Creatine is one of the most popular and well-researched sports nutrition supplements on the market.

Creatine is effective in building muscle size and strength by increasing your work capacity.

However, using creatine use may lead to aspects of gastrointestinal distress. Why does this happen, and how do you avoid creatine stomach pain?

In short, yes, you can get stomach aches from taking creatine, but it isn’t common. The supplement is usually free of harmful effects.

So to understand why some people may experience this, it’s important to know how creatine works and how to take it.

How Creatine Works

Creatine monohydrate builds lean muscle mass by replenishing your ATP (adenosine triphosphate) stores, which is the compound your body uses for energy.

Your muscles can work harder for longer because they have extra fuel. With limited ATP stores, your muscles must work harder to recover after stress.

Because your muscles have a limited supply of ATP, the muscles will fatigue quickly, but creatine works by helping top up the energy required for your muscles to move. More ATP means the muscle will move more weight, for longer.

Creatine is made up of amino acids and is produced naturally by the body, primarily the liver. It is found in food sources such as red meat and fish. It is also available as a supplement in powder form.

People who supplement creatine will increase muscle mass due to improved work capacity in the gym as the muscle has more energy.

How To Take Creatine Correctly

Creatine helps people increase work capacity in the gym and assists with muscle growth, but not totally without side effects.

For example, creatine is associated with bloating and stomach upset. How susceptible creatine users are to experiencing these side effects can largely depend on how much is consumed.

There are different ways to take creatine. It is either initially taken using a loading phase or by consuming smaller amounts over a longer period.

The fastest way to increase muscular creatine stores is to undertake short-term dose loading and consume 14mg of creatine per lb body weight for five to seven days, followed by a maintenance dose of 3-5g per day.

For those concerned they could suffer from stomach pain from creatine, it might be best to skip the loading phase and take a smaller amount daily. The recommended daily amount of creatine monohydrate dose is 3-5 grams.

The research supports lower doses over longer periods to improve athletic performance and muscle power output without causing rapid weight gain that is linked to loading.

Gnarly Creatine Dietary Supplement Powder

How To Stop Gastrointestinal Discomfort From Creatine

Creatine is one of the most used supplements in the fitness industry. For healthy people, taking creatine supplementation is considered very safe.

The dose of creatine is important, and consuming too much could increase the risk of certain side effects and has no proven improvements in performance.

If you’re taking creatine supplements correctly, research confirms it is safe and effective.[1]

Creatine supplementation can create stomach problems, but it is not overly common. To avoid this happening in the future, it is best to avoid high doses.

If taking creatine causes you intense stomach pain, then stop using creatine to find out if the supplementation is what causes the issue. Taking too much creatine can cause abdominal pain, but this is rare, and only 5-7% of people will be affected.

If you experience these side effects, such as abdominal pain or muscle cramps, you should stop taking creatine immediately.

You can avoid stomach issues and adverse effects in the future by limiting the dose taken and avoiding taking it on an empty stomach. Sugar and carbs are better for the absorption of creatine and have fewer side effects.

Different forms of the supplement may help. It may be worth taking micronized creatine which a purer and more soluble than monohydrate and is more effective because of its better absorption rate in the human body.

What Other Common Problems Can Creatine Cause?

Bloating

Not everyone will experience bloating, but it is linked with creatine supplementation when first taking the supplement. As discussed, creatine can be taken for a loading phase, taking 20-25 grams for 5-7 days.

During the loading phase, there can be an increase in body weight due to more water in the muscle which can create some bloating.

In addition, the loading phase can result in a gain in total body water, but this should subside after the dosage is reduced.

If you experience bloating or are concerned about this side effect, skipping the loading phase and going straight to a maintenance dose should help avoid unwanted bloating side effects.

Weight Gain

Creatine supplement has a reputation for causing weight gain due to water retention.

This is because creatine draws water into your muscles, increasing total body water. Weight gain when taking creatine is going to vary from person to person.

