Manipulation of Muscle Creatine and Glycogen Changes Dual X-ray Absorptiometry Estimates of Body Composition

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2017 May;49(5):1029-1035. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001174.


Standardizing a dual x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) protocol is thought to provide a reliable measurement of body composition.

Purpose: We investigated the effects of manipulating muscle glycogen and creatine content independently and additively on DXA estimates of lean mass.

Method: Eighteen well-trained male cyclists undertook a parallel group application of creatine loading (n = 9) (20 g·d for 5 d loading; 3 g·d maintenance) or placebo (n = 9) with crossover application of glycogen loading (12 v 6 g·kg BM per day for 48 h) as part of a larger study involving a glycogen-depleting exercise protocol. Body composition, total body water, muscle glycogen and creatine content were assessed via DXA, bioelectrical impedance spectroscopy and standard biopsy techniques. Changes in the mean were assessed using the following effect-size scale: >0.2 small, >0.6, moderate, >1.2 large and compared with the threshold for the smallest worthwhile effect of the treatment.

Results: Glycogen loading, both with and without creatine loading, resulted in substantial increases in estimates of lean body mass (mean ± SD; 3.0% ± 0.7% and 2.0% ± 0.9%) and leg lean mass (3.1% ± 1.8% and 2.6% ± 1.0%) respectively. A substantial decrease in leg lean mass was observed after the glycogen depleting condition (-1.4% ± 1.6%). Total body water showed substantial increases after glycogen loading (2.3% ± 2.3%), creatine loading (1.4% ± 1.9%) and the combined treatment (2.3% ± 1.1%).

Conclusions: Changes in muscle metabolites and water content alter DXA estimates of lean mass during periods in which minimal change in muscle protein mass is likely. This information needs to be considered in interpreting the results of DXA-derived estimates of body composition in athletes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon* / standards
  • Adult
  • Body Composition / physiology*
  • Body Water / physiology
  • Creatine / administration & dosage
  • Creatine / metabolism*
  • Glycogen / administration & dosage
  • Glycogen / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*


  • Glycogen
  • Creatine