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Trainer Q&A: Do I Need to 'Load' Creatine?

Our expert explains whether or not it's necessary to saturate your muscles or to take it straight up.

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Q:  Do I Really Need to 'Load' Creatine?

A: Creatine is without a doubt one of the most popular and well-researched supplements on the market. By increasing the amount of energy available for short-duration, high-intensity exercise, creatine allows lifters to push themselves harder in the gym and ultimately can lead to increased strength and size gains following weight training. Not only that, creatine can help guys recover faster in between sets meaning they can attack the weights faster and harder than before. While most people agree that supplementing with creatine is effective in terms of improved performance, the actual dosage and supplementation strategy is many times up for debate.

In terms of taking creatine, certain methodologies differ on whether or not a “loading” phase is necessary for maximum gains. A typical loading phase would consist of a 7-10 day period of higher dosage before returning to a maintenance dose. Others recommend simply starting on a certain dosage and continuing that amount throughout the supplementation. Dr. Mike Roussell, nutritional consultant and expert contributor for a variety of health and fitness publications, argues that a loading phase makes creatine supplementation more effective from the start. According to Dr. Roussell, “It (loading) supersaturates your muscle creatine stores. You could not load but it would take a lot longer to reap the maximum effectiveness of creatine.” For most lifters, a loading phase will allow them to get a bigger benefit right from the start.

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In terms of how to load creatine, Roussell recommends a standard approach of starting with five grams taken five times a day for the first week of supplementation. After that week, lifters can back down to a maintenance dose of 5-10g per day. In terms of when to supplement, Roussell advises spreading your doses out throughout the day but also taking them with a meal including carbohydrates as insulin helps to transport creatine into muscle cells.

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Those worried about long-term creatine supplementation can relax. While creatine is one of the most popular supplements on the market, there’s no evidence to support the notion that cycling off is necessary. In fact, Roussell acknowledges that lifters can supplement with creatine on a daily basis with virtually no side effects. However, those taking creatine should increase water consumption as creatine is known to draw water into the muscle and make users more susceptible to dehydrate although those taking in adequate amounts of fluid shouldn’t be worried.

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Creatine is a popular supplement in the fitness industry because it works. When loaded properly, creatine can be extremely effective in terms of increasing strength and muscle size. To start supplementation and reap the biggest benefit, begin with a 5-7 day loading period before returning to a maintenance dose.

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