Creatine Supplementing for Women: The Good, The Bad and The Bloated

by Charlotte on December 29, 2010 · 30 comments

Proof that even the skinniest girl will look bloated if she stands wrong. And this is how 80% of Star magazine’s headlines are born...

Increased muscle growth, faster recovery, increased endurance, less body fat, reversal of the beginning stages of heart failure and greater mental acuity (about a 10 point increase in IQ!) are just a few of the many benefits of the supplement creatine. Benefits, I might add, that are very well supported by reliable research as creatine is possibly the most researched athletic supplement out there. So why isn’t everyone running to take this miracle in a powder? Indeed, it’s estimated that upwards of 75% of professional athletes and Olympians take it so why aren’t more of us average Janes taking it?

That’s the question I found myself asking as I read about it in several fitness books this past week. It isn’t that I’ve never heard of it before – you can’t spend more than 10 minutes on a weight floor without somebody sprinkling white powder into their drink (note: if they’re sprinkling white powder into your drink you are in one of the few situations in which it is totally appropriate to drop a weight on someone’s foot) – I just figured it was one of those kooky things that bodybuilders did, you know like wrapping chains around their bench press bar and making sex noises during every rep. But after reading breathless reports of its amazing powers and virtual lack of side effects, I took it as a sign when I found a small canister on clearance at Target. I bought it.
Perhaps I should not buy supplements on clearance at a mega-grocery store but that’s a discussion for another day. At any rate, I took my first dose yesterday. The white sparkly powder (seriously, Edward Cullen is jealous) didn’t dissolve well in the recommended 8 oz of water but it also didn’t taste like anything so I chugged it down and went about my business. An hour later this was me:
Okay so this isn’t ME me but my belly was so swollen I pretty much looked 4-months pregnant like J.Lo. here (p.s. Elvis only wishes he could design a maternity line this awesome). While creatine doesn’t have any serious side effects – anecdotal reports of severe cramping and dehydration have been disproven in studies – it does have one very uncomfortable side effect: Bloating. And not just “my period is imminent, hide the cookies” bloating but “holy crap, if you poke me with a pin I’ll turn into an elephant sprinkler” bloating. While I peed like a racehorse for the rest of the day and the bloating was gone within a few hours, still, I was not happy. Before I tell you more about my little experiment, here are some FAQs about the supplement. (Read here for more info and hilarious answers.)
What is Creatine?
Creatine, an organic compound produced naturally from amino acids in our kidneys and liver and stored in our muscles, was first discovered in the 1800′s. By the early 1900′s it was already in use as a performance aid (and I mean that in the non-Levitra sense, egads marketing has warped me!). This extensive history has made it one of the most studied supplements on the planet.
There are several different types of creatine and prices range from pennies a serving to $120 for a small canister. Creatine monohydrate, the kind I took that made me inflate like a Macy’s Parade float, is the cheapest and most common. Other types of creatine like creatine ethyl ester are supposed to not have the bloating/gas side effect but of course they cost more. And you don’t find them on clearance at Target, precluding any “the universe made me buy it” arguments.
How do you use Creatine?
Most sources recommend “loading” for the first 4-5 days by taking 20-30 grams a day with afterwards taking 5-10 grams a day for maintenance. You maintain this load for about 6 weeks and then you stop the creatine for 2-6 weeks before starting a new cycle. Although I did read several recommendations that said to never stop taking it, just to repeat the loading every couple of months.
Most sites I read recommend taking one dose within a half hour of finishing your weight workout and a second right before bed (presumably so you go through the distended-whale stage in your sleep). Make sure that no matter when you take it, you are drinking a ton of water.
What are the effects of Creatine?
It works by drawing water into your muscles and because of this it has the dual effect of 1) making your “pump” or the visible size of your muscles look larger and 2) making you gain weight about 1.5-6 pounds during the first week as your body retains this extra water. The water weight is lost after stopping the creatine but you retain the extra muscle you built – in studies athletes on creatine gained about 5 pounds more of muscle than athletes not on creatine doing the same training program.
Should I be capitalizing Creatine?
I have no idea.
After doing all this research on it, I am super intrigued by the benefits but I have one main concern. It’s the weight gain. Don’t even pretend you are surprised. While I’m still not weighing myself (two months now scale free, yay me!!) the thought of doing something that could make me gain 5 pounds in one week makes me want to run and cry in my closet just for old time’s sake. I don’t care if it is water weight. When your pants don’t fit, your pants don’t fit. I also am not thrilled about my muscles getting “bigger.” Yes, I love my new Rachel Cosgrove muscles and I love being strong but I don’t necessarily want them any bigger. Less body fat? Higher metabolism? More energy? Yes, please! But I’d like those without the hypertrophy.
Unsurprisingly, when I threw this question out on Twitter, the only people who responded that they had taken it were men. I think a lot of women are scared away from creatine for the same reasons that I am: we don’t want to gain weight and we don’t want bigger muscles. But what about our lack of testosterone – wouldn’t that inherently limit our muscle growth? (And since creatine is not a hormone it would not impact our testosterone or estrogen levels.) And if we’re gaining weight but it’s all muscle, isn’t that a good thing? Plus: TEN IQ POINTS. Who doesn’t want to be smarter? (Notice how the reversal of heart disease doesn’t even make my top 3? Hahaha…)
I’m stymied. Help me out! Am I being an idiot and looking for a magic solution in a jar? Or does this fall in the “why WOULDN’T you?!” category like fish oil or vitamin D? Any of you take creatine? Anyone want to reach through their monitor and slap some sense into me?

Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2010. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everythingfor more of my crazy antics and uncomfortable over-shares!

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

tammy August 15, 2011 at 1:51 am

i want to start taking Creatin but is it good for u, and i want to lose 20 lbs, will it help

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Manesseh September 8, 2011 at 9:40 am

Yes anywhere from 3-5 grams per day.is great for women. Don’t buy the cheap kind like Charlotte did. If you really want to lose 20lbs tho eat as clean as you possible can. Ditch processed foods, sugary junk, and eat 5-6 small meals a day! Frink and obscene amount of water. 80% is what you put in your body 20% is excercise! What you eat is critical to your success!

Hope this helps!
Manesseh

I’m on Twitter and Facebok also!

http://www.facebook.com/TineySpark
http://www.Twitter.com/Tineyspark

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trichelle April 3, 2012 at 7:25 am

I want to gain weight not muscles which one will help. Somebody told me to get creatin but I don’t know which one

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Michele February 12, 2014 at 12:10 am

Cupcakes. Cupcakes will help with this.

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Anna May 10, 2012 at 1:28 pm

I take creatine , and researched before I took it. I love my creatine. I have not gained weight on it, only muscle. The biggie with creatine is your diet, you cannot eat sugary foods and drinks while on it, otherwise you will blow up. I also researched which ones more women used, I ended up getting one that is pure creatine ( nothing extra added) . Drink lots of water with this too! I highly recommend this , as long as you avoid the most dangerous ingredient….SUGAR!

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Ginette May 14, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Hi, Ana, what brand/type is the pure creatine you ended up getting? It’s been pretty hard for me to find anything without additives…

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solace June 6, 2012 at 10:53 am

I am a 25 year old female, and I use 1x scoop/day of Pure Creatine from Puritans’ Pride. They often have a “Buy One, Get 2 Free” sale on their private label, so shop smart and you can fill a 30x20x15 box to the brim with supplements, and only pay about $65 WITH SHIPPING! (I just did this last week) http://www.puritan.com/creatine-515/creatine-powder-000901

I have mild bloating, but not to the point where I have to pull out my jeans in the next size up- and I only cramp if I don’t eat breakfast prior, but cramping subsides after half a sandwich. The sugar.. I mix mine with cranberry juice and have not noticed an impact, but I’m not big on sugary foods which might be why I do not personally see a problem with juice.
As far as gaining weight, I think it’s important to remember that muscle weighs less than fat, and maybe you’ll begin building muscle quicker than you are burning the fat, which would [according to the scale] give you the impression that you’re just getting HUGE. As long as the notches I use in my belt are consistent, I think the scale can just go to hell!

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gisel July 30, 2012 at 2:18 pm

correction, muscle weighs more then fat, not the other way around..

