Everyone knows that creatine works. It’s been around for years and still remains one of the most potent ergonomic aids of current times.
Today there are lots of different types of creatine supplement such as CRE8N-MX, but some athletes still swear by creatine loading, others cannot load and complain that a high-dosed creatine intake upsets their stomach.
But is a creatine loading phase necessary and should you be doing it?
Before we get to the million-dollar question and explain which creatine loading strategy is right for you, let’s first outline some interesting facts about creatine (that you probably didn’t know).
Creatine: An introduction
Creatine is an organic (carbon-based) compound that is produced endogenously by the human body, with metabolism predominantly being in the Liver and kidneys. Creatine is metabolised from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine, however small amounts of creatine can be absorbed from eating meat and animal protein sources.
It has the empirical formula of C4H9N3O2 and because every creatine molecule has both an NH2 (amine) and COO2 (acid) functional group, it is classified in chemistry as an amino acid.
See also: What Are Amino Acid Supplements? (AND WHY YOU NEED TO USE THEM)
Nevertheless creatine is not incorporated into any peptide sequences that constitute proteins found in human skeletal muscle tissue. Instead of being assimilated into muscle proteins, creatine is used to generate ATP (Adenosine Tri-Phosphate).
ATP is the fundamental energy source that powers virtually every activity of every cell in the entire human body. Creatine, stored as creatine phosphate plays a vital and key-role in the regeneration and synthesis of ATP. Simply put, more ATP means more energy, more muscle power, and more performance!
Cool Fact: (For the Tech Savy!)
Creatine is a zwitterion (chem). This is because creatine’s molecular structure has two functional groups with polar opposite electrical charges.
However, the overall molecular electrical charge is neutral because the opposing polar charges of the functional groups balance each other out.
A zwitterion is not to be confused with an amphoteric compound, which is distinctly different. An amphoteric compound may react as either a base or an acid, but can only form either a cationic or anionic species. A zwitterion on the other-hand holds both cationic and anionic states simultaneously.
Creatine Loading (What it is, how to do it and what it does)
The creatine loading phase is typically run for 5-7 days whereby a dose of 5 grams of creatine monohydrate is taken 4 times a day. The aim of the creatine loading phase is to super-saturate your muscles with creatine.
Once the creatine monohydrate loading phase is complete, a maintenance dose is followed; this is usually between 5-10 grams of creatine monohydrate per day.
Question: How much water should I drink while loading creatine?
During a creatine loading phase I would suggest drinking an extra litre of pure water per day.
In order to maximise the creatine loading phase it is important to drink more water. This is because creatine is an osmolyte and draws fluid in to the muscle cell, increasing the cells volume.
The higher the concentration of muscle phosphocreatine (Pcr) stores, the higher the volume of intra-muscular fluid. It is for this reason that it is quite common for an athlete to gain a few extra pounds in bodyweight after loading up with creatine monohydrate. This is known as lean mass.
Drinking extra water during a creatine loading phase will help maximise creatine uptake.
Creatine Myth: Contrary to popular belief, creatine does not affect fluid distribution or dehydration. It does not draw water from the blood (or anywhere else) and store it in your muscles. Creatine actually improves hydration.
Question: What are the benefits of taking creatine?
Increased energy levels, increased strength and increased recovery.
After intense physical exercise, ATP stores become depleted, creatine phosphate donates phosphate groups toward the fast synthesis of ATP thus speeding recovery and boosting energy levels.
Question: When is the best time to take creatine?
You can supplement with creatine at any time of day, nevertheless the best time by far to take creatine is in and around training.
For example, one huge reason why you are guaranteed to get better results consuming creatine while you work out is due to a process known as hyperaemia (an excess of blood in the vessels supplying an organ or other part of the body).
During a workout out demands on your muscles are increased and in order to keep up with workload your muscles require more oxygen and more nutrients. Extra oxygen and nutrients are supplied via an increase in blood-flow to the muscle(s) that are working.
Pro Tip: To speed up creatine uptake and force feed your muscles try sipping on a serving of creatine during training.
What does this mean for you?
If you take advantage of this window of opportunity you’re quickly going to get a boost in ATP right there and then, when you most need it (during your workout). This increase in ATP is going to jack up your strength, energy and performance, and speed up recovery.
