What Happens When I Stop Taking Creatine? Will I Lose My Gains?

Creatine is without a doubt the most successful and widely used bodybuilding supplement of all time. It’s been proven time and again to enhance power, strength, athletic performance, and lean body mass. Creatine has even been shown to improve cognitive function too.


Simply put, creatine flat out works.


Best of all, creatine is readily available and it’s dirt cheap.


So when you take all of those factors into consideration, you’ve got nothing to lose by supplementing with creatine.


But, what happens when you stop taking creatine?


Will your hard earned gains evaporate and your muscles shrivel to the size of that of a twelve year old girl?


We’re going to answer that very question today, as we explore the topic of what happens when you cycle off creatine.


To begin to answer that question, we first need to understand what creatine is and what it does in the body.


So…


What is Creatine?


Creatine is a substance naturally occurring in red meat and produced by the human body. It’s created from three amino acids (glycine, arginine, and methionine).[1,2]

Chemically known as α-methyl guanidine-acetic acid, creatine is primarily stored (about 95%) in skeletal muscle tissue in the form of phosphocreatine. The remaining 5% is stored in your liver, kidneys, and brain. How much creatine your body stores at any given time is based on a few factors[1]:


  • Amount of lean muscle mass
  • Amount of meat consumption
  • Levels of muscle building hormones (testosterone, IGF-1, etc.)

What Does Creatine Do?


Creatine primarily helps build muscle and strength in two ways:


Creatine Enhances ATP (Energy) Production


The main mechanism by which creatine aids muscle growth is by improving energy production in the body.


The simplest unit of cellular energy is a molecule called adenosine triphosphate. You probably know this molecule by its more common name ATP.


The more ATP your muscle cells can store, the more quickly they can regenerate it and continue powering your muscles during training.[3]


In order for a cell to get energy from ATP, it must first break the larger ATP molecule into several smaller ones. During this process, several byproducts are generated which your body can recycle to generate more ATP. The byproduct we’re most interested in with respect to creatine, is adenosine diphosphate (ADP).


Now, here’s where creatine enters the energy producing picture…


When you ingest creatine, it binds to a phosphate molecule and your body then stores it in the form of phosphocreatine. During the ATP regeneration process, creatine donates its phosphate group to ADP, transforming it into the energy behemoth that is ATP.[4] This ultimately increases your muscles’ ability to perform at a high level for longer periods of time before fatiguing.


Unfortunately, the body’s natural creatine stores (i.e. without supplementation) are pretty low[5], and once they become depleted, your ability to rapidly replenish ATP goes downhill pretty quickly. That’s when your muscles start turning to glucose and/or fatty acids for ATP production.


However, when using a creatine supplement, such as Creapure creatine monohydrate, you can significantly increase your creatine stores, up to 20%![6]


With greater creatine reserves in your muscles, you have significantly more efficient energy production and ATP regeneration, which leads to improvements in[7,8,9]:


  • Anaerobic capacity
  • Strength
  • Power
  • Fatigue resistance

  • In other words, supplementing with creatine enables you to move more weight for more reps, which provides a greater training stimulus for your muscles, ultimately giving them a reason to grow! As a result of the increased workload, and provided you're consuming a calorie surplus, you will build muscle and increase strength.


    But, there’s another way that creatine improves lean mass gains...


    Creatine Increases Cellular Hydration


    The second mechanism by which creatine enhances muscle growth is that it increases the water content of muscle cells[10], which causes an expansion of the muscle cell. You body interprets this expansion as a “threat” of sorts to the cell’s survival and doubles down by reinforcing the structure of the cell. This leads to increased size and strength.


    But there’s more to cellular hydration and muscle growth…


    It also positively affects nitrogen balance and the expression of various genes that ultimately impact hypertrophy (a.k.a. muscle growth).[10,11]


    Together, these mechanisms enable you to train longer and bang out more reps while staving off fatigue. Ultimately, you’re accomplishing more work during your training sessions, and in the presence of a surplus of calories, you will “make gains” and increase muscle growth.


    Now, let’s say you’ve been supplementing with creatine for a while and for whatever reason you decide to stop using creatine. The inevitable question is...


    Will Stopping Creatine Cause Me to Lose My Gains?


    If you choose to stop creatine (which there is no need to do, barring medical issues), you may notice a slight decrease in muscle fullness along with some decline in performance, strength, and stamina. However, you will by no means "lose muscle" or lose your gains unless you eat at a dramatic deficit or take a long hiatus from training.


    Remember, the muscle you gained was a result of improvements you made in performance and eating a surplus of calories. Creatine doesn’t actually build muscle or create it. It simply helps you to perform more work during training.


    As such, when you stop taking creatine, the muscle you built while supplementing with creatine will remain in place.


    However, you may notice less muscle fullness (due to reduced water retention) as well as a slight drop off in performance (due to lower stores of creatine in the muscle).


    This leads to another question…


    Do I Need to Cycle Creatine?


    NO.


    There is no need to cycle creatine for the fit, healthy individual.


    The main reason individuals cycle compounds is to give their body a break as well as restore normal hormone production and ease the burden on vital internal organs, such as the liver. This is especially true when discussing the topic of anabolic steroids, which downregulate natural testosterone production, place unnecessary stress on the liver, and can lead to permanent shut down.


    But, don’t make that assumption with creatine. While it does reduce natural creatine production in the body[12], supplementing with creatine is actually a very good thing.


