Athletes love to ask questions about creatine and whether it is something that they should use to improve their performance in either their sport, lifting, or to improve their physique. The one thing that is rarely asked is this: how should it be taken? The second question should be: what is an acceptable dose for creatine to be effective? The answers, unfortunately, are not all the simple, but you can most definitely place creatine into loading and maintenance phases to get the most out of your supplement.
The loading or dosing phase is kind of similar to that of carb loading for a big race, but lasts for a longer period. Instead of one or two days of carb loading for the big race, creatine loading generally lasts for about 5 days 2,4, and in some studies it has lasted up to 7 days 5. It appears though that muscles may reach creatine load maximum in as low as 3 days 5. If this is the case why do most studies have the loading phase last a minimum of 5 days. Good question, and I wish I had the answer. The dose taken during the loading phase has been as low as 13.7 g/d 3, when questioning professional bodybuilders and other athletes about their daily doses during the loading phase, to studies having their subjects supplement with as high as 25 g/d, and even 35 g/d 4,8. As you can see that is a vast difference in dose size. Most studies seem to use 20 g/d with positive results for a period of 5 days 1, 3, 4, 5. This amount seems to be very effective in increasing speed, power, strength, and lean body mass in amateur, collegiate, and elite athletes 1, 5, 6, so loading with creatine above this amount might be just a waste of creatine. I know that there are some people out there that dose based on body weight, so here is a g/kg/d dose that might work for you. It appears that 0.25 - 0.3 g/kg/d works pretty well when using your body weight in kg to determine your dose during the loading phase for creatine supplementation, and amounts up to 0.03 g/kg/d have been shown to be positive for increasing work abilities 1,4. To determine how much you weigh in kg use this formula ____lbs ÷ 2.2 = ____ kg then multiply your desired g/kg dose by your weight in kg (70 kg * 0.3 = 21 g/d). When loading creatine it is best to take in two to three doses throughout the day that will add up to your desired daily dose (ie: 2 x 10 g doses = 20 g)
The maintenance phase can last weeks, months, and even years without long term harm to the kidneys since doses from 2 g to 20 g of creatine can easily be passed through the kidneys and liver during the filtration process, and no study has demonstrated kidney failure during their research 2, 8. It is, however, recommended that doses larger than 5 g/d only last for a brief period of 5 days 2. Most common theory on creatine maintenance is that supplementation between 2 - 5 g/d are best to maintain increased creatine levels with the muscle tissue 4. However, doses as low as 2 - 3 g/d have also shown to improve athletic performance in athletes 3. For those that want to load based off of weight then it is recommended to use 0.03 - 0.075 g/kg: use the same formula above to determine your dose. It must also be noted that the loading phase can be omitted by athletes that do not need to rapidly increase their creatine concentration within their muscles by just starting out with the maintenance phase. Athletes that do skip the loading phase will see similar results within 30 days or more when compared to what athletes see from pushing larger doses in the loading phase within a 5 day period 4. So in essence the loading phase will not be necessary for most athletes that are not in competition mode.
Whatever your decision on creatine is, one thing that is necessary to know is that there are several types of creatine out there. It appears that the easiest form for the body to absorb is creatine monohydrate and this form has been shown to have a 100% absorption rate 4,6. Also, don’t just fall for those ads that state that you will see fast results. There are a lot of misleading ads out there, and even more horrible products. Do your research on each product and read the reviews. Also, ask your friends about the products that they have used, and find out if they liked the results that they got. Rule number one is always to know your product before starting a supplementation protocol. Rule number two: there is really no need outside of the loading phase to supplement with more than 5 g/d, so don’t waste your product just because you are following the label. Knowledge is power, and ignorance can be dangerous when it comes to supplements. What you don’t know can hurt you, so make sure that you know and understand the facts. Until next time, happy lifting and may good health follow you always.