How To Take Creatine – Your Complete Guide

Fact Checked On: 10-7-2018 By: Rob Miller


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How To Take Creatine – Your Complete Guide

You’ve done your research and have come to the decision that you’re going to take creatine. This very well documented supplement has been used for many years by bodybuilders and athletes alike, all who hope to improve their performance, increasing strength output and boosting endurance.

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Creatine Strategy #1: The Loading Strategy
Creatine Strategy #2: The Single-Dose Strategy
Should I Take Creatine Pre Or Post Workout?
Should You Take Creatine On Off Days?
Top Creatine Brands
Conclusion

how does creatine work

There’s no denying the fact that creatine works, but if you want to see the best results from it, you need to know how to use it.

There are a few different strategies for using this popular supplement, so let’s take a closer look at each of these, giving you all the information you need to know moving forward.

Strategy #1: The Loading Strategy

how to take creatineThe first strategy is the one that is more commonly applied and involves a short period of loading before you move into the maintenance phase.

The goal here is to quickly saturate your creatine stores, which will be heavily depleted if you have been doing intense workouts previously without taking the supplement.

This allows you to start feeling the difference and seeing results rapidly.

How To Load Creatine

For the loading phase, you are to take twenty grams of creatine daily for a five day period.

It’s advised that you split this twenty gram dose up into four servings of five grams per serving.

It’s also important to note that this 20 gram dose is the average. If you want to get specific based on your body weight, see the chart below:

creatine dose by body weight in grams - loading and maintenance

When you take these servings is up to you, however taking one before the workout and one again after the workout is a smart move.

It’s actually why supplements like C4 pre workout and others include a small dose of creatine in their supplement.

c4 pre workout contains 1 gram of creatine

Moving On To The Maintenance Phase

Then once the initial five day loading period is up, you will then move into a maintenance phase, where you take 2 to 3 grams per day from that point forward.

At this point, your body should have reached full saturation so there is no need to keep taking the 20 gram dosage – 2 or 3 grams should be enough to keep you saturated while you do your intense workout sessions.

creatine levels at the end of a loading phase
Source: Healthline.com

Note that two or three grams should be enough to keep most individuals at the point of saturation.

With that said, larger individuals may be better off pushing this up to the 5 gram mark.

They have more muscle mass to support, thus can store more creatine.

What are the pros and cons of this strategy?

Pros

The biggest pro is the fact you will start noticing results quicker.

Within the five day period, you should already be noticing that your weight lifted is going up and you aren’t feeling as fatigued during the sessions you do.

In summary:

  • You’ll notice faster results
  • You’ll be able to lift heavier
  • You won’t feel as fatigued as usual

Cons

The con to this strategy however is that due to the very high 20 gram dose, many people will find they start to experience water retention and bloating to a more significant degree.

water retention from creatine
Image source: GQ.com

Some water retention and possibly bloating is common when you use creatine regardless of how much you are taking. (Source)

With that said, adding the loading period definitely makes it more noticeable.

If you are someone who is very concerned with aesthetics and doesn’t want to experience bloating, then this is not the strategy for you.

Likewise, some people may find that they begin to experience some muscle cramps with the loading phase in there.

muscle cramps from creatine

This is caused by creatines dehydrating properties, which can increase the bodies demand for water. (Source)

Of course, you can combat this by upping your water intake.

But some just don’t want to do that.

As a result, they choose to stay away from this and utilize the next strategy discussed instead.

In summary:

  • You’ll likely experience water retention and bloating
  • You may experience muscle cramps, although this is typically rare

Keep in mind that many higher quality creatine products are designed to minimize the bloating/water retention you experience, so depending on the particular brand you use, this may not be an issue anyway.

Strategy #2: The Single-Dose Strategy

This second strategy is the single dose strategy.

This is going to be more ideal for those who aren’t in any rush to see maximum results immediately and who want to stay looking as lean as possible (not experience any water retention).

How To Do This Strategy

With this strategy, you simply take your two to five grams of creatine right from the start.

So essentially, you skip loading and move straight into maintenance.

Here’s an example of what your dose would look like based on body weight:

creatine dose by weight - single dose strategy

Given enough time, you will reach a point of full saturation with this strategy as well, it’ll just take longer to do so.

Some people may also wish to use the middle ground, taking 10 grams of creatine for 10 days straight and then move into the loading period from there. This will work as well and may help give you a bit of both worlds.

There’s a bunch of pre workout supplements that include a small amount of creatine into the mix, including ones like 4 Gauge pre workout.

