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Can you take creatine without water?-caution risk of dehydration

Have you ever seen someone swallow a scoop of dry creatine powder and thought to yourself, ”how are they doing that? What about water? Why aren’t they coughing? Wait, is it more effective like that?”. Well, I have, and what I’ve found is super interesting!

Creatine supplements are in powder form, best dissolved in liquid. Creatine pulls water from the plasma into your cells, particularly cells in your muscles, leaving less water for the normal function of all other tissues. Dehydration can occur if you do not increase your fluid intake modestly.

Creatine has fantastic benefits for working out and can provide an energy supply to the muscles during exercise performance. So it is probably the most common form of supplementation by athletes. But how you take it makes all the difference in the world.

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound that our body produces from 3 amino acids, glycine, arginine and methionine. It is converted to creatine phosphate, which acts as an energy store in muscles. This energy store can be used during exercise to allow the muscle to do more. This extra exercise, as well as the activation of genes involved in protein synthesis, then leads to the muscle tissue becoming larger and stronger. It also protects against muscle injury.

In the elderly, creatine improves muscle strength, bone density and even thinking ability. Creatine is gradually broken down to creatinine. However the rate of breakdown is slow and the ability of the kidney to process creatinine is high. So, provided a person does not have chronic kidney disease or kidney failure the serum creatinine level does not rise with creatine supplementation.

Creatine can be phosphorylated in the cell to creatine phosphate, which acts as a store of energy. So that if the cell cannot make energy quickly enough it can use some of the energy stored in the creatine phosphate as seen in this diagram-

Can you take creatine without water-diagram illustrating how creatine acts as a store of energy in cells

This helps athletes in high-intensity sports, as creatine phosphate can be broken down to give their muscles additional energy to perform muscle contractions beyond what they otherwise could. Without creatine phosphate, the muscle is limited by the rate of production of energy from molecules such as glucose going through the normal metabolic pathways. Of course, all muscle cells have some creatine phosphate but supplementing with creatine increases the amount.

The right way to use creatine

a) Volume of Fluid That Needs to be Taken With Creatine

The recommended dose for creatine is 3-5 g per day depending on body size. Creatine monohydrate is the most common and well-studied form. This can be used in beverages or other types of products, such as energy bars, capsules, or tablets.

Creatine monohydrate and creatine supplements are most commonly available as a powder. This powder should be dissolved in water or juice, and the dissolving process happens more easily by using warm water. The temperature of the liquid does not determine the effectiveness of the product in the body, but the monohydrate type dissolves more slowly in cold water. Once ingested, the bioavailability is about 95%.

Creatine loading has been done with 20g per day in 5g doses, without adverse event. However, this is not recommended.

The most important thing to know about taking creatine is that you should consume sufficient liquid to avoid dehydration. As a general rule, you should take an 8oz (300ml approximately) glass of water for every 3 g of creatine in addition to what you would normally drink for that exercise is a good amount. So an additional 100ml of water per gram of creatine. If you can drink more water/fluid, that would be great, within reason, of course.

b) Absorption of Creatine by Muscles is Increased by the Administration of Carbohydrate at the Same time

The muscles in your body can absorb creatine more easily when insulin is present, so it makes sense to take it with a sugary drink such as grape juice or even with a meal. So some people wonder will creatine still work if I just take it with water?

Creatinine will still work if taken with plain water and give a 15% increase in muscle creatine over the levels in non-supplemented muscles. However, creatine taken with carbohydrate leads to levels of creatine in muscle that are 30% higher.

c) Timing of Taking Creatinine

Creatine can be taken at any time. It does not have to be taken just after exercise although it may be slightly more effective if taken after exercise during the initial loading phase.

What happens when you take dry creatine?

An increased risk of dehydration is one of the main side effects of taking creatine, a risk if you are not consuming a sufficient amount of fluids.

Your body naturally produces creatine, and it is used to synthesize certain amino acids in your skeletal muscles. Creatine is also manufactured and sold as a nutritional supplement and performance enhancer because it has the potential to increase and promote muscle strength, and growth through exercise and alteration of gene function. However, when muscles take up creatine, the osmotic pressure in the muscle cells goes up and water flows from the extracellular fluid and plasma into the cells.

Dehydration usually occurs when you use or lose more fluid from your body than you take in. Your body doesn’t have enough water to carry out its normal functions. Not replenishing the fluids you lose causes you to become dehydrated. However, the dehydration with creatine supplementation has a different cause. It because water is being taken out of the extracellular fluid and plasma into the cells, mainly muscle cells.

