June 13, 2024 6 min read

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    The position of creatine in fitness circles is well-established, and there isn't much debate or controversy surrounding its benefits. The ongoing discussion, however, seems to be about the creatine loading phase, and the necessity of this approach when increasing stores of creatine. Is creatine loading a myth, or a useful strategy to maximize the benefits this supplement offers?

    In this guide, we will take a closer look at this process, including all its stages, assess its potential benefits and side effects, and discuss the necessity of a creatine loading phase for different goals.

    What is Creatine?

    Often mistaken for a protein due to its amino acid composition, creatine is in fact, a chemical compound produced from glycine, arginine, and methionine. In the body, creatine is available in two forms: creatine phosphate (accounting for ~60% of total stores of creatine) and the free form (~40%). In addition to the mentioned amino acids, creatine synthesis also requires three enzymes: L-arginine: glycine amidinotransferase, guanidinoacetate methyltransferase, and methionine adenosyltransferase.[1]

    Creatine production mostly takes place in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. While we do produce creatine naturally, it is important to state that the production yields only ~1g daily, which is simply not enough to experience all the positive effects of this extremely versatile compound.[1] This is precisely where creatine supplementation comes into play.

    Besides promoting muscle mass and strength, and helping to produce energy for grueling training sessions, creatine offers a wide array of other health benefits. Perhaps the most recognized and significant role of creatine is providing cellular energy. Other noteworthy benefits of creatine supplementation include:[2] [3] [4]

    • antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects
    • potential benefits to vascular health
    • promoted cognition and memory, especially in aging adults with neurodegenerative conditions, and in case of sleep deprivation
    • boosted mood levels
    • improved bone mineral density.
    Creatine Levels in Muscles

    Importance of muscle creatine stores

    The importance of muscle stores of creatine stems from the fact that around 95% of all creatine in the body is stored in skeletal muscle. [5] Muscle creatine stores represent the foundation for high-intensity exercise and optimal athletic performance. Increasing muscle creatine stores has been shown to boost exercise performance and promote muscle growth.

    That being said, muscle creatine loading could impact the overall levels of creatine in the body. While creatine loading is mostly discussed from a sports nutrition stance, increasing the dose not only promises greater muscle hypertrophy but also fosters other positive effects of creatine supplementation.[5]

    Understanding Different Types of Creatine Supplementation

    The fact that creatine is naturally produced in the body may lead you to believe that creatine supplementation isn't necessary. However, as we explained, the body can only produce as much as one gram of creatine daily, which simply isn't enough to experience its full effects. This is where creatine supplementation comes into play. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when selecting between different kinds of creatine supplements.

    Creatine Monohydrate

    Creatine monohydrate remains the most heavily researched form of creatine. It is the most widely available, affordable creatine supplement on the market. A creatine loading phase is mostly associated with this form of creatine, and it requires high daily doses combined with a diet high in carbohydrates to experience the benefits to the full extent. Also, creatine monohydrate is mostly available in powder form, which means you’ll have to mix it into a beverage.[6]

    Creatine HCI

    Creatine HCI, on the other hand, does not require a loading phase, as it offers higher bioavailability. This means that a smaller dose of creatine is needed to achieve the same results.

    Creatine HCI is a concentrated version of creatine, which is an excellent solution for people who don't want to bother with the specifics of creatine loading or have experienced digestive issues and bloating when taking larger doses of creatine monohydrate. What's more, creatine HCI comes in a highly convenient capsule form, so you don't have to worry about mixing it into your beverages.

    Creatine Loading Phase

    The Creatine Loading Phase

    The creatine loading phase basically means that you're upping your creatine intake over five to seven days, quickly and efficiently. The introduction of high doses results in increased stores of creatine in muscle cells, associated with numerous benefits [6] such as:

    • increased muscle mass and lean body mass
    • strength gains
    • boosted muscular endurance
    • enhanced muscle performance
    • promoted cognitive functions
    • optimized skin health.

