Creatine is currently, along with whey protein, the most extensively studied sports supplement in the world. Its impact on sports performance and muscle mass has been consistently verified by clinical trials conducted with athletes from all kind of sports.
Creatine is known to be most useful when supporting high intensity short duration activities such as weight training, sprints, hammer-throws and any other activity that requires explosive movement.
Is creatine loading necessary?
Although its benefits to athletic performance are undeniable, there’s still some doubts regarding the best way to take creatine. The most common of these is about whether creatine loading is considered necessary or not.
Is creatine loading needed to obtain all of its benefits or are you able to go without it? A typical loading phase consists of supplementing with 20 grams of creatine over a 5-day period. Dosage can be split throughout the day in lower servings (2 x 10 gr or 4 x 5 gr). Going through a loading phase allows you to fully saturate muscle’s phosphocreatine content, which is the form in which creatine is stored in muscle cells.
The loading phase is then followed by a maintenance phase, the main purpose of which is to maintain high muscle phosphocreatine levels. A typical maintenance phase consists of supplementing with 5 grams of creatine on a daily basis.
Creatine loading – Yes or no?
According to some studies that have addressed this question, going through a loading phase appears to be an effective and fast way to increase the amount of muscle phosphocreatine.
One of the first studies addressing this subject was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 1996 [*1]. Thirty one male subjects were randomly assigned to one of two groups. One of the groups was supplemented with 20 grams of creatine over a period of 6 days. The other group was given 3 gr of creatine over a period of 28 days.
Researchers found that muscle’s total creatine concentration from individuals who went through the loading phase increased by approximately 20% after the 6 days of creatine supplementation. A similar 20% increase was observed for the individuals in the maintenance phase group although it happened more gradually over the total 28-day period.
Similar results were found some years later in a study published in Clinical Science [*2].
In fact, the International Society of Sports Nutrition states in its official position stand on creatine that the quickest method of increasing muscle creatine content is by consuming 0.3 gr / kg for at least the first three days (which in a 70-kg person would be the equivalent to consume 21 gr of creatine), followed by a maintenance period of 3 to 5 grams per day [*3].
How to take creatine: The Bottom Line
Although not mandatory, creatine loading is the quickest way to increase the amount of phosphocreatine within the muscle, which in turn will accelerate ATP synthesis to support weight training or any other anaerobic activities.
If you choose not to go through the loading phase it will take substantially more time for your muscles to become saturated with creatine. If you’re looking for fast results, you should definitely consider loading with creatine when you begin taking it.
In conclusion, the best way to take creatine is to have 20 grams divided in smaller servings throughout the day over the first 5 or 6 days. From this point going forwards, have 5 grams of creatine per day.