- Creatine is one of the energy suppliers in the human body, specifically in the muscular area. It is a nitrogenous organic acid that increases energy in cells by increasing the formation of ATP. It is widely used as a supplement by athletes. However, there are mixed reviews about its usage, as it can cause weight gain.
Creatine, Weight Gain and Muscle Mass
- Body weight is consistent of two types: weight of body fat, and weight of body muscles. Weight of body fat is supposed to be harmful for the body, but the amount of muscle mass is supposed to be advantageous. While the fat weighs more and takes a very long time to burn off, the muscle mass is healthy, natural and smoother.
- Creatine helps increase muscle mass while reducing fat mass, so that you end up with a healthy and toned body. It helps gain two kinds of weight in the body.
Gain in Muscle Cell Volume
- Due to water retention levels in the muscle cells, the cells have a greater, more packed volume as compared to non-creatine muscles. With the gain in muscle cell volume, there is a significant increase in the body mass ratio.
Gain in Dry Muscle Tissue
- Dry muscle tissue is also known as lean muscle tissue. There are two types of muscles, defined and lean muscle, and bulky fat muscle. Lean muscle has more muscular fibres while bulky muscle has more fat fibres. When muscles are overworked, they change their size and shape in order to cope up with the kind of strength training they have to undergo. Creatine helps muscles define themselves easily.
History of Creatine, Weight Gain and Clinical Trials
- Back in 1832, creatine was extracted from meat, and considered as an organic constituent. In 1968, Justus von Liebig tried to bring Creatine as a supplement in the market by selling meat broth known as Flieschbruhe in German language or commonly known as Liebig’s meat extract, containing 8% creatine1. Following the next decade, there was very little research for creatine supplementation. In that decade, bodybuilders extracted creatine from meat by treating it to hot steam, calling it a medical cure. Only in 1990s was the actual role of creatine realised. However, a large controversy erupted over its reported role in weight-gain.
Mechanism of Action
- During intensive training, creatine supplies energy to cells. Intensive workouts help build muscle mass while shedding fat. Creatine causes water retention as it pulls water along with it when it enters into the muscle cells for energy supply. Since water has its own weight, most people gain around 1 to 5 pounds of weight when they take creatine. According to Professor Paul Greenhaff, the weight gain by creatine is a very quick process2. By pulling water into the muscle cells, creatine promotes muscle growth and makes explosive training effective.
- Moreover, creatine replenishes and recharges the levels of adenine triphosphate (ATP) in the mitochondria of cells. ATP is one of the most essential elements of the body used for energy generation. During any kind of physical exertion or exercise, especially during high energy production, creatine works hard to regulate ATP levels. This allows an athlete to exercise for a longer period of time. Longer periods of exercises eventually lead to greater weight loss.
Creatine and Body Composition
- If a creatine supplement is taken for short term, then there is an increase in total body mass for approximately 0.7-1.6kg3. If creatine is taken for a longer period of time for approximately 20 weeks, there is a reported increase in total body mass while decrease in fat ratio4. The amount of weight gain is completely dependent upon the amount and intake time of supplementation.
Weight Gain by Fluid Retention
- If creatine is taken for a long period of time, it increases the volume of water in the body as compared to the volume of weight gain. In other words, while the percentage of total body water does not change, the total body water might increase slightly. However, the process of fluid retention only supports creatine weight gain in the initial stages, it does not support any changes in muscle mass during intensive training in the latter stages. People who consume creatine often complain that while their muscles look larger, they feel soft to touch instead of solid rock-hardness.
Weight Gain by Protein Synthesis
- During training, the water retention properties of creatine stimulate the catabolic and anabolic activities in the initial loading phase5. This stimulation causes an active synthesis of proteins, as the cell tries to maintain equilibrium between its intracellular and extracellular environment. This protein synthesis causes an insignificant but measurable weight gain during the middle stage of creatine intake.
Weight Gain by Adaptive Stimuli
- This phenomenon explains the increase in muscle mass when creatine is taken for a long period of time. According to this theory, the more a person takes creatine for longer period of time, the more he trains his muscles to adapt to his training regime. This in turn, helps him build more muscle mass. For example, a person who could only lift 10kg before creatine long-term intake, can end up lifting 30kg by improving his adaptive stimuli6.
Only Water Weight?
- One of the biggest misconceptions about creatine and weight gain is that you gain nothing but the weight of water. While on creatine, cells inflate up like small balloons, and it does nothing to aid proper muscle gain. Although it is partially true, the water weight in return promotes weight loss and muscle growth in the long run. Moreover, increase in muscle mass also increases the levels of calories burnt by the user in the long run. This only leads to decrease in total body fat, so that ultimately, the weight that remains in the body is the weight of muscles and minimum fat weight7.
- Creatine is one of the most popular strength training supplements in the market. It increases weight of body’s muscles while decreasing the body’s fat ratio.
- Sulser, H., 1968, Die Extraktstoffe des Fleisches. Wissenschafts-Verlag Stuttgart. Handbuch II/2: 1267–1304
- Bessman, S.P., and P.J. Geiger. Transport of energy in muscle: The phosphorylcreatine shuttle. Science 211 (4481):448–452. 1981.
- Hultman, E., and P. Greenhaff. Creatine ingestion and exercise performance in humans. Strength Cond. 17(4): 14–15. 1995.
- Kreider, R.B. Creatine supplementation: analysis of ergogenic value, medical safety, and concerns. J. Exerc. Physiol. Online 1(1): [http://www. css.edu/users/tboone2/asep/ jan3.htm]. 1998
- Balsom, P.D., K. Soderlund, and B. Ekblom. Creatine in humans with special references to creatine supplementation. Sports Med. 18(4): 268–280. 1994
- Plisk, S. S., & Kreider, R. B. (1999). Creatine Controversy? Strength and Conditioning Journal, 1, 14-23.
- Brooks, G.A., T.D. Fahey, and T.P. White. Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and Its Applications (2nd ed.). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing, 1996