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Debunking the Top 10 Creatine Myths
Creatine monohydrate is one of the most popular supplements in the fitness industry. Bodybuilders and competitive athletes commonly use it to improve strength, lean muscle mass, and athletic performance.
Although creatine has over 500 peer-reviewed studies supporting its safety and effectiveness, it remains a target for misconceptions and rumors.
This article will debunk the top 10 creatine myths to help you separate fact from fiction.
1 - CREATINE CAUSES HAIR LOSS
The misconception that creatine causes hair loss stems from one small study in 2009 where college-aged male rugby players who took a creatine supplement experienced an increase in the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
DHT is a male hormone that, in excess, may cause thinning and hair loss.
It is important to note that, although participants’ DHT levels increased, they remained well within normal limits.
What’s more, none of the rugby players actually experienced hair loss.
To date, no other studies have demonstrated that creatine supplementation increases DHT, balding, or hair loss.
2 - CREATINE CAUSES WEIGHT GAIN
Many people avoid taking creatine dietary supplements because they fear it will cause weight gain and increase body fat.
While creatine can make you gain weight, it is highly unlikely to contribute to fat gain because it has zero calories.
Creatine can cause short-term and long-term weight gain.
SHORT-TERM WEIGHT GAIN
One recent review published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that people can gain between 2.2 and 4.4 pounds during the first week of creatine loading.
This is because, as your muscles become saturated, the creatine draws water into your cells, causing water retention and weight gain.
As a result, you will likely notice an immediate increase in your muscle size — especially following a loading phase.
LONG-TERM WEIGHT GAIN
When paired with resistance training, creatine can increase your strength, body composition, and skeletal muscle mass, which may cause a slight increase in your body weight.
Long-term studies show that creatine users tend to gain an extra 2 to 5 pounds of lean body mass after 4-12 weeks of training compared to non-creatine users.
Researchers believe the increase in muscle gains is because creatine monohydrate allows athletes to train harder. It can also increase lean body mass by decreasing protein breakdown.
3 - CREATINE CAUSES KIDNEY DAMAGE
Many skeptics claim that creatine supplementation can harm the kidneys. This is because creatine can cause a rise in serum creatinine levels.
Elevated creatinine levels are often an early indicator that the kidneys are not working as they should.
Although creatine may cause a slight increase in blood creatinine levels, studies have proven that long-term and short-term creatine supplementation does not cause kidney damage in people with normal kidney function.
Healthy kidneys filter creatinine from your blood, and it is excreted from your body through urine.
4 - YOUR MUSCLES WILL ATROPHY ONCE YOU STOP TAKING CREATINE
One of the most common creatine myths you may hear is that if you stop taking creatine, you will lose your strength and dry muscle mass.
Because creatine adds water volume, you may notice a slight decrease in muscle fullness when you stop taking it. As your muscle creatine stores decline, you may also see a reduction in performance and muscle strength.
However, you will not lose the muscles you built simply by stopping creatine supplementation. Muscle atrophy, or the loss of muscle tissue, often occurs within a few weeks of physical inactivity. It is vital to continue weight training and consume adequate amounts of protein to prevent muscle loss.
5 - CREATINE IS ONLY FOR ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
Although creatine is highly beneficial for individuals who perform high-intensity training, more and more evidence suggests that creatine supplements can also benefit other activities.
For example, studies suggest creatine supplementation can help athletes train longer and recover faster by reducing muscle damage, soreness, and inflammation following intense physical activity.
There is also evidence that creatine can help protect against sports-related injuries and reduce muscle loss during periods of immobilization.
Finally, creatine can help athletes hyper-hydrate before exercising in hot environments, reducing the risk of heat-related illness while training.
6 - WOMEN SHOULDN'T USE CREATINE
Although the majority of creatine research has been carried out in men, new studies confirm that women can also benefit from creatine supplementation.
Although women naturally have slightly more intramuscular creatine phosphate stores than men, females tend to have lower brain creatine levels than men. One recent 2021 study found that, in addition to enhancing exercise capacity and muscle strength, creatine supplements can support bone health and improve mood and cognition in females.
Many females tend to avoid using creatine because they fear it will make them appear bulky or cause weight gain. Women who want to avoid unwanted water retention and bloat may want to consider skipping the creatine loading phase.
7 - YOU NEED TO LOAD CREATINE
You don’t need a creatine loading phase to reap the benefits of creatine supplementation. While a loading phase can help you enjoy the benefits of creatine much sooner (within a week), it is 100% optional.
Although it will take longer, you can skip the loading phase and go straight to the maintenance phase, taking 3-5 grams of creatine daily.
One study found that muscles became fully saturated after participants took 3 grams of creatine for 28 days. Once muscle creatine stores are saturated, they can be maintained by taking 3-5 grams daily.
8 - YOU NEED TO CYCLE OFF CREATINE
Before creatine’s safety was established, experts often advised taking breaks from creatine every few months. We now have hundreds of studies demonstrating the safety of creatine supplementation, so this is no longer an issue.
Many fitness enthusiasts also believe you need to cycle off creatine to prevent your body from developing a tolerance to it. However, no human studies exist to support this theory. You can stay in the maintenance phase for as long as you’d like.
9 - THE MORE EXPENSIVE THE CREATINE, THE MORE BENEFICIAL
Recently, an abundance of “new and improved” creatine blends have hit the market. While companies do a great job marketing their products to make them appear superior, these blends have little to no scientific evidence to support their effectiveness.
All you need is plain creatine monohydrate. In fact, according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, creatine monohydrate is the most clinically effective and extensively studied form of creatine on the market in terms of increasing exercise performance and muscle uptake.
10 - CREATINE IS AN ANABOLIC STEROID
Although most people are now aware that creatine is not an anabolic steroid, the topic still occasionally arises.
Creatine comprises three amino acids: L-arginine, glycine, and L-methionine. It is found naturally in your skeletal muscle and brain. Creatine can also be found in some of the foods we eat, such as red meat, fish, and poultry.
Creatine increases ATP production in the body, thus supplying us with more energy to power through strenuous workouts. It does not, however, share any structural similarities with anabolic steroids, nor does it function the same way in the body.
It is safe for use in sports and is not tested for or banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), or the NCAA.
WHY YOU SHOULD TAKE CREATINE SUPPLEMENTS
Creatine monohydrate has something to offer everyone. It is safe, affordable, and has been supported by hundreds of studies.
In addition to helping increase high-intensity exercise capacity and lean muscle mass during training, creatine has other benefits that you may not be aware of.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand, creatine monohydrate can:
- Enhance post-exercise recovery
- Prevent injuries
- Increase muscle strength
- Improve tolerance to exercise in the heat
- Improve rehabilitation after injury
- Limit damage from concussions
- Prevent bone loss in older individuals
- Reduce mental fatigue
- Increase cognitive function
Despite hundreds of studies demonstrating that creatine is safe for healthy individuals, misconceptions still exist regarding its safety.
Creatine has no adverse effects on kidney function and will not cause hair loss or increase your body fat percentage. It can offer many benefits to women and men alike.
Although there are many new forms of creatine supplements on the market, creatine monohydrate powder is the gold standard for creatine and the safest option.
If you’ve been on the fence about creatine, consider trying it. A creatine dietary supplement may be just what you need to break through to the next fitness level.