Creatine is a molecule produced in your body using three amino acids – glycine, methionine, and arginine. Creatine also naturally occurs in several foods, most notably red meat and seafood. There are high concentrations of creatine in skeletal muscles and the brain. The majority of creatine present in your body is stored in the form of creatine phosphate.
Creatine has several functions, but it’s primarily responsible for replenishing cellular energy, also known as adenosine triphosphate, levels during high-intensity exercise. Creatine phosphate donates its phosphate group to the ADP (adenosine diphosphate) to convert it into ATP.
As you can see, optimal creatine stores may result in greater strength, endurance, power, lean muscle mass, and overall exercise performance. Hence, why creatine supplements have become so popular over the years. Creatine, more specifically creatine monohydrate, is one of the most well-researched ingredients in sports nutrition. Numerous studies have shown that regular use of creatine dietary supplements is safe and effective.
Considering the popularity of creatine, it comes as no surprise that there’s a lot of misinformation and questions involving proper creatine supplementation. In this article, we’re going to answer a commonly asked question, “how much water should I drink with creatine?”
Keep reading to find out where this question came from and what the real answer is!
How much water should I drink with creatine?
Optimally, you should mix 3-5 grams of creatine monohydrate with 6-8 ounces of water and consume it daily. In terms of total daily water intake, aim to consume around a gallon (3-4 liters) of water while supplementing with creatine.
It’s important to note that some individuals will need to drink more water and some may be fine with less. Your daily water intake depends on your body weight, activity level, and how much you sweat. Regardless of whether you supplement with creatine or not, consuming an adequate amount of fluid throughout the day is crucial for performance, recovery, and overall health.
The reason why you may want to consider drinking slightly more water when taking creatine is that it pulls water into the muscle cell. As a result, there’s less water available for other physiological functions.
It’s a good idea to monitor your hydration status by weighing yourself before and after training, assessing the color of your urine (which should be a very light yellow color), and adjusting your water intake as needed. Furthermore, consuming an adequate amount of electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, and phosphorus) along with water ensures that you replenish what may have been lost through sweating and urination.
Does creatine supplementation cause water retention?
Early research suggests that creatine leads to noticeable water retention. The study found that ingesting 20 grams of creatine monohydrate for 6 days increased total body water, extracellular water, and intracellular water.[1,2]
Since creatine is transported into the muscle cells via a sodium-dependent creatine transporter, it also brings water along for the ride. So it’s very feasible that consuming creatine leads to water retention. However, other studies have found that creatine supplementation either doesn’t cause water retention whatsoever or only does for a short period of time.
Most importantly, if water retention does occur, it mainly affects the amount of intracellular water within muscle cells, which is actually beneficial for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. Muscle protein synthesis is a critical process for muscle growth.
Although it’s very unlikely, to avoid excessive water retention while taking creatine, don’t implement a creatine loading phase. A creatine loading phase refers to ingesting 20-30 grams of creatine per day for approximately a week, then switching to a maintenance phase, which involves a creatine intake of 3-5 grams per day.
Not to mention, a creatine loading phase often results in gastrointestinal distress, weight gain, and other side effects. Creatine loading isn’t necessary to obtain the benefits of taking creatine.
Does creatine cause dehydration and muscle cramps?
Another common misconception about creatine is that it causes dehydration and muscle cramps. In the early 2000s, the American College of Sports Medicine recommended that those performing high-intensity exercise in a hot environment should avoid supplementing with creatine.
This notion was based on the premise that because creatine is an osmolyte that encourages greater intracellular fluid uptake by muscle cells, it may increase the risk of muscle cramping and dehydration. The study also speculated that during times of significant loss of body water (i.e. sweating while exercising in a hot environment), the increased intracellular fluid from the creatine can lead to extracellular dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
With that said, later studies actually found that creatine users are less likely to experience muscle cramping, health illnesses, dehydration, injuries, and muscle tightness. In summary, as long as you’re consuming an adequate amount of water and electrolytes for proper hydration, it’s highly unlikely for creatine to cause dehydration or cramping.
Avoiding creatine loading will further reduce the risk of any negative side effects that may be associated with creatine supplementation.
What are the benefits of Creatine?
It’s important to note that the benefits of creatine aren’t noticeable right away and some people may not observe any whatsoever. After supplementing with 3-5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day for 3-4 weeks, you may notice subtle increases in strength, power, endurance, and lean muscle mass.
More recently, researchers have been focused on what creatine supplements can do for the brain. One systematic review of randomized controlled trials found that creatine reliably improves memory and intelligence/reasoning in healthy individuals.
This result just goes to show that creatine is an excellent supplement regardless of whether you resistance train or not. That said, the combination of resistance training and creatine will likely yield the best results.
Creatine is a safe and effective supplement that offers numerous benefits, including increases in strength, power, lean muscle mass, and cognitive function. Creatine acts as an osmolyte, which means it draws water into the muscle cell. Consuming 3-5 grams of creatine monohydrate is not likely to cause a significant amount of water retention.
Whether you supplement with creatine or not, consuming enough water and electrolytes is crucial for optimal health and performance. The easiest way to assess your hydration status is by checking the color of your urine. If it’s a dark yellow color, you’re dehydrated. If it’s clear, you are overhydrated. Adjust your water intake accordingly.
When taking creatine, make sure to mix it with 6-8 ounces of water and consume 3-4 liters of water per day. Most active individuals typically drink ~1 gallon of water per day anyways. That’s plenty if you are considering taking creatine as well. The time of day when you supplement with creatine isn’t important, but taking creatine daily will give you optimal results.
To avoid any potential side effects from taking creatine, do not implement a creatine loading phase. If you are taking a pre-workout, check to see if it contains creatine and is at an adequate dose. If not, consider taking creatine monohydrate on its own or adding it to the pre-workout. As always, consult with a qualified health care professional prior to taking a creatine supplement.
- Antonio, J. et al. “Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show?” Journal of the Internation Society of Sports Nutrition, vol. 18, 13. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w
- Hultman, E. et al. “Muscle creatine loading in men.” Journal of Applied Physiology. (1985) 1996, 81, 232-237. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8828669/
- Avgerinos K. et at. July 2018. “Effects of creatine supplementation on cognitive function of healthy individuals: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials.” Experimental Gerontology, vol.108:166-173. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6093191/