If you currently take a creatine supplement, you may wonder what happens when you stop taking it. Creatine supplementation increases physical performance, reduces fatigue, and increases muscle mass. These benefits emerge once the muscles become saturated with creatine.
When you stop taking creatine, the creatine in your blood serum and your muscle cells gradually return to their baseline levels. Without creatine supplements, most people’s creatine stores remain about 60-80% full.
When you stop taking creatine, you may notice some of the following side effects:
- Less energy in your muscles
- Reduced water weight (shown as scale weight loss)
- Feeling fatigued more quickly during intense exercise
- Muscles appear smaller due to less water retention
- Perceived loss of muscle strength, or greater effort required to match your previous intensity
- Brain fog or less mental focus
Side Effects of Stopping Creatine
Less energy in your muscles
Creatine supplies an abundance of energy to your muscle cells. When you stop taking creatine, you may feel less energized. Your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) may increase compared to when you were taking creatine.
Reduced water weight
Some people experience water retention when taking creatine because it pulls water into the muscle cells, making them look bigger and fuller. You may feel slightly bloated or puffy. When you stop taking creatine, your body releases the fluid through your urine, causing a drop in water weight.
Fatigue during intense exercise
Without the extra supply of energy you get from creatine, you may start to feel gassed more quickly during your workouts. You haven’t lost actual strength, but you may rely more on grit and determination to squeeze out your last few reps.
Muscles look less full
When you lose the water weight caused by creatine, your muscles look less “full” or pumped. You are not losing muscle mass. Rather, your body is flushing out excess water and fluid from the muscle.
Perceived loss of muscle strength
You may feel like you have lost strength when you stop taking creatine due to the drop in your energy levels. Fortunately, any strength gains you have earned while taking creatine and training hard will not be lost. Instead, your body will adapt to rely on its own energy reserves.
Brain fog or less mental focus
Creatine has shown promising effects on brain health and function. Some creatine users notice improved concentration and mental performance. Once you stop taking creatine, these benefits will wear off, and your brain function and clarity will return to its baseline.
Will you lose muscle when you stop taking creatine?
No. You won’t lose the strength and hypertrophy gains you built while taking creatine once you stop.
You may notice your muscles appear less “full” due to losing the water weight gained during creatine monohydrate supplementation. You are not losing muscle mass. Your muscles have less water filling them out.
Additionally, you may have slightly less energy when lifting weights after you stop consuming creatine. You may feel like you have lost strength because you can’t push as much weight with the same amount of effort as when you were supplementing with creatine.
It is important to remember that you have not lost strength. In actuality, you no longer have an abundant supply of energy to push through muscular fatigue.
Everyone responds differently to ceasing creatine supplementation. You may experience some or all of the above side effects. Some people notice fatigue and reduced strength more than others. Others display little to no side effects when they stop taking creatine.
Should I take time off from taking creatine?
You may wonder why you would stop creatine supplementation if it reduces your perceived strength and performance abilities.
The most common reasons for stopping creatine are:
- Experiencing negative side effects
- An existing or emerging chronic renal condition
- Not noticing significant benefits of creatine supplementation
- Wanting to lose weight, including water weight gain caused by creatine supplements
- Cycling creatine to avoid building tolerance and reducing natural creatine production
Creatine cycling involves doing a loading phase and then taking a maintenance dose of creatine for 8 – 12 weeks. You then have a ‘time off’ phase of 2 – 4 weeks, where you stop taking creatine before commencing a new loading phase.
During these 2 – 4 weeks, when you are not taking creatine, you may experience some of the side effects mentioned earlier. Once you start your next loading phase, you should quickly recover.
While some people stop taking creatine out of fear of creatine tolerance or health complications, no research is available to support this claim.
The idea that supplementing with creatine will lead to reduced natural creatine production is also a myth. Your body may produce less while supplementing because there is already an abundant supply. However, this will return to normal as soon as you stop supplementing.
There is no need to stop taking creatine unless due to personalized medical advice or personal preference.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a natural energy source for your muscles that helps them effectively contract. Creatine comes from the Greek root word kreas meaning meat or flesh.
Around half of your body’s creatine stores come from a carnivorous diet, with the other half created in your liver and kidneys.
Most (~95%) of your creatine is stored in your skeletal muscle cells. The other 5% is found in other organs like your brain, kidneys, and heart.
Creatine supplementation works by supplying energy to the muscles, stored as a compound called phosphocreatine.
Your body naturally produces around 2 grams of creatine daily. These 2 grams are used daily for energy and then removed from your body through urine. To get creatine’s strength and performance benefits, you must saturate the muscle’s creatine stores.
What is creatine withdrawal?
Any side effects you experience when you stop taking creatine can be a symptom of creatine withdrawal. These withdrawal symptoms include a perceived reduction in muscle mass, less natural creatine production, loss of water weight from the muscle cells, and fatigue.
Experiencing withdrawal symptoms is expected when you stop taking a creatine monohydrate supplement. Creatine fills your muscles with an abundant source of energy, known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
If you are used to having a surplus of creatine and ATP to fuel your workouts, it’s reasonable that you may notice a change after stopping creatine.
Why do you lose strength when you stop taking creatine?
When you stop taking creatine, overall creatine stores drop. Stored creatine phosphate creates a reserve of energy in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). ATP metabolizes into Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP). The extra phosphate molecule becomes available to fuel anaerobic muscular exertion.
Without this ATP-ADP energy reserve mechanism, you will have less energy and perceived strength in the gym. You will likely struggle to lift the same weights you lifted previously for as many reps without fatiguing.
Will stopping creatine make me look more ripped?
Stopping creatine supplementation often leads to weight loss. But this weight loss is mostly water stored underneath your skin. If your goal is to look as shredded or ‘dry’ as possible, water weight loss from stopping your creatine supplement can be positive.
You may struggle to build lean muscle mass at the same rate as when taking creatine. This reduced rate could hinder future strength and hypertrophy gains. If you decide to cycle creatine, consider any aesthetic or performance events and plan your timing accordingly.
Does stopping creatine affect your mental health?
Creatine efficiently crosses the blood-brain barrier. There has been an increasing amount of research focused on the benefits of creatine monohydrate for people with mental illnesses like depression. If you experience better mental health when taking creatine, you may experience a regression when you stop taking it.
However, for people with mood disorders such as bipolar disorder, creatine supplements may trigger the onset of mania or hypomania. If you have a diagnosed psychiatric condition, check with your doctor before starting or stopping any supplements, including creatine.
Does taking creatine supplements improve brain function?
Daily long-term use of creatine monohydrate supplements increases brain levels of phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine, aka creatine phosphate, stabilizes energy levels in the brain, supports neurotransmitter release, and manages neural cell renewal and management.
Using a supplement to support your natural creatine production may improve mental focus and clarity.
When you stop taking creatine, you may notice more mental fatigue and brain fog as your creatine levels drop.
Depending on how long you have taken creatine, it could take 2 – 6 weeks for the creatine stored in your muscles to leave your body.
Within a few weeks, you will start to feel the effects of reduced creatine levels in your muscles.
If you aren’t sure if you want to cycle off creatine, you need to weigh the pros and cons and consider your unique circumstances and goals.
While you may notice a drop in energy levels, you are unlikely to lose muscle mass when you stop taking creatine. You may also enjoy some side effects of stopping creatine, such as reduced water retention.
The research suggests that long-term creatine supplementation is safe if you take an appropriate dose of around 3 – 5 grams. Always use a high-quality creatine supplement, and get regular medical check-ups to identify any potential reasons that may cause you to stop taking creatine.