4 gauge pre workout review
My preferred pre workout with creatine, 4 Gauge.

What are the pros and cons of this strategy?

Pros

  • You won’t experience bloating or water retention, or if you do, it will be dramatically less.

Cons

  • It will take longer to see the best results.

Some studies have actually concluded that it really doesn’t matter which strategy you use. (Source)

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Pre Or Post Workout?

Another question that typically comes up is whether you should be taking your create pre or post workout.

The answer is that all in all, it’s not going to matter all that much.

If you take it pre workout, you’ll prepare your body for the workout immediately ahead.

On the other hand, if you take it post workout, you’ll get your body ready at that point for the workout that’s coming your way next time.

What’s more important than the actual time you take your creatine is that you take it with some simple carbohydrates.

list of simple carbs to take pre workout with creatine

Note that I said some.

That does not mean you should house a 12 pack of donuts right before you’re gym routine. 🙂

As these simple carbohydrates spike blood glucose, this can help increase the uptake of the creatine into the muscle cells. (Source)

Because most trainees will be eating a higher carb meal immediately post workout (and not as often pre workout), this means that for many, post workout would be the time to take it.

If you eat simple carbs both before and after the session, then you have your pick between the two different time periods.

Remember that since creatine will cause the body to store additional water, it is a must that you increase your total water intake when you start using it. This will help you avoid any muscle cramps or the bloating that may occur as mentioned above.

Should You Use Creatine On Non-Training Days?

Finally, you may be wondering whether you should take it on off days or not?

Since you will not be depleting your creatine stores to nearly the same degree on off days (since creatine is primarily depleted with intense muscle contractions), you generally will not need to supplement with it when you aren’t doing a hard workout session.

However, some individuals may choose to still take a small dose for extra support and to ensure they are always keeping their ‘tank’ full, so to speak.

full tank of creatine

I’ve personally noticed that, if I take creatine on my off days, I definitely feel way less sore than if I don’t.

After reading through various forums like Bodybuilding.com and Quora, the general consensus seems to be the same…

If you’re in the loading phase, don’t take creatine on your rest days.

If you’re using the single-dose strategy or are in the maintenance phase, do not take creatine on your off days.

As creatine is a relatively cost effective supplement, most people will do well taking it daily to assure it’s working optimally.

Top Creatine Brands

I’ve personally used probably about a dozen brands of creatine over the years. In general, they all work very effectively.

Here’s some of the most popular brands I’ve personally tested:

Conclusion

So there you have your complete creatine usage guide.Depending on what’s most important to you and your own workout protocol, use this to help dictate how you choose to use this supplement.

Personally speaking, I like the single-dose strategy.

It eliminates the potential for bloating, and I just seem to get better results with it.

I also prefer to take creatine before a workout, which is why I like 4 Gauge pre workout so much (www.4Gauge.com).

It helps both to rev up your workout, AND prepares your body for the upcoming workout.

As I mentioned earlier, taking it pre or post workout isn’t a huge choice to make.

Just make sure you take it!

Finally, as for taking creatine on your off days, remember this will be dependent on whether or not you’re in the loading or maintenance phase.

You can do it either way, but I just noticed that avoiding creatine on the days you’ll be laying around on the couch works best if you’re already taking a huge dose of it.

As always if you have a more specific question concerning creatine you can always email us, we’re here to help!!

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Author: Rob Miller

Supplement Critique

Rob Miller founded SupplementCritique.com over 7 years ago, and has been the chief editor ever since. He has a diploma in Advanced Dietary Supplements Advisor, and worked at GNC for 3 years. He KNOWS supplements, both inside and out. Rob currently resides in Jupiter, FL, with his wife of 4 years.  Learn more about him in his Bio here. Follow him on Twitter , Facebook, LinkedIn, or find him on Google +.

2 comments on “How To Take Creatine – Your Complete Guide”

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  1. Hi Rob,

    Soon I will be starting to bulk in order to gain more lean muscle mass. I am concerned about aesthetics however I believe I can achieve that goal through cutting.

    I have never used creatine before and do not know much about it. I was wondering how much weight does the water add and how long would it take lose the weight added on by water retention?

    1. Hey Jerry,

      It’s tough to say just how much water weight you’ll put on, that’s a physiological variable that unfortunately there’s no concrete answer to. However, the water weight will naturally come off through normal metabolic function, and as soon as you stop taking it the water weight will gradually come off within about a week or so.

      I would definitely use it though if you want to bulk up. There’s nothing else like it.


      Rob
      SupplementCritique.com

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