So the water is still in the body but not in the plasma and available to the heart and circulation. This can lead to lowering your blood pressure and reducing blood flow through your organs, so impairing their function and even your mental state. To help correct this your kidneys will remove more water from the plasma that they filter so your urine will be darker. Also, the colon absorbs from your feces so that you may become constipated.

If you have any health pre-existing health concerns, consult your health professional before starting creatine.

You simply need to replace the amount of water taken up by the cells in response to creatine supplementation in addition to your normal requirements. This will principally be when starting creatine. When the muscles have taken up enough creatine and water they will not need more. It may take 4 weeks to reach an equilibrium.

Side effects of creatine with and without dehydration

Any dehydration whether or not from a combination of creatine and exercise, will lead to less blood flow to the kidneys and a temporary rise in waste products such as creatinine in the blood. However with rehydration, this is almost invariably reversible. Unfortunately, there are rare irreversible effects of dehydration such as central retinal vein thrombosis, so you should always avoid becoming dehydrated.

American collegiate football players experienced less dehydration during exercise when on creatine, but of course their fluid intake will have been optimal. So provided your fluid intake is optimal, there is no reason that the shifts in body fluid from creatine will lead to intravascular dehydration.

After extensive investigation there is no evidence that creatine itself impairs kidney function as measured by glomerular filtration rate (eGFR, GFR), creatinine clearance or otherwise impairs kidney function. Still it is important not to take more than the recommended dose as high doses eg greater than 20g per day can lead to formaldehyde and methylamine in the urine, both of these compounds damage cells. So if you have kidney disease, it is probably best to avoid creatine.

When taking creatine with a product like caffeine that has a diuretic effect on your body, you should take extra precautions as to how it may affect your body. The caffeine makes you pass more urine and, when combined with creatine, may increase your risk of becoming dehydrated.

It is best to avoid diuretic compounds when taking creatine supplements. So if you are on any medication you should check with your doctor before starting creatine.

Side effects of creatine with water

It is important to drink enough fluids when using creatine, and you should consume more water/fluids than you would if you were not taking the creatine. However, you should not drink to excess as this can be harmful. Very excessive water intake can water cause a drop in sodium levels and electrolytes, making you feel tired and lethargic. It can also cause muscle spasms, headaches, and swollen hands and feet from the retention. If your sodium becomes very low, it can cause fits and even induce you to go into a coma.

You will have some water retention and weight gain if you take creatine for working out and maybe to support muscle building; a slight increase in weight can occur This is because of water uptake by your muscles leading directly to increase in muscle mass. Muscle mass increases further due to increase muscle contraction and the influence of creatine on genes. A fat-free body mass increase of about 1-3 kg usually happens. Many athletes don’t consider this to be a disadvantage. If you are trying to keep the weight off, you will need to make allowances for this muscular weight gain.

Is there a way to take creatine without water?

It is not recommended to take creatine monohydrate and supplements without any use of water. But if you find it a too much of a process to dissolve the powder or don’t like drinking your supplements, you can always scoop the dosage into your mouth and swallow it dry and drink a glass of water afterward as this water will replace that taken from the extracellular fluid/plasma into the muscles.

Conclusion

For someone who does serious gym sessions, creatine is the number-one supplement for performance, muscle building, and recovery. Creatine, especially during the initial phases of taking it, leads to cells especially muscle cells taking water out of the plasma. So it is vital to ensure you are replenishing your body with an adequate fluid intake as per the type of exercise, temperature of the environment and your body size.

A lack of water with creatine can potentially cause major issues, but over drinking water can also be harmful. Finding a balance is necessary but should not be too difficult as the body is very good at regulating plasma concentrations of electrolytes. So the body is very tolerant of a wide range of water intake once a level has been reached where it has enough and provided you are not drinking a crazy amount.
If you are not perfectly healthy, you should not take creatine without consulting your physician.

As a general rule, taking 100-200ml of extra water per gram of creatinine per day should be fine. Aiming for 200ml per gram of creatine is best provided you are not already consuming very large volumes of water or other fluid. If in doubt a blood test measuring your electrolytes and especially your urea or BUN will show you if you have got your hydration right. A raised urea/BUN or creatinine shows that you are not drinking enough and a low sodium level that you are drinking far too much.

Obviously, if you feel unwell, stop taking creatine and consult your physician.

References

Creatine supplementation

Creatine

Dehydration

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