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If you’ve been researching creatine and its many benefits, you’ve probably heard about something called the creatine loading phase. The loading phase refers to a short period of time—a few days to a week—during which you take very high doses of creatine to saturate your muscle cells with it, where it then gets to work and helps you become a better athlete. If you’re not exactly sure how it works, don’t fret: This guide to the creatine loading phase covers everything you need to know.
Medical disclaimer: This article is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. For health advice, contact a licensed healthcare provider.
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is a chemical compound made in your body from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine. It is important in the phosphocreatine energy system in the body, which uses creatine phosphate to produce adenosine triphosphate 1, or ATP.
ATP is the “energy currency” of muscle contraction. It’s especially important for short-duration, high-intensity exercise, like sprinting the 100-yard dash or maxing out your bench press for two reps.
There are several forms of creatine supplements, including creatine monohydrate, creatine HCl, creatine ethyl ester, creatine citrate, and creatine phosphate. Current dosing protocols, including the creatine loading phase protocol, are based on research that examined creatine monohydrate.
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Creatine Dose Recommendations and Creatine Loading Protocol
The generally agreed-upon daily intake recommendation for creatine is 3 to 5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day, according to a 2021 meta-analysis in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2.
This is the clinically indicated minimum that, based on decades of research3, is shown to result in the well-known benefits of creatine, including enhanced athletic performance, muscle growth, increased muscle strength, and more.
That recommendation is for a maintenance dose that, after a few weeks of supplementation, will result in complete saturation of creatine stores in the skeletal muscle.
A creatine loading protocol is an attempt to increase the amount of creatine in your muscle cells much faster, and it requires upping your creatine intake to multiple servings per day.
During the loading phase, you’ll take 20 to 25 grams of creatine per day for the five to seven days. You’ll split this large daily dose into four or five equal doses throughout the day to help manage potential side effects of high doses of creatine, such as bloating.
After the first week is done, you’ll switch to a lower dose of 3 to 5 grams per day, taken all at once.
Is The Creatine Loading Phase Necessary?
No, a creatine loading phase is not necessary to reap the many fitness and health benefits of creatine, but the loading phase will saturate your muscle stores of creatine much faster compared to not completing a loading phase2.
If you follow the clinically recommended creatine loading protocol as described above, you can fully saturate your muscle stores of creatine in a short-term period of five to seven days. Then, you can continue with the maintenance dose for as long as you’d like.
If you choose to skip the loading phase and start with the maintenance dose, it will take about a month to six weeks to saturate creatine muscle stores2, depending on factors such as your current creatine levels, body size, biological sex, lean muscle mass, the exact dose you are taking, and diet, specifically meat and seafood consumption.
Don’t forget that to maintain muscle stores of creatine beyond what is possible with just diet, creatine supplementation must be an ongoing effort for the long term.
Who Should Do a Creatine Loading Phase?
Anyone who’s interested in increasing muscle creatine stores to build muscle or improve workout performance can benefit from a creatine loading phase and then regular creatine maintenance after that.
Those who are very prone to bloating or digestive issues may want to skip the loading phase and start with the maintenance dose. In some people, creatine can cause bloating due to water retention, cramping, or diarrhea when taken in very high doses.
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Creatine Loading Phase: Final Thoughts
Completing a creatine loading phase can saturate skeletal muscle creatine stores in as little as five days. It’s a quicker way to start experiencing the benefits of creatine associated with improved workout performance, such as increased muscle mass, strength, power, and muscular endurance. You don’t need to do a loading phase, but it will take longer to fully saturate the muscles with creatine if you use the maintenance dose.
Creatine Loading Phase : Q&A
What are the benefits of creatine supplementation?
The main positive effects of creatine supplementation include improved exercise performance, specifically during resistance training and high-intensity exercise. For that reason, this supplement is popular in the weightlifting, bodybuilding, powerlifting, and CrossFit communities. Taking creatine may also help change your body composition by reducing body fat and increasing lean mass, which you can learn more about in our guide to how creatine affects weight loss.
What are the side effects of creatine?
In some people, creatine supplementation can cause bloating from water retention, which many people mistake as weight gain. If you do gain weight when taking creatine, it’s more likely muscle gains and not increased fat mass. You may have heard that creatine causes hair loss, too, but our research into the matter didn’t turn up any real supporting evidence.
Does creatine dehydrate you?
One common claim about creatine is that it causes dehydration. Sharon Lehman, registered dietitian nutritionist, debunks this claim in our guide, “How Much Water Should You Drink With Creatine?” You’ll need to drink more water than usual if you take creatine because part of the supplement’s job is to pull water into the muscles.
“Creatine itself doesn’t cause dehydration, but not drinking enough water while you’re taking creatine can result in changes to total body water and hydration status,” Lehman wrote. “Signs you’re not getting enough water include increased dry mouth, thirst, muscle cramps, headache, and dark-colored urine.”
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases.
- Dunn J, Grider MH. Physiology, Adenosine Triphosphate. [Updated 2023 Feb 13]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553175/
- Antonio, J., Candow, D.G., Forbes, S.C. et al. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show?. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 18, 13 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w
- Naderi A, de Oliveira EP, Ziegenfuss TN, Willems MT. Timing, Optimal Dose and Intake Duration of Dietary Supplements with Evidence-Based Use in Sports Nutrition. J Exerc Nutrition Biochem. 2016;20(4):1-12. doi:10.20463/jenb.2016.0031
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