Creatine Non-Responders

August 1st, 2010 by Paul Johnson

The idea of Creatine non-responders is a contreversial topic to some in bodybuilding.  Those who get great results from Creatine can’t understand why some are claiming no results. I want to settle the issue once and for all. 

What is a Creatine nonresponder? 

It's someone who doesn't notice all the usual immediate effects one would expect from using creatine. The effects usually include modest strength and endurance gains, extra lean gains, and fuller muscles and water bloat.  Creatine works at the cellular level to help give short term bursts of energy so it does enhance strength for short duration heavy sets and give you more overall endurance.  Creatine also helps draw in more water into the muscle cells, which is why you have to make sure you drink plenty of water with creatine to avoid cramping.  For some reason some people don't really notice these effects no matter how much and long they supplement.

How to know if you are a true Creatine Non-Responder

I believe there are legitimate cases of Creatine non-responders.  I personally don't respond at all to creatine monohydrate.  Now some suggest you need a better form of creatine like micronized creatine or one of the others that absorb well.  If it was just a matter of getting a better creatine form than monohydrate would work for creatine non-responders. All they would have to do is take a little bit extra each day for a little longer to make up for differences in absorption.   Its not an absorption issue though because even when I took above and longer than the recommended dose of creatine monohydrate I noticed no real effect like others have.  Some bodybuilders notice a dramatic difference in weight and strength gains with creatine, some are more modest, but I don't experience anything that I can attribute to creatine. Creatine non-responders is not just an ancedotal finding among bodybuilders. Its also been showing in many studies that a percentage of the population do not respond to creatine.

I believe there are small amount of cases where people confuse Creatine non-responder to some other issue. For example, if they are using some bad form of creatine like liquid creatine or CEE creatine which has been shown to be scams because they break down in the stomach making it worthless. Obviously, if you use a bad form of creatine like them then you are not going to be a responder.   However, there are many including me that don't respond to the regular monohydrate form of creatine or other acceptable forms.

Sciencentific theories on creatine nonresponders

There are some other theories about what causes creatine nonresponders.  Some have suggested not enough meat in the diet.  Ive never been a big meat eater, but I do eat meat regularly and many other non-responders do.  If your a vegetarian then that may be a legitimate case for being a non-responder, since meat does contain natural amounts of creatine and your body doesn't make all that it needs.

The theory that seems the most acceptable to me is that some people just genetically don't respond well to creatine because they either have high levels of natural creatine that their body makes.  Our body does make small amounts of creatine when it doesn't get it from the diet. Which is why you have to cycle creatine supplements so you don't start shutting off natural production.

Below is a study that suggests my theory on Creatine non-responders is correct. It seems to suggest those with lower type 2 muscle fibers (fast power muscle fibers that are most responsible for muscle size gains and strength) and those with less muscle and other muscle genetic factors are more likely to be creatine nonresponders.

1: J Strength Cond Res. 2004 Aug;18(3):610-7.
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Acute Creatine Monohydrate Supplementation: A Descriptive Physiological Profile of Responders vs. Nonresponders.

Syrotuik DG, Bell GJ.
Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.

Syrotuik, D.G., and G.J. Bell. Acute creatine monohydrate supplementation: a descriptive physiological profile of responders vs. nonresponders.

J. Strength Cond. Res. 18(3):610- 617. 2004.-The purpose of this study was to describe the physiological profile of responders (>20 mmol.kg(-1) dry weight [dw] increase in total intramuscular creatine monohydrate [Cr] + phosphorylated creatine [PCr]) versus nonresponders (<10 mmol.kg(-1) dw increase) to a 5-day Cr load (0.3 g.kg(-1).d(-1)) in 11 healthy men (mean age = 22.7 years). Pre-post 5-day cellular measures included total resting Cr content (Cr + PCr), fiber type composition, and fiber type cross-sectional area (CSA) determined from muscle biopsies of the vastus lateralis. Body mass, daily dietary intake, 24-hour urine outputs, urinary Cr and creatinine (CrN), and strength performance measures (1 repetition maximum [1RM] bench and leg press) were also assessed before and after the 5-day loading period. Results indicated that there were 3 levels of response to the 5-day supplementation: responders (R), quasi responders (QR), and nonresponders (NR) with mean changes in resting Cr + PCr of 29.5 mmol.kg(-1) dw (n = 3), 14.9 mmol.kg(-1) dw (n = 5), and 5.1 mmol.kg(-1) dw (n = 3), respectively.

The results support a person-by-treatment interaction to acute Cr supplementation with R possessing a biological profile of lowest initial levels of Cr + PCr, greatest percentage of type II fibers, and greatest preload muscle fiber CSA and fat-free mass. Responders also showed improvement in 1RM leg press scores following the 5-day loading period. NR had higher preload levels of Cr + PCr, less type II muscle fibers, small preload muscle CSA, and lower fat-free mass and displayed no improvements in 1RM strength scores.

The results suggest that to be considered a responder to acute oral supplementation, a favorable preexisting biological profile may determine the final extent to which an individual responds to supplementation. Physiologic profiles of nonresponders appear to be different and may limit their ability to uptake Cr. This may help partially explain the reported equivocal performance findings in the Cr supplementation literature.