Every person you meet who supplements with creatine can tell you how you should take it. Many will offer their opinion without your even asking. It’s not unlike the well-intentioned people in the gym who offer you unsolicited tips on how to improve your training, whether it’s weight, cardio, or even the final resting pose of yoga where you basically lay flat on your back and breathe. Just smile and say thank you when they’re done. The truth is, despite the large numbers of people who currently use the incredibly popular supplement, many are doing it wrong. If you’ve decided you want to supplement with creatine, the best place for you to start is to get all the information you can, and consult your physician, trainer, or coach to help you tailor basic creatine supplementation to your goals, lifestyle, and needs.
Loading is likely the most popular way for someone to begin their supplementation with creatine. It’s the most direct, aggressive method and it gets results, sometimes big results, faster than any other way. The goal with loading is to fully saturate the muscles' energy stores for a period of time before you move to the maintenance phase, where you continue to take adequate creatine for the maintenance of the newly achieved levels. Typically, the loading phase involves taking 20-25 grams of creatine divided into 4 doses per day for a period of 5-7 days. Once you’ve completed that part of the loading process, you move on to the maintenance phase, where you take 3-5 grams daily for as long as you intend to keep supplementing.
During the front loading phase, some people will take larger doses less often, but that may prove to be too much at one time and result in digestive issues such as bloating, gas, or diarrhea. Smaller portions 4-5 times each day seem to be the sweet spot for most front loaders and the results are going to be pretty much the same however you choose to divvy it up. From the initial phase of front loading throughout your use of creatine supplementation, it is critical to hydrate sufficiently.
Cycling of supplements is practiced in order to maintain their maximum effectiveness by preventing the buildup of a tolerance to them. Typically, one would take the specific supplement for a predetermined period of time, stop for another predetermined period of time, then start again. During the non-supplementing period of the cycle, it is believed that all of the supplement will be flushed out of the body. Since creatine supplements are taken to ensure that saturation of the energy stores is maintained, cycling, per se, would be counter-productive. Throughout the entire time when supplementing creatine the goal is to maintain it in your system.
The easiest, least complicated way to take creatine is in lower doses of 3-5 grams every day. There is no front loading, no transitioning to maintenance; you simply start and stick with this plan throughout your supplementation. By avoiding loading, you may be saving yourself from some of the potentially unpleasant digestive side effects that larger doses may create, and you will experience more gradual increases in muscle mass, strength, and speed of recovery. Don’t worry, you will get the same results, but instead of it being big changes in two weeks, it will be steady changes of the same magnitude in about a month. Granted, the quicker growth of muscle mass may make you the envy of the weight room for a short period of time, but there’s something to be said for slow and steady, even in the world of making muscles.
This study of creatine loading in 31 male subjects concludes that smaller doses taken consistently over a period of time are just as effective at raising tissue levels as the higher dose loading process.
It is important to take creatine on a consistent basis, as its daily consumption replenishes the energy stores in the muscles. If you wish to stop supplementing at any time, it is safe to do so, but the creatine levels in your muscles will start to deplete about two weeks after you’ve stopped taking it. In other words, the big muscles will start to get smaller, and the extra sets and reps, the extra miles and personal best times, and the quick muscle recoveries will all start to fade away. In 4-6 weeks the supplemental creatine will have been completely washed out of your muscles and your body will be back to producing 1-2 grams of creatine per day. If you are concerned about the length of time you have been supplementing, this study of 26 athletes who have engaged in long-term creatine supplementation contends that this practice does not result in any adverse health effects.
Missing an occasional day here or there is not a big deal, as the nature of creatine supplementation is such that the daily practice of supplementing keeps the energy stores in the muscles fully saturated. Today’s workout isn’t really dependent on the amount of creatine you have ingested today. If your energy stores in the muscles are fully saturated and you miss a day or two, it’s nothing to worry about. The important thing is to get back on track right away as you do not want to get out of the habit of supplementing daily. Your elevated creatine levels will be maintained for about 4-6 weeks, so you won’t have to go through loading again. After that, you will start to see your body return to pre-supplementation days of 1-2 grams of creatine, smaller muscles, lower reps, and slower times.
There is no absolute answer to the question of when to take creatine supplements. Though this study contends that the advantage goes to the people who choose to supplement post-workout, there are plenty of experts and athletes who do not agree. If you ask people who supplement before their workouts, first thing in the morning, or later at night, they will talk your ear off with studies of their own to prove their way is the best way. Ultimately, most agree that the consistency of taking it on a daily basis is at least as important as when you take it.
Creatine is a flavorless powder that comes with a 5 ounce scoop. It can be mixed with anything you drink and can be taken every day. There are as many opinions about what it should be taken with as there are options to do so. Some believe that your body will absorb it better when you take it with carbohydrates such as fruit, fruit juice, vegetable juice, or starches. Others contend that it should be taken with protein for maximum effect, but then there are purists who believe you should just put the powder in water and drink. There are less rigid users of creatine who may choose to get theirs intermittently through the “energy” drinks that contain creatine in smaller doses. The overall effect of these negligible amounts of creatine cannot be determined without more research.
Creatine is an amino acid that is stored primarily in the body’s muscles, where it is used for energy. Most of the body’s creatine is derived from food sources such as seafood, red meat, and pork.
A synthetic version of creatine has become an incredibly popular supplement for athletes and bodybuilders alike, as it can increase lean muscle mass, overall strength, stamina, and speeds up post-workout recovery from fatigue and soreness associated with exercise or training. Originally, this synthetic creatine was used to increase speed and power in elite Olympic sprinters.
Bodybuilders, weight lifters, and athletes of every kind have made it one of the most popular sports supplements on the market today.
The main role of creatine in the body is energy production. During exercise the body generates energy by using Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). Through that energy use, ATP loses a phosphate molecule and becomes Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP). Creatine can recharge ADP and turn it back into ATP, thereby giving the body a constant supply of high energy for quick, explosive moves. Essentially, the more creatine in your muscle energy stores, the harder you can work. The extra energy boosts enable you to lift more weight, run that extra mile, sprint faster, train harder, and build more lean body mass than you ever thought possible. And you will also likely recover from muscle fatigue and soreness more quickly. It’s important to note that you will have to work harder than you ever thought possible for these gains. Creatine doesn’t do the hard work – you do.
There are minimal side effects found when supplementing with creatine. During the front loading phase, some people experience digestive stress, nausea, and diarrhea due to the high doses, but this tends to go away fairly quickly. Some have also complained about water retention during the initial phase but that, too, is short-lived.
While creatine has been found to be safe for most people if taken as directed, those with pre-existing kidney issues, as well as pregnant people, anyone attempting to become pregnant, and breastfeeding people, should avoid creatine.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) contends in this study that “government legislatures and sports organizations who restrict and/or discourage use of creatine may be placing athletes at great risk” due to all the potential health benefits.
As always, it is best to consult your physician or healthcare provider when adding supplements to your own protocol.
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