributes to areas like muscle performance, endurance, and even post-exercise recovery and growth.
Role in Weight Loss and Anti-Catabolic Effects
Not only is creatine great for weight gain, but also effective in weight loss.
The goal of an effective weight loss diet is to reduce fat mass while trying to spare both muscle mass and performance markers. You want to be leaner, stronger, and as muscular as possible – which is where creatine comes in.
Weight loss is typically catabolic: reducing your body weight will usually involve a combination of fat and muscle loss. However, this catabolic influence can be reduced when using creatine, as it shuttles essential fluids into muscles to prevent breakdown.
Not only that, but improved cell energetics reduce risk of muscle loss and shift breakdown focus towards fat tissues.
When taking in supplementary doses of creatine, you can reduce the impetus for muscle loss. This is even more important during recompositioning – when you try to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. This is possible but difficult – but creatine’s muscle-specific energetics are a great way to support both of these processes.
During recompositioning, creatine plays a part in the essential triad of dietary nutrients required for best results: carbs, creatine, and protein. These signal for local energy sufficiency and amino acid supply, even while your diet remains in a calorie deficit – allowing you to build muscle.
Creatine is the Best Cutting Aid you’ve Never Considered
Creatine’s role as a nutrient isn’t just limited to weight gain, but also the function and health of muscles and other tissues. These are important no matter what your diet and goals look like.
Creatine while dieting isn’t a difficult concept: it prevents the flatness of lower calorie diets, maintains local energy, and gives you more freedom while recompositioning. This is great for getting the best end-result from a ‘cutting’ or weight-loss diet.
Who Should Take Creatine?
Creatine should be taken by anyone looking to improve their wellbeing and muscular health. It should also be top of the list for anyone looking to improve athletic performance, drive better strength and muscle gains, or maintain better health while losing weight.
Creatine is not just a supplement for better workouts but a factor in the health and function of muscles for everyone. Whether your muscles are damaged from exercise, injury, or inactivity, they benefit from having plenty of creatine to better support themselves and stay energised.
It’s hard to think of any healthy person that is unable to benefit from creatine. Non-responders are the only people who shouldn’t use it, since it’s a waste of money and is typically excreted anyway.
What to Avoid While Taking Creatine
Creatine is usually taken in supplementary doses. These are typically either hydrochloride or monohydrate formats, which can cause different levels of water retention. Some people complain of bloating on monohydrate, while HCLs are typically more stomach-comfortable.
If you are using creatine for weight gain, it is advised not to consume alcohol. Not only will alcohol reduce your hormonal health and testosterone levels, but it will also increase the risk of creatine side-effects and reduce the potential benefits.
First, you’re going to increase risks around digestive issues – like cramping – when you combine the two. Secondly, you’re going to rapidly wash out the creatine and associated benefits to muscle volume and recovery will go with it.
Make sure you’re reducing your alcohol intake or – at least – keeping it away from your creatine to ensure regular creatine levels over time.
You should also avoid caffeine and creatine in the same sitting, since these 2 compounds are great individually but seem to antagonise each other. You should take your creatine with water or a carb-rich drink, but not in your coffee (if the taste wasn’t enough to put you off).
You should also follow some basic rules of thumb to keep yourself safe, healthy, and performing at your best during your creatine supplementation:
- Do not try to over dose creatine. Once the ATP is full all the excess creatine will be flushed out from the body. You won’t see significant benefits above a single, standard 5g dose – you’ll just pee it out.
- Drink plenty of water. This is key to healthy creatine supplementation for weight gain. Creatine draws water into muscle cells, you need water to actually gain these benefits. Creatine loading is a water-intensive process and you need to support your hydration status by drinking plenty of water. This also directly improves your muscle glycogen levels and reduces the risk of stomach cramping.
- Before taking creatine, consult a certified doctor. It may not be safe for everyone to take creatine as everybody would react to it differently – especially if you have any existing medical conditions or are taking prescription medicines.
- Creatine may cause stomach pain, diarrhea, muscle cramps or nausea. If any such problem arises, discontinue immediately and consult a doctor – especially if they persist for more than a few hours.
- Do not consume alcohol or excess caffeine while supplementing with creatine. This should go without saying – moderate your caffeine and alcohol.
