Creatine is one of the most popular supplements in the fitness world and for very good reasons. Research has shown that creatine can be helpful in improving exercise performance, build muscle and strength and prevent injuries (1).
Creatine is stored in your muscles and used for quick energy bursts.
We get roughly 60-80% of our creatine requirements from food, therefore creatine supplements can be a great way to completely fill them.
Research has suggested that a creatine loading phase can be a quick way of increasing your creatine stores, allowing you to get the benefits much faster. However loading of creatine may not be as great as it's reputation suggests.
In this article I hope to clear up the confusion surrounding creatine loading, help you understand what it is, how to implement it and if you even need to do it at all.
By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of how to take your creatine!
What Is Creatine Loading
If you ask 10 different people about how to take creatine, you’ll get 10 different answers. Confusing, right? Well the main confusion about how to take creatine is due to this persistent mythology known as creatine loading.
This is due to supplement companies telling their customers that they must do a creatine loading phase. What this basically means is that you take a big dose of creatine for a certain amount of time in order to flood your body and saturate your muscles with the supplement and then you transition to a maintenance dose of creatine.
From your normal diet you are able to fill around 60-80% of your muscles stores of creatine (2). So in theory, creatine loading sounds like a good idea. Some studies even support this regimen of loading, proposing it can boost creatine stores by 10 to 40% (3, 4).
Creatine Loading Dose: The typical dose for loading creatine is 20g of creatine a day for 5 days. After this period is done, you move on to a maintenance dose of 2-5g of creatine a day. Then you keep this dose for around a month and cycle off.
The problem with taking such a massive dose of creatine is that many people will experience intestinal distress. I’m talking bloating, cramping, and running to the toilet with diarrhea. It’s not pretty. And it’s not fun.
As a compromise, many people will load creatine by taking 10g a day for 10-14 days and then transitioning into a maintenance dose of 2-5g per day for the rest of their cycle.
However, creatine can be very harsh on the stomach. Especially creatine monohydrate, which is the most common form. As such, even 10g a day is a lot for many people (myself included).
So, if you have a bad stomach and you know creatine is going to give you unpleasant side effects (5), what do you do? Well, personally I say forget all about loading creatine!
Do I Need To Creatine Load?
The answer is NO! You do not need to “creatine load”. I personally believe that the whole creatine loading phase was manufactured by supplement companies as a way to get people using more creatine and needing to buy more at a quicker pace.
While a loading phase can pump creatine into your body, it really is not necessary in order to boost total creatine levels.
Studies do not show that loading creatine is any more beneficial than just going straight to the maintenance phase, unless the studies are paid for by the supplement companies (6).
In fact, lower doses of creatine taken once daily can be just as effective at filling your creatine stores. You can maximise your load but consistently taking 3 grams of crteatine a day for a month (7).
Although this may not be as fast as loading (it takes 3 weeks more to maximize your muscle stores this way), it will be a lot less harsh on your digestive system.
Summary: Creatine loading is not necessary. It is possible to fully saturate your muscles with creatine by taking a daily dose of 3 grams, however this can take longer (up to 3 weeks longer) and therefore longer to reap the benefits.
Loading Creatine Without The Intestinal Distress
If you want to know how to load creatine without the intestinal distress, I say go straight for the maintenance phase. In myself and in others, I have seen no improvement in performance or appearance by doing a loading phase.
The results have been exactly the same as simply going for a maintenance dose of around 5g of creatine per day. The only difference is that you get the great results without holding your stomach and running to the bathroom every 10 minutes.
Decide on how long you wish to use creatine for. I would recommend around 4-8 weeks. Then simply take 5g of creatine each day. I take 2.5g before my workout and 2.5g after my workout along with my protein shake.
On non-workout days, I will take 2.5g in the morning and 2.5g in the evening. Splitting the doses up like this makes side effects even less likely. Some days I will only take half a dose. Just 2.5g once during the day.
This is usually on a non-workout day and serves to give my stomach a rest. I still get the great benefits like explosive energy, fuller muscles, and increased strength by following this dosing protocol.
What Is The Optimal Amount Of Creatine To Take Per Day?
In my experience, if you want the strength, muscle and endurance gains without the high likelihood of nasty side effects like bloating and cramping, I believe that the optimal dose of creatine per day is 5g, preferably split up into 2 doses.
However you may also want to factor in the other dosing amounts already mentioned in this article. As a reminder, so you don't need to scroll, one study showed that 3 grams daily for a month was effective at saturating muscles with creatine (8, 9).
For creatine loading, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), for example, suggests 5 grams of creatine taken 4 times a day for 5-7 days before moving onto a maintenance dose.
These amount will vary depending on your weight but is considered highly effective (10). (As mentioned though higher doses may cause issues for you). The minatenance dose will also vary depending on weight between 2-10 grams. (11).
Summary: Optimum dosage is dependent on your weight, however a standard loading dose is 5 grams 4 times daily then a maintenance dose between 2-10grams.
What Should You Take Creatine With?
I’ve personally done the toss-and-wash method recently with much success. That’s basically where you scoop the creatine up, put it in your mouth, and wash it back with water. However, this is only for the hardcore and lazy and those people who don’t mind lots of nastiness in their mouths.
Many people like to take their creatine mixed into a big glass of water. Some people like to throw it into their protein shake or fruit juice. It doesn’t matter how you take your creatine. Just make sure you get those 5g inside you each day.
What Is The Best Time Of Day To Take Creatine?
Whether you decide to load creatine the traditional (i.e. crazy) way or you decide to take 5g a day, it doesn’t matter when you take it.
I think that the more you split up the doses, the less likely you will suffer from any stomach issues.
I personally like to take creatine before and after a workout. Taking it after a workout is good especially if you have a post-workout shake with protein and simple carbs (you should) because it will improve the absorption of the creatine.
It is worth noting some of the side effects of creatine to help you make your decision on whetehr loading is for you.
In fact the International Society of Sports Nutrition claims that up to 30 grams a day for 5 years is safe and for most people generally well tolerated (14).
However creatine is not without its side effects. Creatin can cause nausea, vomiting ands diarrhea, which is something I have experienced myself and why I don't load but instead take a maintenance dose.
Creatine has also been linked to bloating and weight gain. this because of creatine increases water retention in your muscles (15).
Overall creatine has been shown to be safe and effective.
Summary: Research has consistently shown creatine to be safe and effective. For some though gastrointestinal issues may be a problem particularly when taking higher doses.
Taking a loading dose of creatine is not necessary. If you want to go ahead and do it anyway, however, you should follow the suggestions on your creatine product’s label and make adjustments depending on how your body reacts.
Personally, I highly recommend you just take between 2-5g of creatine a day depending on your goals.