Creatine is one of the best supplements for natural lifters. And since it comes with so many benefits, it's only natural to wonder: what happens when you stop taking creatine? Is there much to lose?
When you stop taking creatine, you will return to pre-supplementation levels within 2 to 4 weeks. As a result, you may experience loss in water weight and a slight decline in strength. Fortunately, if you don't adjust your training and keep pushing yourself, you will keep most of your gains.
However, that is largely based on the effects creatine had on you in the first place.
In this article, we will dive deeper into this topic and explore:
And much, much more. But first, we will give you a summary so you don't have to read through the whole thing - unless you want to fill in the knowledge gaps.
Quick summary: what happens when you stop creatine use
In the following section, we will dive deeper into how creatine actually works to help you.
After that, we will have a more in-depth look at the potential side effects of ceasing creatine intake, some common misconceptions, as well as our recommendations moving forward.
In the following sections, we will dive deeper into how creatine actually works to help you.
How does creatine work in the body
Around 95% of the creatine stores in your body can be found in skeletal muscles.
Now… the body's main source of energy is called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). Whenever you are training, you are using ATP energy sources. As you train, the ATP loses one phosphate group and becomes Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP), which is basically useless.
And this is where we tie it all together and stop with the nerdy stuff.
Creatine stays around in your body as creatine phosphate. As soon as ATP becomes ADP (i.e. useless), creatine donates its phosphate group to transform ADP back into ATP (i.e. from useless to useful).
This then provides additional energy to your muscles.
And without creatine supplementation, you wouldn't have been able to get that additional energy.
From here you can understand how taking creatine doesn't directly make you stronger or muscular. However, it will give you the energy needed to squeeze in a few more reps or even an extra set on your heavy exercises. This in turn can lead to more strength and muscle gain.
What happens when you stop taking creatine?
From the explanation above you can already tell what happens when you no longer take creatine.
In short, your body doesn't get that extra amount of energy, so you won't be able to push yourself as hard during training. That being said, you will keep most of the strength and muscle gains achieved up to that point, provided you train as intensely.
Let's get a bit more in-depth about this.
First of all, everybody has a different response to creatine supplementation. Some people see major performance improvements. Others - up to 30% of the population - are creatine non-responders and may not see much of a difference.
The effects of creatine cessation will largely depend on how well you responded to supplementation in the first place. With that being said, here are the most common effects of stopping creatine:
Loss in water weight
Creatine needs additional water in order to be stored in your muscle tissue.
Depending on whether you are using a loading phase or not, It takes between 1 and 4 weeks for your muscles to reach creatine saturation, as well as water saturation. As a result of increased fluid, your muscles will look fuller giving the appearance that you are more muscular.
When you stop taking creatine supplements, most of the stores you have built up to that point will have left your body after a few weeks. Consequently, since the extra water is no longer necessary, the excess fluid will have left your body too.
For some people that can mean a steep drop in weight, while for others it may be negligible.
This, again, boils down to how well your body responded to creatine in the beginning.
For example, one study pertaining to muscle performance after creatine ingestion found that the total body water and extracellular water were significantly greater following creatine supplementation. However, another study found that creatine supplementation didn't lead to any water retention.
Loss in water weight
As we mentioned in the section about how creatine works, it is stored as phosphocreatine in your body, being ready to donate its phosphate group to the ATP system when more energy is needed.
When you discontinue creatine supplementation, energy diminishes too.
Your body produces creatine on its own, and a diet consisting of red meat and sea food will also provide some creatine. So it's not like once you stop taking creatine, you are left without any energy. However, since there is less creatine available in the body, you won't have the resources to replenish lost energy so readily.
For example, one study looked at the differences in 1, 3, and 10 max rep efforts between two groups: one taking creatine, the other a placebo. The result was an 8% increase (20% vs 12%) in muscle strength. Similarly, the results favored creatine users in terms of overall weightlifting performance (26% vs 12%) and bench pressing strength (an increase between 3 and 45%!)
These results are to be expected.
When your creatine levels drop as a result of stopping the supplementation, so will your ATP and with it the energy you can expend during exercise.
Decline in strength
This is where it gets a bit tricky.
While it may be easy to gauge how much water weight you lost by simply paying attention to the scale, pinpointing how much strength and power you lost is a bit more difficult.
As mentioned before, with less creatine you have less energy sources.
Consequently, your stamina during the last few reps of heavy exercises will drop and you will get tired quicker. With a lowered performance capacity, you will no longer be able to push as hard as you used to - a feeling which is akin to a decrease in strength.
