It’s the age-old question and yet it still seems like the answer hasn’t been made clear to the mass population of gym goers. Can we use Creatine while cutting or will it negatively impact your ability to burn fat?
First of all, we need to look at what both what fat burning actually is and what Creatine is, what it does, and finally if its mechanisms of action impede the rate of fat breakdown or better yet the rate of fat burn.
Let's kick it off with fat burning.
Fat burning is 3-fold:
- We must break fat stores down
- We must ensure the broken down fat is transported effectively
- We must burn the fat available as fuel
And then following this we need to ensure that not only are we using fat as the preferred circulating substrate (energy source) but we are also in a net calorie deficit to ensure that fat being burned on a per hour basis results in a net fat loss over a 24hr timeframe.
There is no point in focusing on 'burning fat' during exercise if we are then over consuming on calories by the end of the day or week as we will still be in a phase of net fat gain. In essence, what you are burning will simply just be replaced at a later time from the food you eat.
In a state of fat breakdown, the body relies on a host of hormones that send internal signalling to the brain essentially instructing it on whether or not it's able to release free fatty acids into the bloodstream for fuel or whether it needs to maintain fat storage in the scenario of being in a state of hypothetical starvation.
Some of the primary components involved in fat breakdown include the release and control of the catecholamine’s Adrenaline and Noradrenaline, which are released in response to a sympathetic nervous system stimulation such as exercise or particular stimulants such as caffeine, or via the signalling of Cyclic AMP. There are currently no studies indicating any contraindications for Creatine supplementation impeding fat breakdown and arguably it could be said that it may actually indirectly enhance it.
Following lipolysis and the release of free fatty acids (FFA) into the bloodstream, the next step of fat loss lies in the ability of our system to transport those FFA into the mitochondria of the muscle to allow for them to be burned as fuel.
One of the key factors in regulating fat transportation is the Carnitine Palmitoyltransferase system, which helps regulate the oxidation and transportation of long chain fatty acids.
Similarly, Creatine currently shows no contraindications to the performance of this system.
The final and arguably the most important process of losing body fat is the ability to actually burn the fats broken down from either visceral stores (torso and organs) or subcutaneous (the skin).
This phase requires the delivery of the FFA’s into the mitochondria of the muscle and more importantly that a necessary calorie deficit is set in place to ensure that the burning of stored fat, regardless of the time in which it is burned, results in a net fat loss at the end of the day.
Again, Creatine appears to have no contraindications to this phase occurring and arguably may enhance it as well, which we will discuss below.
The primary concerns of Creatine use when looking at the top 3 questions I would receive on a weekly basis in store are:
- If Creatine is used for muscle building why would I use it when burning fat?
- Will Creatine prevent fat loss?
- What about water retention?
Muscle is the most metabolically positive tissue we have. It allows us to eat more food, it increases the calories we burn each day and it is the furnace for where fat is burned. Essentially, without muscle, we cannot burn fat!
By utilising a Creatine supplement while cutting, you can maintain strength more effectively and as a result of this maintain muscle. Not only will it help maintain muscle but it can improve your exercise output, resulting in a higher total calorie burn, meaning you can either eat more calories to burn the same amount of fat or eat the same calories to ensure a greater caloric deficit and therefore the having the potential to burn more fat.
Finally, Creatine is known for having a mild osmotic effect, meaning it will retain extra fluid when the muscle is saturated with phosphocreatine, however, this water retention is intracellular and is not visible to the naked eye. The age-old claims of “looking bloated” have been squashed time and time again and it’s about time that we squash them again.
Creatine is a performance-enhancing product and should be used according to its benefits. By maximising your training output alongside a calorie controlled diet, the only effect you can expect from Creatine is a positive one.
As with any question that begs to challenge the literature, it’s always important to discuss and consider context.
Is Creatine a fat burner? No
Can Creatine support fat loss? Yes
Fat loss or at least efficient fat loss needs to consider the top 4 principles I discussed in this article:
- We must set a calorie deficit
- We must set a macronutrient target
- We must train weights
- We must be consistent and compliant
While Creatine has no bearing on number 1 and 2, which are the primary indicators for fat loss, it most definitely can enhance the performance of number 3 and therein lies the reason why I recommend Creatine for a fat loss phase.
If you can utilise creatine to increase strength or power, essentially you are enhancing performance and with enhanced performance in the presence of an optimal diet, you will achieve better physique results.
As for rule number 4… I can only provide you with the tools, but it is up to the individual to use them effectively.