Creatine Water Retention: Is it Real and Should You Care?

Those who are new to creatine supplementation may experience mild bloating and weight gain from water retention, particularly in the loading phase. However, bloating from water retention is temporary and typically resolves on its own, and may even benefit your performance.

Key Takeaways About Creatine and Water Retention

  • Creatine monohydrate is associated with many health and performance benefits including increasing skeletal muscle mass, improving exercise performance, and boosting strength.

  • Creatine is osmotically active, which means it pulls water in, resulting in a temporary increase in water retention and weight gain.

  • Water retention from creatine can actually help boost performance by improving our ability to regulate body temperature during exercise and stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

  • You can help ease fluid retention by staying hydrated, making sure you are taking the proper dose for the loading phase, taking it at the proper time, or skipping the loading phase altogether. 

 

 

How Does Creatine Work?

Creatine is a compound found primarily in your skeletal muscle tissues that is naturally produced by the amino acids arginine, glycine, and methionine.

You can get creatine from consuming animal products such as meat, fish, poultry, and dairy however, your body can also make a small amount, about 1-2 grams per day, to be stored in your muscle tissue [1, 2].

Creatine supplementation (usually HCL or monohydrate) helps to provide energy to your muscles in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the sole fuel source for muscle contraction.

High-intensity activity can deplete ATP in your muscles rapidly and having higher concentrations of creatine present in the muscle tissue can help to increase ATP production for higher-quality training [3].

What is Muscle Creatine Concentration?

Muscle creatine concentration is the amount of creatine present in the muscle tissue.

Those who consume a standard diet that contains animal proteins are likely consuming about 1-2 grams of creatine per day on average which equals to creatine stores of about 60-80% capacity [4].

To maximize your creatine stores for optimal performance as quickly as possible, a creatine supplementation loading phase is often recommended.

This is when you take 20-25 grams of creatine daily for 5-7 days to saturate your muscles and effectively boost your creatine stores by as much as 40%.

This is typically followed by a maintenance dose of 3-5 grams per day [4, 5, 6].

Does Creatine Supplementation Cause Water Retention?

The loading phase of creatine supplementation can result in bloating for some individuals.

This can reflect a slight increase in body weight due to an increase in lean body mass and water retention in the muscle tissue. Creatine is osmotically active, which means it pulls water in with it. If you are boosting creatine in your muscles, you're increasing fluid simultaneously [7, 8].

If you are new to taking creatine and plan to go through a loading phase of a creatine cycle, you can expect to gain 1-2% body mass during this time however, most of this is water weight.

Although it may not sound ideal, this increase in fluid won’t stick around for long. In fact, fluid retention from creatine loading typically resolves on its own a few weeks following the loading period [9].

Over time, the effects of creatine supplementation are vastly positive on your body composition, as long as you follow an optimal nutrition and training plan.

Can Fluid Retention Boost Performance?

Although fluid retention through creatine supplementation sounds like a bad thing, in this case, it can actually help boost performance.

The additional water can help to hydrate the muscles and improve your ability to regulate heat during intense exercise. This can decrease the risk of heat-related illnesses in those who train in hot, humid climates [10]. 

Additionally, the increase in the volume of the muscle tissue may help to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS), the process of creating new lean muscle mass tissue [11].

What is Cell Swelling and Anabolic Signal?

The osmotic effects of creatine create what is known as cellular swelling. According to research, this phenomenon is essential in stimulating MPS as it acts as an anabolic proliferation signal. This signals the body that the environment is favorable to creating new muscle tissue [11].

Additionally, creatine may help signal insulin-like growth factor-1, an important hormone required for muscle mass growth [12].

Benefits of Creatine Supplementation

Creatine monohydrate is associated with many health and performance benefits, including increasing muscle mass, improving exercise performance, and better body composition.

Increased Muscle Mass 

Creatine monohydrate supplementation can help speed up muscle growth by signaling essential pathways for MPS.

In fact, one study found that those who took creatine for 6 weeks gained 4.4 additional pounds of muscle mass compared to the control group [13].

