TL;DR Summary: How often should I take creatine?
To maximize creatine muscle stores quickly, we recommend a loading phase of 20 grams daily for 5–7 days, followed by a maintenance dose of 3-5 grams per day for 21 days. A more sustainable approach is to take 3 grams of creatine daily for 28 days or more. How often you take creatine is usually more important than dose.
Creatine is one of the most popular supplements in the fitness world today. In fact, after protein shakes and weight gainers, creatine is easily the most widely consumed sports performance supplement in the world.
Not only is creatine held up as a phenomenal power, strength and size builder, but it also appears to be an effective nootropic and an energy booster.
But that doesn’t mean everyone is getting all of these benefits from creatine. How you use creatine – specifically how often you take it and in what quantities – can drastically change the results you get from the supplement.
In fact, how often you take creatine may be the number one determinant of its effectiveness; that is, whether or not you ever see the benefits you’re looking for!
So what is the best way to use creatine for maximum benefits? How often should you take creatine for enhanced strength, power and muscle mass growth? How much creatine should you take each day to keep side effects to a minimum?
Let’s look at what creatine is and how it works before answering that question.
What is creatine?
Creatine is an organic compound found in all vertebrates. It is primarily used for the recycling of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP for short. ATP is the ‘energy currency’ of your cells; the recycling of ATP back and forth into different states is how energy is released from calories at the level of your cells.
The chemical formula of creatine is CNCH₂CO₂H. it is predominantly found in brain and muscle tissue, although it is dispersed throughout the body.
The creatine that most people consume today isn’t harvested from vertebrates. Rather, it is synthetic creatine made in a lab. There are different forms of creatine available on the market. The most popular, and the most bioavailable, is creatine monohydrate.
How does creatine work?
Creatine works by speeding up ATP recycling. This means your muscle cells can recover quicker and generate more explosive power. Because of these effects, creatine is thought to improve strength, increase lean muscle mass, and help the muscles recover more quickly during and after exercise.
Another way creatine is thought to work is by drawing water into your muscles. Because creatine saturates your muscles with a salt, your muscle cells draw in water to maintain balance. This causes your muscles to become full and rounded, and your overall weight to increase. This is a major benefit to powerlifters and strongmen, as weight moves weight!
However, the main way creatine works is increased ATP recycling. That is where all of the major benefits come from.
How often should I take creatine?
So how often should you take creatine for maximum benefits? How much creatine should you take each day for the most benefits and the fewest side effects?
You might not realise this, but there is an optimal way to take creatine.
The evidence seems to suggest that creatine is most effective when users follow a “loading phase”; that is, when they start off by loading their muscles with creatine before lowering the dose to a maintenance dose for a prolonged period.
A typical loading phase is 20g of creatine per day – spread into 2-5 equal doses – for 7 days, followed by 21 days of 3-5g per day.
Both clinical studies and users’ anecdotal reporting confirms this to be the case. When people follow a loading phase, they see much more dramatic results from creatine than when simply taking the maintenance dose for a longer period of time.
While the loading phase generally produces the most extreme increases in weight, strength and muscle mass, it is not necessarily optimal for long-term increases in size and strength. A loading phase needs to be followed by, at most, 21 days of creatine use before you take a prolonged break. This is because 20g of creatine places quite a substantial work load on your kidneys!
By contrast, a lower dose of 3-5g daily still produces significant increases in size, strength, and explosive power, but it can be used for far longer without the need for a prolonged break.
This will allow you to keep enjoying the benefits of creatine for longer, producing compounding benefits through a long-term improvement in your training and recovery.
That’s why we recommend skipping the creatine loading phase if you are looking for long-term, lasting benefits. Instead of loading, we think it is optimal to use creatine on a daily basis for a longer period of time. Reducing the initial dose will also reduce the chances of side effects, and significantly reduce the stress placed on your kidneys.
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Pavel Sadovnik is a leading biochemical scientist with a PhD in biochemical engineering. He has spent decades working in industry as a chemist and pjharmaceutical consultant. He has extensive experience with the supplement industry, and specialises in supplement tsting and formulation consultancy. He is the Editor of NARSTO.