However, it is not strength itself which diminishes, but the reduction in energy.
Another side effect you may experience when you stop taking creatine is general fatigue.
The ATP energy source is not only being used to contract muscle fibers but also to transport ions, propagate nerve impulses, chemical synthesis, and even create more ATP. Therefore, it is safe to assume that getting off creatine may leave you fatigues for a short while.
But why is that, and why didn't it happen prior to you starting to take creatine?
That leads us to our next point.
Less natural creatine production
Your body naturally produces creatine on its own.
You also get some creatine from food, supposing you eat animal products. Add a creatine supplement to that, and your body has to auto-regulate its creatine production by diminishing it.
Once you discontinue supplementation, you will feel fatigued until your body starts producing it again.
Thankfully, the system responsible for producing this compound is very sensitive. Within a couple of weeks from ceasing to take creatine, your body will start producing it at regular levels once more. Until then, you may have to go through the slight discomfort of being in a state of fatigue.
Earlier in the article we mentioned how 95% of creatine goes to skeletal muscles.
The other 5% is split between your kidneys, liver, and brain. This is why, when you no longer take creatine, you may experience not only sports performance related side effects, but also general fatigue and lack of focus. These are not permanent side effects and most people don't even experience them.
However, it's good to know what to expect.
Once you stop taking creatine, you should be "as good as new" within 2 to 4 weeks.
Leaner looking muscles
This is the one potential benefit when you no longer supplement with creatine.
Since you are losing all of the excess water weight in your muscles, even though they may no longer look as full, your muscles will look more ripped. However, if you want to look swole, this may not be the best thing for you.
Should you adjust your training when you get off creatine?
One of the greatest mistakes you can make when you stop taking creatine is to adjust your training by making it less intense or by lowering the volume per workout.
This comes from the belief people have that creatine is a miracle supplement.
Here is a representation of what creatine does for you:
Let's imagine you can squat 220lb (100kg) for 8 reps. When you try to shoot for a 9th rep, creatine gives you that slight boost of ATP in your muscles and allows you to do that rep too. All creatine does is to power you through that 9th rep which you couldn't have done otherwise. If you hadn't taken a supplement, you would have been completely out of gas after the 8th rep.
So all it does for you is give you extra gas.
If you try to make your training easier because now you're no longer taking creatine, you can be sure you will lose strength and muscle mass.
You should push yourself as hard as with creatine and not change anything about your training.
Will you lose gains when you stop using creatine?
Multiple studies have shown that creatine improves your sports performance, increases strength and power output, and even increases your ability to pack on more muscle mass over time, if combined with resistance training.
So if you cease taking creatine, will you lose your gains?
As far as your strength or muscle mass are concerned, the only way you can lose them is by adjusting your training and making it easier. If you are training and eating the same way as before stopping supplementation, you will keep most of your gains.
Should you stop taking creatine?
If you have been taking creatine for at least 28 days, are past the point of muscle saturation, and yet you don't notice any benefit, then you could consider stopping.
Aside from that case, we don't see any good reason to stop taking creatine.
If you are tired of having to take it every single day, you dislike the taste, or the texture, you also have the option of taking creatine pills instead of creatine powder.
Assuming you've been taking it for a long time and you got to experience the benefits…
We don't see any good reason to stop.
If you stop taking creatine will your muscles shrink?
Creatine needs additional water in order to be absorbed into the muscle tissue. When you stop taking it, it will leave your body within a few weeks. The excess water will also get eliminated with your creatine reserves, as it is no longer needed.
This may give the feeling that your muscles shrank.
In reality, they just lost a bunch of liquid.
What happens if you stop taking creatine but still workout?
When you get off creatine, the ATP energy sources in your muscles diminish. As a consequence, you will not be able to push yourself as hard at the end of a difficult set, your gains may come about slower, and your overall performance may slightly decrease.
What happens if you stop taking creatine for a week?
Once you stop supplementing with creatine, it takes about 2 to 4 weeks for it to get back to pre-supplementation levels. Therefore, if you don't take creatine for a week you won't experience drawbacks, as long as you start supplementing again soon.
The bottom line
Even though it's good to know what may happen if you get off creatine, we don't see any real good reason to do so. This supplement is safe, reliable and, just as important, cheap.
Unless you are part of the creatine non-responders group, you will get some sort of benefit from taking this supplement. Even a slight increase in strength, power output, or muscle mass can take you a long way.
All in all, you now know what happens when you stop taking creatine, with the side effects being negligible and reversible.
Over to you.