    Aside from the slew of performance and cognitive benefits of creatine, supplementing with it also reduces the burden on the body to synthesize creatine, which is quite taxing, and should you stop taking creatine, your body resumes its normal rate of production.[13]


    How Much Creatine Should I Take?


    Last but not least, let’s review the dosing for creatine.


    Creatine is a saturation-based ergogenic, meaning that you need to take it consistently and continually to see its benefits. It does not offer any acute benefits, as say, caffeine or citrulline does.


    As such, simply consume 5 grams per day of creatine and in a couple weeks time you will start seeing the benefits, or, if you want to accelerate things a bit, you can take 20 grams per day for 5 to 7 days to “load” your muscles with creatine. After that first week, you can lower to a “maintenance” dose of 5 grams per day.


    One last little creatine biohack…


    If you really want to get the most out of creatine, you might want to take it post workout and without any caffeine, as some research indicates consuming creatine with caffeine inhibits absorption.[14]


    Takeaway


    Creatine is the most studied, proven, and time-tested supplement in the history of sports nutrition. No matter if you’re an elite endurance athlete, competitive powerlifter, aspiring bodybuilder, or casual gym rat, if you’re not supplementing with creatine, you’re seriously missing out.


    Countless studies have shown that creatine…


  • Enhances muscle and strength gains strength and muscle gain
  • Increases power output
  • Accelerates muscle recovery
  • Reduces fatigue

  • This is all in addition to a slew of other benefits we’ll get into in future articles.

    Plus, creatine is incredibly affordable, available, and best of all...SAFE.


    Will you lose your gains if you stop taking creatine?


    Not by a long shot.


    But, why would you want to stop taking creatine when there’s so much to be gained from supplementing with it?!



    References

    1. Persky AM, Brazeau GA. Clinical Pharmacology of the Dietary Supplement Creatine Monohydrate. Pharmacol Rev. 2001;53(2):161 LP-176.
    2. Bird SP. Creatine Supplementation and Exercise Performance: A Brief Review. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 2003;2(4):123-132.
    3. Wallimann T, Tokarska-Schlattner M, Schlattner U. The creatine kinase system and pleiotropic effects of creatine. Amino Acids. 2011;40(5):1271-1296. doi:10.1007/s00726-011-0877-3.
    4. Guzun, R., Timohhina, N., Tepp, K., Gonzalez-Granillo, M., Shevchuk, I., Chekulayev, V., … Saks, V. A. (2011). Systems bioenergetics of creatine kinase networks: physiological roles of creatine and phosphocreatine in regulation of cardiac cell function. Amino Acids, 40(5), 1333–1348. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00726-011-0854-x
    5. Schlattner, U., Tokarska-Schlattner, M., & Wallimann, T. (2006). Mitochondrial creatine kinase in human health and disease. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, 1762(2), 164–180. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbadis.2005.09.004
    6. Casey, A., Constantin-Teodosiu, D., Howell, S., Hultman, E., & Greenhaff, P. L. (1996). Creatine ingestion favorably affects performance and muscle metabolism during maximal exercise in humans. The American Journal of Physiology, 271(1 Pt 1), E31-7. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.1996.271.1.E31
    7. Eckerson, J. M., Stout, J. R., Moore, G. A., Stone, N. J., Iwan, K. A., Gebauer, A. N., & Ginsberg, R. (2005). Effect of creatine phosphate supplementation on anaerobic working capacity and body weight after two and six days of loading in men and women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(4), 756–763. https://doi.org/10.1519/R-16924.1
    8. Camic, C. L., Hendrix, C. R., Housh, T. J., Zuniga, J. M., Mielke, M., Johnson, G. O., … Housh, D. J. (2010). The effects of polyethylene glycosylated creatine supplementation on muscular strength and power. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(12), 3343–3351. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181fc5c5c
    9. Anomasiri, W., Sanguanrungsirikul, S., & Saichandee, P. (2004). Low dose creatine supplementation enhances sprint phase of 400 meters swimming performance. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand = Chotmaihet Thangphaet, 87 Suppl 2, S228-32.
    10. Safdar, A., Yardley, N. J., Snow, R., Melov, S., & Tarnopolsky, M. A. (2008). Global and targeted gene expression and protein content in skeletal muscle of young men following short-term creatine monohydrate supplementation. Physiological Genomics, 32(2), 219–228. https://doi.org/10.1152/physiolgenomics.00157.2007
    11. Parise, G., Mihic, S., MacLennan, D., Yarasheski, K. E., & Tarnopolsky, M. A. (2001). Effects of acute creatine monohydrate supplementation on leucine kinetics and mixed-muscle protein synthesis. Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 91(3), 1041–1047. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.2001.91.3.1041
    12. McMorris, T., Mielcarz, G., Harris, R. C., Swain, J. P., & Howard, A. (2007). Creatine supplementation and cognitive performance in elderly individuals. Neuropsychology, Development, and Cognition. Section B, Aging, Neuropsychology and Cognition, 14(5), 517–528. https://doi.org/10.1080/13825580600788100
    13. Cooper R, Naclerio F, Allgrove J, Jimenez A. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2012;9:33. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-33.
    14. Vandenberghe, K., Gillis, N., Van Leemputte, M., Van Hecke, P., Vanstapel, F., & Hespel, P. (1996). Caffeine counteracts the ergogenic action of muscle creatine loading. Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 80(2), 452–457. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.1996.80.2.452


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