The Truth about Creatine and “Bloating”

February 25th, 2015

Creatine has proven its worth for years and the only negative thing related to it comes from ill-informed people who have not used it, studied it or who have no clue how to use it.  Let’s clear up all of this “bloating” talk once and for all.

The oxford dictionary defines bloating as this:  To make or become swollen with fluid or gas.  It refers to the abdominal or GI tract.  In regards to creatine, this bloating does not apply.  To understand where the bloating/water retention idea came about, you need to first know how creatine works.  You can read in details what creatine is right here.

A much simpler, yet accurate explanation of what creatine does is this:  Creatine is converted into ATP, which your body uses as the major energy source for high-intensity, short-duration exercise such as strength training.  But there is more to it than that as that hardly explains any bloating ideas.  Creatine also acts as sort of a water magnet.  One of creatine’s properties is its tendency to attract water, and in the body, water will collect in areas where creatine collects, such as in the muscles. This osmotic pull on water accounts for many creatine monohydrate side effects. Excess water stored in the muscles adds to body weight and inflates the muscle mass. There is the water retention/bloating effect.  This is a good kind of water retention.  The water is bloating your muscles and making them larger.  This is not a gut bloat situation.  The weight gain you have is due to your muscle water weight.

Now, there are several other issues that can be raised as far as side effects that people have claimed.  A good hard look at their diet is usually the first place to examine and it’s often the culprit of weight gain.  Before diving in to deep, it must be said that water intake is so incredibly important when taking creatine and when excercising.  This is exceptionally so when adding creatine to your training as creatine pulls that water into the muscles – your whole body needs that water, not just the muscles.  So, be sure that you are first, and foremost, getting enough water in your diet.  The cases of muscle cramping or stomach issues have all been related to a lack of water and dehydration during training.  Other than the water issue, there is your sugar, salt and protein intake.  If you feel like your waist is enlarging, you can’t blame the creatine so you need to take a look at your diet.

Energy drinks – even sporty ones like Gatorade – are a salt and sugar nightmare.  Check the labels and you will find not only the sugar and artificial flavorings but also SALT.  Some have 200-300% of your recommended daily allowance (RDA).  Salt will cause water retention – and now you can attribute that bloated stomach and gut to something.  Check the levels.  Salt is okay and is a natural preservative in foods but it is the amount that makes the difference.  Just because it says it’s for sports or energy doesn’t mean it does your body any good.  Here’s a little known fact:  soft drink manufacturers (to include energy and sports drinks) put a ton of salt in their product because salt makes you thirsty and to cover up the salty taste, they add a ton of sugar.  They are no good for the “body” that you are looking for.  Reduce your sugar and salt intake in drinks and foods (especially fast food and pre-packaged foods).  You can save yourself pounds of unhealthy fat by just reading the labels.  The best advice is always to eat as clean as you can. Try to incorporate more fresh fruits, vegetables and lean protein found in chicken and fish.  Clean is best but also not always possible so if you have to eat on the go, check the sodium and sugar levels and make wise choices.

Another area to check, if you feel you are gaining weight, before you single out creatine, is have you made changes in your training routine.  Are you still working out as hard and as long as before?  Are you keeping cardio a part of your work out?  This is definitely something to consider.

Keeping track of your workouts using a training log is a very simple yet good idea.  The same goes for your eating habits.  These both can make a big difference in your weight.  Sometimes you can be ingesting more than you think – especially on the salt and sugar levels.  There are several free apps online that you can easily use, which have almost all possible foods and drinks already listed in them.  Use them on your computer or phone and keep track of everything you do and eat.

Creatine can cause a bit of weight gain – but it’s exactly where you want it.  You want it to increase your energy. You want water drawn into those muscles, enlarging them as you work out.  This is a good thing and what creatine was intended to do.  It is the safest, most studied, most used supplement today.  The only side effects that have ever been presented are to those who did not hydrate properly. And any “bloating” was quickly remedied with added water.  So if your weight gain is in your gut, chances are it is dietary or training changes.  Creatine is an energy powerhouse and a water magnet – all good things for your body.

So, the next time you hear someone claim that creatine is causing bloating, unless they are flexing their giant guns while saying so, you now know it’s untrue.  You can now act as the expert explaining how creatine causes their muscles to bloat, not the belly, and suggest they check their diet and training.