Does creatine result in water retention

Does creatine result in water retention

Creatine is a popular and well-researched dietary supplement. However, it has been a topic of debate and discussion among athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts for decades. One of the common concerns associated with creatine supplementation is whether it leads to water retention. In this article, we will dive into the scientific evidence to answer the age-old question: Does creatine result in water retention?

Understanding creatine

Before delving into the water retention debate, let’s first understand what creatine is and why it is used by athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in small amounts in certain foods and synthesized by the body. It plays a crucial role in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the primary source of energy for muscle contractions.

Supplementing with creatine is believed to enhance exercise performance, increase muscle mass, and improve strength. This is why it has become one of the most widely used and studied ergogenic aids in sports nutrition.

Short term creatine use and water retention

The commonly held belief that creatine supplementation leads to an increase in total body water can be attributed to early research findings. The research in question, indicated that the consumption of 20 grams of creatine per day, for a duration of six days, was linked to water retention [1].

However, it’s important to clarify that the widely recommended daily creatine intake falls within the range of 3 to 5 grams [2][3]. The initial 20-gram dosage is merely a loading phase for creatine, intended to rapidly saturate muscle stores. It is not reasonable to assume that the water retention effects of 20 grams is the same as 3-5 grams of creatine. Unfortunately, based on these short-term results, it still has become a widely accepted opinion that creatine increases water retention over the long-term [4].

Different types and benefits of water retention

When we look at the water retention during the initial days of creatine consumption, some degree of water retention is expected [1]. This is not suprising, since creatine is known as an osmotically active substance. This means it has an affinity for water. This characteristic allows creatine to mix effectively with water, aiding its integration into muscle tissue. So, If you are increasing the creatine in your muscles, you’re increasing water simultaneously. The temporary increase in water retention which can occur during the initial days of creatine consumption, actually impact various water compartments within the body, namely:

  1. Total Body Water (TBW): This refers to the overall water content present in your body. So it is a combination of extracellular water and intracellular water
  2. Extracellular Water (ECW): Extracellular water is situated outside your cells, including the water present in your bloodstream. Roughly 1/3 of the water in our body is considered to be extracellular water.
  3. Intracellular Water (ICW): Intracellular water resides within your cells. Usually, it makes up the other 2/3 of the water inside our body.

It’s worth emphasizing that intracellular water plays a vital role in protein synthesis, thereby contributing to muscle growth over time. So, while the notion of water retention might raise concerns, it’s important to recognize that intracellular water is a key factor in achieving muscle gains in the long run [10]. Thus, it shouldn’t even be a source of excessive worry for those considering creatine supplementation.

Long term creatine use and water retention

Furthermore, there are several studies which have looked at the long term effects of creatine on water retention. These often show different results than the initial short term research regarding this topic. In one study, participants consumed approximately 20 grams of creatine per day for a week, followed by four weeks of around 5 grams per day. There were no significant alterations observed in total body water, extracellular body water, or intracellular water [5].

Another research had subjects consuming 0.03 grams of creatine per kilogram of body weight daily for six weeks. This amount, (2.4 grams for an 80-kilogram individual) did not result in increased total body water [6].

In a different study, participants followed a regimen of 0.3 grams of creatine per kilogram of lean mass for five days (roughly 20 grams for many). This was followed by 0.075 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, (6 grams for an 80-kilogram individual) for 42 days. Yet, no discernible changes in total body water were reported [7].

However, there’s a twist in this narrative. In a separate research, total body water did see an increase due to creatine supplementation. Subjects had their water weight measured before and after 28 days of creatine use. The results have shown increases in body mass and total body water [8]. Intriguingly, the ratio between extracellular water and intracellular water remained unaffected [8].

In yet another study spanning eight weeks, total body water, extracellular water, and intracellular water all experienced an uptick with creatine supplementation. However, what’s noteworthy is that the ratio of muscle to intracellular water remained consistent in the creatine group compared to the placebo group. Essentially, the added muscle mass came with added water [9].

Conclusion

In conclusion, there is evidence that creatine supplementation can cause short-term water retention. This is most likely due to a increase in intracellular volume. However, a body of longer-term studies indicates that it doesn’t substantially impact total body water, including both intra and extracellular components, in relation to muscle mass. Consequently, it’s reasonable to conclude that creatine supplementation does not result in significant water retention long term.

References

  1. Hultman, E., Soderlund, K., Timmons, J. A., Cederblad, G., & Greenhaff, P. L. (1996). Muscle creatine loading in men. Journal of applied physiology, 81(1), 232-237.
  2. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA). (2011). Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to creatine and increase in physical performance during short‐term, high intensity, repeated exercise bouts (ID 739, 1520, 1521, 1522, 1523, 1525, 1526, 1531, 1532, 1533, 1534, 1922, 1923, 1924), increase in endurance capacity (ID 1527, 1535), and increase in endurance performance (ID 1521, 1963) pursuant to Article 13 (1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal, 9(7), 2303.
  3. Kreider, R. B., Kalman, D. S., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Wildman, R., Collins, R., … & Lopez, H. L. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1), 18.
  4. Francaux, M., & Poortmans, J. R. (2006). Side effects of creatine supplementation in athletes. International journal of sports physiology and performance, 1(4), 311-323.
  5. Andre, T. L., Gann, J. J., McKinley-Barnard, S. K., & Willoughby, D. S. (2016). Effects of five weeks of resistance training and relatively-dosed creatine monohydrate supplementation on body composition and muscle strength, and whole-body creatine metabolism in resistance-trained males. International Journal of Kinesiology and Sports Science, 4(2), 27-35.
  6. Rawson, E. S., Stec, M. J., Frederickson, S. J., & Miles, M. P. (2011). Low-dose creatine supplementation enhances fatigue resistance in the absence of weight gain. Nutrition, 27(4), 451-455.
  7. Spillane, M., Schoch, R., Cooke, M., Harvey, T., Greenwood, M., Kreider, R., & Willoughby, D. S. (2009). The effects of creatine ethyl ester supplementation combined with heavy resistance training on body composition, muscle performance, and serum and muscle creatine levels. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 6(1), 6.
  8. Powers, M. E., Arnold, B. L., Weltman, A. L., Perrin, D. H., Mistry, D., Kahler, D. M., … & Volek, J. (2003). Creatine supplementation increases total body water without altering fluid distribution. Journal of athletic training, 38(1), 44.
  9. Ribeiro, A. S., Avelar, A., Kassiano, W., Nunes, J. P., Schoenfeld, B. J., Aguiar, A. F., … & Cyrino, E. S. (2020). Creatine supplementation does not influence the ratio between intracellular water and skeletal muscle mass in resistance-trained men. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 30(6), 405-411.
  10. Safdar, A., Yardley, N. J., Snow, R., Melov, S., & Tarnopolsky, M. A. (2008). Global and targeted gene expression and protein content in skeletal muscle of young men following short-term creatine monohydrate supplementation. Physiological genomics, 32(2), 219-228.

Author

Mario Klasens Author XBR