Creatine Use in Women and Water Weight

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Creatine Use in Women and Water Weight

Creatine is one of the longest-standing forms of amino acid supplementation known to the health and wellness industry, and for this reason, it’s also one of the most extensively studied amino acids too; amassing over 80,000+ comprehensive studies at a minimum. With supplementation in any form comes questions, and with that answers that aren’t always accurate. Below we will be covering one of the biggest question’s women have a concern with when looking into creatine and that is, “Will creatine make me hold water weight?”.  

History of Creatine

First discovered in 1832, creatine is a naturally occurring organic compound found in muscle, and available through our daily dietary food intake often across foods like meat and fish as the main sources. A typical diet consisting of various meat sources will see an intake of 1-2 grams of creatine intake daily. [1] This ingestion pools and stores in muscle cells predominantly and, with the majority of studies conducted on males in the past, we have a

Creatine chemical formula

standard measure that an average 70kg male will hold a pool of approximately 120-140g of creatine in the body.[2] Despite its early discovery, creatine didn’t take off in popularity until it was used in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games by champion 100m British sprinter, Linford Christie, who had spoken on his use of the supplement in his pre-Olympic games training regime. [3] Since this gain in popularity, it’s estimated that creatine alone contributes to $400 million in dietary supplement sales annually, from a 38.8 billion-dollar USA Industry, with global estimated consumption of 2.7 million kilograms! [4][5]

Why so popular, what does Creatine do?

In 1926, it was quantified that creatine was stored and retained in the muscle of the human body predominantly and that the average turnover was around 2g a day. Meaning that we utilised, and also consumed, around the amount we lost, maintaining retention of this amino acid.

Creatine contributes to the rapid use and restoration of energy demand that we place on it during exercise. Making it a very sensible option for that 100m sprinter back in 1992 to use for a potential winning difference. It does this through the way our cells use and demand energy, supporting the ATP pathway for energy production. Adenosine Tri-phosphate (ATP) is the energy currency exchange in our cells that is fuelled by lipids and glucose converted from our diet. However, when a quick short demand for energy at maximum output is desired; (think a high-intensity exercise like that of sprinting) – stores of creatine work alongside ATP in the form of Adenosine triphosphate-phosphocreatine (ATP-PCr). This synergy allows us to reach maximum efficiency for that first 5-10 seconds, so that we can more adequately synthesise more ATP to support the ongoing demand.[6] The stores of creatine in this regard are used quickly and we only hold a limited amount for this.

Woman pressing a barbell overhead

 

In shortCreatine supports the first 5-10 seconds of explosive energy demand such as that required in weight lifting and high-intensity training, allowing our body to adequately fuel more production of energy from thereon.[6]

Is it just for training?

No, that’s the beauty of it and also why supplementation is recommended – you may not be getting more than the turnover amount used across the day and training. Creatine goes beyond just training and recently, as at 2021, a brilliant study was conducted on the use of creatine in women’s health from a lifespan perspective.

Females statistically exhibit 70-80% lower creatine stores than their male counterparts.[7][8] It’s important to note this, because creatine also exists in the central nervous system, suggesting that it plays a key role in the neural support of exercise too. Women also generally tend to consume less creatine in their diet which would correlate with substantially lower retention levels than males.

Research is now correlating the important role of creatine in these areas of the body:

Mood – neurotransmission of dopamine and serotonin metabolites, (our feel good and motivation-related neurotransmitters) are directly linked with creatine metabolism in the cerebral spinal fluid.[9][10]

Cognition and sleep – the brain requires copious amounts of energy to fund activity and cognition processes; this results in the rapid reduction of PCr

Woman smiling and holding a water bottle after a tough workout in the gym

levels to maintain energy (ATP) levels. Creatine supplementation has been shown to support greater neural ATP resynthesis, which provides extreme benefit for tasks that place a higher demand on the frontal cortex of the brain. The frontal cortex is responsible for high-level cognition which includes attention to detail, working memory, and how we make social evaluations on stimuli coming in from external environments. [11][12][13]

With relevance to these factors in women’s health, women perceive stress differently to men, often practicing multi-tasking, which require higher cognition and attention to detail. Women are also more susceptible to sleep deprivation around pregnancy, stress-related issues, post-partum demands and menopause/post-menopause hormonal fluctuations. [14][15] We know enough now to understand that stress impacts sleep quality through cortisol increase, as a result, sleep deprivation can lead to poor cognitive performance. Creatine’s assistance in the support of mental performance, therefore, plays a critical role in the outcome of both factors.

What about the water weight!?

A major concern for women wanting to venture into the use of creatine in their daily lifestyle is that “creatine holds water weight and makes you look puffy and watery”. This statement is relatively unfounded through the literature and seems to result from the misconception of drawing a correlation between how creatine works in the body versus what that could look like physically.

There is a reluctance for women to use creatine due to the misconception surrounding rapidly gaining weight.  This relies on the underlying thought process that creatine improves cellular hydration holding - which it does, however, this water weight is more likely to only really be seen in males who tend to use the old-school method of a “loading phase” having up to 20g of creatine across a day for a given number of days. [16][17]

fit woman standing in a sunlight room with kettlebells

A woman using a daily consistent 5g dose [18] of creatine with their healthy diet is unlikely to hold water weight at all, and if so, it would be temporary. The use of water across and through cellular function fluctuates constantly regardless of creatine use. If anything, the hydration aspect should be seen as a positive factor, especially as men and women age. 

Another myth to debunk here is that you need to do a ‘loading phase’ that’s not true. Studied side by side, a consistent dose of creatine at 5g per day versus a 1g per kg method loading phase led to similar retention levels overall. [18]

Take home message?

Throughout their lifespan, women likely require creatine across the entire body system in a more various and unique ways than men. To support an active lifestyle, mental performance, sleep, hormonal pathways and mood. The use of creatine supplementation to level out these statistically lower levels could see huge benefits in a woman’s overall quality of life.


 

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Article written by Brooklyn Naylor for ATP Science.

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