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How Long Does Creatine Stay In Your System?

Creatine is an endogenously manufactured amino acid within vertebrate animals that functions by facilitating the conversion of ADP (adenosine diphosphate) to ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which in turn, delivers energy to cells throughout the body.  Within the body, creatine is synthesized via the kidneys and liver, where thereafter, it enters the bloodstream and is distributed predominantly to skeletal muscle tissue.  It should be noted that approximately 95% of all creatine stores are concentrated within skeletal muscle tissue.

Dietary intake of meat stimulates over 50% of creatine synthesis, and as a result, individuals adhering to plant-based diets may exhibit suboptimal levels of creatine.  Although creatine is not technically classified as an essential nutrient, deficient creatine levels may reduce muscular capacity, and in some cases, impair cognitive performance.  For this reason, some individuals supplement with exogenous forms of creatine (e.g. monohydrate) to counteract potentially deleterious neurological and muscular implications associated with low creatine levels.

A plethora of research documents therapeutic effects of exogenous creatine supplementation including: bolstered muscular strength/endurance, cognitive enhancement, neural preservation, and mood improvement.  Despite numerous benefits associated with exogenous creatine supplementation, some individuals experience unwanted side effects when supplementing, such as: cramping, diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain – or even kidney damage at high doses.  Tolerability issues may lead users to discontinue creatine, but many will wonder how long it stays in their system after they’ve ceased supplementation.

How long does Creatine stay in your system?

If you’ve recently ceased exogenous creatine supplementation due to adverse effects and/or (relatively unwarranted) concerns that it may cause kidney damage, you may be highly concerned with the duration it is likely to stay in your system.  To determine how long exogenous creatine stays in your system after discontinuation, it is necessary to examine its elimination half-life.  The elimination half-life of creatine is approximately 3 hours, indicating that 50% of a dose will be cleared from your plasma at roughly 3 hours post-ingestion.

With this information we can calculate that 100% of exogenously administered creatine should be out of your system within 16.5 hours of your final dose.  In other words, after 24 hours have passed since your last creatine dose, there won’t be any lingering exogenous creatine in your plasma.  Exogenously administered creatine does form metabolites including: phosphocreatine (67%) and creatinine (2%).

The half-life of phosphocreatine should be eliminated from your plasma within the aforementioned 16.5-hour term, whereas the creatinine may take slightly longer.  Creatinine exhibits a half-life of around 3.85 hours in healthy adults, implying that it stays in systemic circulation for longer than its parent compound (creatine). Those supplementing with creatine may retain the 2% of creatinine for up to 21.18 hours post-ingestion.

Still, you should expect exogenous creatine and its creatinine metabolites to be out of your plasma within 1 day of discontinuation.  That said, most users want to know how long it takes to fully excrete creatine and its metabolites from the body.  Complete excretion of exogenous creatine occurs via the kidneys and usually takes longer than 24 hours.

One study revealed that among athletes supplementing with exogenous creatine for 7 consecutive days, approximately 46% of creatine was excreted within 24 hours of discontinuation.  However, another study noted that when utilized for a longer duration and/or at higher loading doses, accumulation of creatine within muscle tissues (from exogenous administration) takes up to 30 days to decline back to a homeostatic baseline.  In other words, it may take up to 1 full month for your intramuscular creatine levels to plummet back to pre-supplementation levels.

  • Source: https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/creatine
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11708707
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8828669

Variables that influence how long Creatine stays in your system

It is important to realize that not all individuals will retain exogenously administered creatine in their plasma and/or muscle tissues for the same amount of time.  Some individuals will eliminate creatine quicker from systemic circulation than others.  Differences in elimination speed of exogenous creatine (and its metabolites) can be explained with variables such as: term of administration, creatine dosage, and individual attributes of the user.

  1. Loading vs. Maintenance Phase (Intramuscular Accumulation)

Whether you discontinue creatine from a “loading” or “maintenance” phase can dictate how long it is likely to remain in your system.  Someone who has taken creatine long enough and/or at sufficient dosages as to have accumulated peak concentrations of creatine within intramuscular tissue is known to be in the “maintenance phase.”  If you are in the maintenance phase of creatine supplementation, your body has essentially accumulated a peak level of creatine within intramuscular tissue.

If you were to discontinue creatine supplementation from a “maintenance” phase, it would take considerably longer for your creatine stores to reach a pre-supplementation baseline within intramuscular tissue than if you were to discontinue while in a “loading” phase.  A “loading” phase implies that your body hasn’t yet accumulated peak concentrations of creatine within intramuscular tissue.  If you were to discontinue early in the “loading” phase (e.g. within the first two days of supplementation), excretion of creatine wouldn’t take very long.

A combination of daily dosage and term of administration dictate whether someone is in a “loading” phase or “maintenance” phase.  To reach a state of creatine “maintenance,” supplementation with 20 grams for 5 to 7 days is usually necessary.  If a user were to take just 5 grams per day, it may take up to 1 month for him/her to reach peak levels and ultimately reach the “maintenance” phase.