The weight gain that people often experience after taking creatine supplements can be a result of increased lean muscle mass.

So, while the scale might show a slightly higher number, you might also enjoy better body composition.

Improves Exercise Performance

Because creatine plays a role in producing ATP in the muscle tissue, it can help improve energy production during high-intensity exercise.

More energy means better exercise performance. One review found that creatine supplementation could boost exercise performance by up to 15% [14].

Boosts Muscle Strength

Because creatine helps to improve exercise performance it can also help to boost strength. The presence of increased energy in the muscle tissue allows you to work harder during your strength training session with less fatigue.

This can add up to more reps and more weight in a shorter period, helping you to effectively build strength more rapidly. 

Does Creatine Cause Weight Gain?

Creatine supplementation does result in short-term weight gain during the loading phase. However, the weight gain during this time is related to an increase in fluid retention and is not true weight gain.

This water retention will resolve a few weeks following the loading phase and body composition should not be a concern for taking creatine supplements. 

Eventually, any weight gain from creatine is more likely to be lean body mass, and you can expect a positive impact on your body weight.

Are My Gains Just Water?

The weight gain during the loading of creatine largely contributes to fluid retention however, it is not only water that causes the scale to fluctuate.

Loading up on creatine can also increase muscle mass which may tip the scale slightly [9]. So, if you can increase exercise volume with creatine, you will actually increase lean body mass over time.

Also Read: How Much Water to Drink With Creatine

How to Ease Occasional Water Retention From Creatine?

Although it is common, not everyone will experience bloating and weight gain as one of the effects of creatine supplementation. If you are concerned about water retention, there are a few things that can help ease the symptoms, including staying hydrated.

Make sure you are taking the proper dose for the, taking it at the proper time, or skipping the loading phase altogether.

Increase Water Intake

Although it may sound counterintuitive, staying adequately hydrated can ease the symptoms of fluid retention from creatine.

Because creatine temporarily pulls excess water into your muscle mass tissue, consuming high amounts during the can result in dehydration, which can further worsen bloating symptoms.

During this time, it’s important to replace what is being pulled to your muscles by boosting your water intake throughout the day to counteract these effects.

Take the Right Dose

Because creatine loading involves taking a large dose of creatine for a short period of time, it’s important to make sure you are taking the correct dose.

The more creatine you consume the more water will be moved into your muscle tissue and further exacerbate fluid retention. Current research supports a loading dose of 20-25 grams per day for 5 to 7 days max followed by a maintenance dose of 3-5 grams per day.

Avoid taking doses larger than 30 grams [4, 5, 6, 15].

Time It Right

Another way to help with creatine bloat is to make sure you are timing your supplement intake with your exercise routine, this helps to maximize absorption.

Whether you choose to do this before, during, or after exercise, just make sure to stay consistent. Avoid taking large doses of creatine on non-workout days.

Skip the Loading Phase Altogether 

If you are concerned about fluid retention, you can also skip creatine loading altogether.

There is no requirement for doing a loading with creatine and some studies have found that a lower dose of creatine can be equally as effective at increasing muscle creatine stores [16, 17].

FAQs on Creatine and Water Retention

Does Water Retention From Creatine Supplementation Go Away?

Water retention from creatine supplementation is temporary and will typically resolve on its own a few weeks following the loading cycle. 

Does Creatine Make You Puffy?

Because creatine can cause fluid retention, it may cause you to feel puffy or bloated. Although these side effects can be uncomfortable for some, it is temporary and not a cause for concern as far as overall body mass.

Does Creatine Give a Bloated Look?

Some individuals may experience bloating as a result of creatine supplementation. Whether or not this bloating is physically noticeable will depend on the individual. 

Do You Look Bigger After Creatine? 

Because creatine pulls fluid into the muscle tissue with it, it can give the appearance of larger muscles during this time. However, this growth is mainly related to increases in water and will reduce over time.

Further Reading:

BCAAs vs Creatine

What Happens When You Stop Taking Creatine?