Whether you’re entering a bodybuilding competition or are simply a recreational lifter, you’ll know that creatine is one of the most studied effective supplements in sports nutrition for increasing performance and packing on muscle.
But what if you’re ready to start your fat loss journey and want to maintain muscle mass?
- Should you take creatine while cutting?
- Will taking creatine help or hurt you when you’re going through your cutting phase?
Keep reading for the complete low down on taking creatine while cutting and making the most out of your supplementation during your cutting phase.
- Creatine is indirectly beneficial to your fat loss efforts and is worth taking
- Creatine helps keep muscles hydrated (and therefore, anabolic), looking fuller and provides increased athletic performance. All positive things which are compromised on a heavy calorie deficit
- Creatine does not directly help with fat loss, apart from in one study that showed it may have small fat loss benefits in over 50’s
Should I Take Creatine During My Cutting Phase?
Yes, taking a creatine supplement regularly while cutting is just as beneficial as taking it as you bulk up, maybe even more so.
When you’re in a calorie deficit, you are less anabolic, athletic performance decreases which means more potential lean muscle mass loss.
This, in turn, may make cutting and fat loss harder.
If there is a calorie-free, studied safe and effective supplement that can help your muscles become more anabolic (through hydration) and increase their performance, why wouldn’t you take it?
That’s exactly what creatine is and does.
There is even some evidence that it can help you with fat loss directly. A group of over 50’s lost 0.5kg more fat mass, compared to those who didn’t take creatine. (1)
But, of course, this is a very specific group of people and it can’t be concluded creatine would have the same effect in younger, trained populations.
In my personal experience, as a professional fitness competitor who has reached the very depths of my fat stores, I’ve found creatine to be an essential and helpful natural supplement for a fat loss phase, specifically for retaining muscle and performance while on a calorie deficit.
Can Creatine Supplementation Help You Lose Body Fat?
Maintaining creatine stores via supplementation can help you lose weight, indirectly.
Creatine helps with fat loss indirectly in the following ways:
- supplying muscles with energy and increasing performance (potentially increasing calories burned)
- keeping muscles hydrated and therefore, more anabolic (where a fat loss phase generally puts you in catabolism – muscle breakdown)
- keeping muscles looking fuller and more defined
The more direct contributor when trying to cut fat is your calorie intake and output.
However, as discussed, creatine can most certainly “help” you lose body fat by helping to retain muscle size, aid in muscle recovery and burn a few extra calories through the performance increases it provides.
An Overview of Creatine and the Cutting Phase
Let’s have a brief look at these two things:
How Does Creatine Work?
Creatine is made from naturally occurring amino acids in the human body which are used as a source of energy.
Taking creatine monohydrate increases the availability of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the body’s primary energy currency, which can improve muscle strength and power.
It helps replenish naturally stored creatine by providing a high-energy phosphate molecule that can be used to regenerate ATP from adenosine diphosphate (ADP).
With this, creatine intake allows improved performance during high-intensity exercises and heavy resistance training that can help you cut fat even during weight training.
The Purpose of the Cutting Phase
During this period, a person aims to lose fat mass while maintaining (or even increasing if you’re a newbie) muscle mass.
The goal is to burn stored fat for energy, typically accomplished by reducing calorie intake and maintaining an intense resistance training program.
If you take creatine during this period, it can help preserve lean mass and gym performance while the body is in a calorie deficit.
How Much Creatine Should I Take During a Cut?
You should use creatine daily at 3-5 grams per dose, though, some studies suggest 5-10 grams daily for larger athletes (2), during a cutting cycle as you come off your loading dose.
If you intend to use creatine while cutting, it’s important to note it doesn’t need to be cycled.
Taking it for a certain period and then taking a break is not necessary as it is safe to take creatine on an ongoing basis.
If you really wanted to do a creatine cycle, they typically last between 4-6 weeks, with a break of 2-4 weeks before starting another cycle.
I’ll explain and cite a study as for why 4 weeks should be the maximum time off of creatine a bit later in the article…
How to Properly Use Creatine While Cutting
You can complement your fat loss with creatine using these general guidelines:
Loading Phase (optional)
If you haven’t taken creatine before or have had a long lay-off. I’d recommend a loading phase. If you can get the results of creatine faster, why wouldn’t you?
But if you have already been taking creatine, you can obviously skip this loading step.
During the loading phase (typically lasting 5-7 days), you can take 20 grams/day of creatine monohydrate.
Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Maintenance Dose Phase
The recommended dosage here is 3-5 grams per day, but can be as high as 5-10 grams for larger athletes.
This will allow enough creatine to be stored and maintained while weight loss is facilitated.
One mistake many people make while cutting is drastically changing their training style and intensity.
You want to keep the resistance workouts that got you here while cutting too.
It’s a myth that higher reps and lighter weights burn fat or “tone” the muscle, so don’t fall into this trap.
We recommend picking one of the 5 splits we discuss in our best workout splits ultimate guide.
The one thing you may have to decrease the deeper you get into your fat loss phase, is the total training volume as your recovery becomes impeded, the lower your calories and body fat levels.
You can do this easily by removing a set from each exercise or only from the big, compound exercises.
You already know that you should be in a calorie deficit when trying to drop body fat, and this doesn’t change while you’re on creatine.
If you want to know exactly how many calories you should be taking based on your individual measurements, lifestyle and activity levels to lose fat…
use our free macro calculator.
Match With the Right Cardio Exercises
To help burn fat and expend some extra calories, here are some cardio exercises that can be paired with creatine supplementation during cutting.
Bear in mind that creatine may help with anaerobic forms of cardio like HIIT, but these can be quite fatiguing on the body during a cut, so a mixture is recommended:
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT). This alternates periods of high-intensity exercise with periods of rest or low-intensity exercise.
- Steady-state cardio. This involves exercising at a consistent intensity for an extended period, such as jogging or cycling.
- Circuit training. This alternates between resistance training exercises and cardio exercises.
- Jump rope. It’s an accessible and high-impact cardio exercise to burn more calories quicker. It’s an underrated tool for effective fat loss.
- Swimming. It’s a low-impact cardio exercise that can help to burn calories and improve cardiovascular endurance.
Ultimately, you can pick any form of cardio that you enjoy to burn calories and help with fat burned, as long as it doesn’t negatively impact on your resistance training performance.
Will I Look More Cut/Defined if I Stopped Taking Creatine Supplements?
No, stopping creatine supplements will not help you look more defined, as it does not directly contribute to, fat gain, weight loss or body fat loss.
In fact, it’s arguable that you’ll look less cut and defined if you stopped taking creatine while on a cut, since it’s likely your muscles will look softer and less defined for losing intramuscular water (water inside the muscles).
If your goal is to look more cut or defined, you need to focus on losing fat while preserving muscle mass. This can be achieved through a calorie-controlled diet.
Stopping creatine supplements can cause performance decreases, muscle strength decrease and muscle mass loss.
Benefits of Using Creatine When Cutting
Here are some advantages of using creatine on your prep or cutting phase that you may want to know:
#1 Preserve Lean Muscle Mass
Creatine can help to develop muscle mass and strength, even during cutting if you’re a newbie to the gym or if you have had a very long lay-off. It will aid in body composition changes.
In trained individuals, creatine can most definitely help to preserve existing lean muscle mass by keeping them more anabolic (via hydration) and maintaining their performance in the gym.
It kicks in during the more intense and effective stages of workouts and will indirectly lead to muscle hypertrophy in untrained individuals who are cutting, and maintenance in the more experienced lifters.
#2 Increase Muscle Power, Endurance and Energy Production
Creatine encourages higher energy production by increasing the availability of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the muscles.
As the primary energy source for muscle contractions, it can allow for more intense and effective workouts.
By increasing the availability of ATP, creatine replenishes the energy to your muscles and their ability to contract toward the more intense parts of your working sets.
This allows you to lift heavier weights and perform more reps, enhancing the effects of exercises and helping to preserve lean muscle.
#3 Mitigates Muscle Loss
When you’re in a calorie deficit, your body tends to burn both fat and muscle for energy.
By providing the muscle tissue with more energy, creatine can help reduce muscle breakdown and preserve mass.
A hydrated muscle is also a more anabolic one and creatine draws water into the muscles, which leads us to..
#4 Improved Muscle Hydration
Creatine helps improve hydration in the muscles by increasing the amount of water stored within cells via osmosis.
The muscles also appear larger and fuller, contributing to muscle definition, something that natural athletes sometimes complain is lost during a cut.
This also helps with athletic performance, as mentioned earlier.
#5 Supports Recovery Before and After Training
Creatine supports recovery by reducing muscle damage and improves recovery by promoting protein synthesis, which can support the repair and growth of muscle fibers.