Discontinuing creatine supplementation during “loading” will result in much faster elimination than during “maintenance.”  The earlier you are in the “loading” phase, the quicker you can expect creatine stores to be purged, whereas the closer you are to the “maintenance” phase, the longer you can expect creatine concentrations to remain high.  Research documents that it may take up to 30 days to eliminate exogenous creatine stores after peak levels (a.k.a. maintenance levels) are attained.

  1. Dosage (High vs. Low)

The aforementioned “loading” vs. “maintenance” phases are necessary to consider when contemplating how long it’ll take to excrete creatine and/or reach pre-supplementation baseline stores within intramuscular tissue.  Most people searching for “how long does creatine stay in your system” are probably less concerned with how long it remains in the plasma.  This is because, in most cases, creatine is eliminated from the plasma within 16.5 hours of discontinuation.

That said, if you are concerned with how long creatine remains in plasma circulation, it is necessary to consider that dosage may have a slight influence on plasma retention.  A person taking a small 5-gram dose will likely retain creatine for a shorter duration than someone taking a 20-gram dose.  If considering creatine’s ~3-hour half-life, we could estimate that a 5-gram dose would be down to just 2.5-grams in 3 hours time, whereas a 20-gram dose would be down to 10-grams in 3 hours time.

When ingested at a high dose, not only is there a greater amount of the creatine circulating throughout the plasma for a longer duration, but it may be subject to less efficient metabolism and excretion.  Studies have shown that extremely high doses (e.g. 5 grams/kg bodyweight) may adversely affect hepatic and renal function, possibly leading to prolonged retention, reabsorption, and a protracted elimination half-life.  If you use abnormally high doses of creatine, realize that it may remain in your plasma for a prolonged duration compared to those taking normative (and/or smaller) doses of creatine.

  1. Individual factors

Assume two individuals take the same dosages of creatine for the same duration, and each reach a “maintenance” phase.  From the maintenance phase they discontinue supplementation, yet one individual eliminates creatine from his/her plasma and intramuscular tissue quicker than the other.  In this case, differences in creatine elimination speed are likely a result of individual factors such as: age, body mass, hepatic function, and renal function.

Age: It is plausible to assume that elimination half-life of creatine may be prolonged among elderly individuals (over the age of 65).  Prolonged elimination half-life of creatine among elderly users may stem from the fact that elderly individuals often exhibit diminishing hepatic and renal function.  Since exogenous creatine is thought to be processed by enzymes in the kidneys and liver, decreased renal/hepatic function may compromise its metabolism.

This could lead to higher-than-average plasma concentrations and/or decreased excretion among elderly creatine users compared to healthy young adults.  If you are a young adult supplementing with creatine, expect it to be eliminated from your plasma with greater efficiency than among elderly users.  Since pharmacokinetic comparisons of creatine among young and elderly users haven’t been published, the extent to which its elimination half-life may differ is unknown.

Body mass index (BMI): Another variable that may affect how long creatine is likely to remain in your system is your body mass index and/or body fat percentage.  Individuals with a high BMI and/or high body fat are thought to have fewer water stores as a result of lower muscle tissue.  A reduced number of water stores means that less creatine is likely to be stored within the body – resulting in quicker systemic elimination among those who have a high BMI.

If you have a low BMI and considerable amounts of muscle tissue, you are likely harboring a greater quantity of water stores.  Since creatine has an affinity for water stores, it may remain in systemic circulation for a longer duration.  The more water an individual is carrying, the greater the volume of creatine distribution is to be expected, resulting in a longer elimination.

Hepatic function: Individuals with compromised hepatic function (e.g. impairment) may exhibit increased levels of exogenous creatine within plasma, post-ingestion.  Enzymes within the liver are responsible for aiding in the conversion of exogenous creatine to form metabolites and energy for the body.  In cases of hepatic impairment, the efficiency of enzymatic creatine metabolism is compromised.

The extent to which creatine metabolism is compromised via hepatic impairment may be related directly to the extent of hepatic dysfunction.  Individuals with severe forms of hepatic impairment may exhibit elevated concentrations of exogenous creatine within the plasma for a longer duration than those with minor impairment.  Compared to those with normative liver function, individuals with hepatic impairment may retain creatine in the plasma for a longer-term than usual.

Renal function: The kidneys are known to play a crucial role in utilizing exogenously administered creatine, but also are responsible for facilitating the excretion of creatine (and its metabolites).  Should you suffer from renal impairment, it is likely that creatine and its creatinine metabolites may linger in your system for a longer-than-average term.  Renal impairment may result in accumulation of creatine in renal pathways, leading to reabsorption and recirculation prior to excretion.

Expect protracted excretion, especially of creatinine, if you suffer from compromised renal function.  The extent to which you are renally impaired (mild, moderate, severe) is likely to dictate the duration of creatine/creatinine retention; severe impairment will yield longer retention.  If you don’t suffer from renal impairment, expect creatine (and its metabolites) to be excreted in a standard amount of time.

