Updated: Oct 12
Creatine is an effective and useful supplement that can help you build muscle and improve strength and endurance. It has few serious adverse effects and is very safe. However, it does have minor adverse effects, such as bloating.
Supplementing with creatine increases water retention, which leads to bloating. Creatine is a hydrophilic molecule, which means it attracts water and increases total body water content when taken.
In this article, I'll explain why and when this happens and how you can avoid it.
How Creatine Works
Creatine contributes to the production of ATP and is a form of stored energy. When you take creatine supplements, your stores of creatine phosphate increase.
This increased ATP production results in more energy being available when you need it, such as during a high-intensity or endurance workout, like a marathon.
Because creatine is hydrophilic, it accumulates water and increases water retention, especially in the muscles. However, this water retention can also manifest itself as bloating.
Bloating During "Loading"
Creatine bloating is a common side effect of starting to supplement with creatine during the loading period.
The loading phase entails consuming 20-25 grams of creatine for 5-7 days in a row, typically when you first start taking it. (1)
To maintain appropriate muscle reserves of creatine following the loading phase, a daily dosage of 3-5 grams, or 0.01 grams per pound (0.03 grammes per kg) of body weight, is required.
According to several studies, the loading phase might result in a large increase in total body water.
In one study, supplementing with 0.01 grams per pound (0.3 grams per kg) of body weight every day for seven days resulted in a 2.3 lb (1 kg) rise in total body water content. (4)
You should anticipate acquiring 1-2% of your body weight during the loading period, predominantly water weight.
While not everyone gets bloating, bypassing the loading period and taking the maintenance dosage of 3-5 grams per day may help lessen or eliminate this bloating.
You should make sure to drink enough water while taking creatine to avoid dehydration.
Safety of Creatine & Bloating
As a supplement, creatine is very safe. Media stories alleging that creatine hurts your kidneys and causes dehydration has skewed its favourable safety profile.
However, there is minimal or mixed data about these claims.
In studies including a wide range of participants, dosages ranging from 5-20 grams per day for 10 months to 5 years had no negative impact on kidney health. (6)
Even when people exercise in the heat, creatine has not been proven to induce dehydration or raise its risk.
The overwhelming scientific opinion is that using the supplement for a short or long period of time is safe and presents little to no harm to otherwise healthy persons. (8)
However, persons with compromised kidney function or those on drugs should see their doctor before starting a creatine regimen to verify their safety.
Below are definitions and short explanations of what some of the terms in this article mean.
Hydrophilic: Hydrophilic means having a strong affinity for water. This means something which is hydrophilic mixes well, dissolves well, or is attracted to water.
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This evidence based analysis of creatine and bloating features 8 references, listed below.
Gann JJ, McKinley-Barnard SK, Andre TL, Schoch RD, Willoughby DS. Effects of a traditionally-dosed creatine supplementation protocol and resistance training on the skeletal muscle uptake and whole-body metabolism and retention of creatine in males. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2015, Sep 21) ✔
Powers ME, Arnold BL, Weltman AL, Perrin DH, Mistry D, Kahler DM, Kraemer W, Volek J. Creatine Supplementation Increases Total Body Water Without Altering Fluid Distribution. J Athl Train. (2003, Mar) ✔
Deminice R, Rosa FT, Pfrimer K, Ferrioli E, Jordao AA, Freitas E. Creatine Supplementation Increases Total Body Water in Soccer Players: a Deuterium Oxide Dilution Study. Int J Sports Med. (2016, Feb) (Randomised Controlled Trial) ✔
Kreider RB, Melton C, Rasmussen CJ, Greenwood M, Lancaster S, Cantler EC, Milnor P, Almada AL. Long-term creatine supplementation does not significantly affect clinical markers of health in athletes. Mol Cell Biochem. (2003, Feb) ✔
Kreider RB, Kalman DS, Antonio J, Ziegenfuss TN, Wildman R, Collins R, Candow DG, Kleiner SM, Almada AL, Lopez HL. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2017, Jun 13) ✔
✔ Citations with a tick indicate the information is from a trusted source.
The information provided in this article is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a physician or other competent professional before following advice or taking any supplement. See our terms and conditions.