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The Science Behind Creatine Loading
Benefits, Side Effects & More

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: April 25, 2021

Creatine supplementation has become one of our most recommended approaches to bodybuilding and weight training.

But many clients we work with have difficulty with the concept of using a creatine loading phase to get started.

So, we worked with a diet and nutrition expert to bring you details of what creatine loading is, whether it’s necessary, and how to implement it.

Let’s get right to it.

What Is Creatine Loading?

man holding pills and a cup in a gym

Creatine loading is an approach to taking larger doses of creatine to maximize your creatine stores over a few days and weeks.

The idea behind it is simple.

Without taking any creatine supplements, your muscles’ creatine storage will only be about 70% full [1].

The main idea behind a loading phase is that you saturate your muscles over a few days with up to 20 grams of creatine per day.

More on this shortly.

What this does is increase the amount of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) that your body produces, boosting your raw energy levels for better exercise performance and muscle recovery.

But is this an essential step?

Is Creatine Loading Necessary?

pink tumbler scooping powder

No, it’s not essential to start taking creatine with a loading phase. If you take the regular daily recommended dosage, you’ll ultimately achieve higher muscle creatine stores and increased muscle strength.

But if you’re on a tight schedule to achieve lean body mass, then there are some significant benefits of flooding your system.

The main reason is that you speed up the effectiveness of a creatine supplement rather than having to wait a few weeks for the full effects to kick in.

“[Short-term] Creatine supplementation may improve mean total work, total work normalized per repetition, and total number of repetitions during a repetitions-to-failure (RFT) test that is performed in a fatigued condition.” - Joshua Feuerbacher, Researcher, Department of Molecular and Cellular Sports Medicine, German Sport University

But let’s take a look at some other benefits.

Advantages Of Creatine Loading

man showing off his biceps

Based on our own experience and the work we do with clients, we have identified these main benefits of implementing a loading phase.

1. Faster Muscle Gains

Creatine supplementation, in general, may lead to faster muscle growth when combined with strict and effective weight and exercise routines.

That’s an important factor.

Creatine is not a magic pill to make you look like Mr. Universe.

But the reason we’ve seen faster muscle gains is down to gaining a few weeks of a headstart where the body’s creatine stores are maximized sooner with a loading approach.

2. Better Muscle Recovery

man in a tank top showing off his arms

Studies conducted by the International Society of Sports Nutrition have shown that creatine may play a key role in recovering from resistance training [2].

And when that happens at an earlier stage of a training plan, there may be significant benefits to how soon people are ready for the next workout session.

Also, less soreness and stiffness in muscles may reduce how prone you are to injuries.

3. Improved Strength

Once the body has maximized creatine storage, there may also be a noticeable improvement in ATP production, which is the raw energy that muscles need when they are under maximum tension.

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Disadvantages Of Creatine Loading

woman hugging herself from pain

Creatine supplements are generally classed as safe with little to no side effects.

People with a sensitive stomach may have difficulty with taking one large dose, but that often comes down to a problem with protein absorption and is rare.

There are also some claims that a study showed creatine could lead to water retention and increased body weight.

However, those results were anecdotal and couldn’t be recreated.

Finally, anyone with kidney issues should avoid a creatine loading phase. The byproduct of creatine is called creatinine, and it’s flushed out through kidneys and urine.

How Do You Plan A Creatine Loading Phase?

woman holding a pill and container, while a measuring tape is on her

The International Society of Sports Nutrition says that doses up to 30 grams per day are classed as safe, which gives plenty of room for an effective loading protocol.

Loading Phase

Based on all the research data we found and the recommendation from official sports organizations, we generally recommend taking 20 grams of creatine per day for seven days when you first get started.

Now, the important thing is that this shouldn’t be all taken in one go. I have seen the best results by splitting it into three doses.

Take one in the morning with breakfast, then one before your workout and one after your workout.

Just keep in mind that you’ll burn through the content of a typical tub at such a high dose, so you may need to order enough.

Maintenance Phase

Once you’ve got maximum saturation levels (usually after a week of loading), you can reduce your daily supplement dose to the generally recommended 3-5 grams per day.

Research suggests that this is enough even for high-performance athletes as any surplus is simply flushed out of your system.

Also, once you’re in maintenance mode, there’s no need to load creatine again.

Do You Need An Off-Cycle?

woman about to swallow a supplement

With many other supplements, there is a tendency that your body gets used to the ingredients and eventually doesn’t react as effectively.

Is this the case with a daily dose of creatine?

The science isn’t clear here, but I have seen people use moderate creatine doses daily for more than six months after the initial muscle creatine loading.

And they were able to maintain the effects.

It’s a substance that your body needs for basic functions, and it will naturally maintain certain creatine levels. That’s why we wouldn’t say off-cycles are necessary.

Do You Know How You’re Going To Approach Creatine Loading?

There are clear benefits of creatine that you’ll achieve whether or not you go for a creatine load over the first week.

Once you get past 3 to 4 weeks, you’ll notice the same effects on your muscle mass.

So it all comes down to how patient you are and whether you’re under time pressure to achieve your goals.

If you don’t mind spending some extra for the first week, then definitely give loading a try and report back to us how it worked out for you.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21346331/
  2. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z

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