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In the pursuit to increase strength, muscle, and exercise performance with the support of creatine supplementation, some users have reported feeling unwell. In particular reports of nausea and gastrointestinal discomfort, in the form of an upset stomach, have been reported among users.
So why can creatine make you feel sick? Creatine supplements rely on you taking the right dosage and mixing it with the right liquids. If you’re feeling sick, it’s likely that one of these two things is incorrectly applied when taking creatine. You may also be taking other medications or supplements that, together with creatine, are making you feel sick.
There are a number of things for you to consider when understanding why you may be experiencing a sick feeling when using creatine, which are discussed below.
5 Reasons Why You Feel Sick After Taking Creatine
Taking creatine poses minimal risk to users.
However, there are certain side effects that can occur if you’re using creatine incorrectly.
The 5 reasons why creatine could make you feel sick are:
- You’re taking too much creatine
- You’re mixing creatine with excessive refined sugar
- You’re not drinking enough water
- You’re experiencing electrolyte imbalances
- You’re taking medication that interacts with creatine
Here I’ll explain why you might be feeling sick using creatine and share some tips on how to help.
1. Excessive Creatine Consumption
Excessive creatine consumption has been shown to have an impact on your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, with an upset stomach and diarrhea being associated side effects of this.
The same study found that dosing greater than 10 grams of creatine in a single-serve was more likely to have an impact on your GI tract than if you were to split it into two 5g serves across a day.
The general consensus seems such that if you’re overconsuming creatine you are more likely to experience an unsettled feeling in your stomach, possibly nausea and also diarrhea.
Typically overconsumption of creatine can occur in the loading phase that some creatine brands recommend.
This is where you’ll see a creatine provider suggest something like a 5-7 day loading phase of 20g of creatine per day (to build creatine saturation in the muscles) followed by a maintenance phase of 2-5g of creatine daily.
If you opt to follow this recommendation, you may feel sick. However, as an option you can split the loading amount in various servings throughout your day. If that doesn’t help, it is important to know, research has shown that this approach to creatine supplementation is also not necessary.
Studies overwhelmingly suggest that creatine is best consumed within the recommended dosage ranges of 3-5g per day. Staying within these guidelines will still provide you with all the benefits creatine supplementation has to offer.
- If you want to know exactly how much creatine to take for your bodyweight and goals, use our Creatine Calculator
2. Mixing Creatine With Sugars
Mixing creatine in things that contain high refined sugar content became popular because it was thought it would create an insulin spike, assist in absorption and give a better pump. Mixing creatine in energy drinks and juices are good examples of this.
Why that approach may leave you feeling sick is that both energy drinks and juices are examples of carbohydrates high in refined sugar, which means sugar is released quickly into the bloodstream following consumption.
This creates an insulin spike causing big shifts in your blood sugar levels, leaving you feeling sick. After a big sugar high, we have a comedown, a nauseous feeling is a possible indicator of this.
Research has shown that ingesting carbohydrates with creatine can lead to increased creatine retention, however, that doesn’t mean you need to reach for foods or drinks high in refined sugar as your pre-training carb, particularly if you’re feeling unwell because of it.
Having a serving of creatine when eating a starchy or whole-grain pre-workout snack, will serve you just as well. You get the carbohydrate benefit but you also get a slower release of sugar into the bloodstream – try a whole grain piece of toast with peanut butter and see if you feel any better. And yes, you still get a great pump this way too.
It is always important to consider consulting with a Registered Dietician regarding your specific needs if you are experiencing persisting issues around this.
- Learn more about creatine in the article Types of Creatine.
3. Low Water Intake
When you supplement with creatine, you have more available energy in your muscles to help you push harder during your workouts or training sessions.
As a result, you want to ensure you are hydrating appropriately to ensure there is enough water in your body to moderate your body temperature when exercising.
Failure to do so could cause dehydration leading to you feeling sick or lightheaded.
The most effective way to combat this is to ensure you are getting enough water throughout your day and during your training.
4. Electrolyte Imbalances
Our kidneys play a critical role in regulating fluid and electrolyte balance in our bodies and in our blood.
We can experience an electrolyte imbalance if there is a decline in our kidney function. This can leave us feeling sick and will require medical intervention to both treat an electrolyte imbalance and also diagnose why it has occurred.
Creatine itself has not been shown to cause kidney disease or problems in healthy adults, however, if you’re using creatine and have an underlying medical issue impacting the renal system you may be at risk of causing yourself harm.
