Creatine and Muscle Mass
It’s fairly clear that creatine monohydrate causes weight gain. For many, this is a benefit. Unfortunately, some of this quick weight gain comes from water and reverses once supplementation stops. Still, creatine is a very common supplement used to gain strength and muscle mass. Does creatine actually increase muscle mass or is it all just temporary body weight?
How does creatine add muscle?
Much of the energy used in strength training comes from the ATP system. When ATP is used for energy, it’s converted into ADP. ADP can be turned back into ATP for future use. Increasing creatine stores in the muscle speeds up the rate which ADP is converted back into ATP. This allows you to lift more weight and complete more repetitions leading to more muscle1.
What does the research say about creatine and muscle gains?
Study 1: Effects of creatine on isometric bench-press performance in resistance-trained humans1
In one study, researchers looked at the effects of creatine on bench press performance, muscle mass gains, and body composition. Subjects took 20 grams of creatine monohydrate per day for five days and performed a bench press routine. The results showed the creatine group gained 2.6 pounds of total body weight while the placebo group gained nothing. The creatine group also gained 1.8 pounds of muscle.
Study 2: Effect of creatine supplementation during resistance training on lean tissue mass and muscular strength in older adults: a meta-analysis2
This article was a meta analysis covering 22 studies on creatine use in older adults. Dosing varied; some studies used 20 grams per day for about a week while other studies used 3-5 grams per day. Of the 22 studies, 12 showed a significant increase in muscle mass after creatine use while 10 showed no gain.
Study 3: Effects of creatine supplementation on body composition, strength, and sprint performance3
This study followed NCAA football players for 28 days and looked at the effects of creatine monohydrate on body composition after resistance training. Subjects took 15.75 grams of creatine per day. The results showed total body weight significantly increased in the creatine group. The creatine group also saw a significant increase in muscle mass; 5.4 pounds in the supplement group compared to a gain of 2.9 pounds in the placebo group.
Study 4: A buffered form of creatine does not promote greater changes in muscle creatine content, body composition, or training adaptations than creatine monohydrate4
The final study compared two different forms of creatine on body composition. One group took 20 grams of creatine monohydrate per day for 7 days followed by 5 grams per day for 21 days. The other group took Kre-Alkalyn (buffered creatine monohydrate) at 1.5 grams per day for 28 days. The third group also took Kre-Alkalyn, but at the same levels as the first group. The manufacturer of Kre-Alkalyn promises the same results as regular creatine monohydrate at significantly smaller doses.
Subjects engaged in their regular resistance training program for the entire 28 days. Various measurements of strength and body composition were taken at days 0, 7, and 28 of the study. All three groups saw an increase in muscle mass:
- creatine monohydrate: +2.42 pounds
- Kre-Alkalyn (1.5 grams per day): +0.88 pounds of muscle
- Kre-Alkalyn (20 grams per day for 5 days, 5 grams per day for 21 days): +2.64 pounds of muscle
Should I take creatine to add more muscle tissue?
The majority of the research shows creatine is an effective way of adding muscle mass. Many of the studies lasted for only a few weeks, but participants still managed to gain a significant amount of muscle in this relatively short period.
In the meta analysis, close to half of the studies did not show an increase in muscle. Though on the surface this looks bad for creatine, these studies were conducted on an older population. Many of the subjects included in the analysis had major health issues. That, combined with their age, probably made gaining significant amounts of muscle difficult.
Recommendations for Using Creatine to Gain Muscle
If you’ve decided on taking creatine to increase muscle, use the following guidelines:
- Stick to creatine monohydrate. This is the cheapest, most widely available, and most effective form of creatine monohydrate on the market.
- Dosage: You can either use a loading method or simply start with a maintenance dose. Both approaches lead to similar results:
- loading method: Start with 20 grams of creatine monohydrate per day taken in 4 even doses for 7 days. Decrease your intake to 5 grams per day thereafter.
- maintenance method: Start with 5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day taken in 1 dose.
- Creatine monohydrate can cause gastrointestinal discomfort in some individuals. If it does, take creatine after a workout or split each dosage into smaller amounts (ex: 2x 2.5 grams instead of 1×5 grams).
- Kilduff, L. P., Vidakovic, P., Cooney, G., Twycross-Lewis, R., Amuna, P., Parker, M., . . . Pitsiladis, Y. P. (2002). Effects of creatine on isometric bench-press performance in resistance-trained humans. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 34(7), 1176-1183. doi:10.1097/00005768-200207000-00019
- Chilibeck, P., Kaviani, M., Candow, D., & Zello, G. A. (2017). Effect of creatine supplementation during resistance training on lean tissue mass and muscular strength in older adults: A meta-analysis. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, Volume 8, 213-226. doi:10.2147/oajsm.s123529
- Krieder, R., & Ferreira, M. (1998). Effects of creatine supplementation on body composition, strength, and sprint performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 30(1), 73-82.
- Jagim, A. R., Oliver, J. M., Sanchez, A., Galvan, E., Fluckey, J., Riechman, S., . . . Kreider, R. B. (2012). A buffered form of creatine does not promote greater changes in muscle creatine content, body composition, or training adaptations than creatine monohydrate. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), 43. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-43