Every movement your muscles make–lifting, pushing, pulling–requires energy. Without this energy, you’d lie in bed all day instead of working, eating, working out, or even moving. Muscle energy is essential for every physical activity you participate in, but your body can’t make energy without creatine.
Creatine comes from your liver, pancreas, and kidneys or through meat consumption. About 60% of the creatine in your body is phosphocreatine. When it comes to bodybuilding, this is the stuff you want. Phosphocreatine gets converted into ATP; your muscle’s energy source.
So, what is creatine loading? Well, the idea is to saturate muscles with creatine, increase phosphocreatine; and therefore increase ATP, energy, strength, and endurance.
Can’t you get these results without creatine loading? Most likely. But many bodybuilders and athletes choose creatine loading because it produces results faster. After all, who wants to wait weeks for results at the gym?
How to Load with Creatine
Bodybuilders and athletes often consume 5 grams of creatine a day. Research has shown this dosage is best for maintaining muscle creatine levels. But when you are loading up on creatine, the required dosage shoots up. Here’s a typical loading schedule:
Take 5 grams of creatine four times a day (20 grams)
Day 6 and Beyond
Take 5 grams of creatine a day for maintenance
Or you can try a slower loading schedule:
Take 3 grams of creatine three times a day (9 grams)
Day 7 and Beyond
Take a maintenance creatine dosage of 3 grams
Splitting up large dosages is better because your body can only absorb so much creatine at once. For example, if you take 20 grams of creatine, your body won’t absorb most of it. The by product of wasted creatine is creatinine, which causes side effect if you have too much.
During the loading phase, the best time to take creatine is before and after a workout. This gives your muscles energy for an intense workout and speeds up repair and recovery afterwards.
Creatine loading is a controversial topic. Many trainers and “experts” will tell you it’s unnecessary, dangerous, and doesn’t really increase muscle creatine, ATP, or mass. But what does the research say?
“Research has shown that the most rapid way to increase muscle creatine stores is to follow the loading method,” says Richard Kreider, PhD, chairman of the Department of Health.
In one study, twenty people took 20 grams of creatine or a placebo everyday for 5 days. Then, they took a 2 gram maintenance dosage for the next 6 weeks. The people taking creatine had more free and total creatine, and phosphocreatine. But their creatine levels gradually decreased when they started taking 2 grams daily.
Another study tested the same amounts, but for some unknown reason, got better results. Thirty-one men took 20 grams of creatine for 6 days and then 2 grams for 30 days. After the first six days, men taking creatine had 20% more creatine in their muscles. These levels were maintained during the 30 days they took only 2 grams.
Is Creatine Loading Essential?
Not everyone can handle 20 grams of creatine a day. But this is what a good loading phase requires. So, is creatine loading the only way to increase muscle creatine? Or is there an alternative for those of us with sensitive stomachs?
No, creatine loading isn’t the only way; and yes, there is an alternative. The only downside is it takes a lot longer. The alternative is to supplement with 3-5 grams of creatine a day. This slowly loads your muscles with creatine over the course of 4-6 weeks.
Compare that to a 5-day loading phase and you’ll see why so many bodybuilders prefer to stomach 20 grams a day.
Actually, there is a third alternative. Creatine loading is usually done with creatine monohydrate, but Kre Alkalyn creatine and creatine HCl don’t require a loading phase. The reason is because these two have little-to-no potential for converting into creatinine.
So, with a smaller dosage of Kre Alkalyn creatine or creatine HCl you actually get more creatine than a large creatine monohydrate dosage gives you.
Is Creatine Loading Safe?
“When taken by mouth in high doses, creatine is possibly unsafe,” warns WebMD.com. What do they mean by “high doses?” Under dosing information, the site lists several scientifically researched dosages including 20 grams a day.
This makes me wonder if the folks at WebMD consider 20 grams a high dose… I don’t know because they don’t clarify their meaning. But I do know research has no proven there is a direct link between high creatine dosages and negative side effects.
One study showed that- besides temporary water weight gain- there are no adverse effects to taking creatine for a short while. They don’t specify what a short while is though because study results are inconsistent.
Creatine draws water into your muscles, which causes water weight gain. But it can also cause dehydration, so drink plenty of water on days you take creatine.
What about creatine-induced gastrointestinal problems? They are rare, says Mark Tarnopolsky, MD, PhD, director of the neuromuscular and neurometabolic clinic at McMaster University Medical Center in Ontario. In his studies, noly 5-7% of people experience stomach aches and diarrhea.
To Load or Not to Load
What is creatine loading? Now that you know the what, why, and how; there’s only one more question: will you take the shortcut creatine benefits? Research shoes creatine loading is the fastest way to saturate muscles, increase energy, and get results. But taking huge creatine dosages is not for everyone. So, what will you choose?
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