During the creatine loading phase, you take high doses of creatine for 5–7 days before moving on to lower maintenance doses. This is the quickest way to reap the benefits of creatine, which include greater muscle strength.
Creatine is a compound that’s stored in your muscles. Your body naturally produces creatine, but foods like meat and fish also contain it.
Creatine supplements are some of the most widely used supplements in the athletic world — and for good reason (
Creatine supplements may (
- provide quick bursts of energy
- help improve high intensity exercise performance
- help build muscle and strength
- help prevent sports-related injuries
Research suggests that a creatine loading phase can rapidly increase your muscle stores, allowing you to reap the benefits faster.
This article examines the benefits and side effects of the creatine loading phase.
If you eat a typical omnivorous diet, you take in about 1–2 grams (g) of creatine each day. Your muscle stores of creatine are likely only 60%–80% full (
However, it’s possible to maximize your muscle stores by taking supplements.
Trainers normally recommend a creatine loading phase to rapidly maximize your muscle stores. During this phase, you consume a relatively large amount of creatine over a short period to rapidly saturate your muscles.
One common approach is to take 20–25 g of creatine daily for 5–7 days. This dose is typically divided into four or five 5-g servings throughout the day (
Research shows that this regimen can effectively boost muscle stores of creatine by 10%–40% (
After the loading phase, you can maintain your stores of creatine by taking a lower dose, which ranges from 3–5 g daily. Some people may need more due to their greater muscle mass (
During a typical creatine loading phase, you take in large amounts of creatine for up to 1 week. This rapidly increases your muscle stores. Then you decrease your daily intake.
While the loading phase does pump creatine into your body, it may not be necessary to boost your total creatine levels.
In fact, lower doses of creatine taken once daily can be equally effective at maximizing your stores of creatine — though it may take a bit longer.
Older studies in male subjects determined that muscles can become fully saturated after taking 3 g of creatine daily for 28 days (
Therefore, this method may take around 3 additional weeks to maximize your muscle stores compared to creatine loading. Consequently, you may have to wait to see the benefits.
Studies on creatine use in people assigned female at birth are rare. However, some research suggests they might benefit from similar dosing strategies (7).
One small study involved male and female college students who were healthy and physically active. Over the 6-week study period, some students took a performance supplement containing 4 g of creatine and varying amounts of electrolytes. Others took a placebo.
The researchers stated that a creatine loading phase wasn’t conducted because taking lower maintenance doses of the performance supplement would produce the same results. In the end, the researchers found that the students who took the performance supplement improved their back squats and bench presses, even without a loading phase (8).
It’s possible to fully saturate your muscles with creatine without doing a loading phase, though it may take a few weeks longer. Skipping a loading phase may also increase the amount of time it takes for you to reap the benefits of creatine.
A creatine loading phase may be the fastest way to benefit from creatine’s effects.
Some benefits of maximizing your muscle stores of creatine include (
- Muscle gain: Studies consistently tie creatine supplements to significant increases in muscle mass when combined with resistance training.
- Muscle strength: After creatine loading, strength and power may increase.
- Improved performance: After creatine loading, performance during high intensity exercise may jump.
- Injury prevention: In many studies, athletes using creatine reported less muscle tightness and fewer sport-related injuries (like strains) than non-users.
A loading phase is the fastest way to benefit from creatine. You may experience increased muscle gain and strength, improved athletic performance, and a reduced risk of sport-related injuries.
Several studies demonstrate that creatine is safe over short- and long-term periods.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), up to 30 g per day for 5 years may be safe and is generally well tolerated by healthy individuals (
Though rare, some people have reported gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Creatine may also cause temporary weight gain and bloating, as it may temporarily increase water retention in your muscles (
Since your kidneys metabolize creatine, creatine supplements may worsen kidney function in people with renal disease. If you have impaired kidney function, consult a doctor before taking creatine or other supplements.
While it’s commonly believed that creatine may increase your risk of dehydration, cramping, and heat illness, current research contradicts these claims.
In fact, some studies suggest that creatine may reduce dehydration, cramping, and your risk of heat-related illness (
Overall, creatine is safe when taken at recommended dosages. As always, it’s best to consult a physician before using supplements if you have an underlying health issue or are pregnant or nursing.
Research consistently shows that creatine is safe and effective in healthy individuals when consumed at recommended doses. People with renal issues may experience reduced kidney function.
Creatine supplements are widely available in brick-and-mortar stores and online. The most well-studied form is creatine monohydrate.
Studies suggest that 5 g of creatine monohydrate four or five times daily for 5–7 days is the most effective way to increase your muscle creatine levels. Recommended amounts may vary depending on your weight (
You can determine your daily dose for the loading phase by multiplying your weight in kilograms (kg) by 0.3 (
For example, an individual weighing 80 kg (176 pounds) would consume 24 g (80 x 0.3) of creatine daily during the loading phase.
Once your muscles are completely saturated, a daily maintenance dose of 3–5 g can help you maintain high levels (
Keep in mind that your muscle stores of creatine will gradually decrease to your usual levels when you stop taking creatine supplements (
To maximize muscle stores quickly, a creatine loading phase of 20–25 g daily for 5–7 days is recommended, followed by a maintenance dose of 3–5 g per day.
It’s possible to maximize your muscle stores of creatine gradually over several weeks.
However, the fastest way to maximize your muscle stores and reap creatine’s benefits is a weeklong loading phase followed by lower doses to maintain high levels.
These benefits include increased muscle mass and strength, improved performance, and a reduced risk of sport-related injuries.
At the end of the day, creatine loading may not be necessary — but it’s expedient and safe.