When they use it for the first time, some people like to “load” with 20-30 grams of creatine each day for the first week.
One reason creatine loading is so popular is that it raises creatine levels in the body very quickly. You take 20 grams of creatine per day, typically divided into four 5-gram doses, which leads to a rapid rise in creatine levels in your muscles.
Once the creatine loading phase is out of the way, it’s possible to maintain your creatine stores by taking a lower dose of creatine, usually in the range of 3-5 grams per day.
Is Creatine Loading Necessary?
Personally, I think creatine loading is unnecessary. That’s because 30 days of low-dose creatine supplementation raises the concentration of creatine in your muscles to the same extent as seven days using higher doses.
In one study, six days of creatine loading (20 grams per day) led to a 20% rise in muscle creatine concentrations . But the same study shows that you can get the exact same rise in creatine levels with just three grams of creatine per day for 30 days.
What’s more, studies show similar gains in fat-free mass (a reasonable proxy for muscle mass) following either low-dose or high-dose creatine supplementation.
In one trial, researchers from Southern Connecticut State University tracked a group of American footballers using creatine for ten weeks .
The footballers were assigned to either a low- or high-dose creatine group. The low-dose group took three grams of creatine per day. The high-dose group followed a creatine loading protocol, taking 20 grams per day for seven days, followed by five grams per day for nine weeks.
Subjects in the low-dose group gained an average of 5.4 pounds of fat-free mass, which was slightly more than the 3.9-pound gain in the high-dose group.
Your body has a “pool” of creatine. Supplementation helps to increase the amount of creatine in that pool. And, just as a swimming pool can only hold so much water, there’s only so much creatine your body can store.
Imagine you were using a hose to fill a swimming pool. You could open the tap up fully, and the pool would fill with water more quickly. Or, you could leave the tap partially closed, in which case the pool would take longer to fill.
But once the pool is full, extra water is simply wasted. It’s the same with creatine and your muscles. Once your muscles are saturated with creatine, any excess is lost in the urine.
In other words, if you plan to use creatine for 30 days or longer, there’s very little evidence to suggest that creatine loading is necessary. Smaller doses taken over 30 days will saturate your muscles with creatine to the same degree as 20 grams taken for six days.
How Much Creatine Should You Take Each Day?
One study shows that a small daily dose of creatine (2-5 grams) is enough to keep creatine stores topped up . But a similar trial found that two grams per day failed to maintain the muscle creatine stores at the level obtained after creatine loading .
A lot of it depends on how much muscle you’re carrying around. Given that one of the largest storage depots for creatine is your muscles, someone with more muscle mass will need more creatine than someone with less muscle mass.
If you want to get really precise about it, aim for around 0.06 grams of creatine per kilogram of lean body mass (or 0.027 grams per pound). So, someone with 150 pounds of lean body mass would consume around four grams of creatine per day (150 x 0.027 = 4.05 grams).
Creatine Loading: The Bottom Line
Based on the research to date, there’s very little evidence to suggest that creatine needs to be loaded. Smaller doses taken over 30 days will saturate your muscles with creatine to the same degree as 20 grams taken for six days.
In most cases, somewhere between 3-5 grams a day will do the job for most people, most of the time .
SEE ALSO: THE MUSCLE BUILDING CHEAT SHEET
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ABOUT THE AUTHORChristian Finn is the nation’s leading authority on science-based, joint-friendly ways to build muscle. A former "trainer to the trainers," he holds a masters degree in exercise science, and has been featured in or contributed to major media on two continents, including the BBC and Sunday Times in the U.K. and Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness in the U.S.