Author: James O’Sullivan • Fact checked by: Gainful Registered Dietitians • July 20, 2022
If you’ve considered taking creatine to help you reach your fitness goals, you probably want to see results as quickly as possible.
From bodybuilding to resistance training to powerlifting, creatine is a safe and effective supplement that can help you build muscle once it has adequately built up in your system, but how much creatine should you take?
Creatine is a derivative of two amino acids, glycine and arginine, in the body, and it is used to produce the primary form of energy for the cells, ATP or adenosine triphosphate.
Amino acids are the building blocks of life and are molecules that make up proteins — which, in turn, aid our muscle strength and lean body mass.
People naturally get some creatine intake from seafood and red meat, but they also produce it in small quantities of approximately 1 gram per day. About 95% of the body’s creatine is stored in the cells of the muscles. The remaining 5% is stored in the cells of the brain, kidneys, and liver.
While creatine is naturally present in animal-based foods like turkey and seafood, it is not available in high enough amounts to have a real impact on sports performance. This is why creatine supplements are so effective and necessary for athletic performance.
As a nutritional supplement, creatine is commonly used to build strength, increase muscle mass, improve endurance, and boost athletic performance, but creatine also has applications for supporting brain health and maintaining muscle mass.
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Most people combine creatine powder with a beverage and take it shortly before or after a workout for body composition support.
The recommended dose of creatine you should take depends on whether you are new to using creatine or whether you have been using a creatine dietary supplement for a week or more.
If you have never used creatine before or it has been a while since you’ve taken it, general recommendations suggest that you go through a starter phase of creatine use, commonly referred to as creatine loading.
During the creatine loading phase, you’ll take 20 to 25 grams of creatine, split into four or five doses for five to seven days. A recommended personalized dosage for creatine loading is 0.3 grams per kilogram of body weight each day. This phase is often recommended for those new to creatine supplementation because it allows you to build up the creatine stores in your muscles rapidly.
In just one week, the amount of creatine in your muscles can increase by anywhere from ten to 40% using this regimen.
By quickly upping your creatine stores, your body starts to experience the benefits of the supplement sooner. That means you’ll hit your workouts harder and start building strength more quickly.
It should be noted that you’ll only experience the benefits of creatine once your muscles are fully saturated with the molecule. Thus, most people try creatine loading to get there as quickly as possible.
If you’d prefer to take a more gradual approach to building your creatine stores, it is possible to take a lower dose of creatine for a longer period. Studies show that it takes about 28 days to build up your body’s creatine stores when consuming 3-5 grams per day.
You’ll still achieve creatine saturation, but it will take you about a week longer than by using the creatine loading method. Some people prefer a gradual buildup of creatine saturation because you can consume the supplement in just one dose per day instead of four to five doses spread throughout the day.
Ultimately, you will reach the same goal regardless of your chosen method.
Once your muscles are fully saturated with creatine, you do not need nearly as high a daily dose to maintain this level.
Instead, studies show that consuming about three to five grams per day (14 mg per pound of body weight or 30 mg per kg of body weight) is all that you need in order to maintain your muscle stores.
The dosage amount is consistent for both men and women regardless of athletic ability. Even those who are elderly may be able to help support healthy muscle tone by consuming creatine at this amount.
The supplement is one of few health and fitness supplements with equal effectiveness regardless of athletic ability.
You may be wondering if creatine has any side effects.
While creatine is generally well tolerated, some people may experience some mild side effects when using it.
One of the side effects most commonly associated with creatine supplementation is bloating.
Bloating is particularly common during the creatine loading phase and may occur because creatine draws water into the cells of the muscles, causing water retention. Some people may notice that they gain several pounds during this time.
A study conducted on the topic found that the body weight of participants taking creatine supplements over a four-week period increased by an average of 2.9 pounds.
Bloating tends to improve with time and exercise. Not everyone who takes creatine will experience bloating, but some people do. If you notice significant bloating, try skipping the creatine loading phase and consistently consuming a lower dose of three to five grams per day.
Some people may also experience gastrointestinal issues when taking creatine, particularly when taking a large amount at once. One study found that consuming ten grams of a creatine supplement in one serving caused side effects like diarrhea, belching, and stomach upset.
Study participants who consumed just two to five grams in a single dose did not experience the same side effects.
You may be able to minimize your likelihood of experiencing gastrointestinal distress by limiting the amount of creatine you consume in a single dose to no more than five grams at a time, including during the loading phase.
During creatine loading, make sure to divide your total daily dose into four or five equal doses throughout the day so that you are not consuming more than five grams at a time.
With the potential for creatine to cause uncomfortable side effects at high doses, you may be concerned about taking too much of the supplement. Taking in high amounts of creatine (more than 25 grams per day) is more likely to cause side effects like bloating and gastrointestinal distress.
The good news is that taking more than 25 grams of creatine per day is not likely to be harmful; it’s just uncomfortable.
When you take in more creatine than your body can absorb and store, the excess ends up being secreted through your urine. While you won’t hurt yourself, you will likely end up wasting money without any additional benefit.
Creatine is widely considered to be a safe and effective nutritional supplement. Numerous studies have confirmed the supplement’s safety for the majority of people.
That said, it is always best to consult your doctor before trying new supplements, especially if you have certain health conditions. For example, those with kidney issues may be more likely to experience side effects even when taking low amounts of creatine. Your doctor will be able to work with you to determine whether creatine is safe for you to use, and in what doses.
Creatine is a safe and effective nutritional supplement that is commonly used to increase strength, build muscle, improve endurance during high-intensity exercise, and boost exercise performance.
People who do not regularly use creatine may start building their creatine stores by taking a dose of 20 to 25 grams of creatine spread out evenly over four to five servings for five to seven days.
The effects of creatine can be beneficial no matter what point of your fitness journey you are at. Sufficient creatine levels can help you see muscle growth faster.
After the initial loading period, a recommended maintenance dose of three to five grams per day is adequate to maintain the muscle stores.
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