#6 Complements Natural Creatine Production in the Body
The amount of creatine produced naturally in the body is insufficient to support optimal muscle function and performance during intense exercise, especially when you’re burning more calories than consuming when you’re losing weight.
When creatine is taken as a supplement, it’s absorbed by the muscles and can make muscles work harder and more efficiently.
Some Considerations When Taking Creatine
Look out for these possible drawbacks of creatine supplementation:
Potential Weight Gain
Creatine in isolation is calorie-free and cannot cause “fat” gain.
However, the cause of any weight gain is an increase in water content of the muscles.
This can be a bit strange for someone to experience in the first few weeks of creatine supplementation and their cut.
The feeling that your weight loss has stopped before it has started, but this is simply your bodies initial response to creatine and water uptake into the muscles.
Should you gain weight, it won’t be because you gain fat tissue and this effect will even out after a few weeks, at which point your normal rate of weight loss will resume.
This is actually something that you want and will help keep your muscles looking full and harder; something that is often complained about in people who are in a cutting phase (softer looking muscles, usually due to glycogen depleting)
Creatine can cause stomach discomfort when consumed in large doses at once, or on an empty stomach. It may also be associated with bloating, gas and diarrhea in this scenario.
We also answer the question, does creatine make you poop <– in more detail.
It is recommended to take creatine in small doses (3-5 grams) and with a meal or a snack if you notice it gives you GI issues .
Again, body weight might be slightly increased due to increased muscle water content.
While taking creatine, your muscle cells will draw water but as we mentioned, this is a GOOD thing and not to be confused with body FAT.
This kind of water in the muscles will make them look fuller and more aesthetically pleasing to the eye, as well as improve your muscular performance at high intensities.
You may also be interested in our guide on how much water to drink when taking creatine.
Of course, if you’re experiencing severe water retention, it would be best to seek advice from a healthcare professional.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions on creatine and cutting:
Will Creatine Help Me During My Bulking Phase?
Yes, creatine can aid in muscle growth and is one of the most studied supplements in sports nutrition.
It can help increase your muscles’ power and strength, improve muscle hydration, and support recovery before and after training.
By increasing the amount of energy for the muscle to contract, it allows for more intense workouts.
Should I Be Taking Creatine Every Day?
Creatine is typically taken as a daily supplement, but the frequency of use doesn’t actually matter since creatine’s effects aren’t acute – meaning they don’t occur over the short term.
Rather, creatine accumulates and saturates the muscle over time. In fact, it takes around 4 weeks for creatine levels to return to baseline after stopping creatine supplementation (3).
As a result, creatine DOESN’T need to be taken daily and can be taken in a schedule that fits your lifestyle, as long as you are getting 20-30g per week of creatine.
Do bear in mind, this would mean taking higher doses every other or every third day which may leave you susceptible to GI issues.
Ultimately, if you don’t want to take creatine daily, I would go with every other day as a minimum to avoid these potential issues.
The most common approach is to undertake a “loading phase” (20g split into 4 x 5g doses) followed by a “maintenance phase.” (3-5g daily).
As mentioned above, if you have stomach issues, it’s best to take the smaller dose of creatine every day.
To summarize, creatine supplementation doesn’t directly affect fat loss, but can be practical during cutting and fat loss phases.
However, being in a calorie deficit is always more important for achieving your cutting goals.
There’s no doubt Creatine can help you with losing fat indirectly by increasing muscular performance, anaerobic performance and keeping your muscles hydrated, full and anabolic.
This makes it a no-brainer for me, and I’ve always taken creatine throughout my cutting phases to keep my strength, mass and performance up in a calorie deficit.
(1) Forbes SC, Candow DG, Krentz JR, Roberts MD, Young KC. Changes in Fat Mass Following Creatine Supplementation and Resistance Training in Adults ≥50 Years of Age: A Meta-Analysis. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2019 Aug 23;4(3):62. doi: 10.3390/jfmk4030062. PMID: 33467377; PMCID: PMC7739317.
(2) Kreider RB, Kalman DS, Antonio J, Ziegenfuss TN, Wildman R, Collins R, Candow DG, Kleiner SM, Almada AL, Lopez HL. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Jun 13;14:18. doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z. PMID: 28615996; PMCID: PMC5469049.
(3) Vandenberghe K, Goris M, Van Hecke P, Van Leemputte M, Vangerven L, Hespel P. Long-term creatine intake is beneficial to muscle performance during resistance training. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1997 Dec;83(6):2055-63. doi: 10.1152/jappl.19220.127.116.115. PMID: 9390981.