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The Science Behind Creatine Loading Phase to Maximize Power, Muscle Gains and Recovery

 Written by 

Mauro Castillo

 Last updated on 

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Creatine is perhaps the most consumed supplement in the fitness industry today and with reason. The pile of scientific evidence supporting its benefits makes it easy for the general population and athletes to lean into its consumption. 

If you’ve been wondering whether you should go through a loading phase, we can quickly tell you you don’t need to do it. 

Creatine loading phase : the composition
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But, more than that, we’ll cover creatine loading and everything you need to know: science, safety, benefits, and how to dose it according to your personal goals. These is some of the things you’ll learn about:

  • What is creatine, and how does it work?
  • Creatine loading phase: What the science says
  • Benefits of creatine loading 
  • How to creatine load
  • Side effects

So, sit tight and get ready to supplement the right way! 

What Is Creatine And How Does It Work?

Creatine is an organic compound found in muscle and is available in the diet through consumption of milk, red and white meat, fish, and mollusks, with meat and fish serving as the main supply (1)

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Based on our testing, this is the best creatine for most people. It has the perfect dosage of creatine monohydrate per serving, which has been proven to increase muscle mass.

Pros:
  • Promote strength and muscle gains
  • Tested for purity and safety
  • Creatine has no known side effects
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Creatine is one of the fitness industry’s safest, most researched, and most effective supplements. It’s tasteless and crystalline, dissolving quickly in most liquids (2)

According to Butts et al., creatine is an energy substrate for skeletal muscle contraction (quadriceps, shoulders, biceps, etc.) Creatine supplementation intends to increase resting phosphocreatine (PCr) levels in muscles and free creatine to postpone fatigue, even briefly, for sports-enhancing results.

In other words, it helps you work harder, longer, and recover faster. When all these elements combine, they produce positive effects on body composition, power output (3)

Creatine Loading Phase: What The Science Says

A creatine loading phase is a strategy where you take a high dose of creatine for a short period (usually 5-7 days) to quickly fill up your muscles with creatine. This can help increase your strength, power, and performance during intense workouts. After the loading phase, you drop down to a smaller daily dose to keep your creatine levels high.

Although a creatine loading phase is neither necessary nor mandatory to produce the desired results, it makes the benefits appear faster. For some people, that’s precisely what they are looking for. 

Back in 1985, Hurtman et al. conducted a study comparing the daily maintenance dose of oral creatine (5 grams per day for 28 days) vs. the loading phase (20 grams per day for 6 days). The only difference they found was that the muscle stores for creatine were filled faster using a loading phase compared to the maintenance dosage. 

This might only be relevant for individuals who would benefit from acute consumption and effects in the short term (less than 30 days), but for most people who only seek to enjoy its chronic benefits, using a maintenance dose works perfectly. 

Benefits Of Creatine Loading

There are several benefits of creatine supplementation, such as:

  • Helps preserve muscle mass
  • Increase power output 
  • Improve recovery 
  • Helps build muscle mass

These benefits have been proven throughout the years, and there’s no doubt behind them. The only difference in the case of loading creatine is how fast these benefits arise. If you’re an athlete looking to enjoy the long-term ergogenic benefits of creatine, then loading creatine for 5-7 days should be advised.

A man lifts a heavy barbell in a gym
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It’s important to highlight that whether you load the creatine or not, you’ll experience the benefits regardless. It might take longer, but the results are the same.

How To Safely Do A Creatine Loading

There are two main ways of safely loading creatine. Neither is necessarily better, but according to research, one is more specific to the individual’s weight than the other. However, feel free to try both if you like. 

Creatine Loading Based On Bodyweight

According to scientific research, you can load creatine based on your body weight. The best way to do it is by consuming 0.3 grams of oral creatine per kilogram of body weight daily for 5-7 days. 

For example, someone weighing 70 kg would consume around 21 grams of oral creatine daily for 5-7 days, followed by a maintaining dose of 3-5 grams daily.

General Creatine Loading

The most common way of loading oral creatine is supplementing with 20 – 25 grams per day divided into 4-5 smaller doses of 5 grams daily (consuming the whole 20-gram dose could cause gastrointestinal issues) through 5-7 days.

This should be followed by consuming 3-5 grams daily as a maintenance dose. Both options are great and will offer the same results for most people. 

Get Bigger Muscles
Transparent Labs Creatine HMB
4.5

Based on our testing, this is the best creatine for most people. It has the perfect dosage of creatine monohydrate per serving, which has been proven to increase muscle mass.

Pros:
  • Promote strength and muscle gains
  • Tested for purity and safety
  • Creatine has no known side effects
See on Amazon See on Transparent Labs

Possible Side Effects Of Creatine Loading

Creatine is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the United States Food and Drug Administration, which states that its consumption is mostly harmless by most people. However, there have been some past unsustained claims of creatine’s side effects.

