You might think you know everything you need to about creatine.
After all, there have been 1000s of papers and articles on this popular supplement. Today, I’m going to make a case for creatine that has nothing to do with gaining weight and building muscle.
Rather, we’re going to discuss something you may never heard before: creatine is a great supplement when dieting.
What You Already Know About Creatine
I’m always happy to go on record saying that creatine is the most important performance-enhancing supplement.
While there are big competitors for health and wellbeing, such as vitamin D and Omega-3 fats, creatine is the most well-studied and pro-strength supplement on the market. On the practical side, it’s got the vote of hundreds of thousands of strength and muscle enthusiasts.
There are a few benefits you probably already expect from creatine:
- Improved strength and power1
- Specifically, boosts to your strength-endurance and reducing high-intensity fatigue2
- Improved recovery and re-hydration following a workout3
You might even know that it can improve your effectiveness in absorbing and utilising carbohydrates – because that’s pretty cool, too. However, does any of this make it an effective dieting supplement?
Well, sort of.
These benefits are performance-based so they’re not really the result of whether you’re gaining or losing weight. After all, being stronger is good for you whether you’re on a cut or adding lean mass. When you’re on a diet, you’re already going to feel weak so creatine boosting strength-endurance and improving recovery is a good place to start.
Health Benefits of Creatine
Beyond the popular benefits of creatine, you’re going to want to keep dietary concentrations stable when you lose weight for the long-term health and wellbeing benefits, too. As Bret Contreras has famously said: “what builds muscle best in a surplus maintains muscle best in a deficit”.
It might have a reputation as being a muscle and strength compound, but creatine is a vitamin in all but name: it has profound cardio- and neuro-protective effects, as well as one of the most profound and important antioxidant effects of any supplement on the market. We’re going to keep this brief:
- Heart-Healthy Gains: Supplementing creatine boosts the energy levels of myocardial and endothelial cells4, improving arterial health and reducing ischemia/atherosclerosis risks. Simply put, there’s a good chance you’ll have a healthier heart.
- Keep Sharp Upstairs: Neuroprotection isn’t one we normally associate with creatine, but it is crucial in developmental neurology and deficiency is a real problem. Clinically sufficient and optimal aren’t the same thing so supplementation is a great choice – especially since energy deficiency and declining carb-metabolism are key contributors in degenerative brain disease5.
- Cell Energy is Key: Cellular energetics are a key part of the oxidative stress process, but they also see marked improvement when exposed to improved serum creatine. Supplementation reliably improves these levels and reduces the overall risk of cell-death and deterioration6. Simply put, healthier cells mean a healthier human.
This is far from a comprehensive discussion of the health benefits of creatine, but they’re worth noting because it further busts the idea that it’s a single-goal supplement. It’s clearly more than a muscle-boosting supplement.
The Benefits of Creatine While Dieting
This all starts with deficiency: being deficient is bad.
1. Fighting Deficiency
While dieting, you’re at risk of deficiency. Your dietary intake of creatine-rich foods (such as red meat) is likely to decline and you’re at risk of dropping below essential levels. The more calories you’re cutting, the more likely you are to be missing optimal creatine intake.
Creatine supplementation has also been shown to be anti-catabolic7, adjusting the nitrogen balance of muscles and reducing the breakdown of muscle tissue for scavenging processes.
It actively increases the stimulation of a host of neuromuscular signalling processes8. If you’re worried about losing muscle on a cut, this is a great way to protect yourself and improve your health.
2. Propping Up Exercise Recovery
Recovery is even more important here – we’ve already seen that creatine is a major player in post-exercise metabolism, muscle protein synthesis, and other recovery processes. When you’re struggling with your calorie balance, this is another indirect effect on muscle-sparing, and ensuring that your diet doesn’t undermine your performance goals.