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chelsey July 14, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Correction, both muscle and fat weigh the same; muscle just takes less mass to achieve the same result ;-)

Sorry one of those sayings that drive me mental

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Bee September 4, 2012 at 9:28 am

Correction to you both: muscle weighs as much as fat but is more dense. Meaning it just takes up less space at the same weight. But a pound of muscle is the same * weight* as a pound of fat. :)

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Kohl June 5, 2013 at 1:56 pm

I don’t want to be a jerk… but the logic behind this post is crazy wrong.. by this rationale… EVERYTHING on earth weighs the same lol…

A pound of feathers and a pound steel weigh the same… but the items themselves don’t weigh the same… the force of gravity (i.e. the weight) on the two items is different…

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Melissa September 12, 2012 at 9:45 am

I started taking it this week and I haven’t seen any bloating. I usually take one serving in the afternoon at lunch and then an hour before I work out. The only thing is, I work out at night, so I may not be seeing the bloating as much as someone who takes two servings throughout the day. I have noticed the results during my workouts. I did my regular sets (that were not impossible, but not easy either) and I found that I had to increase my weights or add a set!!! As for the weight gain, I haven’t seen it. I have lost 3 pounds in the past 6 days and I feel amazing. I can see that my legs are already looking slimmer…more lean? I’m excited to continue and to see how this works out. Good luck!!!

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Morgan December 13, 2012 at 8:03 am

What kind did you take? I think you may have sold me on it!

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Melissa May 24, 2013 at 9:34 am

Sorry that I didn’t reply sooner. I didn’t receive any alerts saying you had posted a response.

I’m taking ON (Optimal Nutrition) Creatine Complex. I have been using it since early September and I love it. I am also using a preworkout formula called C4 and I take protein supplements as well.

Did you end up taking anything yourself? If so, what did you take and did you like it?

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Janit May 20, 2013 at 2:13 am

What type of creatine are you using? And which company?

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Melissa May 24, 2013 at 9:33 am

Janit,

I’m taking ON (Optimal Nutrition) Creatine Complex. I have been using it since early September and I love it. I am also using a preworkout formula called C4 and I take protein supplements as well.

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Megan August 20, 2013 at 3:26 am

Just a heads up, C4 does have creatine in it as well. Its an awesome pre workout though.

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Sarah March 27, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Just a quick note, when you take creatine, your muscles do increase in size, but this is not due to hypertrophy. Just like the rest of your body, your muscles actually retain more water. This is why they appear bigger. You might notice that they also appear more ‘soft’. This is because of the retained water. Cheers,

sarah

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Stacy Cross September 27, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Creatine will help you lift more weight and increase the amount of reps you can perform.. by lifting more weight you will see more results, and this is why creatine is very helpful. No one should expect it to just give you a 10 lb increase in muscle mass, and yes it is water that saturates the muscles. When the water saturates your muscles and you are getting the carbs/protein to recover you will see muscle gains and more fat loss. Great way to work on your body composition and see results after a plateau.

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best Creatine to take November 2, 2013 at 1:59 am

You have made some really good points there. I looked on the net for more info
about the issue and found most individuals will go along with
your views on this web site.

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Serena January 27, 2014 at 11:50 am

Is there a difference between pure, micronized creatine monohydrate powder and the creatine complex blend?

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nyc967 February 13, 2014 at 6:46 pm

There are no side effects with proper creatine supplementation, as creatine is a natural source your muscles need on a daily basis from your diet. Creatine monohydrate absorbs water from your blood stream into your muscle cells. For those who do not drink enough water dehydration can be a negative side effect. This is not a concern for those drinking proper amounts of water on a daily basis.

Taking more creatine is not going to help. I use the Dr Max Powers Creatine 3X Elite because it gives you the most creatine, wit htheleast effect on your kidneys. Kidneys are the #1 organ effected by dehydration for too much creatine. i have been used the Dr Max Powers Creatine Elite for 3 years without no side effects.

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VA April 27, 2014 at 3:25 pm

I plan on starting creatine this week and am very worried about the bloating because my mid section is already my problem area,(I already look bloated). So, my question is should I not use creatine because of my body type which is heavier in the middle.

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LuLu May 8, 2014 at 5:39 pm

I use creatine daily. It gives me the energy and fatigue-fighting power to withstand high-impact and cardio training. My muscles become defined much more easily and quickly than they do when I am only relying on my sheer willpower to get through a workout. I naturally have an athletic build but I am in no way getting “bigger”. Rather I find my body is leaning out and defining those sexy areas (chest, triceps, lower abs). The bloating is an issue but I have found the more you sweat, the less bloat there is.

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Heather June 8, 2014 at 9:34 am

I take creatine daily and have had no bloating but I drink a lot of water

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