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Chocolate creatine powder being scooped from bucket

What are the side effects of creatine?

10 Nov 2022 • 4 min read

Creatine is a substance found naturally in your body that supports muscle strength. It can be taken as a supplement to enhance muscle growth, as it is thought to improve strength and weight, help muscles recover more quickly during exercise and increase lean muscle mass.

That’s why creatine is considered one of the best supplements for improving your workout performance. Although creatine is known for its performance and strength-related benefits, can taking creatine cause any side effects? Our guide explores all.

What is creatine?

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in small amounts in certain foods and produced by the body. It plays a crucial role in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the primary energy currency of cells, particularly during high-intensity, short-duration activities like weightlifting and sprinting.1

The body can produce creatine from amino acids, primarily in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. Also, creatine can be obtained from dietary sources like meat and fish.3  However, it can sometimes be challenging to get sufficient amounts of creatine from diet alone, especially for those engaged in intense physical activities.4,5

Creatine monohydrate is the most common type of creatine supplement. Creatine hydrochloride (HCL) is another popular option that is believed to offer quicker absorption rates, although there is less research on this.

What are the benefits of taking creatine supplements?

Many athletes and fitness enthusiasts use creatine powder or supplements to enhance their performance. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), has approved claims that daily creatine consumption can enhance the effects of resistance training on muscle strength in adults over the age of 55.6

In addition, creatine supplementation has been extensively studied and is well-known for its potential benefits, including: 
  • Increased ATP Production: Creatine helps regenerate ATP, which is crucial for providing rapid bursts of energy during activities like weightlifting or short sprints.
  • Improved Strength and Power: Creatine supplementation has been shown to enhance strength and power, leading to improved performance in activities requiring explosive movements.7,8,9
  • Muscle Growth: Creatine may contribute to increased muscle mass, likely due to an increase in water content within muscle cells and stimulation of protein synthesis.2 
  • Enhanced Recovery: Some studies suggest that creatine supplementation may reduce muscle damage and inflammation, potentially leading to faster recovery after intense exercise.10
  • Brain Health: There is emerging research indicating the potential cognitive benefits of creatine, suggesting a role in neurological health and function and possible treatment of diseases like epilepsy and traumatic brain injuries.11,12,13 As it stands, there is not enough evidence for this, however.

Is creatine safe to take?

As creatine is one of the most widely researched supplements, multiple long-term studies suggest there are no negative effects associated with most people.14

Research has shown that it’s safe to consume creatine powdercapsules or chewables daily, even over long periods of time.15

However, despite this, some claim that creatine can have side effects, such as causing people to gain weight, experience cramping, or have kidney and liver problems.

What are the dangers of taking too much creatine?

Like any other supplement or medication, taking the correct dosage for individual requirements is vital.

The amount of creatine you should take will depend on a variety of factors, including: 
  • How often you work out 
  • The nature of the exercise (for example, weight training or high-intensity performance endurance) 
  • If you’re creatine loading as part of a creatine cycle
However, the standard dosage recommendation for creatine is around 3-5g per day or 0.1g per kg of body mass per day.14 This is because you also typically produce around 1-2g per day in your body.

If you take too much or larger doses than is recommended, some of the suggested creatine side effects could include bloating, stomach discomfort, dehydration, dry mouth, muscle cramps, hair loss, and damage to the liver and kidneys. 

However, there is little evidence to suggest this is the case, with most studies suggesting that creatine exhibits no harmful side effects.16

It’s also worth noting that taking too much creatine is pointless. Once your muscles are saturated with creatine, consuming more would only cause you to excrete excess creatine through urine, as your body can only hold so much.13

So, if you’re tempted to increase your daily creatine powder scoops above the recommended dosage, not only would this be ineffective but it would be a waste of money, too!

Creatine side effects: FAQs

How does creatine affect water retention?

