Creatine: To Load or Not

Creatine: To Load or Not

Creatine is one of the most studied and researched supplements out there. Creatine helps muscular strength [1] and muscular endurance [2]. In older populations, it’s also been shown to help prevent lean muscle loss when accompanied by a resistant training program. [3] There are many benefits to creatine.

The question is: is it necessary to “load” it?

For those of you not familiar with my terminology, creatine loading begins when you first start taking creatine. Typically, loading lasts about 3-5 days. During those initial days, you take more creatine than you typically need. Most common doses are 20-30g per day, spread out over 3-5 servings. Some people can tolerate this no problem. Others can struggle with these amounts. While no serious damage can be done at the above doses, in the short term, some side effects can include: diarrhea, stomach pangs, and a puffy, bloated feeling. Nothing serious but worth noting.

Is Loading Necessary?

No. Creatine loading is not necessary. The only benefit of loading is faster saturation of phosphocreatine stores in muscle tissue. Phosphocreatine serves as a storage tank for your muscles. When your muscles are being taxed, through CrossFit or various forms of lifting, for example, your body begins to transfer phosphocreatine into ATP. ATP is the substance your body utilizes for quick energy and contracting muscles.

By saturating the muscle with supplemental creatine, you are keeping these phosphocreatine reserves full. It should go without saying that a full gas tank takes a car further than half a gas tank, given that everything else remains the same. Same thing here. Those who supplement with enough creatine keep these reserves filled and are therefore able to train harder and longer.

I don’t see the need to saturate the muscle as quickly as possible. The benefits of taking creatine are cumulative and derive from the consistent use over a longer time period. Having said that, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with loading and if it makes you happy, go for it. It won’t hurt a bit. Personally, I’ve loaded and not loaded. I haven’t noticed much of a difference. When I do notice a difference, is when I am consistently taking it. That’s the most critical part, as with anything, consistency. Decide whether to load it or not and go with it!

Just “Water Weight?”

One quick issue I want to address is that there are people who claim that creatine is just water weight and any increase in size will dissipate when you stop using creatine. That’s only partially true. Yes, creatine does help you hold water. BUT, creatine works inside of the muscle cells, as I’ve briefly discussed above. Therefore, it helps to draw water inside of the muscle. If you don’t think that’s a good thing, just remember that your muscles are ~70% water.

If you holding on to extra water weight subcutaneously (just under your skin), it is your diet to blame, not supplemental creatine. Creatine does not work outside of the muscle cells. Therefore, it’s not going to cause water retention. Keep your maintenance dosage around 5-10g per day and you need not worry about getting a bloated physique.

Creatine Type

Creatine Monohydrate is the most studied and proven form available. It’s wicked cheap and worth every penny. If you see an ad for creatine that will give you “less water retention,” just re-read the above paragraph.

Daily Amount

In my experience, 5-10g per day is the sweet spot. After a few weeks, at this dosage, your cells should be adequately saturated and you will begin reaping all the benefits of creatine supplementation.

When Do I Take It?

As far as timing is concerned, I have always suggested taking creatine post workout along with your protein shake. As usual, the research is a bit mixed on this subject. From what I seen, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Post workout works well for most because, as I’ve stated before, some people can’t tolerate creatine before strenuous exercise. Post workout seems to be best, in general. [4]

The benefits of creatine lay in the long-term effects of consistent use. It will take some time for you to reap the benefits of creatine, but it’s worth it. Creatine is one of the most beneficial supplements out there. No matter the goal, creatine is there to help. It’ll help preserve lean muscle while trying to shred up. It’ll help you pack on some quality size and strength gains. Heck, it can even improve your driving distance on the golf course. [5]

I hope you have decided to take creatine. I think you’ll be very happy with the results you get. Remember, creatine is not going to do the work for you. It’s going to allow you to get better results from your hard work. Hard work, consistency, and dedication are still in the recipe for your health and fitness goals.


[1] Precario et al.Effects of creatine supplementation on oxidative stress profile of athletes.Journal of the Interntational Society of Sports Nutrition, 2015; 9(1): 56. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-56

[2] Tyka et al. “Effect of creatine malate supplementation on physical performance on physical performance, body composition and selected hormone levels in sprinters and long-distance runners.” Acts Physiologica Hungarica, 2015; 102*(1): 114-122. doi:10.1556/APhysiol.1022015.1.12

[3] Devries, MC & Phillips, SM. “Creatine supplementation during resistance training in older adults-a meta-analysis.Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise, 2014; 46(6):1194-1203. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000220

[4] Antonio, J & Ciccone V. “The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength.Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2013; 10:36. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-36

[5] Ziegenfuss et al.Effects of a dietary supplement on golf drive distance and functional indices of golf performance.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2015; 12(1). doi:10.1186/s12970-014-0065-4

About The Author

Nick LaToof is a nutritional consultant, blog writer, and personal trainer. He strives to better those around him with solid, no-nonsense information that's applicable and repeatable. In doing so, he empowers people to live their best life and put their best foot forward in any chosen endeavor.

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