To Load Creatine or Not: That is the Question.
To Load Creatine or Not, That is the Question.
It’s well understood in the world of science that creatine is one of the healthiest and best performing supplements on the planet. It is well researched, arguably the most researched compound outside of caffeine and it continuously shows us its effectiveness as a supplement in regards to many aspects surrounding sports performance. Creatine can help with brain injuries, it can help women during breastfeeding, it can increase rate of force production, it can assist with migraine prevention, it simply is a wonder supplement!
Historically, it has been well understood that loading creatine is very important to its effectiveness. Typically, people will use 4-5 days of “loading” creatine at very high dosages. This will lead to faster “saturation” points within the muscle and will enhance performance in strength at a faster rate. But is this accurate? Is this something we should be focusing upon?
Please, Give Me the Research!
Hultman and Soderlund provided us with a unique look into the efficacy of loading creatine during one of their research studies from the late 90’s. They decided to take three different groups, analyze their muscle creatine saturation points and then compare them over time to analyze the effectiveness of loading. Throughout the 35 day experiment, saturation points were analyzed at various times and then compared to loaded and non-loaded muscle creatine.
31 male subjects were used within this study, all men took the creatine with warm water and all participated in some form of resistance based training during the study. The important factor here is recognizing how long it took lower levels of creatine ingestion to achieve similar levels of higher levels or loaded levels of creatine.
Six men analyzed in this group.
Average age of the six men was around 26 years of age.
They weighed about 80k and they took 20 grams of creatine for only six days.
Their muscle creatine levels were analyzed on day 0 (start of the study), 7, 21 and 35.
NOTE: This group only took creatine for 6 days!
Nine men analyzed in this group.
Average age of the nine men was around 27 years of age.
They weighed about 86k.
They took creatine at 20 grams for 6 days followed by only 2 grams for the remainder of the study.
Their creatine saturation levels were analyzed on day 0, 7, 21, 35.
Nine men were analyzed in this group.
Average age of the nine men was 25 years of age.
They weighed about 76k.
They took 3 grams of creatine everyday and were checked for saturation points at day 0, 15 and day 29.
Seven men analyzed in this group.
Average age was 22 years of age.
They weighed 75k and took a glucose placebo.
Some of the key points behind the study will be in comparison of Group 1 to Group 2 to see if there is any drop-off after loading compared to the group that loaded AND took 2 grams of creatine a day (Group 2). This will also be analyzed by looking at Group 3 who took 3 grams daily to see when their muscle saturation point crosses over to the muscle creatine saturation point of the loaded groups. Finally, we can compare Group 1 and their drop-off rate to the placebo group.
By day 21, there started to be a drop off in their muscle creatine saturation point. By day 35, their creatine saturation point was back to the original level.
Dramatic increase in the first 6 days, at day 21 their muscle creatine level remained the same throughout the remainder of the study.
By day 15, their muscle creatine saturation point was very similar to Group #2’s level of creatine after their loading phase. By day 29, their creatine levels were almost identical to Group #2.
Based on these results, if you NEED a rapid saturation of creatine levels, it does make sense to hit a loading phase. For instance, perhaps you get a call to compete in an event in ten days and you need every advantage you can possibly have. If this is the case, then it would make sense to load creatine. However, based off of Group 3 to Group 2 that over the span of three weeks, loading does not change long term creatine saturation levels. We can deduce that taking .1g per kilo of bodyweight on a daily basis and that we do not need to load!
If you mentally feel like you NEED to load creatine or if you have a short notice for a competition, it makes sense to load creatine. However, from a long term perspective it does not make much sense to actually have to load. Muscle creatine saturation levels can achieve full saturation within 3-4 weeks of regular creatine consumption.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.
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