Creatine is one of the most widely used supplements in the athletic world — and for a good reason.
This compound is stored in your muscles and used for quick bursts of energy.
Creatine supplements may build muscle and strength, improve high-intensity exercise performance and prevent sports-related injuries.
Research suggests that a creatine loading phase can rapidly increase your creatine stores, allowing you to reap the benefits faster.
This article examines the benefits and side effects of the creatine loading phase.
What is creatine loading?
If you eat a regular diet containing meat and fish, your muscle stores of creatine are likely only 60–80% full.
However, it’s possible to maximize your creatine stores by using supplements.
Trainers normally recommend a creatine loading phase to maximize your muscle stores rapidly. During this phase, you consume a relatively large amount of creatine in a short period to rapidly saturate your muscles.
For example, a common approach is to take 20 grams of creatine daily for 5–7 days. This dose is typically divided into four 5-gram servings throughout the day.
Research shows that this regimen can effectively boost creatine stores by 10–40%.
After the loading phase, you can maintain your creatine stores by taking a lower dose of creatine, which ranges from 2–10 grams daily.
Summary: During a typical creatine loading phase, you bulk up on creatine for a week to increase muscle stores rapidly, then decrease your daily intake to maintain high levels.
Is the creatine loading phase necessary?
While the loading phase does pump creatine into your body, it may not be necessary to boost total creatine levels.
Lower doses of creatine taken once daily can be equally effective at maximizing your muscle creatine stores — though it may take a bit longer.
For example, one study determined that muscles became fully saturated after people took 3 grams of creatine daily for 28 days.
Therefore, it may take three more weeks to maximize your muscle stores using this method compared to creatine loading. Consequently, you may have to wait to see beneficial effects.
Summary: It’s possible to thoroughly saturate your muscles with creatine without doing a loading phase, though it may take longer. Thus, it may also increase the time it takes to reap the benefits of creatine.
Creatine loading may provide quicker results
A creatine loading phase may be the fastest way to benefit from the supplement’s effects.
Research proves that a creatine loading phase can maximize your muscle stores within one week or less.
This strategy involves taking 20 grams of creatine daily for 5–7 days to saturate your muscles rapidly, followed by 2–10 grams daily to maintain high levels.
Some benefits of maximizing your creatine stores include:
- Muscle gain: Studies consistently tie creatine supplements to significant increases in muscle mass when combined with resistance training.
- Muscle strength: After creatine loading, strength and power may increase by 5–15%.
- Improved performance: After creatine loading, performance during high-intensity exercise may jump by 10–20%.
- Injury prevention: Many studies report less muscle tightness and fewer strains and other sport-related injuries in athletes using creatine compared to non-users.
Summary: A loading phase is the fastest way to benefit from creatine. You may experience increased muscle gain and strength, improved athletic performance, and a reduced risk of sport-related injuries.
Safety and side effects of creatine loading
Several studies demonstrate that creatine is safe over short- and long-term periods.
Suggested read: Creatine: Safety, side effects, and what you should know
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), up to 30 grams per day for five years may be safe and is generally well tolerated by healthy individuals.
Though rare, gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea have been reported. Creatine may also cause weight gain and bloating, as it increases water retention in your muscles.
Since your kidneys metabolize creatine, supplements may worsen kidney function in people with renal disease. If you have impaired kidney function, consult your physician before taking creatine.
While it’s commonly believed that creatine may increase your risk of dehydration, cramping, and heat illness, current research contradicts these claims.
Some studies suggest that creatine may reduce dehydration, cramping, and your risk of heat-related illness.
Overall, creatine is safe when taken at recommended dosages. As always, it’s best to consult with your physician before using supplements if you have an underlying health issue or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Summary: Research consistently shows that creatine is safe and effective in healthy individuals when consumed at recommended doses.
Creatine supplements are widely available in stores and online. The most well-studied form is creatine monohydrate.
The ISSN suggests that 5 grams of creatine monohydrate four times daily for 5–7 days is the most effective way to increase your muscle creatine levels, though amounts may vary depending on your weight.
You can determine your daily dose for the loading phase by multiplying your weight in kilograms by 0.3.
For example, an individual weighing 80 kg (175 pounds) would consume 24 grams (80 x 0.3) of creatine daily during the loading phase.
Suggested read: 10 health and performance benefits of creatine
According to research, 3 grams of creatine taken daily for 28 days may also be effective at saturating your muscles with creatine.
Once your muscles are completely saturated, a lower dose can maintain high levels.
Typically, maintenance doses range from 2–10 grams per day.
Remember that your muscle stores gradually decrease to normal levels when you stop taking creatine supplements.
Summary: To maximize creatine muscle stores quickly, a loading phase of 20 grams daily for 5–7 days is recommended, followed by a maintenance dose of 2–10 grams daily. Another approach is 3 grams daily for 28 days.
While it’s possible to maximize your creatine stores slowly over several weeks, a 5- to 7-day loading phase of 20 grams daily, followed by lower doses to maintain high levels is safe and the fastest way to maximize your muscle stores and reap creatine’s benefits.
These include increased muscle mass and strength, improved performance, and a reduced risk of sport-related injuries.
Creatine loading may not be necessary — but it is expedient and safe.