Creatine is possibly then most talked about substance in bodybuilding, and in fitness generally. But do most people really know what creatine is, what it does, and how we should be using it?
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid that is naturally found within the cells of muscles and it plays a critical role in the production of the energy you need when undertaking intensive exercise such as weight lifting.
It’s no surprise then that creatine supplements are hugely popular in the bodybuilding community, with them being taken for all round benefits in the areas of strength enhancement, increased gains and overall performance improvements.
Creatine is often the first supplement that athletes turn to. For many, it’s considered a staple supplement and one that is used even if no other products are. These supplements are particularly helpful for:
- People regularly lifting heavy weights or doing high intensity workouts
- Vegetarians or vegans, because creatine is naturally obtained from animal sourced foods
Do Creatine Supplements Have Any Side Effects?
Quality creatine products are considered safe when the directed dosage is followed.
It’s important to keep in mind though that, like all supplements, there is no FDA regulation of the product claims and quality, so always pay close attention to the company who has made it, where it originates from, and what the full ingredients list contains.
These simple steps will ensure you’re getting a high quality creatine supplement.
What Is A Creatine Loading Phase?
Muscle building makes use of specific energy pathways in the body which are different to those used for aerobic type exercise. For bodybuilding, creatine contributes to the production of ATP which is the main energy source we need.
ATP reserves are depleted within less than ten seconds during bodybuilding, after which new ATP needs to be produced and when you’re working at high intensity, the body has a hard time keeping up with the amount of ATP you need.
By loading up on creatine, your muscles can increase storage of the compound that’s required for more ATP to be produced, so you can continue to workout at high intensity.
As the name suggests, this phase is literally about loading up on your muscle’s stores of creatine.
Because creatine is stored in the muscles where it’s drawn upon during intense energy bursts, keeping your creatine levels topped up has clear benefits. So a creatine loading phase is simply a way of quickly increasing your stores of creatine so it’s there when and as you need it. You do this by consuming creatine in a large amount so the muscles are literally loaded with it ready for use.
A loading phase can run for about a week or less, with studies showing the muscle’s storage of creatine can be maximized during this time period. Different supplements may come with differing instructions on exactly how much to take.
It’s important to keep in mind that the amount of creatine you require for an adequate loading phase will depend on your current physique. Your current muscle mass will determine how much creatine that you can hold – those with more muscle can obviously store more creatine so will require a larger dose to maximize the storage amount.
What Happens After Your Creatine Loading Phase Ends?
At the end of a week (or so) loading phase of creatine, it’s recommended that you maintain your creatine levels by continuing to take creatine, but at lower levels than you were while loading. Generally an ideal creatine maintenance level is around three to five grams per day; but again, this also depends on your current muscle mass and the intensity of your workout program.
It’s important to maintain your stores of creatine, so never make the mistake of undertaking a week long loading phase and then stopping creatine intake completely.
Is Creatine Loading Absolutely Necessary?
Loading of creatine is a method of quickly maximizing your stores. Alternatively, ongoing and consistent moderate dosages of creatine daily can also bring your levels up at or near maximum; it just takes longer.
For example, skipping the loading phase and simply consuming around three grams of creatine per day is likely to boost your muscles to saturation level within around a month – rather than within a week when loading.
Therefore: creatine loading is not vital for muscle building, but if you want to get off to a quick head start, or have a critical need to hit peak performance as soon as possible – it’s a safe and effective way to achieve that goal.