Creatine is taken by many athletes and fitness enthusiasts to help improve their sports performance, but can you use creatine for weight loss goals too?
It's a nutrient that naturally occurs in red meat and fish, so if you're on a plant-based diet, or want to improve your gym performance, you might be looking to add a creatine supplement into your routine.
It's a well-studied supplement that can aid muscle growth, speed up your recovery, and may even boost your brain function—but can it help you lose weight?
Generally, creatine is used to help you build muscle, which would often mean that you gain weight. Plus, it causes water retention, increasing your measured weight too, which is why it's not usually a purely weight loss supplement.
However, since creatine supplements can help to prevent muscle damage and enhance recovery when working out, those looking to spend more time in the gym could benefit from a quicker recovery period.
We spoke with Lily Chapman, a performance coach and nutritionist at P3RFORM, to find out how creatine works, and why some people may choose to incorporate it into their fitness plan.
Lily Chapman is a performance coach and nutritionist a P3RFORM with a BSc in Sport and Exercise Science and an MSc in Sport and Exercise Nutrition. She previously worked with the Swansea City FC Academy to develop personalized training plans for each of the soccer team's players.
What does creatine do?
“Creatine is a natural substance that the body both produces itself and takes from protein-rich foods,” explains Chapman. “It’s used naturally by the body to power our muscles, but scientists discovered how to isolate it and turn it into supplements too.”
About half of the creatine we need comes from our diet, whilst the rest is produced in your liver and kidneys. Creatine supplements help top up your levels, helping you can increase your muscle strength and size after resistance training workouts.
Creatine is usually taken in powder form or as capsules, and a trial published in the Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise journal found that you should take it just before or just after a workout for maximum effect.
The benefits of creatine include muscle growth, aided exercise recovery, and improved brain function. Plus, creatine supplies energy to your muscles, which could increase performance when performing explosive movements like sprints, heavy lifts, and high-intensity sessions like a HIIT workout for fat loss.
Does creatine help you lose weight?
“Creatine is not a weight-loss supplement and is intended to be used to maximise sports performance rather than as a fat-burner,” explains Chapman. In fact, a side effect of creatine is that it may possibly lead to weight gain—although this is usually due to water retention in your muscles.
Those taking creatine solely to lose weight should be cautious. According to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, in the first week of taking oral creatine, some people gain about 2-4.5 lbs. But as we already mentioned, this is mainly due to water retention.
Increased muscle mass can also increase your overall weight, although this doesn’t mean an increase in fat. You might, however, notice your body changing slightly in appearance as you grow your muscles and retain more water.
On the other hand, if you want to increase your exercise levels to help you lose weight, then creatine may help to maximise your sports performance in order to do that. However, it’s important to remember that creatine itself is not a diet supplement.
Does creatine burn belly fat?
There's no 'one-size-fits-all' approach to burning belly fat. While creatine may help with other aspects of fitness, it won't help much with weight loss, says Jess Hillard, a sports nutritionist at Warrior.
She explains: "We cannot target one area to lose fat from as this is not how the body works. Fat loss will come from a calorie deficit, a well-balanced diet high in protein, and increased exercise.
Creatine can help to increase muscle mass and powder within the gym but is not likely to help with fat loss. Creatine is more for boosting power and seeing sporting results rather than fat loss."
Jess Hillard is a nutritionist with Warrior and holds a degree in Nutrition from Oxford Brookes University. After sustaining an injury following overtraining, Hillard used food to aid her recovery, which led to her interest in nutrition.
Are there health benefits to taking creatine?
Chapman explains how it could be argued that creatine is both a health and performance supplement.
“Through maximising muscle strength and size, creatine may have the ability to improve an individual's functional strength as they age to maintain the strength within the muscles to support everyday life,” she says.
A review published in Nutrients also shows that creatine supplementation can help reduce the breakdown of muscle mass, while another review in Experimental Gerontology found that creatine could improve short term memory.
Should you use creatine if you are in a calorie deficit?
If you've ever compared bulking vs cutting, then you'll know that cutting is when you reduce your calorie intake to reduce your body fat and make your muscles visible.
This can be difficult to do as exercise can damage muscle fibres, whilst maintaining a caloric deficit can impair your recovery. This is where creatine comes in, says Chapman, as it can help to maintain strength and muscle size.
According to a study published in the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise journal, creatine can help improve muscular endurance, meaning someone who is cutting will be able to work out for longer and therefore provide better stimuli for muscle growth.
However, it is important to remember that cutting too fast can stress the body, and cutting in general is usually something that is done by elite bodybuilders, who have worked themselves to a particular point.
How much creatine is safe to take?
As with any supplement, knowing the limits before adding it to your diet is essential. According to Hillard, you should aim for 20g during the loading phase.
This is the first five to seven days where you take a higher dose of creatine. Then you'll move onto a maintenance phase and drop the quantity down to 3-5g of creatine per day from then on.
It's also important to research the company or brand of creatine, as you want to ensure that the product is clinically tested, safe, free from additives, and suits any dietary requirements you have.
Creatine is also considered safe by the International Society of Sports Nutrition and is widely used by many strength and power athletes.
Are there any side effects?
One of the most common side effects of creatine is water retention. This could be an issue if your primary goal is to lose weight, as evidenced by the numbers on a scale.
However, if you want to drop fat instead, it won't affect your plans. "Creatine affects our muscles but not our body fat," explains Chapman. But it draws water from around your body, so it's important to keep a water bottle handy to keep hydrated.
Hillard says you may also experience side effects like bloating and stomach discomfort. If you find yourself in this position, it's worth checking in with a doctor if the symptoms persist or worsen.
Hillard also urges the importance of taking the recommended dosage of creatine to try and prevent any side effects. She says you should also only take supplements such as this from a credible brand/company.
Get the Fit&Well Newsletter
Start your week with achievable workout ideas, health tips and wellbeing advice in your inbox.
Mollie is a lifestyle journalist who regularly contributes to publications including Insider, Cosmopolitan, The Metro, Healthline, HelloGiggles, Reviewed, HuffPost, Independent, and Fabulous, amongst others. Particularly, Mollie covers health and beauty. Basset Hounds are Mollie's favourite things on the earth - she has her own named Olive. Mollie loves anything with too much sugar in, the color yellow, pop culture, and musical theatre.
You don’t need weights to build strength—try this coach’s seven-move bodyweight workout instead
Workout Strengthen your muscles, bones, joints and muscles while boosting your metabolism with this strength training workout
By Harry Bullmore Published
Strengthen your arms and shoulders in minutes with this three-move kettlebell workout that's perfect for beginners
Lower body Train your upper body with this three-move kettlebell workout
By Lou Mudge Published