Weight gain is more likely to occur when loading creatine. If you want to avoid this, skip the loading phase and take the recommended maintenance dose.

According to a review of the role and safety of creatine published in June 2017 by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), it states that the only side effect consistently reported in the literature is weight gain.[2]

Constipation

Creatine is taken to build muscle, so having side effects such as constipation is not exactly what you want. Gastrointestinal distress problems include diarrhea, bloating, and constipation.

Undissolved creatine may be the reason people can suffer from these side effects, so improved absorption could help curb this.

The problem also occurs due to a lack of hydration because of water being pulled from the lower intestines into the muscle cells.

Therefore, it is important to stay hydrated when supplementing creatine and when undertaking any resistance training.

Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a more common side effect of taking creatine than constipation. If taken properly, it should not result in this. The risk increases when people load up on creatine and are not hydrating well enough.

If diarrhea lasts more than two days, you should seek medical attention. You can ease the symptoms by drinking clear liquids and avoiding anything in your diet that can make diarrhea worse, like high-fat, high-fiber food.

Dehydration

Creatine increases the overall level of water in the body. A big concern about creatine supplementation is it can cause dehydration and muscle cramps in hot weather.

However, there is no research to support that creatine supplementation affects hydration and the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

Drinking enough water when taking creatine is important because if you are not hydrated enough, the body will break down muscle tissue to get the water it needs, which can lead to muscle cramps.

Kidney & Liver Damage

Creatine is made naturally in the body, primarily by the liver. The kidneys secrete creatinine, a breakdown product of creatine. If you are someone who has kidney problems, then it is not advisable to take the supplement.

Plenty of research has looked at the effects on kidney function and the liver. Mostly the concern comes from how well the kidneys filter blood and elevated levels of creatinine.

The research shows that these elevated compounds are not harmful and that supplementation of the recommended dosage of creatine is not detrimental to renal function in the long or short term in healthy individuals.[3]

Man Showing Dry And Battered Hands

Creatine And Stomach Pain FAQs

How long do creatine stomach cramps normally last?

A stomach cramp is a side effect of creatine that should not last for any length of time or be ignored. If you ever experience any cramping, then it is a good idea to stop. If cramping is extreme or lasts longer than two days, seek emergency medical attention from your healthcare provider.

What does creatine do to the digestive system?

Creatine affects the digestive system by playing an important role in the energy metabolism of intestinal epithelial cells and, therefore, tissues of the digestive tract. It is needed to maintain gut barrier function, meaning to keep out the 'bad' stuff and to support normal digestion. Creatine is now being considered for improving digestive well-being. Of course, these benefits are seen with correct consumption, a good diet, hydration, and exercise.[4]

Can creatine cause stomach gas?

Yes, sometimes creatine can cause stomach gas. Some supplements contain sweeteners that can upset the digestive system. Creatine and protein powders are common culprits, with the additives themselves causing the issue rather than the compound. 

What safety precautions should you consider when supplementing creatine?

When supplementing with creatine, you should consider speaking to your healthcare provider first if you have any preexisting health conditions. You should always do your own research before taking any supplements. You can avoid issues by ensuring you are hydrated, consuming creatine with carbs, and taking a smaller dose. Remember that a supplement is just that; it does not replace a well-balanced and nutritious diet.

Conclusion

People who take creatine are looking for training improvement, increased performance, and increased muscle mass without any adverse side effects to the gut.

You can avoid bloating or stomach issues when taking the supplement by avoiding the loading phase, staying well hydrated, and increasing absorption by taking it with food.

References: 

  1. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z
  2. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z
  3. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-4-6
  4. https://www.dougcookrd.com/creatine-for-gut-and-mental-health/
Miloš Lepotic

Miloš Lepotic

Meet Miloš, a certified sports nutritionist and self-taught supplement expert whose pharmacological background and nearly a decade of gym experience make him the perfect guide for optimizing your health and athletic performance through supplement reviews and practical advice rooted in factual, science-backed information.