Water Retention

According to research, some evidence suggests that creatine leads to water retention in the short term (5-7 days) when consumed at higher doses (20+ grams daily). This may be due to an increase in water at the intracellular level (4)

However, most studies haven’t shown any increase in total body water (intra or extracellular) relative to muscle mass over prolonged periods (5). Therefore, the consensus is that creatine does not lead to water retention.

Hair loss / Baldness

In 2009, van der Merwe et al. conducted a study on young male rugby players who consumed 25 grams of oral creatine a day for 7 days, followed by 5 grams a day for the following 14 days, showing an increase of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) over time.

In males, DHT can bind to androgen receptors in hair follicles, causing them to shrink and leading to hair loss (6). However, this study never measured free testosterone. There was no evidence of increased total testosterone; more importantly, none of the subjects experienced hair loss. 

After that study, more than ten studies have debunked this relation, which confirms that there is no evidence suggesting that creatine supplementation causes hair loss, baldness, or even an increase in testosterone levels.

Dehydration / Cramping 

Creatine supplementation has been mistakenly linked to dehydration and cramping due to the previous belief that creatine caused imbalances in fluid retention and total body water (intra and extracellular), which, when exposed to higher temperatures and excessive sweating, could lead to dehydration (7)

A bodybuilder hydrates afters working out
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A study led by Greenwood et al. monitored injury rates in NCAA D1 collegiate football. It showed that participants consuming 0.3 grams of oral creatine per kilogram of body weight daily experienced less cramping and dehydration than the placebo group.

Currently, no evidence claims that oral creatine consumption leads to dehydration or muscle cramping of any type.

Who Should Use Creatine

Creatine has been labeled as one of the safest and most effective supplements in the fitness industry. Constant research supports its benefits and recommends its use for various individuals.

General Population (young adults, elderly, women)

When we talk about the “general population,” we are referring primarily to:

  • Young adults 
  • Elderly
  • Women
  • Adolescents

These individuals can benefit from chronic and acute consumption of oral creatine. For example, creatine has been shown to slow down the surge of age-related sarcopenia and increase functionality and muscle mass in older people (8) as long as there is ongoing strength training.

At the same, creatine supplementation has been linked to augmenting the hypertrophic effects of strength training in young adults (9). This is believed to be due to creatine’s ability to enhance training volume and intensity, which leads to higher muscle stress and subsequent muscle growth (10)

As of 2020, the United States Food and Drug Administration declared creatine generally safe for general consumption. This applies to a wide range of the population, from older children to the elderly, including both women and men.

Athletes

Creatine supplementation has increased muscular strength in trained and untrained athletes (11). This benefit is attributable to increases in intramuscular phosphocreatine (PCr) concentrations, which allow for increased volumes of work and work output during resistance training (12).

In other words, creatine makes you work harder and longer, eventually strengthening you. The best part is that you don’t have to wait much to feel the difference. 

Del Favero et al. (13) conducted a study that showed a 5-15% strength increase (bench press and squat) within ten days of creatine supplementation (20 grams per day) in untrained males.

There are studies showing increases in strength and performance with only three days of creatine supplementation, according to Ziegenfuss et al. (14). Despite the extensive evidence, it is worth mentioning that the best results are experienced by both untrained and vegetarian (none to low meat consumption) individuals. 

This is logical, considering the primary sources of creatine are found in red meat, and untrained individuals will always be more responsive to training and supplementation at the beginning of their fitness journey.

One crucial aspect of increased strength and performance is the quality of your recovery. In this respect, creatine has been shown to positively influence recovery following bouts of intense and intermittent activity, as much as sustaining performance across multiple episodes of exercise (11).

On top of that, creatine may also reduce the post-exercise inflammatory response, which helps the body feel more rested after intense training bouts. Not only does the body feel rested, but there has been a subsequent improvement in physical performance.

FAQ’s

What Is A Good Loading Phase For Creatine?

The best loading phase for creatine is consuming 20-25 grams daily for 5-7 days, divided into smaller doses of 5 grams throughout the day. Another great way to prescribe is based on bodyweight: 0.3 grams of oral creatine per kilogram of body weight for 5-7 days.

Is A Creatine Loading Phase Necessary?

A creatine loading phase is not necessary to enjoy the benefits of it. According to research, it’s only a matter of personal goals and how fast the individual needs the effects to occur. For the majority, taking 5 grams daily is more than enough, while other individuals will benefit from 5-7 days of the loading phase (20-25 grams daily).

Can You Take 20g Of Creatine At Once?

You can, but it’s not recommended since it could cause gastrointestinal upset. The safest and most efficient way to supplement with creatine is by taking smaller doses of 5 grams 4-5 times a day.

About

I've been in the world of CrossFit since 2016. Started as a client, later became a coach, and eventually bought an affiliate with two friends from January 2020 to January 2022. In 2018 I won 1st place at a local competition in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. After I sold my shares in January 2022 I moved then to another city to run as the general manager of another affiliate STI CrossFit.

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