Taking creatine powder or supplements has been shown to increase the intracellular fluid in your body. This gives your muscles a fuller appearance and can often be associated with water retention.17

Higher levels of water retention and, in turn, ‘bloating’ can occur when using creatine for the first time or during the loading phase of the creatine cycle. This consists of taking around 20-25g of creatine for 5-7 days consecutively.18

This can lead to an increase in body weight which occurs through an increase in muscle mass and water intake into your muscles. This can, therefore, lead to bloating.19

Studies have found that the loading phase can result in a significant gain in total body water.20 However, this is usually short-term and should resolve itself after a few weeks.18

It should also be noted that water retention within the muscle cell is not actually a bad thing – it means you are more anabolic, so you are able to build muscle with more hydrated muscle cells.21

Can creatine cause dehydration?

As it alters your body’s stored water content, a popular misconception is that a creatine side effect is that it can cause dehydration.

However, this is untrue. The shift in cellular water is minimal, and there is no evidence to suggest taking creatine can cause dehydration.1

 It may allow you to have more energy during your workouts, though, so make sure to drink enough water when you exercise to compensate for this.1

Can creatine affect your kidneys or liver?

No, it’s not believed that creatine is problematic for the kidneys or the liver.22

Creatinine, a waste product from the digestion of protein in your food is often measured to diagnose kidney or liver conditions, and levels have been shown to increase slightly when taking creatine23. This, along with one 2006 case study of a single young weight lifter who reported renal dysfunction after taking creatine and other supplements, has led to some concerns that creatine could be harmful.24 However, there’s no other evidence to suggest that creatine harms your liver or kidneys if you’re a healthy person and you take the correct dosage.13

If you have a pre-existing condition affecting your liver or kidneys, make sure to contact your GP before introducing creatine into your routine. 

Can creatine cause hair loss?

There is mixed research surrounding creatine and hair loss, and the current body of evidence does not indicate that creatine supplementation increases or causes hair loss or baldness.14

One study found that a group of college-aged male rugby players who took a creatine supplement for 3 weeks had an increase in a hormone called DHT.25 This hormone has been linked to some (but not all) hair loss or baldness occurrences.26

This is where the common myth originated, but these findings have not been replicated since so it’s very unlikely that creatine leads to hair loss.14

Can creatine cause stomach discomfort/digestion problems?

If you’re taking too much creatine at one time, yes – this can result in the side effect of stomach discomfort.

A study of athletes who supplemented with 10g of creatine in one single serving experienced several side effects, including stomach upset, diarrhoea, and burping.27

However, if you are taking creatine in the loading phase of the cycle, splitting your intake of creatine into 4–5 equal doses throughout the day should avoid these side effects.25

How do creatine side effects vary between men and women?

There is a misconception that creatine supplementation is only suitable for male athletes. But, no evidence suggests that women or older adults cannot take creatine safely.14

However, the side effects of taking too much creatine would be similar in both men and

In summary

Creatine has a wealth of evidence supporting its safety as a daily supplement.

Any creatine side effects are usually a result of taking too much or due to pre-existing conditions, which is why you should speak with your GP before introducing creatine if you have any pre-existing medical conditions.

During the loading phase of a creatine cycle, this could result in water retention and ‘bloating’ – but this should resolve itself within a few weeks. 

Browse our range of creatine supplements online to find the best choice for you.

Need help deciding? From powder and tablets to vegan creatine, our guide on the best creatine supplements has you covered.

