What Happens When You Stop Taking Creatine Supplements?

Understanding What Happens When You Stop Taking Creatine and How to Manage the Effects

So, you’ve chosen to stop taking creatine (not to be confused with creatine cycling). What changes can you expect for your physique and athletic performance?

Many people incorrectly assume they will quickly lose their hard-earned muscle and strength, but that's not necessarily what happens when you stop taking creatine supplements.

Rather, the effects of stopping creatine supplementation are transient (such as an acute loss of body weight, which will mostly be water and not lean muscle mass). There are no drastic withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping creatine use.

Let's take a look at what you should really expect after ceasing creatine supplementation.

Article Highlights

  • Stopping creatine can lead to short-term water weight loss and reduced muscle fullness, but true muscle fiber loss isn’t significant if you maintain your workouts and nutrition.

  • Muscle mass and strength can still be maintained post-creatine supplementation through continued resistance training and a well-balanced diet, even if you notice a temporary decrease in performance.

  • Your body will return to its baseline creatine levels within a weeks after stopping creatine supplements, and the (mostly) superficial effects during this period can be managed with proper lifestyle choices.

The Immediate Aftermath of Stopping Creatine Supplementation

Once you stop your creatine supplement, you might notice sudden weight loss, sometimes up to 5 to 7 pounds, in the first week or so. But not to worry, as most of this weight is just the "extra" fluid your muscle cells were holding onto from the increase in muscle creatine [1].

Alas, the loss of that water weight also means your muscles might not feel as full and volumized as they were while taking creatine. Don’t sweat it, though; once your body adjusts and picks up the slack on its natural creatine production, your muscles will fill out again and you might even look more defined/less "puffy."

Natural Creatine Production and Adaptation

Creatine supplements work by increasing your muscle creatine stores to "supraphysiologic" levels, which is just a fancy way of saying levels well above what your body normally produces. The extra creatine supplied by a supplement reduces endogenous production (this is called "feedback inhibition") [2].

Once you stop supplementing with creatine, your body will gradually normalize endogenous production of creatine, generally within a few weeks (depending on how much creatine you've been taking and for how long). To support your body in adjusting back to baseline creatine levels, it’s recommended to taper your creatine supplementation over the span of a week or two.

But what happens when you stop taking creatine abruptly? Thankfully, nothing too extreme. You might experience a sharper drop in body weight and feel like your muscles are less full, but these are temporary effects.

Remember, stopping creatine supplementation is considered safe since the body returns to physiologically normal creatine levels fairly quickly.

The Long-Term Outlook: Are Muscle Mass Gains from Creatine Permanent?

Stopping creatine supplementation may result in a decrease in muscle mass and strength under certain circumstances. But before you panic, recall that the initial weight loss you might experience is largely water weight, not because you immediately lose muscle mass.

The reality is muscle and strength gains are never permanent no matter what supplement you took to achieve them. Even people who take performance-enhancing drugs to build mountains of muscle would lose their gains if they stopped training after using those substances.

But here's the good news: You can maintain your progress after you stop taking creatine if you keep resistance training and eating for muscle growth. As evidence of this point, a follow-up 12-week study found that individuals who stopped creatine supplementation—after taking creatine monohydrate daily for 12 weeks—did not lose significantly more lean tissue mass or strength than those who weren't taking creatine during those 12 weeks [3].

What to Do After You Stop Taking Creatine

Weight loss is one of the most apparent changes when you stop using creatine. To reiterate a point we've hammered home throughout this article, this is primarily due to losing water weight, not lean muscle mass. Eating a diet rich in complete protein sources, complex carbohydrates, and quality fats will help maintain the muscle mass and strength you developed while taking creatine.

It's also advisable to keep resistance training as the focus of your exercise regimen and continue pushing your limits in the gym.

Just like it's imperative to stay hydrated while taking creatine, it's equally as important when not taking creatine. Consume plenty of water throughout the day, much like you (hopefully) were when taking creatine.

Last but not least, give yourself ample rest. Getting enough sleep and taking rest days from the gym is crucial for muscle recovery, especially when not using creatine supplements.

Alternatives to Creatine Supplements for Sustained Muscle Growth

It's not the end of your gym gains and progress if you stop taking creatine supplements. While creatine remains the most studied sports supplement by a wide margin, there are other evidence-based ergogenic aids in the sports nutrition realm, such as:

  • Whey protein powder, like Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate, is a popular supplement that provides fast-absorbing, complete protein for muscle repair and growth.

  • Essential amino acids (and branched-chain amino acids) are viable options for stimulating muscle protein synthesis and enhancing recovery during/after intense workouts.

  • Nitric oxide (NO) boosters, an integral component of pre-workout formulas, can also benefit muscle growth by enhancing blood flow and improving nutrient delivery to muscles. Examples of science-backed NO boosters are L-citrulline, L-arginine, and dietary nitrates.

All in all, when you stop creatine supplementation the side effects are generally mild and temporary. You can expect acute weight loss due to a decrease in water retention, and slight declines in muscle fullness and performance. Any short-term diminutions in muscle size and performance will be inconsequential if you stay consistent in the gym and kitchen. Conversely, the muscle gains you made while taking creatine won't stick around if you abruptly stop eating and training properly.

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