Creatine is an extremely popular supplement, and for good reason. It has many benefits which can result in enhanced muscle gains.
One of the most popular methods of taking creatine is by ‘loading’ it for a certain amount of time, then reducing your daily intake. This has been reported to lead to increased muscle gains.
What Does Creatine Do?
Creatine is a vital substance which is stored in our skeletal muscle tissue in the form of creatine-phosphate (CP). Creatine-phosphate is essential in producing energy throughout short, intense exercise. CP re-phosphorylates ADP (adenosine di-phosphate) into ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate). ATP provides us with energy for short bursts of exercise.
Increasing your intake of creatine leads to more intramuscular storage of creatine-phosphate. This, therefore, increases the rate at which ATP is synthesised and as a result, more energy is available throughout an exercise.
Whilst working, your muscles rapidly deplete of their CP stores leading to increased fatigue as your workout goes on. Increasing CP stores means that you can push harder and for longer throughout workouts with less fatigue.
Benefits of Creatine
✓ Increased muscle mass
Since creatine allows faster synthesis of ATP, resulting in more energy, it means that you can increase your overall workout intensity. This means you can push harder and for longer, which results in more muscle mass being gained. You can maximise the benefits by increasing the amount of volume included in your workouts.
✓ Enhanced athletic performance
Even if you’re not into ‘bodybuilding’ creatine is still a very useful supplement. The increase in ATP production means that you will see an increase in athletic performance, especially in sports which required short bursts of energy. Not only will you be able to go harder in your sport, but you will be able to last longer too.
✓ Recovery = more frequency
Creatine helps your muscles to recover faster following an intense training session, which means that when you go to hit the gym the next time around, you will be less sore and be able to push harder. Furthermore, you can also increase your frequency of training, hitting the gym more times per week due to increased energy and shorter recovery times.
What Is Creatine Loading?
Creatine loading is a phase whereby an athlete will take an extra high dose of creatine over a certain period of time, usually several days, followed by a maintenance phase where a lower dose will be taken.
Generally, a creatine loading phase will last for around 5-7 days with the athlete taking 20-25g (or 0.3g per kg body mass).
A maintenance phase would follow. Here the athlete would take 5g of creatine daily for around 3-4 weeks.
Following this, a break from creatine supplements for 1-2 weeks is generally advised.
How Does It Work?
Creatine loading is pretty simple. By taking a very large dose of creatine over a short space of time, you are drastically increasing the amount of CP (creatine-phosphate) which is stored within your skeletal muscle tissue.
Whilst it is argued that taking a 5g dose of creatine every day for 3-4 weeks will fill your muscles with as much CP as during a loading phase of 5-7 days, there has been research wish has shown that loading creatine over a shorter period of time reaps more of the benefits of taking creatine in the first place than taking a 5g dose over a longer period of time.
Furthermore, once your muscles are filled with CP, you can continue to ‘top them up’ with creatine over the maintenance period. This means that you can continue to obtain the benefits of the loading phase over a longer and more sustainable period of time.
Loading will also see you gain improved performance by some margin almost right away. You will notice a difference as soon as you start the load. As well as performance, you will visibly be able to see a difference as it promotes water to be retained your muscles, giving them a fuller look.
Pros of Creatine Loading
✓ Instant results
Whilst loading, you will see an instant improvement in energy levels and physical performance, as well as the size and visibility of your muscles.
After the initial loading phase, you can sustain the benefits for a longer period of time by topping up your muscles, meaning it makes it more affordable in the long run as well as being convenient.
Creatine loading in an effective way of increasing your CP levels leading to increased physical performance. For many, taking just 5g per day over a longer period of time doesn’t work so well initially, so loading is optimal as it builds up a base of CP in the skeletal muscle tissue.
✓ Better Pumps
Since your muscles will be more full of glycogen and creatine promotes water being retained in the muscles, when you do get the elusive pump in the gym, you will look bigger and fuller. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a benefit, it helps with motivation which will in turn lead to better results.
Cons of Creatine Loading
✘ Side Effects
Creatine can cause several side effects, especially when taken in such large doses as you would whilst loading. The most common include nausea, stomach pains, diarrhoea and muscle cramps. This is largely due to the fact that creatine causes muscles to draw water from the rest of the body, so if you are a little dehydrated then you might experience these side effects. To combat this, you should ensure that you remain hydrated throughout the day. Furthermore, some people cannot tolerate taking large amounts of creatine in one go, so loading might not be for them – especially if there are previous issues with kidney problems, as this may cause increased risk of renal dysfunction.
Of course, creatine isn’t free. Depending on where you buy it from it could cost you, especially when loading since you are consuming 4-5 times the normal dose. My advice would be to buy your creatine in bulk, opting for the largest available container. Here at Myprotein, our Creatine monohydrate powder comes in 250g, 500g and 1kg pouches. The 1kg pouch offers 200 servings and costs only £10.99, that’s just over 5p per serving.
✘ Not 100% Proven
The benefits of creatine loading over just taking creatine in regular 5g daily doses have not been 100% proven.
Several sources and references have carried out studies that back up the benefits, however nothing is 100% proven.
Types of Creatine Supplements
There are a few different types of creatine, including:
✓ Dicreatine malate
✓ Creatine kre-alkalyn etc.
They all boast slightly different pros and cons, although they are all pretty similar when it comes down to it. Creatine monohydrate is the cheapest of the lot, so if you are on a budget, I would recommend picking it up. CEE (creatine ethyl-ester) is reported to be the most effective type but is slightly more expensive.
Creatine comes in different forms, so you can chose on to suit you best. There is powdered creatine, which you can mix into shakes for convenience or just consume straight from the spoon. This doesn’t mix extremely well however it isn’t a big issue.
It can also be bought in capsule form if you find taking tablets easier. These are convenient for taking out on the go to have whenever you wish to space out your dose, especially when loading.
Take Home Message
Creatine loading is a very powerful tool when it comes to building muscle. Creatine is arguable the most effective supplement that money can buy and reports suggest that loading it followed by a maintenance phase is the best way to consume it.
Although it hasn’t been 100% confirmed to be significantly effective over consume the usual regular 5g daily doses, there have been reliable studies which have shown the effects of loading it over a placebo are significant.
I would recommend giving this a shot if you already take creatine but haven’t tried it yet, to see if you notice a difference, or if you haven’t tried creatine before and want to take that extra step towards reaching your fitness goals.