Sources

1. Saito S, Cao D, Okuno A, LI X, Zhang P, Musin Kelel, et al. Creatine supplementation enhances immunological function of neutrophils by increasing cellular adenosine triphosphate. BMFH [Internet]. 2022 Jan 1 [cited 2023 Dec 19];41(4):185–94. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9533032/
2. Darinka Korovljev, Valdemar Štajer, Ostojić SM. Relationship between Dietary Creatine and Growth Indicators in Children and Adolescents Aged 2–19 Years: A Cross-Sectional Study. Nutrients [Internet]. 2021 Mar 23 [cited 2023 Dec 20];13(3):1027–7. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/13/3/1027
3. Ostojić SM, Darinka Korovljev, Valdemar Štajer. Dietary intake of creatine and risk of medical conditions in U.S. older men and women: Data from the 2017–2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Food Science and Nutrition [Internet]. 2021 Aug 25 [cited 2023 Dec 20];9(10):5746–54. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8498075/
4. Cooper RG, Naclerio F, Allgrove J, Jiménez A. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition [Internet]. 2012 Feb 6 [cited 2023 Dec 20];9(1). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3407788/
5. Tomcik KA, Camera DM, Bone JL, Ross ML, Jeacocke NA, Tachtsis B, et al. Effects of Creatine and Carbohydrate Loading on Cycling Time Trial Performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise [Internet]. 2018 Jan 1 [cited 2023 Dec 19];50(1):141–50. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28806275/
6. Creatine in combination with resistance training and improvement in muscle strength [Internet]. European Food Safety Authority. 2016 [cited 2024 Feb 5]. Available from: https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/4400
7. Mills S, Candow DG, Forbes SC, J. Patrick Neary, Ormsbee MJ, José António. Effects of Creatine Supplementation during Resistance Training Sessions in Physically Active Young Adults. Nutrients [Internet]. 2020 Jun 24 [cited 2023 Dec 19];12(6):1880–0. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7353308/
8. Hopwood MJ, Graham K, Rooney KB. Creatine supplementation and swim performance: a brief review. Journal of sports science & medicine [Internet]. 2006 [cited 2023 Dec 19];5(1):10–24. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3818661/
9. Wu S, Chen K, Hsu C, Chen HC, Chen J, Yu SY, et al. Creatine Supplementation for Muscle Growth: A Scoping Review of Randomized Clinical Trials from 2012 to 2021. Nutrients [Internet]. 2022 Mar 16 [cited 2023 Dec 19];14(6):1255–5. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8949037/
10. Wax B, Kerksick CM, Jagim AR, Mayo JJ, Lyons B, Kreider RB. Creatine for Exercise and Sports Performance, with Recovery Considerations for Healthy Populations. Nutrients [Internet]. 2021 Jun 2 [cited 2023 Dec 19];13(6):1915–5. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8228369/
11. Kaviani M, Shaw KA, Chilibeck PD. Benefits of Creatine Supplementation for Vegetarians Compared to Omnivorous Athletes: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health [Internet]. 2020 Apr 27 [cited 2023 Dec 19];17(9):3041–1. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7246861/
12. Newman. Neuroprotection and Therapeutic Implications of Creatine Supplementation for Brain Injury Complications. Medical journal (Fort Sam Houston, Tex) [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 Dec 19];(Per 23-4/5/6). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37042504/
13. Alraddadi EA, Amer Khojah, Faisal Alamri, Kecheck HK, Altaf WF, Yousef Khouqeer. Potential role of creatine as an anticonvulsant agent: evidence from preclinical studies. Frontiers in Neuroscience [Internet]. 2023 Jun 29 [cited 2023 Dec 19];17. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10339234/
14. Kreider RB, Kalman D, José António, Ziegenfuss TN, Wildman R, Collins R, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition [Internet]. 2017 Jan 3 [cited 2023 Dec 19];14(1). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5469049/
15. José António, Candow DG, Forbes SC, Gualano B, Jagim AR, Kreider RB, et al. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition [Internet]. 2021 Jan 2 [cited 2023 Dec 20];18(1). Available from: https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w
16. Naderi A, Erick, Ziegenfuss TN, Mark. Timing, Optimal Dose and Intake Duration of Dietary Supplements with Evidence-Based Use in Sports Nutrition. Journal of exercise nutrition & biochemistry [Internet]. 2016 Dec 1 [cited 2023 Dec 20];20(4):1–12. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5545206/
