Creatine Supplementation, Part 2. Loading, Maintenance, and Timing of Creatine Intake
Written by Tom Sovocool
This is Part 2 of a two-part series on creatine supplementation.
So now that we’ve determined that taking creatine will not destroy your body or turn you into a member of the opposite sex, let’s look at different supplementation strategies including creatine loading, maintenance doses, and timing. Feel free to check out the articles cited for further reading, but in the meantime here’s a summary of their findings.
Creatine loading is the process of taking a high dosage amount (~20 grams) per day for 4-7 days. The theory behind this method (as the name suggests) is that at the conclusion of this phase, the skeletal muscle is highly saturated with creatine. After the loading phase, a much smaller daily maintenance dosage is typically employed with the goal of maintaining these elevated skeletal muscle creatine levels.
Much research has been published showing that creatine loading does indeed increase creatine levels in muscle. As touched on briefly in Creatine Supplementation, Part 1, increased muscular creatine concentrations can result in many positive training adaptations. Creatine loading in addition to training has been shown to increase anaerobic power, maximal strength, power, acceleration, and muscular cross-sectional area (CSA) (1-2).
The side effects of taking creatine (cramping and GI distress) seem to be most common during loading phases. Researchers have looked at other avenues to achieve skeletal muscle creatine elevation by taking smaller doses as opposed to loading. One study showed that skeletal muscle creatine increases were the same between two groups; one group that performed a 6 day loading phase (20g/d), and another group that took a much smaller dose amount (3g/d) for 28 days (3). It appears as though while it is possible to achieve maximal muscular creatine saturation without loading, it will take longer to reach that end.
According to the latest research, only a small dose is needed to maintain skeletal muscle creatine concentrations and performance post-loading. Many studies observing maintenance doses post-loading observed maintenance (no decreases) in skeletal muscle creatine concentration with a dosage of 2 or 5 grams per day, with phases lasting as long as 66 days (3-6). Taking more than this amount as a maintenance dose may not increase creatine levels further, and will result in excretion of excess creatine via urination.
Timing of supplementation with relation to workouts could be beneficial in maximizing results. More research needs to be done to determine the effectiveness of timing vs. not timing creatine ingestion around training sessions. Many of the studies observing creatine timing measured creatine ingestion with both carbohydrates and protein. Thus, it is difficult to tell if the observed results from these studies are from the creatine or from other factors. Although the research pool on this topic is still growing, it does seem that favorable adaptations are also achievable with ingestion of creatine immediately pre- and/or post-workout.
Other methods of creatine supplementation have been recently published and are currently being researched, including the effect of macronutrient intake with creatine supplementation. Some results have shown an increase in creatine uptake into skeletal muscle when ingested with ~75 grams of carbs, twice per day during the loading phase (4).
Remember, even though much research has been published on varying aspects of creatine supplementation, many supplement companies continue to offer dosage recommendations that are not backed by scientific evidence. For this reason, be prudent when designing a supplementation plan for yourself or for others. Creatine is cheap, safe, and a great way to enhance training towards achieving your goals.