Creatine is one of the top supplements for gaining muscle and improving performance in the gym. It is one of the most researched supplements and is incredibly safe.
The body can produce creatine naturally from the amino acids glycine and arginine. People who eat animal-based protein will also consume some creatine from their diet. Creatine allows muscles to make energy in the form of ATP during high-intensity exercise or heavy lifting.
Supplementing with creatine increases stored phosphocreatine. This is a form of stored energy in the cells. It helps your body produce more of the energy molecule called ATP.
Keep reading to learn more about how much creatine you should take and when you can expect to see results.
How Long Does Creatine Take to Work?
You may want to see immediate improvements in strength and performance when supplementing with creatine, but it’s important to keep in mind that you may be starting with slightly less than optimal levels. Supplementing will help you to reach a healthy balance.
Just like any nutrient or supplement, the body does not reach peak levels immediately. The body must process and absorb it each time you take it, and phosphocreatine stores increase over time. Additionally, some of the creatine you take could be lost in the urine initially.
It can take anywhere from 7-28 days to see increased strength and energy during workouts depending on how much creatine you already have in your body.
How Long Does Creatine Take to Kick in Before Exercise?
It takes about 60 minutes for blood levels of creatine to reach their peak after oral ingestion. If you take creatine before a workout, you should take it 30-60 minutes prior to starting your workout. This may increase muscle strength and endurance.
What is Creatine Loading?
Creatine loading is a way of supplementing that may increase the body’s stores more rapidly, providing faster results. During the creatine loading phase, higher doses of creatine are taken for 5–7 days before transitioning to lower maintenance doses. This is thought to be the quickest way to get results from creatine, including increased performance and muscle strength.
The common recommended dose for creatine loading is 20–25 grams of creatine daily for 5–7 days. This dose is often split into four or five 5-gram servings throughout the day.
Research shows that this supplement regimen can increase muscle stores of creatine by 10%–40%.
After the loading phase, most people can maintain optimal creatine stores with a smaller dose, about 3–5 grams daily. People with greater muscle mass may need higher doses.
How Long Does Creatine Take to Work with Loading?
Creatine loading helps build up stores in the body more rapidly than taking smaller doses. With loading, creatine stores can reach optimal levels within 5-7 days, instead of the 2-4 weeks it can take with lower doses.
Is Creatine Loading Safe?
You can gradually increase your creatine stores over several weeks by taking modest doses of creatine. However, you can increase creatine stores more quickly to achieve the benefit of creatine supplementation faster.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), creatine supplementation is safe in doses of up to 30 grams per day and is generally well tolerated by most healthy individuals.
Any Possible Side Effects of Creatine Loading?
Creatine is one of the most widely researched and safest supplements on the market. Creatine is recognized as safe when taken in recommended doses. Creatine loading at doses of 20-25 grams per day is safe, although some people may experience rare side effects.
Some people have reported gastrointestinal symptoms when taking higher doses of creatine, including diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Some people may also experience temporary weight gain or bloating since creatine can cause water retention.
There is some speculation that creatine may increase the risk of dehydration, cramping, and heat illness, however, current scientific research provides evidence against these claims.
Some studies indicate that creatine may actually reduce dehydration, cramping, and the risk of heat-related illness.
How Much Creatine Should I Take Each Day?
While creatine loading does more rapidly increase creatine levels in the body, you can boost your creatine levels over time using lower doses.
Lower doses of creatine, about 3-5 grams, taken once daily, can be just as effective at optimizing your creatine stores. It just takes a little bit longer than 5-7 days.
If you wish to increase your creatine levels more quickly to see faster results, creatine loading may be right for you.
Studies show that taking 5 grams of creatine monohydrate four or five times daily, for a total of 20-25 grams, for 5–7 days is the most effective way to increase creatine levels in your muscles. Recommendations on specific amounts may vary depending on your weight.
To determine your daily dose for the loading phase, multiply your weight in kilograms (kg) by 0.3.
How Does Creatine Work in the Body?
Creatine is needed to regenerate a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the body’s main source of energy. During a workout, creatine stores can become depleted, which reduces the production of ATP, causing energy and strength to decrease significantly.
Normally, ATP is depleted within 10 seconds of high-intensity exercise. Supplementing with creatine increases the muscle stores that are available to refuel ATP, which can increase muscle strength, size, and power output.
Benefits of Creatine
Creatine promotes muscle growth in the short-term and long-term for many individuals, not just athletes. Studies show that creatine supplementation along with a muscle strengthening program can improve leg strength and muscle mass in older adults, improving quality of life.
Weightlifters who supplemented with creatine increased muscle fiber growth, doubled lean body mass, and increased their one-rep maximum on bench press.
If you're worried about water retention, you can learn the facts about creatine and weight gain.
Increased Strength and Performance
In addition to increasing muscle growth, creatine can also improve exercise performance, increasing strength, power, and endurance during high-intensity exercise.
Prevent Injury and Reduce Recovery Time
There is significant evidence that shows creatine not only improves exercise performance, but can play a role in preventing or reducing the severity of injury, improving rehabilitation from injuries, and allowing athletes to better tolerate heavy training loads.
Phosphocreatine is amply stored in the brain in addition to muscles. The brain requires significant amounts of ATP for proper functioning.
Studies have shown that supplementing with creatine may improve brain health and prevent neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease.
Creatine supplementation may also improve short-term memory and overall intelligence.
Other Potential Health Benefits
Some research suggests that creatine supplementation may aid in lowering blood sugar and help treat nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. More research is needed in these areas.
When to Take Creatine for Best Results
Researchers have tried to determine when is the best time to take creatine. Some studies suggest supplementing shortly before exercise is more effective, however, another study showed greater increases in lean mass and strength in the group that took creatine after exercise.
Although results are mixed on whether to take creatine before or after a workout, there’s one thing research supports – it’s best to take creatine close to a workout, whether it’s before or after.
You could also split your dose, taking 2.5 grams before your workout, and 2.5 grams after.
What Happens if You Stop Taking Creatine?
When you supplement with creatine daily, your total serum creatine levels and the amount of creatine stored in your muscles increase.
When you stop taking creatine, these levels drop, after which you may experience some side effects including fatigue, muscle weakness, weight loss, and decreased natural creatine production.
Bottom Line on How Long it Takes Creatine to Work
The length of time that it takes to see results after starting creatine supplementation depends on your current levels and the dose you take. Taking a modest dose of around 3-5 grams daily can produce increased strength and endurance in around 2-4 weeks.
While creatine loading, taking 20-25 grams daily for 7 days followed by a lower maintenance dose, can produce results in 5-7 days.