17. Moore SR, Gordon AN, Cabre HE, Hackney AC, Smith‐Ryan AE. A Randomized Controlled Trial of Changes in Fluid Distribution across Menstrual Phases with Creatine Supplementation. Nutrients [Internet]. 2023 Jan 13 [cited 2023 Dec 20];15(2):429–9. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/15/2/429
18. Gann JJ, McKinley-Barnard SK, André T, Schoch RD, Willoughby DS. Effects of a traditionally-dosed creatine supplementation protocol and resistance training on the skeletal muscle uptake and whole-body metabolism and retention of creatine in males. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition [Internet]. 2015 Sep 21 [cited 2023 Dec 19];12(sup1). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4594933/
19. Powers ME, Arnold BL, Weltman AL, Perrin DH, Mistry D, Kahler DM, et al. Creatine Supplementation Increases Total Body Water Without Altering Fluid Distribution. Journal of athletic training [Internet]. 2003 [cited 2023 Dec 19];38(1):44–50. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC155510/ 
20. Deminice R, Francisco Dalla Rosa, Pfrimer K, Ferriolli E, Alceu Afonso Jordão, Cristini E. Creatine Supplementation Increases Total Body Water in Soccer Players: a Deuterium Oxide Dilution Study. International Journal of Sports Medicine [Internet]. 2015 Oct 28 [cited 2023 Dec 19];37(02):149–53. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26509366/ 
 21. Lorenzo I, Mateu Serra-Prat, Juan Carlos Yébenes. The Role of Water Homeostasis in Muscle Function and Frailty: A Review. Nutrients [Internet]. 2019 Aug 9 [cited 2024 Feb 5];11(8):1857–7. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723611/ 
22. Schilling BK, Stone MH, Utter AC, Kearney JT, Mary Jayne Johnson, Coglianese R, et al. Creatine supplementation and health variables: a retrospective study. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise [Internet]. 2001 Feb 1 [cited 2023 Dec 20];183–8. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11224803/ 23. Gounden V, Bhatt H, Ishwarlal Jialal. Renal Function Tests [Internet]. Nih.gov. StatPearls Publishing; 2023 [cited 2023 Dec 20]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507821/
24. Björg Thorsteinsdottir, Grande JP, Garovic VD. Acute Renal Failure in a Young Weight Lifter Taking Multiple Food Supplements, Including Creatine Monohydrate. Journal of Renal Nutrition [Internet]. 2006 Oct 1 [cited 2023 Dec 20];16(4):341–5. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17046619/
25. Justin, Brooks N, Myburgh KH. Three Weeks of Creatine Monohydrate Supplementation Affects Dihydrotestosterone to Testosterone Ratio in College-Aged Rugby Players. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine [Internet]. 2009 Sep 1 [cited 2023 Dec 20];19(5):399–404. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19741313/
26. Fu D, Huang J, Li K, Chen Y, He Y, Sun Y, et al. Dihydrotestosterone-induced hair regrowth inhibition by activating androgen receptor in C57BL6 mice simulates androgenetic alopecia. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy [Internet]. 2021 May 1 [cited 2023 Dec 20];137:111247–7. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0753332221000329
27. Ostojić SM, Zlatko Ahmetović. Gastrointestinal Distress After Creatine Supplementation in Athletes: Are Side Effects Dose Dependent? Research in Sports Medicine [Internet]. 2008 Feb 7 [cited 2023 Dec 19];16(1):15–22. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18373286/
 
Laura Harcourt

Laura Harcourt

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SEO Content Executive

Joined Holland & Barrett: March 2022

BSc

Laura brings her passion for health and wellness to life by creating engaging and informative content on the H&B Health Hub.

Her writing journey began during her studies at the University of Reading, where she discovered a love for content while writing lifestyle articles for the student newspaper. After graduation, Laura's experience in the health and beauty world further fueled her passion for the health and wellness industry.

Now, Laura tackles diverse health and wellness topics on the Health Hub, ranging from supporting those navigating menopause to exploring the fascinating world of adaptogenic mushrooms.

Outside of writing, you'll likely find her conquering her ever-growing Goodreads list, mastering the art of Pilates, or spending quality time with Winston, her golden cocker spaniel.
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