More on Side Effects: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10999421
Creatine does include its own side-effect risks, however. Excessive intake relative to hydration is a real risk for issues like stomach cramping, while dry-scooping is also likely to cause digestive discomfort.
Creatine also doesn’t work equally well for everyone. Some people are creatine ‘non-responders’ – they don’t have the typical response to creatine – neither gaining weight nor seeing benefits to performance. It’s difficult to know if you’re a non-responder until you try it, sadly.
How to Use Creatine for Weight Gain
If you’re looking for an answer to how to gain weight with creatine, there are 2 ways to take creatine that both work – the only difference is the speed of effect.
First, you can take creatine in a sustainable single daily dose. This is typically 2.5-5 grams per day and is effective, typically ‘kicking in’ after a week or so, driving changes to performance and muscle volume.
This is the simplest way to improve your creatine status and has a consistent, sustainable approach. It’s effective but takes a little time to ‘wash in’.
Alternatively, you can frontload creatine – where you take a much larger dose for a few days beforehand so that you can kickstart the benefits sooner. This is how you make significant weight gain with creatine loading.
This has 2 phases:
- Loading Phase: during the first 4-5 days, consume 20g of creatine per day in 4 separate servings. This is done so as to fully saturate creatine levels in the body and ensure immediate sufficiency.
Take 5g of creatine with breakfast, 5g before a workout, 5g after workout (ideally with a carbohydrate source) and last 5g before bed. Include plenty of water with each serving.
- Maintenance Phase: once you’ve loaded to saturation levels, you want to return to a normal 5g per day dose. This is because you’re already saturated and future doses are there to maintain these ‘complete’ creatine levels.
These are standard doses and should work for everyone (except creatine non-responders). However, these are based on the rough weight-ranges for the average man and woman (around 70-80kg) and you can adjust them up or down accordingly.
Remember, however, that creatine levels are relative to muscle mass and not just weight. If you’re particularly muscular or performing high-volume, high-frequency, intensive exercise you can adjust up slightly. On the other hand, smaller people and those who are less active can aim towards the 2.5g range for getting more servings per tub!
Creatine can be taken in water or juices. I personally took Creatine in Grape Juice because using a High-Carbohydrate drink leads to insulin spike thus increasing the creatine absorption and improving my immediate muscle-protein signaling.
You can use this for the pre- and post-workout creatine doses in particular. You can combine creatine with water, tea, juices, or any other fluid for other timings (like breakfast or evening creatine intake).
Where to Buy Creatine for Weight Gain?
The supplement industry isn’t always the most honest – that’s why I write lists like this to bring out the best creatine products on the market. It’s important to select for quality and look out for poor-quality manufacturers.
If you select the right kinds of products – like the ones we’ve looked at today – you’re off to a good start. The things we focus on are quality of ingredients, the reputation and manufacturing practices of brands, and the way that products are designed. You can also implement other precautions when shopping for the best creatine supplements on the market.
First, make sure that you’re 100% sure about the authenticity of the store that you’re buying from. You can do this by either checking the reviews of previous customers, or by making sure that the store offers free returns if there are issues with products.
Next, make sure you always check the authenticity of the product by emailing the product code of the particular supplement to the brand’s official website. Whenever I receive a product, the first thing I do is check the product code with the company’s website to see if it is genuine.
Bottom Line: Rethinking Creatine for Weight Gain!
Here’s the important part when talking about creatine for weight gain: creatine is a nutrient and a pseudo-vitamin. It is not just for bodybuilders, but all of us.
The way we think about creatine is what is holding us back. The myths that surround the nutrient are persistent because it’s got a reputation for muscle-gain and is associated with bodybuilding stereotypes.
Creatine is a compound that we all need and it’s arguable that these bodybuilders, athletes, and strength enthusiasts are the only ones getting enough. The body needs creatine and providing it with plenty – either from food or supplements – is the key to improving your performance, wellbeing, and the quality of your weight-gain.
Finally, to answer the question “does creatine make you gain weight”? Creatine is important for you and me. It’s an important part of the care of surgery patients, older people who are at risk of muscle loss, and maintaining healthy metabolism as we age.