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Alcohol and Health

Can I Drink Alcohol If I Take Creatine?

Published:
June 27, 2024
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19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 27, 2024
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19 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 27, 2024
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 27, 2024
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19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 27, 2024
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19 min read

Creatine and Alcohol: Playing for Different Teams

  • Creatine is a supplement that improves athletic performance by providing more energy to muscle cells, helping build muscles and speeding recovery.
  • Alcohol has the opposite effects and can derail the progress you make on creatine by causing dehydration, muscle degeneration, and fatigue, among other problems.
  • Reframe can provide you with science-backed information about alcohol’s effects on fitness and beyond. Start your journey and join our global thriving community today!

Walk into any supplement store, and you’re sure to see huge tubs of creatine powder with bold, bright-colored labels to highlight their “cool” toughness. Professional athletes, gym aficionados, and health enthusiasts alike have jumped on the creatine wagon, diligently mixing up the powder into drinks to increase muscle mass and boost performance in high-intensity workouts.

But what about creatine and alcohol: can you mix the two? Can you drink alcohol while taking creatine? And what happens if you don't drink enough water on creatine, especially if you top off the night with a cocktail or a round of shots? Let’s find out!

What Is Creatine?

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We’ve all seen creatine lining the shelves, but what’s inside those tough-looking plastic tubs of powder? Actually, it’s not quite as exotic as it looks. Before creatine was ever sold in your local supplement store, it already existed in nature — specifically, in the tissues of living organisms!

Identified in 1832 by French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul, creatine is an amino acid compound found naturally in muscles, as well as in some foods, such as fish and meat (hence the name, which comes from kreas, the Greek word for meat). Chevreul was on a mission to discover why eating meat increased muscle mass in dogs. And while the answer might seem obvious to us, the connection was news to the 19th century medical community, earning Chevreul a permanent spot in the science hall of fame — and his name engraved on the Eiffel Tower.

Creatine Chemistry

Chemically speaking, creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid that helps supply energy to cells throughout the body, particularly muscle cells where it’s stored as phosphocreatine. It does this by making it easier for muscle cells to use adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is derived from food we eat and is used as the “energy currency” of the body to fuel everything from muscle contractions to thinking and repairing tissues.  

Creating Creatine

No, we don’t have to buy creatine at the store — our body can make it on its own by stringing together three amino acids: arginine, glycine, and methionine.

The process of creatine synthesis occurs in the kidneys, liver, and pancreas. While our body can produce creatine on its own, we can also obtain it through dietary sources. The best sources are animal products.

  • Red meat. For obvious reasons, red meat is one of the richest sources of creatine (after all, it’s pretty much all muscle!) With about 2 grams of creatine per pound, it gives us the biggest boost.
  • Fish. Fish isn’t too far behind as far as creatine is concerned. For example, herring, salmon, and tuna all offer around 1 to 2 grams per pound.
  • Poultry. Chicken and turkey also provide creatine. However, they have slightly less than red meat and fish.
  • Eggs and milk. While eggs and milk do have some creatine, the quantity is pretty minimal. However, when combined with some of the sources above, they can provide an extra boost.

Many people can get all the creatine they need (and then some) from animal sources. That said, sometimes we need a bit of extra help, as far as creatine creation is concerned (especially if we’re vegetarians or have specific fitness goals in mind). Enter supplements!

How Do Creatine Supplements Work?

It’s fairly straightforward. Creatine supplements work just like the natural stuff — by increasing the availability of ATP in muscle cells. They’re especially useful in high-intensity workouts, such as sprints or HIIT intervals involving jumping and other plyometric exercises. And, of course, creatine can be a massive aid in weightlifting, providing our hardworking muscles with extra ATP, which allows us to increase the intensity and duration of our lifting sessions.

Here’s a more detailed look at why creatine supplements are a staple in the fitness world.

  • They boost energy. In addition to helping our muscles “recycle” ATP, creatine supplements make it easier for our muscles to store and access glycogen — a “ready-to-use” molecule that releases glucose to be burned for instant energy. Think of them as the “quick withdrawal” option at the ATM — resources available right away, no extra buttons to push or time to waste. The result? Better strength, power, and endurance. Research shows that creating can lead to faster treadmill sprint times, cycling performance, and other improvements. 
  • They facilitate muscle growth. While creatine doesn’t cause muscles to “grow” directly, it contributes to the muscle-building process by drawing fluids into muscle cells to create the right environment for growth. The result? Increased protein synthesis and decreased breakdown. 
  • They speed up recovery. To top it off, creatine reduces inflammation and damage in muscles, promoting faster recovery and reducing risk of serious injury. 

And if you think creatine supplements are just for “gym rats,” think again! They’re often recommended to older adults to stave off age-related muscle mass loss. (Did you know that we start to lose muscle mass way before gray hair and other signs of aging are on the horizon? The process begins around age 30, leading to a loss of 3% to 5% per decade and adding up to a grand total of almost 30% for an average man throughout life.)

Does Creatine Dehydrate You?

Those who swear by creatine will be happy to hear this: the myth that creatine causes dehydration and muscle cramps has been laid to rest. In fact, recent studies have shown that creatine boosts performance in any weather conditions and actually helps the body regulate heart rate and sweat rate. It might also have a positive effect on plasma volume as dehydration starts to set in, preventing adverse effects.

Alcohol and Creatine

Can we drink alcohol while taking creatine? The short answer is: it’s not a good idea. Let’s find out why.

