Creatine is one of the safest and best-researched health supplements in the world. Athletes and fitness enthusiasts of all types use it to gain strength, build muscle, and boost their performance.
Research shows that a creatine loading phase can quickly increase the creatine levels in your body and help you receive the benefits of the supplement faster.
This definitive guide will explain how a loading phase works and how to do it safely.
Understanding Creatine Basics
Creatine is a natural substance produced and stored in your body. It helps make a compound called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which provides the energy your muscles need to contract. When you perform high-intensity, anabolic exercises, such as deadlifts, squats or sprints, your ATP levels deplete in seconds. In response to this depletion, your body turns creatine into phosphocreatine and makes more ATP, giving you the energy you need to continue your workout.
The average 150-pound man stores around 120 grams of creatine in his muscles, but he has the capacity to store up to 160 grams. This means that your creatine stores are typically only 60% to 80% full without nutritional intervention. You can increase your creatine levels by eating protein-rich foods, like beef, chicken, fish and eggs. However, the most efficient way to maximize your supply is by taking creatine supplements.
Creatine monohydrate is the most popular, well-researched and affordable creatine supplement on the market. It is created by combining creatine with a molecule of water, and it is made up of between 88% and 90% creatine by weight. People who begin taking this supplement often begin with a loading phase, which involves taking a high dose for a short period of time. The purpose of this practice is to quickly saturate your muscles with creatine and fast-track your results.
In general, loading is a safe and effective way to quickly boost your creatine levels. However, it isn’t the only way to benefit from creatine supplements, and there can be some minor downsides to taking large doses.
How Does Creatine Loading Work?
Your body uses the amino acids arginine, glycine and methionine to produce approximately 1 gram of creatine each day. Depending on your diet, you may also get between 1 and 2 grams of creatine from your daily meals.
As mentioned above, your body and diet provide just a portion of the creatine your muscles can handle. In order to rapidly top off the creatine levels in your muscles and quickly maximize your training potential, you can undergo a short loading phase of creatine supplements.
During a loading phase, you take a large dose of creatine each day for approximately one week. A common loading regimen involves taking 20 to 30 grams of creatine each day for five to seven days. This is typically achieved by consuming four 5-gram servings at different points of the day.
After the loading phase is complete, you take a lower dose of creatine every day to maintain your body’s creatine levels. The recommended daily maintenance dose is somewhere between 2 grams and 10 grams. According to health experts, you should consume approximately 14 milligrams of creatine per pound of body weight to keep your supplies stable.
You don’t need to complete another loading phase as long as you continue taking your maintenance dose. If you choose to stop taking creatine supplements at any point, you can load up again to resaturate your muscles.
Researchers have found that loading up on creatine supplements can increase your creatine supplies by between 10% and 40%.
Is Creatine Loading Necessary?
You do not have to complete a loading phase to benefit from creatine supplements. While studies have shown that consuming large amounts of creatine can maximize your creatine stores in as little as one week, it is not the only way to achieve saturation. It is just a shortcut.
Scientists have determined that you can also top off your creatine supplies by taking lower daily doses of creatine. In fact, one study found that individuals who took just 3 grams of creatine per day achieved muscle saturation in 28 days.
Basically, loading is the fastest way to enjoy all the benefits of creatine, but you can get the same results with a little bit of patience.
Is Creatine Loading Safe?
Researchers agree that it is safe to undergo a loading regimen. In fact, a report by the International Society of Sports Nutrition said that most healthy individuals can take up to 30 grams of creatine each day for five years without suffering harm.
However, a small number of people may experience side effects when taking creatine, especially in large doses. None of the issues are serious, but some can make you uncomfortable.
Creatine side effects may include:
- Weight gain from water retention
It is also important to note that creatine is metabolized in your kidneys and could be risky for individuals who suffer from renal disease.
If you experience any side effects while loading up on creatine, you may find relief by lowering your daily dose. It will take a few extra weeks to reach maximum creatine saturation in your muscles, but you’ll be more comfortable and you will still obtain the same benefits. If lowering the dose does not alleviate the side effects, it may be best to stop take creatine.
While creatine is generally safe when taken at the recommended dosages, you should check with your doctor before taking any supplements.
Primary Benefits of Creatine Supplementation
There are many scientifically-proven benefits to taking creatine, which is why many athletes and fitness enthusiasts are in such a hurry to maximize their creatine levels.
For example, creatine can help you:
- Gain muscle
- Reduce fat
- Increase strength
- Improve speed and performance
- Decrease recovery times
- Prevent injuries
Researchers have conducted thousands of studies on creatine and found that it helps both highly-trained athletes and fitness newcomers. For instance, one study of experienced weightlifters found that creatine supplements helped participants add a significant amount of muscle mass and boost their strength.
Another study had creatine users and a control group undergo identical weight-lifting programs. After six weeks, the creatine users added an average of 4.4 pounds more muscle mass than those who did not use creatine.
Meanwhile, an analysis of over 150 studies discovered that creatine users increased their lean body mass by an average of 2.2% and decreased their body fat by an average of 3.2%.
Creatine is a safe, effective, and affordable supplement that can help you add muscle, reduce fat, increase strength, boost athletic performance, decrease recovery times and prevent injuries. The fastest way to maximize your creatine levels and obtain these benefits is by taking 20 to 30 grams of creatine for five to seven days. However, you can also take a maintenance dose of 3 to 5 grams for 28 days and get the same results.
It is rare for creatine to cause side effects, but they are more common during the loading phase. If you experience any discomfort while loading up on creatine, switch to a lower dose or discontinue use.