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You might be taking creatine to improve your performance in the gym, but wondering if it’s going to impact what you see in the mirror.
- In the long run, you can count on creatine to make you look bigger, as creatine supplementation has been shown to increase lean muscle mass without changes in fat mass when combined with resistance training.
- In the short term, however, you will also notice temporary water retention, especially if you “load” creatine (20g for 5 days when starting, followed by 5g ongoing). But, there shouldn’t be increases in water weight long-term.
- Genetics can play a role in how effectively you build muscle on creatine. With that said, you will experience a higher rate of muscle growth in general when supplementing creatine and weight training, compared with weight training alone.
Can Creatine Make Your Muscles Look Bigger?
Yes, creatine can make your muscles look bigger in the short term (1-3 weeks), especially during a loading phase. This is because creatine can draw water into the muscle cells, making them look bigger from extra fluid.
This happens without actually increasing the muscle fiber size or the number of muscle fibers.
After the loading phase, as muscle creatine concentration reaches the point of saturation (meaning no additional creatine can be stored in the muscles), daily creatine doses decrease and water stored in the body begins to return to its previous balance.
If it’s important for you to avoid the short-term water retention associated with a creatine loading phase, you do not have to start creatine with high doses.
Instead of a loading phase of 20g per day for 5-7 days, you can simply start with 3-5g each day, which is the recommended ongoing maintenance amount.
This just means that it will take a little bit longer (~4 weeks vs. 1 week) to reach creatine saturation levels.
In order for true muscle growth (hypertrophy) to occur, the muscles need to be challenged with appropriate resistance training and sufficient protein intake.
In the longer term (beyond 1-3 weeks), with an effective training program and appropriate caloric intake, muscle hypertrophy will occur. This means that muscles are actually bigger; they don’t just “look bigger” from water retention.
As lean body mass increases and fat mass stays the same, this means that body fat represents a smaller amount of total body weight. The result is a lower percentage of body fat.
Having a lower percentage of body fat can also make it easier to see muscles – when muscles are visible and defined, the effect can be that they appear even bigger than when they are covered by more body fat.
This leads me to my next point.
Can Creatine Make You Look Bigger Without Working Out?
No, creatine on its own does not make muscles look or get bigger, other than short-term water retention. Rather, it allows you to train at a higher intensity, doing more reps and/or higher weights.
It is this ability to do harder training sessions that leads to greater gains in strength, performance, and muscle mass.
Gains come from training, and creatine supplementation makes it possible and easier to train harder and for longer periods. This impact has been observed to be true across all ages, sexes, and experience levels.
In light of these results, you might wonder more specifically about genetics.
- Related Article: 10 Types Of Creatine: Best & Worst Explained (Science-Backed)
Do Genetics Impact Creatine’s Effectiveness?
Yes, scientific studies have shown that mutations in certain genes, and the presence or absence of others, have significant impacts on a person’s abilities to achieve muscle growth and development and performance improvements during training.
Even with creatine, some people will not experience as much muscle growth.
With that being said, creatine supplementation would still result in higher muscle growth during a resistance training program than without, even for an individual who is less likely to experience muscle hypertrophy overall.
Also, underlying genetics or DNA does not completely dictate muscle growth potential. The scientific field of epigenetics looks at how environmental factors experienced in an individual’s life can impact how their genes are expressed.
Combining good nutrition with good training is foundational for additive muscle growth and healthy maintenance all the way into old age.
If you’re looking for guidance on what, when, and how much to eat to optimize your training, please book a complimentary consultation with our team of Registered Dieticians and Nutrition Coaches.
Are You Gaining Muscle, Fat, or Water Weight? How To Tell
The very best way to track changes in body composition is with a DEXA scan to tell you exactly how much lean body mass, body fat, and water weight you have.
Even if you don’t have access to or the budget for a DEXA or another scan, basic circumference measurements with a soft cloth measuring tape are helpful indicators.
This is because muscle tissue is denser than fat tissue. The same amount, by weight, of muscle, takes up less space than the same amount of fat tissue.
How much less? Muscle takes up about 80% as much space as an equivalent amount of fat. This means that if measurements are going down in areas that store fat (like the waist or hips) while weight is increasing, fat is going down and muscle mass is going up.
