Posted by Dayne Hudson in Muscle Building
Estimated reading time: 5mins
Firstly, we take creatine because we know it works.
In fact, it's one of the most researched supplements out there.
Increasing muscle strength is an important goal when training and using supplements, and creatine, an organic compound, does a fine job at this.
Creatine allows muscles to produce more adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a high-powered energy-carrying molecule that gives you energy during exercise. So by taking creatine, you're getting the energy to lift more which may help with muscle gains.
Given an important factor in muscle growth is progressive overload (adding more weight to the bar) you're putting yourself into a position for success!
And when research examines the role of creatine on muscle growth directly, it comes up favourably; those who take creatine can double the amount of muscle growth compared to those who don't.
But naturally, when something is good, there are whispers that it may be bad in some way, too.
Where did this come from?
Well, like most fitness myths, it's part bro science and part one study that didn't have the same conclusion as the majority of them.
And this one study was from 1985, which found that 20 grams of creatine a day for 6 days was associated with water retention.
Now for starters, it's recommended we take 3-5 grams of creatine per day. The initial 20 grams is just the loading phase of creatine.
So, the water retention from 20 grams is going to be vastly different to 3-5 grams.
For a quick snapshot of what these are:
Total body water: is the amount of water content found in your body. Up to 60% of the human body contains water.
Extracellular Water: is the water located outside your cells. For example, the water in your blood.
Intracellular Water: is the water located inside your cells.
Creatine is an osmotically active substance, meaning it mixes well with water. This means it mixes well into your muscle.
So, in this sense, that's how creatine can cause you to retain water, at least in the short term as we learned.
Well, this study gave subjects around 20 grams per day for 7 days, and then 4 weeks of about 5 grams per day, and they reported no significant changes in total body water, extracellular body water or intracellular water.
Looking pretty good for no serious long term water retention so far...
Another study where subjects took 0.03 grams per kilogram of body weight per day for six weeks saw no increases in total body water. This dosage was 2.4 grams for someone that weighed 80 kilos.
Another with a 0.3 grams per kilogram of lean mass for 5 days (around 20 grams for lots of people) and then 0.075 grams per kilogram of body weight per day (6 grams for someone who weighs 80 kilograms) for a whopping 42 days, saw no changes in total body water.
But in this study, total body water was increased via creatine.
Subjects had their water weight measured before and after 28 days of creatine supplementation; body mass and total body water increased but extracellular water and intracellular water did not.
But in this study, total body water, extracellular water and intracellular water were increased after 8 weeks; however, the ratio of muscle to intracellular water remained similar in the creatine group versus the placebo group. So the extra water came with the extra muscle.
What's not spoken about enough is that intracellular water is important for protein synthesis (thus muscle growth) and creates more muscle gains over time; so it's nothing to stress about so much.
Here's one from scientist Jose Antonio, who pens one nicely:
"In summary, while there is some evidence to suggest that creatine supplementation increases water retention, primarily attributed to increases in intracellular volume, over the short term, there are several other studies suggesting it does not alter total body water (intra or extracellular) relative to muscle mass over longer periods of time. As a result, creatine supplementation may not lead to water retention."
So, there we go; keep taking creatine, and don't worry about water retention. The benefits outweigh the downsides strongly!