1. Dehydration Disaster

While we’ve already debunked the myth of creatine and dehydration, we still need to make sure we’re drinking enough water while we’re exercising. What happens if we don't drink enough water on creatine? If we’re putting our muscles through intense workouts — creatine or no creatine — we could land in troubled waters. Hydration is essential for our system to function properly. After all, around 60% of our body is made of water, with the brain and heart being 73% and the lungs 83% water-based. In fact, we can find water in the most unlikely places in the body, such as the bones (which are almost a third H2O)!

And alcohol? It works against us when it comes to hydration. A notorious dehydrator, booze suppresses vasopressin, a hormone that tells our kidneys to hold on to water. The result? The floodgates open, and we make numerous bathroom trips throughout the night, waking up dry and parched the next morning. Altogether, this is a recipe for dehydration, cramps, headaches, and overall sluggishness. Not what we want if a workout is on the docket for the day (and even if it isn’t)! 

2. Muscle Mess

It might not be the first effect we think of, but alcohol can mess with our muscles. Science shows that it interferes with protein synthesis while contributing to protein degeneration. Needless to say, both of these effects are the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve by taking creatine supplements in an effort to boost our muscle growth and overall performance. (For more information, take a look at “Can Alcohol Impair Muscle Growth?”)

3. Performance Problems

Let’s face it: cocktails and the gym don’t mix. A weightlifting session or a run the morning after a boozy night out is unlikely to be a success. Why? There are a few reasons.

  • Alcohol slows down metabolism. When it comes to effective energy use, alcohol and creatine are working against each other. While creatine allows our muscle cells to use energy more efficiently, alcohol does the opposite by cutting in the metabolic line as the body puts other processes on hold in order to get it out of our system. As a result, nutrients in our food don’t get absorbed as efficiently and metabolic processes are put on hold to get what the body sees as a poison flushed out as quickly as possible.
  • Drinking interferes with sleep. In spite of making us initially drowsy, alcohol disrupts our natural sleep cycles by causing frequent awakenings and depriving us of the most restorative REM stages of sleep. The result? We end up fatigued and groggy and are much more likely to phone it in instead of jumping on that treadmill or getting ready for a lifting session.
  • Alcohol leads to hangovers. Fatigue, dehydration, headaches — the list goes on. The way we feel the night after drinking is anything but conducive to a good workout.

As you can see, mixing alcohol and creatine is counterproductive, to say the least. We’re likely to end up exhausted, frazzled, and frustrated with our lack of results.

4. Calorie Catastrophe

Last but not least, alcohol is chock-full of empty calories that quickly add up without providing any nutritional benefits. So, whether our fitness goals are about weight loss or strength training, booze is likely to derail our progress. (Want to learn more? Check out “The Link Between Alcohol and Unwanted Weight Gain.”)

So, Should You Mix Alcohol and Creatine?

Based on the interactions and effects mentioned, it's advisable to avoid or significantly limit alcohol consumption while taking creatine. 

Tips for Healthy Muscles and Beyond

Finally, here’s some advice to get the most out of your gym sessions and keep those muscles healthy.

  1. Nourish your body. First and foremost, make sure you are eating plenty of muscle-friendly foods, such as protein-rich fish, chicken, beans, nuts, and eggs. Your body can only use a limited amount of protein at a time, so don’t go overboard with the number of grams — somewhere in the range of 20-30 grams per serving is usually plenty (for example, 3.5 ounces of salmon has about 24 grams.)
  2. Start slow. If you’re starting a fitness program or have recently added creatine to your routine, make sure you don’t rush it. Take your time! Muscle strength and endurance take time to build, and avoiding injuries should be at the top of your list of priorities. Work with a qualified trainer or physical therapist to get the best results as you build your program.
  3. Skip the drink. Also important: remember that alcohol and creatine play for different teams. In addition to preventing creatine supplements from working their magic, it could sabotage your workout efforts in general. Between alcohol-related muscle loss, hangovers, and empty calories, booze is not your gym buddy!

With these tips, you’ll be able to make the most of your workout while giving creatine a chance to work its magic.

Beyond the Gym

And remember, the benefits of cutting back on alcohol or quitting altogether go way beyond the gym. In addition to better strength, flexibility, and performance, there are so many benefits to look forward to: better sleep, clear skin, weight loss, improved heart health, and a lower risk of certain cancers. If you’re noticing that alcohol is becoming too prominent in your life but are having trouble scaling back, check out Reframe! Millions of others have been where you are and are now thriving — both at the gym and beyond!

Summary FAQs

1. What is creatine and why do people use it?

Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid found naturally in muscle cells and certain foods like fish and meat. It helps supply energy to cells, particularly muscle cells, enhancing physical performance and muscle mass during high-intensity activities like weightlifting and sprinting.

2. Can you drink alcohol while taking creatine?

It's not recommended to drink alcohol while taking creatine. Alcohol can dehydrate us, interfere with our muscle's ability to utilize creatine, and negatively impact our workout performance and recovery.

3. How does alcohol affect muscle growth when taking creatine?

Alcohol can hinder muscle growth by interfering with protein synthesis and increasing protein breakdown. This is counterproductive to the muscle-enhancing effects of creatine, which aims to boost muscle growth and improve performance.

4. What happens if you don't drink enough water on creatine?

Staying hydrated is crucial while taking creatine, especially during workouts. Creatine requires sufficient water to function effectively and prevent dehydration, even though it doesn't inherently dehydrate us. Alcohol increases dehydration risk, compounding potential issues.

5. Does creatine dehydrate you?

Contrary to popular belief, creatine does not cause dehydration or muscle cramps. Recent studies have shown that it may actually help maintain hydration and prevent cramps by improving the body's ability to manage heat and maintain fluid balance.

Keep Your Muscles Healthy and Drink Less With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today!

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