It is important to consult your doctor to discuss whether creatine is appropriate and safe for you to use.
This is also connected to my next point.
5. Medications Interacting With Creatine
While creatine has been shown through studies to be a remarkably safe supplement that doesn’t cause kidney problems, where you are taking medication that impacts kidney or liver function, it is recommended you consult your doctor to ensure it is safe for you to be using creatine at the same time.
This is important because taking creatine could put added pressure on your kidneys or liver that may already be working hard or fighting illness.
A medical professional is best placed to make a judgment around this.
- Related Article: This Is Why Your Creatine Is Not Dissolving (And How To Fix)
Are Certain Creatine Brands Better Than Others For Not Getting Sick?
There are a number of creatine supplements available for people to use, so knowing which ones are better than others can be a challenge. Especially because fancy marketing is distracting.
Creatine monohydrate is the safest, most well studied, and readily available creatine supplement on the market, so that is the best place to start.
You might come across other types of creatine that are available, combining creatine along with other popular supplements like BCAAs, magnesium, sodium varieties or protein.
Though, if you haven’t tried creatine or you have stomach sensitivities, keep it simple in the first instance and go with a pure creatine monohydrate supplement.
In terms of what creatine brand is best when considering whether or not it is going to make you sick, focus less on the brand and instead consider the following:
- The ingredients panel – you want your creatine to have one ingredient – creatine – or better yet what you’re looking for on the incregident panel is ‘creatine monohydrate.’
- Flavour – it is also best to start with something unflavoured because your creatine supplement will be less likely to have flavour additives or sugars that could cause stomach discomfort.
- NSF certification – this certification provides a guarantee that a product has been tested by a trusted independent organization and will be free from harmful contaminants and substances that are banned for athletes competing in tested sports. Essentially ensuring the purity of the product.
- Micronization – micronized creatine monohydrate is creatine that has been broken down into much smaller particles making it more soluble and therefore easier to digest. This can sometimes help some users feeling sick or experiencing stomach discomfort.
If you’re looking for a creatine monohydrate supplement to benchmark yours against, or looking for one try, this one is a good reputable option.
What Should You Do To Avoid Getting Sick Taking Creatine
Honestly, pay attention to the research, don’t fall victim to overexaggerated statements, and follow the directions on the product label and package.
The testing and science have been done to determine the best and safest way to incorporate creatine as a supplement to support your performance goals, and there is no need to reinvent the wheel here.
If you’re confused or looking for assistance, consult a Registered Dietician around your creatine supplementation to ensure you are supplementing in the best way to support your individual needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Be Creatine Intolerant?
Creatine is a safe and effective supplement for sport performance. Creatine is also naturally produced in our bodies and found in animal proteins. We’re less likely to be intolerant to it but we can potentially feel sick because of the type we are using or how we are using it.
Dehydration, poor mixers, overdosing or other medications we’re on can sometimes cause us to feel sick when using creatine.
Can Creatine Loading Cause Nausea?
Creatine loading is a short period of increased creatine intake to saturate the muscles with creatine. Studies have shown that excessive amounts of creatine, which is up to 20g in a day during a loading phase, can impact your GI tract causing symptoms of bloating, nausea and diarrhea.
Does Taking Creatine On An Empty Stomach Make You Sick?
Taking creatine on an empty stomach could leave you feeling sick and nauseous. Research has indicated some users of creatine have experienced stomach discomfort. The best way to minimise this is to ingest creatine on a partially full stomach so it is still readily absorbed but with less impact on your stomach.
- Creatine Makes Me Feel Dizzy: Why & How To Fix
- Does Creatine Make You More Vascular? (What Science Says)
Creatine has an excellent safety profile and has been used for decades by athletes and avid gym-goers alike. There is a small possibility that few users may feel sick using creatine, however, greater awareness of the type of creatine being consumed and how it is being consumed will likely assist the majority of people feeling that way.
About The Author
Steph Catalucci | Nutrition Coach
@macronutritionau | macro-nutrition.com.au
Steph Catalucci is an online nutrition coach from Australia, working with clients all over the world. Her passion for nutrition was born through wanting to treat her body better, for health and performance. She is a strong advocate for understanding nutrition to develop informed nutritional habits that go beyond just food. Steph leverages a decade of her own nutritional experience to help people make sense of the noise and carve a path forward with their nutrition, supporting clients with whatever body composition goal they have. When not coaching or writing, you’ll find her training for her next powerlifting competition.