On the other hand, as muscles grow other measurements will go up, such as around the calves or biceps. These locations are less likely to store body fat.
You can also judge muscle gain based on how your clothes are fitting.
For example, if your pants are tighter in the quads, but looser in the waist, this is a sign that you are gaining muscle in your legs and losing fat from your midsection.
Water weight can sometimes be confused for fat, because excess water stored in the cells can cause you to have a puffy or “soft” look. Water retention can also be seen in swelling in your extremities, including wrists and ankles, and fingers.
“Taking creatine supplements causes your body to retain water as water enters the muscle cells along with the creatine. You may experience weight gain from water retention in as little as one to two days after taking creatine. In the initial period, you may gain as much as one to 3.5 lbs of weight, mostly from water”-Sarka-Jonae Miller, CPT
Try lowering your sodium consumption for a few days to a maximum of 2,300mg, since excess sodium can cause water retention. Drink at least 3L of water each day to ensure proper hydration so that the body will not retain water.
Another temporary measure that you can take to allow you to drop your water weight is to reduce your carbohydrate intake by 50-100g per day for a few days. Carbohydrates include “hydrate” in their name because they attract and store water in the body.
After 3-5 days any short-term water retention should be gone. If you still experience swelling, especially around your joints, please consult with your healthcare practitioner.
Fat gain can happen if you are intentionally eating in a calorie surplus to gain weight or while bulking. In general, 60-67% of weight gained during a calorie surplus is fat mass, and 33-40% is fat-free mass.
For every 5lbs gained, 3lbs would be fat and 2lbs would be muscle.
If you are not intentionally eating in a calorie surplus I would recommend that you track your calories for at least 1-2 weeks to get an awareness of your intake and your calorie needs so that you can adjust as needed.
This leads me to my final point about creatine and gains.
Can Creatine Make You Gain Fat?
No, creatine on its own does not lead to any changes in body fat mass. However, training harder can increase your appetite or lead you to believe that you need to consume more calories than you actually do, resulting in a calorie surplus that causes fat gain. It is the excess calories that cause fat gain, not creatine.
“Creatine contains no calories, and has no impact on your fat metabolism. So taking creatine and not working out is just going to lead to nothing.”-Mike Roussell, PHD
If you want to offset fat gain from a calorie surplus, you can either reduce your intake slightly (by about 10%) or you can move more during the day outside of your workouts.
This is called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): purposeful movement outside of planned workouts.
NEAT generally contribute more to total daily energy expenditure (TDEE, or total calories burned from all activities, including rest) than calories burned from exercise (EAT or exercise activity thermogenesis).
Ways to increase your NEAT include taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther away, or choosing to commute by walking or bicycle.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Fast Will Creatine Make Me Bigger?
If you are supplementing creatine properly and combining it with an effective weight training program, you can expect to gain anywhere from 2-5 pounds in the first week , mostly due to water retention.
This excess water will be drawn into the muscles, causing your muscles to appear larger.
Will Creatine Make My Arms Bigger?
In the beginning stages of creatine supplementation, your arms may appear larger due to the extra water that is being drawn into the muscle belly.
With long-term creatine supplementation and an effective training routine that targets your arms, you can expect to see an increase in size and strength to the muscles in your arms.
Will Taking More Creatine Make Me Even Bigger?
Taking more creatine does not necessarily mean you will get bigger and better results, since your muscles have a threshold of how much creatine they can absorb and store at a time (around 2-3 grams per kg of body weight).
Whether you want to do a loading phase or go straight to a maintenance creatine dose, you can determine the amount you should supplement by using our creatine calculator.
Does Creatine Make You Look Puffy?
Creatine supplementation can result in an increase of puffiness due to water retention, especially in the first few weeks of supplementing or during a loading phase.
This puffiness should subside after a few weeks, but if it doesn’t and you are concerned, you can try reducing your daily creatine intake to the minimum maintenance dose of around 3-5 grams.
- What Happens When You Stop Creatine
- Does Creatine Make You More Vascular?
- Can You Build Muscle Without Creatine?
- Does Creatine Help You Lose Weight?
- Does Creatine Break a Fast?
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About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.