One of the most frequently asked questions we get at Stayfitcentral.com is whether it’s necessary to perform what’s referred to as a loading phase when you take creatine. In this article I explain what creatine loading is and answer once and for all whether it is worth the effort.
Just What Is Creatine Loading?
Before I answer this question let me first explain creatine loading to any of you who aren’t familiar with the term. Simply put, it is the process of taking enough creatine every day that will fill your muscles with creatine as quickly as possible.
Research finds that this phase should last 5-7 days during which time you take 20 grams of creatine monohydrate every day (7).
It’s a good idea to divide your daily dose into 4-5 individual servings every day. This will help your muscle best absorb the creatine you’re taking and prevent you from suffering an upset stomach which sometimes happens when taking rather large doses at once. After 5-7 days of taking creatine you will have gotten about as much creatine as possible into your muscles.
Should You Load Your Muscles With Creatine?
Now that you know what creatine loading is all about it’s time to answer the question as to whether it’s something you need to do. The answer to this question is yes. Especially if you are taking a creatine supplement to build muscle and/or improve your performance in the gym.
While it’s true that taking 3-5 grams of creatine monohydrate every day for about a month will fill your muscles just as much as a 5-7 day loading period the benefits you achieve aren’t likely to be the same. Researchers find that while taking the smaller amount every day for a month without loading first enables you to fill your muscles it doesn’t produce the same benefits (increased strength and muscle, greater workout endurance, etc.) as following a loading phase first (3,9).
Since you and I both want to get these benefits from our creatine supplement it seems to be a good decision to first perform a loading phase. Once you are done, you can keep your muscles filled by taking 5 grams a day (1 scoop) for as long as you like. You should continue to see benefits as long as you are taking a scoop a day and working out hard.
Another great reason to do a loading phase are the rapid results it produces. It’s not uncommon to gain a couple of pounds of muscle and increase your strength in the gym significantly during this week. These quick gains are great for keeping your motivation and efforts in the gym high.
Is Creatine Loading Safe?
Now that you know that it’s the best way to take creatine, you may wonder whether it’s safe. Studies find that both loading with creatine monohydrate and taking it for long periods of time is safe as long as you’re healthy (cite). Just to be safe, you should always speak with your doctor before taking creatine or any other nutritional supplement.
Should Women Load Too?
Yes they should. Studies show that women respond to creatine too and will get the most benefit by loading their muscles first. Don’t worry ladies. It won’t make you muscle bound or cause you to gain lots of extra weight. Studies show that while women get similar performance enhancing benefits from creatine as men, they don’t build as much muscle (5,8.
Getting The Most Bang For Your Buck
You can learn additional ways to get the most from your creatine supplement by reading this article. I’ve outlined the tips from this article below if you’d like to read the Cliff’s Notes version instead.
Get Lasting Results After Creatine Loading
- Follow a loading phase by taking 20 grams a day for 5-7 days in divided doses.
- Take 5 grams a day after your loading phase is done.
- Use a supplement that only contains creatine monohydrate. This is the type that is proven to work in dozens of peer-reviewed studies. Additionally, other types of creatine (buffered, esterified, liquid, etc.) are not shown to work at all (4).
- Take your creatine with a little carbs and protein to increase the amount that gets into your muscles.
- If taking creatine gives you an upset stomach, try taking it with meals. This does the trick for me.
Taking creatine after your workout can help get more into your muscles.
Creatine Supplement Recommendation for Creatine Loading
The supplement that I use and recommend is Betancourt Creatine. It mixes easily in water, is flavorless, is of the highest quality, and only costs $.14 a serving. Another great thing about it is that a can lasts me several months so I don’t have to bother ordering it every month.
If you have any other questions about creatine loading, send us an email. My staff and I are always here to answer your questions.
1. Branch JD. Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2003 Jun;13(2):198-226.
2. Green AL, Hultman E, Macdonald IA, Sewell DA, Greenhaff PL. Carbohydrate ingestion augments skeletal muscle creatine accumulation during creatine supplementation in humans. Am J Physiol. 1996 Nov;271(5 Pt 1):E821-6.
3. Hoffman JR, Stout JR, Falvo MJ, Kang J, Ratamess NA. Effect of low-dose, short-duration creatine supplementation on anaerobic exercise performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2005 May;19(2):260-4.
4. Jäger R, Harris RC, Purpura M, Francaux M.Comparison of new forms of creatine in raising plasma creatine levels. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007 Nov 12;4:17.
5. Kambis KW, Pizzedaz SK. Short-term creatine supplementation improves maximum quadriceps contraction in women. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2003 Mar;13(1):87-96.
6. Kreider, RB. Creatine, The Next Ergogenic Supplement? Sportsci.org. Accessed 2014 Feb. http://www.sportsci.org/traintech/creatine/rbk.html.
7. Kreider RB, Melton C, Rasmussen CJ, Greenwood M, Lancaster S, Cantler EC, Milnor P, Almada AL. Long-term creatine supplementation does not significantly affect clinical markers of health in athletes. Mol Cell Biochem. 2003 Feb;244(1-2):95-104.
8. Mihic S, MacDonald JR, McKenzie S, Tarnopolsky MA. Acute creatine loading increases fat-free mass, but does not affect blood pressure, plasma creatinine, or CK activity in men and women. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000 Feb;32(2):291-6.
9. Van Loon LJ, Oosterlaar AM, Hartgens F, Hesselink MK, Snow RJ, Wagenmakers AJ. Effects of creatine loading and prolonged creatine supplementation on body composition, fuel selection, sprint and endurance performance in humans. Clin Sci (Lond). 2003 Feb;104(2):153-62.