The next time you are working out, follow this powerful tip for jaw-dropping results!
Question: How much water do you mix creatine with?
Creatine monohydrate is only slightly soluble in water; approximately 1 gram of creatine monohydrate will dissolve in 75 ml of water at room temperature.
Therefore for a single dose of 5 grams of creatine monohydrate, a minimum volume of 375 ml of water would be required.
Question: Can I benefit from taking creatine if I am a vegetarian?
Supplementing with creatine is a definite MUST if you are a vegetarian or vegan athlete. Simply put, although a vegan diet is highly nutrient dense, plant-based foods pretty much contain zero creatine.
Question: Does Creatine Help You Build Bigger Muscles?
Yes and no – the answer is two-fold.
Creatine is indeed an amino acid, but it is not used in muscle protein synthesis. Therefore it does not directly build muscle tissue. However, creatine does increase muscle cell volumisation, which leads to an increase in the size of muscle cells.
Question: Can women take creatine?
The landslide majority of clinical and in vivo studies have been done on men; there isn’t a significant amount of data on the use of creatine and women. Nevertheless the creatine phosphate/ATP system is the same for both men and women.
Therefore women can also benefit from creatine supplementation. In fact creatine use is extremely popular in womens sprinting. Creatine isn’t on any banned substances list and works great for boosting explosive strength.
If you are a woman who is considering taking creatine, don’t worry! It’s not going to make you “manly”, look like a bodybuilder, or make you gain a ton of weight.
Question: Should you be creatine loading, is it necessary?
It depends; this is not a hard and fast rule.
An athlete will consume between 100 – 140 grams of creatine monohydrate during a typical creatine loading phase. This is a LOT of creatine!
For example, according to a recent review on creatine supplementation and exercise performance, an average 70 kg young male has a creatine pool of around 120-140g.
The 140 grams of creatine used to load is approximately the same amount of the total creatine stored in an average 70 kilogram male! Now that is a lot of creatine!
Needless to say, smashing down a ton of creatine monohydrate for a whole week is definitely going to increase creatine muscle stores, but is this method a costly case of overkill?
Is it possible to conquer you goals in a more affordable way?
Let’s look at another study which indicated that it is possible to achieve creatine muscle saturation by consuming only 3 grams of creatine per day over a period of 28 days.
Therefore, using a lower dose of creatine can still work, although if you want to hit a PB within a set deadline, creatine loading is going to give you that competitive-edge quicker.
Question: How much creatine should I take?
To date there is no one single best absolute number or ratio.
However a good guide would be to use between 0.2 grams – 0.3 grams of creatine per kilogram of bodyweight when creatine loading.
Studies show that the creatine content of muscle tissue is around 2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. For example, the study I mentioned earlier; review on creatine supplementation and exercise performance concluded that an average 70 kg male has a creatine pool of around 120-140g.
Assuming the upper figure of 140 grams to be true, that would equate to exactly 2 grams per kilogram of body weight.
Based on this figure you can calculate how much creatine to use during a loading phase. I would recommend using 0.2 grams per kilogram of body weight, per day. Divide this dose into 4 separate servings and use at even intervals throughout the day.
To get the absolute most our of your creatine load be sure to take one of the doses either before, during, or post workout.
After you have completed the creatine loading phase, drop down to a quarter dose of your loading phase.
Here is what this would look like for a 100 kilogram athelete:
Daily creatine loading dose: 20 grams
Daily creatine maintenance dose: 5 grams
Of course you can experiment with a higher dose of 0.3 grams of creatine per kilogram of bodyweight, but I would personally recommend starting off at the lower dose. You can always go higher if needed.
Creatine dosing considerations
It’s important to note, the more lean muscle mass you have the more creatine you can store in your muscles, and vice versa. If you are thinking about calculating your creatine dose based on bodyweight, you need to be realistic and consider just how much lean mass you have.
Body fat doesn’t store creatine!
Take home thoughts
In order to super saturate creatine muscle stores you are going to have to consume a significantly higher daily intake that what is ordinarily supplied through dietary means.
If you have a sensitive stomach, perhaps loading isn’t for you.
Question: Is it necessary to cycle creatine usage?
It depends – there are a few considerations.
