Creatine is among the most popular and well-researched supplements used by resistance training athletes. Creatine supplementation increases strength, improves performance, and boosts muscle mass, but only if done correctly.
Creatine is stored in the muscle cells and produces fresh adenosine triphosphate (ATP) supplies to fuel intense workouts. Taking creatine reduces recovery time and prevents exercise-related injuries.
Unfortunately, creatine monohydrate does not start working immediately. It needs time to accumulate in your muscles, saturating them with creatine stores for use during intense exercise.
So, how long after starting creatine supplementation will you begin to see results?
You can accelerate the effects of creatine monohydrate by doing a creatine loading phase. Creatine loading involves taking a higher dose (usually between 7 and 20 grams) for the first week, followed by a maintenance dose of 3 – 5 grams of creatine per day.
We’ll go over creatine loading in more detail and share tips for helping you get the most out of your creatine supplements.
How long do creatine supplements take to work?
Creatine takes between 7 and 28 days to begin working. The exact amount of time depends on the individual’s weight and daily dosage.
If you do a loading phase and take 7 – 20 grams of creatine daily, your muscle’s creatine stores should be filled within seven days.
Alternately, if you start with a maintenance dose of 3 – 5 grams daily, you will reach creatine saturation within about 28 days.
How long creatine takes to work depends on how quickly your muscle cells become saturated with creatine.
How does creatine loading work?
Many lifters choose to perform a creatine loading phase to hasten its performance, muscle mass, and recovery benefits.
Creatine loading works by ingesting more creatine for the first seven days, then reducing your daily intake to a maintenance level.
Most people’s creatine stores are only 60-80% full without supplementation. Loading with creatine supplements helps your muscle reach creatine saturation sooner, providing an energy source for high-intensity workouts.
How many grams of creatine should I take?
How much creatine you need depends on your goals, body composition, and how well you tolerate your creatine supplement.
If you don’t mind waiting a few weeks for your creatine to work, proceed directly to a maintenance dose of 3 – 5 grams daily.
Creatine loading is helpful if you want to boost muscle mass and performance as quickly as possible. Take up to 20 grams of creatine daily for 5 – 7 days, then continue taking 3 – 5 grams daily.
Larger athletes can store more creatine than smaller athletes. People over 200 pounds may benefit from a maintenance dose of around 8 grams per day.
How long should I take creatine?
You can take creatine on an ongoing basis. Some people advocate for time off of your creatine supplement to avoid building up a tolerance and organ damage. Others believe stopping creatine is pointless and will only disrupt your progress in the gym.
Creatine has been well-studied for its safety. However, most of this research observed participants for only a short period. Some athletes and coaches recommend creatine cycling to avoid any potential side effects of continued creatine use.
Creatine cycling involves a loading phase and subsequent maintenance dose for 8 – 12 weeks. You then have a ‘time off’ phase of 2 – 4 weeks where you stop taking creatine entirely, before commencing a new loading phase.
The primary purpose of creatine cycling is to give your body a break, protect your liver and kidneys, and avoid building up a tolerance, which could reduce creatine’s effectiveness.
No available evidence supports the need to stop taking creatine. Several long-term studies have found long-term creatine supplementation to be safe and effective. Whether you follow a traditional creatine cycle is up to you and your preferences.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a natural energy source for your muscles that helps them effectively contract.
Around half of your body’s creatine stores come from a carnivorous diet, with the other half created in your liver and kidneys.
Most (~95%) of your creatine is stored in your skeletal muscle cells. The other 5% is in other organs like your brain, kidneys, and heart.
Creatine works by supplying energy to the muscles, which is stored as a compound called phosphocreatine.
Your body naturally produces around 2 grams of creatine daily. These 2 grams are used daily for energy and then removed from your body through urine. To get creatine’s strength and performance benefits, you must saturate the muscle’s creatine stores.
Who should take creatine?
Creatine supplementation can support any active individual who participates in high-intensity physical activity. Creatine is particularly helpful for people wanting to maximize muscle mass.
People who eat a carnivorous or omnivorous diet get about two grams of creatine daily from foods like red meat, dairy, and seafood. Vegetarians and vegans get fewer natural dietary sources of creatine and should consider creatine supplements, particularly if they have strength or body composition goals.
Older adults can also benefit from creatine supplementation. Studies have found improved energy and muscle strength among older people taking short-term high-dose creatine monohydrate.
Creatine may also provide benefits for brain health and function.Some research also found positive effects of creatine supplementation for some neurological conditions, such as Huntington’s disease.
Creatine is safe for most healthy individuals. Anyone can benefit from taking creatine, especially if they do regular resistance training.
Are there any side effects of creatine supplements?
Creatine supplements are considered safe for most individuals. The most common side effect of creatine is temporary increased water retention.
Don’t get obsessed with the scale, especially when you have just started taking creatine. If your weight increases, it is likely water weight, not fat or muscle. Don’t get discouraged or prematurely excited when you notice water weight gain.
Some people experience stomach discomfort or digestive issues when they start taking creatine, especially when taking high doses of around 20 grams during a loading phase.
High doses of creatine are safe in the short term. However, you should not load with creatine for several weeks, as it increases the risk of renal and liver complications. Seven days of a creatine loading phase is sufficient to saturate the muscles with creatine stores without creating adverse health risks.
Should I take creatine monohydrate or creatine HCL?
The two main types of creatine supplements are creatine monohydrate and creatine hydrochloride (HCL). Both types of creatine yield similar benefits and increase the ATP stores in your muscles. They both help boost performance, increase muscle mass and improve brain function.
Creatine monohydrate has existed longer than creatine HCL and has more research supporting its efficacy and safety. It is also often cheaper and more accessible than creatine HCL.
Creatine HCL is creatine bound with hydrochloric acid, making it more easily absorbed by your cells. Some benefits of creatine HCL include less water retention and reduced chance of gastrointestinal discomfort.
Because creatine HCL is absorbed more efficiently, there is less need to load with creatine HCL. However, both types of creatine supplements will improve your performance in and out of the gym.
Creatine is a great way to get stronger, increase muscle mass, and recover from intense workouts faster.
How quickly you experience these benefits is up to you. If you are concerned that creatine loading may upset your stomach or cause bloating, you can go straight to the maintenance phase. You will get all the same benefits within about a month.
If your goal is time sensitive, or you simply want to start reaping the benefits of creatine faster, creatine loading with creatine monohydrate is a handy shortcut.
Creatine stores are depleted and cleared out of your system daily, so the most important thing is consistency.
First, find a creatine supplement that works for your budget, goals, and preferences. Lastly, decide whether or not you want to do a loading phase.
Daily creatine supplementation and hard work in the gym will result in some exciting gains before you know it.