    Tips for effective creatine loading

    The most common strategy for loading creatine is to take equal doses for five to seven days, anywhere between 20 and 25g. Keep in mind that this high dose of creatine should be split into four or five smaller doses throughout the day. Once the loading phase is over, it is important to introduce a maintenance dose, which should be around 3-5g/day.[6] Remember to:

    • drink plenty of water during this process
    • take smaller doses throughout the day during the loading phase
    • continue with a maintenance phase after 5-7 days
    • mix creatine with beverages to increase solubility
    • combine this strategy with resistance training for maximum muscle gains.

    Is Creatine Loading Necessary?

    No, creatine loading is definitely not necessary, even if your supplement of choice is creatine monohydrate. Keep in mind that the creatine loading phase is a fast, aggressive way of obtaining results that you'd eventually achieve with lower doses.[6]

    If loading creatine seems to be too complicated, time-consuming, or unappealing to you, creatine HCI capsules may be the solution you're looking for. This concentrated supplement eliminates the need for creatine loading, as well as potential negative side effects of high creatine doses, such as bloating, water retention, and stomach discomfort.

    FAQ

    Creatine Loading for Women

    Can women do a creatine loading phase?

    Higher doses of creatine, whether through a loading phase or by introducing a concentrated creatine supplement, are highly beneficial for everyone. While there aren't many studies on the particular effect of creatine supplementation on women, the general benefits of creatine, including improved exercise performance, energy, strength, condition, and mood, are reason enough to consider adding it to your routine.[4]

    Is 10g of creatine enough for loading?

    For optimal results, the suggested dose is 20-25 grams of creatine per day. The loading phase should be followed by a maintenance phase. In the case of creatine HCI, loading isn't necessary, as this form of creatine is highly concentrated.

    Is creatine loading safe?

    Yes, creatine loading is generally considered safe, with limited and individual side effects - mostly stomach discomfort and bloating. A quality creatine HCI supplement may be a better way to acquire the necessary dose of creatine, especially if you've experienced digestive issues with monohydrate.

    In Summary

    To creatine load or not to load?The ultimate dilemma of avid gym-goers, beginners, and those intrigued by creatine’s multiple non-fitness benefits. If your creatine of choice is monohydrate, and you’re interested in boosting creatine levels to achieve a specific fitness goal, the strategy makes sense and has little to no side effects - as long as you don’t have a sensitive stomach.

    If, on the other hand, you have experienced unpleasant side effects when taking higher doses of creatine monohydrate, or you’re simply on the lookout for a more convenient way to get your creatine in - creatine HCI is the optimal solution. This way, you don’t have to worry about loading and maintenance phases, taking multiple doses throughout the day, or the potential side effects that come with it. A single capsule replaces the entire routine and eliminates the need for loading altogether, so why not give it a shot?

    Article References:

    1. Cooper, Robert et al. “Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition vol. 9,1 33. 20 Jul. 2012, doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-33
    2. Clarke, Holly et al. “The Potential Role of Creatine in Vascular Health.” Nutrients vol. 13,3 857. 5 Mar. 2021, doi:10.3390/nu13030857
    3. Candow, Darren G et al. “"Heads Up" for Creatine Supplementation and its Potential Applications for Brain Health and Function.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 53,Suppl 1 (2023): 49-65. doi:10.1007/s40279-023-01870-9
    4. Smith-Ryan, Abbie E et al. “Creatine Supplementation in Women's Health: A Lifespan Perspective.” Nutrients vol. 13,3 877. 8 Mar. 2021, doi:10.3390/nu13030877
    5. Buford, Thomas W et al. “International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition vol. 4 6. 30 Aug. 2007, doi:10.1186/1550-2783-4-6
    6. Creatine Loading Phase: Benefits, Safety, Side Effects, Dosage.” Healthline, 12 Dec. 2018, www.healthline.com/nutrition/creatine-loading-phase.



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