First off, there is no evidence to suggest that cycling on and off creatine is more effective than its continuous use.
If you use a lower dose of creatine and don’t run a loading phase, or if you supplement with a creatine complex such as CRE8N-MX and only consume on training days – you won’t need to cycle your supplementation. Period!
However if you do run a creatine loading phase followed by a maintenance dose, I would suggest cycling usage as follows:
Week1: Creatine Load (5 grams taken 4 times a day)
Weeks 2-8: Maintenance dose (5 grams daily, preferably during training)
Weeks 9-12: Off-cycle (no creatine whatsoever)
As previosly discussed, you can calculate your own creatine dosage based on bodyweight. However, for most people the above regime should be sufficient.
Creatine loading: Safety and side effects.
Question: Is creatine safe to take?
Yes, creatine is perfectly safe to take.
There is literally tons of data that has been published from medical studies that document the use and safety of creatine. For example even the International Society of Sports Nutrition regard creatine as being “extremely safe”.
Despite all the evidence-based data along with millions of healthy world-wide creatine users, some people still make crazy claims about creatine being bad for you. It has even been said that creatine is a steroid and that it will make your hair fall out.
These claims are completely unfounded and untrue.
Don’t listen to the naysayers, creatine is proven to work and this best-selling sports supplement is approved safe for human consumption by all governing bodies, including the food standards agency (FSA) and the UK’s medicines and healthcare regulatory association (MHRA).
Question: Does taking creatine have side effects?
There are certain associated side-effects of creatine loading, usually when it is over-dosed. You can take too much.
Have you ever noticed a pile of white creatine powder left at the bottom of your shaker after downing a serving of creatine monohydrate? This is frighteningly wasteful! The reason for this is because the solubility of creatine monohydrate is not that great.
On rare occasion people can experience stomach pains and/or diarrhoea during a creatine loading phase.
As those power-packed micronized grains of undissolved creatine monohydrate work their way through your digestive system and intestinal tract, they can have an osmotic effect. Attracting water in the wrong place and thus having a laxative effect, which depending on the dose can cause diarrhoea.
However, this is more common when single doses of 10 grams or more are taken all at once and when the creatine is not taken with enough water to properly and fully dissolve the powder.
If you find that you experience any side effects like this, simply back off the dose, or, ditch the loading phase.
Pro Tip: Stick to a 5 gram serving and use enough water to ensure that all of the creatine powder has dissolved.
Alternatively, use a rapid dissolving creatine formula such as CRE8N-MX, (NO LOADING REQUIRED).
Question: Can Creatine damage your kidneys?
Creatine is perfectly safe to use in healthy adults with healthy and normal kidney function.
In order for creatine to be absorbed by the body and stored in muscle tissue, it has to first be metabolised into phosphocreatine (creatine phosphate). This process yields a by-product metabolite called creatinine.
Kidney health is usually measured by considering blood levels of creatinine along with glomerular filtration rate (GFR). It is generally recognised that the higher the blood levels of creatinine, the more reduced the function of the kidneys.
Supplementing with creatine especially during a loading phase can artificially elevate blood serum levels of creatinine. Needless to say this does NOT mean that kidney function is reduced.
However if you do suffer from chronic kidney disease or any other form of kidney dysfunction, it is not recommended that you supplement with creatine for the above reasons.
Creatine Loading: Summary
Ultimately all creatine regardless of the type you ingest is stored in the form of creatine phosphate. However the absorption, solubility and the effectiveness of all creatines are not the same.
Creatine monohydrate the first king of creatine is the most studied form of creatine on the market and is the back-bone of all good creatine supplements, it genuinely works.
However, solubility on the other-hand is entirely a different issue and it can cause digestive upset in certain individuals with higher creatine sensitivity.
If you are one of these individuals, ditch the loading phase and opt for a lower maintenance dose, or switch to a more complete creatine product such as CRE8N-MX that has superior absorption.
The Bottom Line
Either way, if you are an athlete working hard to achieve your best you can’t afford not to supplement with creatine. If you have never tried it, you should – it’s surprisingly good.
So now it’s your turn, what is your favourite way to use creatine? Have you tried any of the tips in this guide?
Article by Paul Jenkins CEO and founder of DNA Lean®