If you’re working with the basic Stress-Adaptation Model (SAM), this importance can’t be over-stated. Everything we know about training points to the idea that recovery is the most important, and consistently under-valued variable.9
If creatine can improve this process, which all the signs seem to point to, it’s definitely worth the investment.10
3. Health and Wellbeing Benefits
Supplementation has also been shown to be (theoretically) safer than a dietary or endogenous conversion process. During conversion or production in the body, producing creatine from other sources can result in damaging compounds like Homocysteine and SAMe.11
When producing excess homocysteine or SAMe (more than you can break down with the appropriate enzymes), the risk of heart and nervous system disease increases markedly. Fortunately, it looks like supplementing your creatine orally avoids some of these problems12 since you don’t have to produce it in your body.
When you factor in the antioxidant benefits of creatine – and the fact that all the initial concerns regarding safety seem to be false – it is a great way to improve your overall health. These benefits add up, especially when your body is already under the stress of a calorie-restricted diet.
Why Don’t We Use Creatine While Dieting?
With all these benefits, you may be asking yourself: why haven’t we been using it all along?
The obvious answer is water retention. We’ve seen time and time again that creatine intake is associated with short-term water retention of around 3-5lbs in most people. When you’re trying to lose weight and every lb counts, this can feel like an easy way to sabotage progress and look ‘soft’.
Obviously, this is a short-term side-effect and often doesn’t occur in regular doses13. The water retention we see is dropped rapidly after cessation: it doesn’t stick around once you stop using creatine. This is something that we’ve dealt with time and time again when trying to debunk some of the myths around creatine.
It’s also important to realize the differences between fatty water-retention and what happens with creatine. The long and short of it is this: the water retention we see when using creatine isn’t just held in the fat tissues, as it would be when you’ve eaten too much salty junk food.
Rather, a significant amount of creatine-induced water retention is the result of increased storage of glycogen and Phosphor-Creatine in the muscles themselves14. While we can expect some bloating, the additional weight is not going to sabotage a diet, as many suspect.
To make it even simpler: dieting that focuses on the short-term rather than the long-term is the reason why we don’t tend to use creatine for dieting, despite the benefits.
If you’re concerned about the number on the scale now and a rapid turnaround on your weight loss, water retention is a real issue. It’s not hard to see why the instant-gratification diet is linked to this conspicuous absence! However, your long-term results are going to improve if you can suck it up and accept looking softer temporarily – as hard as it might be on the ego.
While many supplements are extraneous for many people, creatine is one of the most effective and underrated supplements on the market.
Using it as a muscle-building supplement is a great way to improve results, but it under-states the amazing benefits of supplementation. This supplement is the subject of thousands of studies relaying positive benefits across the vast range of systems it interacts with.
This article has been a brief attempt to discuss why creatine is about so much more than a bicep pump or strength-endurance. These are amazing alone, but it’s a versatile compound that has benefits at a cellular, and organ, level.
If you’re looking to optimize your weight-loss diet, this is probably the best value you can get, as it consistently costs less than $15 to get your hands on a creatine monohydrate supplement!
- Effects of Creatine Monohydrate and Polyethylene Glycosylated Creatine Supplementation on Muscular Strength, Endurance, and Power Output
- Effects of creatine supplementation on muscle power, endurance, and sprint performance
- Putting to rest the myth of creatine supplementation leading to muscle cramps and dehydration
- Anti‐inflammatory activity of creatine supplementation in endothelial cells in vitro
- Potential for creatine and other therapies targeting cellular energy dysfunction in neurological disorders
- Direct Antioxidant Properties of Creatine
- EFFECT OF CREATINE SUPPLEMENTATION DURING RESISTANCE TRAINING ON MUSCLE ACCRETION IN THE ELDERLY
- Effects of oral creatine and resistance training on myogenic regulatory factor expression.
- The Physiology of Muscle Hypertrophy: Mechanisms and Types
- International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise
- Pharmacokinetics of creatine.
- Creatine supplementation reduces increased homocysteine concentration induced by acute exercise in rats.
- Low-dose creatine supplementation enhances fatigue resistance in the absence of weight gain.
- Carbohydrate ingestion augments skeletal muscle creatine accumulation during creatine supplementation in humans