You’ll notice on many creatine monohydrate products that there is some mention of a loading phase for the first week or two. Let me break down what this phase is and how you should know if you need one.
First of all let’s go over what a loading phase is intended to be. Essentially it’s a period where you take more than the daily recommended dose in order to speed up the effects of the product.
The idea behind a loading phase is to saturate the muscles, meaning to get as much creatine as you can into them as fast as possible in order to start reaping the benefits. In theory it makes sense, but in practice it may not always make sense.
Pros and Cons of a Creating Loading Phase
The alternative to a loading phase is to simply start taking the daily recommended dose based on your bodyweight, which varies depending on who you ask, but typically 3-6 grams per day are recommended. Read your creatine container in order to find out how much creatine is in each serving.
Based on scientific studies so far there is no evidence that taking the recommended dose of creatine for an extended period of time is dangerous in any way. However, during a loading phase it is possible to put excess stress on the kidneys, let me explain.
For the first few days in a loading phase creatine is just being packed away in your muscles, but how do you know when your muscles are full? Well in short you don’t. So say you continue your loading phase for 7, maybe even 14 days. It is likely that the muscles of many people will have saturated before the end, which means any more creatine you ingest will remain in the bloodstream. In order to get rid of this excess creatine the kidneys are going to have to go to work to get the creatine into the urine for disposal. In theory if you went way overboard you could potentially do some real hard.
So, one option is to do a shortened loading phase where you take 10-20 grams per day (higher for higher bodyweight) for a shorter period of time instead of the full week or two. Alternatively some research has been done in this particular area by Dr. Greenhaff, check out the results.
There were two groups looked at in one of his experiements, the first group loaded on 20 grams of creatine per day for 5 days, while the other took a daily maintenance dose of 3 grams. What he found was that the loading group had a 20% increase in muscle creatine after just 5 days, and in comparison the group on the small maintenance dose reached this level after 28 days.
So what does this mean? Well it means that loading does essentially what it’s supposed to do, and if you really want results fast it may not be a bad idea. Alternatively if you aren’t in a rush and your goals are less short term and you want to play it completely safe there’s nothing wrong in going straight to the maintenance dose. Bottom line, try and make the best decision for your situation. This is exactly what I encourage when you are trying to find a creatine product by using the homepage creatine comparison matrix.