Do you need to load creatine? The answer is simple!
No, you don't need to load creatine. With a loading phase you will see the full results of creatine within a week, whereas if you take the maintenance dose, you will achieve full saturation within four weeks. There are no other benefits to loading, it just saturates your muscles at a faster rate.
This is the answer in a nutshell. With that said, let's dive in deeper into the topic and discuss:
And some considerations for people who may need to do a loading phase.
Why supplement with creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid naturally produced by your body, which helps with the first ~10s of intense exercise. Therefore, supplementing with creatine reliably helps your ability to perform strength and power based activities.
Here are some of the benefits you can expect from supplementation:
Before you can experience these benefits though, your muscles have to reach a state called muscle creatine saturation - i.e. the muscle cells have to be 100% filled with creatine.
Though creatine is produced by your body and you also get some from eating meat…
At any given point in time your muscle cells are only 60-80% filled with creatine. Therefore, you need to supplement your creatine intake to experience the aforementioned benefits.
What is creatine loading?
To reach muscle creatine saturation you have to take creatine on a daily basis for an extended period of time. The recommended amount is 3-5g for 4 weeks to reach saturation. After that point, you can maintain those levels by supplementing with the same dose for as long as you want.
This is a maintenance phase.
A creatine loading phase is a phase where you consume a larger amount of creatine in a shorter amount of time to reach creatine muscle saturation faster.
The most common and recommended way is to take 20g of creatine per day, for 5-7 days. We recommend you to split this dose in 4 servings of 5g throughout the day. Studies show that following this regimen you can improve your creatine levels by 10-40%.
After the 5-7 days, you should lower your intake to 5g per day to maintain your stores.
Do you need to load creatine?
In the beginning of this article, we answered this question by saying that you don't need to load creatine because the results will be the same in the end. This applies if you are a hobby lifter or you are just getting into taking creatine.
However, there can be exceptions to this.
If for some reason you need to obtain the creatine benefits quickly - for an athletic event for example - or you need to boost your strength quickly, then go ahead and load.
We want to clarify that you don't "need" to do it though.
If anything, being patient may be more beneficial, as we will see in the following section regarding the potential side effects of creatine loading.
Creatine loading side effects
There are two side effects associated with a loading phase though:
This is the worst that can happen during a loading phase, and the incidence of gastrointestinal issues is small to begin with. Even so, if you have the patience, we suggest starting with a maintenance phase and building up your levels that way.
How do I load creatine?
Loading creatine is done by taking a relatively large amount of the supplement over a short period of time to achieve muscle saturation faster. To load, take 20g of creatine over a 5-7 day period, splitting the dose in 4 servings of 5g throughout the day.
Is creatine loading safe?
Yes, creatine loading is safe. However, it can lead to gastrointestinal issues if you take more than 10g of the supplement in a single serving. To avoid this issue, split up your dose in 3-4 servings throughout the day.
Is creatine loading necessary?
No, it is not necessary. Whether you start with a maintenance phase or a loading phase, by the end of your first month of consistent creatine intake, you will have reached the same results. The only difference being that a loading phase takes 1 week, whereas a maintenance phase takes 4 weeks to reach muscle saturation.
How often should you load creatine?
If you decide to do creatine loading, you can do it every time you take a month off and you need to build the creatine stores in your muscles back up. That being said, you don't have to do a loading phase each time you start supplementing again, having the option to start with a maintenance phase too.
The bottom line
Do you need to load creatine?
No, you can certainly start from the get-go with the maintenance dosage of 5g per day. However, if you are not patient or you need to get the benefits of creatine quickly, then starting with a loading phase can help you achieve that.
All in all, skipping that phase and jumping straight into maintenance will bring you the same results over the long run, and you will also save on some creatine powder.
Over to you.