Studies show that when renal function decreases to 5% of its capacity, the half-life of creatinine increases from 3.85 hours to 77 hours.  At the extreme end of an elimination spectrum (resulting from severe renal impairment), it is possible to retain creatinine metabolites for around 17.65 days after creatine ingestion.  For this reason, exogenous creatine supplementation is not advised for those with renal impairment.

  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1133219

Creatine: Absorption, Metabolism, Excretion (Details)

Following administration of exogenous creatine (e.g. monohydrate), it is efficiently and well-absorbed (95%) by the small intestine, undergoes portal circulation, and is processed within the liver.  There is some evidence that supplementation of creatine along with food (e.g. meat) will reduce average peak plasma concentrations, but maintain peak plasma concentrations for a longer duration.  Ingestion of 2.3 grams of creatine was noted to elevate plasma concentrations by 5 to 6-fold among those with an average weight of 167 lbs.

Both exogenously ingested creatine, as well as endogenous creatine synthesized in the liver, enter systemic circulation and are transported to bodily tissues.  A majority of the creatine is shuttled to skeletal muscle tissue which harbors approximately 95% of all creatine stores.  Upon entering skeletal muscle tissue, over 60% of a dose is converted to the metabolite phosphocreatine via the enzyme known as “creatine kinase,” with a lesser amount (20-40%) remaining “free creatine.”

With heightened levels of free creatine and phosphocreatine, muscle cells are delivered a greater amount of ATP (via phosphorylation of ADP).  This essentially inhibits or delays muscle fatigue when faced with stressors (e.g. strength or endurance exercise).  A small percentage (~2%) is also metabolized to form “creatinine” metabolites.

The elimination half-life of exogenous creatine is approximately 3 hours, suggesting that upon discontinuation, creatine is eliminated from the plasma in under 16.5 hours.  Therefore, in less than a day you should expect creatine (and its phosphocreatine/creatinine metabolites) to have been eliminated from systemic circulation.  After 5 days of administration at high doses (20 grams per day), around 46.8% of the cumulative dose will have been excreted via the urine.

This indicates that approximately 53.2 grams of creatine (out of 100 grams) will have been retained in the body (mostly within muscle tissue).  After a peak concentration of creatine within intramuscular tissue is attained, it is easily maintained with smaller, maintenance dosing.  That said, upon cessation of exogenous supplementation, it may take up to 30 days (usually less) to fully eliminate artificially elevated intramuscular creatine stores, as well as excrete it via the urine.

  • Source: https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/creatine
  • Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17851680

Tips to clear Creatine from your system

If you don’t feel well while taking creatine, you may want to consider some tips below to detoxify your body from exogenous creatine.  Prior to implementing any of these strategies, discuss their safety and alleged efficacy with a medical professional.  Furthermore, realize that given sufficient time (up to 30 days) all exogenous creatine stores will be eliminated from your system.

  1. Activated charcoal: A supplement that you could consider taking if you want to expedite the elimination of creatine is that of activated charcoal. With its negative electrical charge, activated charcoal is capable of adsorbing creatine, creatinine metabolites, uric acid, and other toxins that may be lingering in the gastrointestinal tract, liver, and/or kidneys. If you believe that you took too much creatine and/or have discontinued but want to ensure that it’s out of your body and/or that you’re completely detoxified, activated charcoal may help.
  2. Calcium-d-glucarate: This supplement aids in the excretion of toxins that have accumulated within renal pathways. Since exogenously administered creatine is eliminated via the kidneys, calcium-d-glucarate may help optimize the efficiency of its excretion. This may be especially helpful among those with varying forms of renal impairment and/or among individuals that may exhibit accumulation of creatine, creatinine, or toxic molecules in detoxification pathways.

How long do you think Creatine stayed in your body after discontinuation?

Many people discontinue creatine supplementation and hypothesize as to when it fully left their systems.  Certain individuals report massive shifts in water-weight within the first few days of discontinuation, while others document subtler changes in their weight and/or muscular composition over a period of weeks after their last creatine dose.  Realize that as soon as you’ve stopped taking creatine, it will be eliminated from your plasma (along with its metabolites) in under 24 hours.

In addition, up to 46% of should have been excreted via your urine within the first day of discontinuation.  It may take several days thereafter to have fully excreted exogenous doses of creatine.  For the amount of creatine in your muscle tissue to decline and reach a pre-supplement baseline, it could take up to 30 days.

If you hadn’t reached a “maintenance” phase prior to discontinuation, downregulation of intramuscular creatine stores should take less time to reach a baseline.  If you want to share an anecdotal experience regarding how long you speculate it took to eliminate creatine from your plasma and/or body, leave a comment below.  Mention how long you had taken creatine, the dosage, and/or whether you have any conditions that may have altered its pharmacokinetics.

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