Is loading really necessary?

April 20, 2001

Contents:

1- Featured Article:
Is loading necessary?


Welcome to the April 2001 issue of the Creatine Newsletter. In past issues we discussed the basics of creatine supplementation; how and when to take creatine. This month we will discuss if a loading phase is actually necessary.

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This Month’s Featured Article:

Is loading really necessary?

Background

Creatine loading literally means to quickly “load” your muscles with creatine. However, is this absolutely necessary in order to benefit from creatine? We hopefully answer this question in this month’s Creatine Newsletter.

On the recommendation of friends, experts, or nutritional supplement dealers, athletes often commence creatine supplementation with a loading phase. During the loading phase relatively large amounts of creatine are taken for a few days for the purpose of quickly filling our muscle creatine reserves. After loading the reserves can be maintained full by taking much smaller amounts of creatine each day. The specifics of creatine loading and maintenance were the focus of the first issue of the Creatine Newsletter.


Human creatine supplementation was first carefully examined some ten years ago in Sweden. These studies found that a person ingesting ~20 grams of creatine daily generally had about 20% more creatine in their muscles. The bad news is that at such supplementing levels, our muscles only really absorb creatine for a few days (usually 3) before stopping. The muscle stores were then said to be loaded. Since then most supplementing regimens have incorporated such a loading phase at the start of supplementation.

A typical loading dose (~20 grams/average male) is about 10 times greater than the amount of creatine our body goes through in a single day (~2 grams). This imbalance causes our muscles to absorb more creatine than they would normally. During the loading phase 0.3 grams of creatine are taken for each kilogram of bodyweight. For example, a 70 kilogram (~154 pound) person would take ~21 grams of creatine monohydrate per day for a maximum of 5 days.

Ups:

During the loading phase our blood creatine levels increase dramatically. The amount of creatine within your muscles usually also increases and is mirrored by an increase in muscle water content. Water actually follows creatine into our muscles! Increased muscle hydration induced by creatine has been termed “volumizing” because your muscles actually swell or increase in volume as creatine is packed in. Muscle volumizing was discussed in a previous issue of the Creatine Newsletter. View it here.

Downs:

On the other hand, urine production decreases during the loading phase. The reason for this is that much of our body water is being retained by our muscles (Remember…., muscle volumizing). Muscular creatine absorption also decreases soon after the commencement of loading and may either reflect an inhibition of creatine transport at the muscle surface (the doors are closed) or that our muscles are saturated (the inn is full).

Advantages:

An increase in weight would be noticed sooner if incorporating a loading phase. Creatine loading rapidly increases muscle creatine levels and should accentuate muscle volumizing; you would feel pumped quicker.

Disadvantages:

The major disadvantage of a loading phase is the extra stress it places on the kidneys. Remember, creatine absorption abruptly decreases after just a few days of loading. Subsequently, almost all of the ingested creatine can be found in the blood stream. This is the creatine that wasn’t absorbed by our muscles. The kidneys would then have to work harder to clear all of this unabsorbed creatine from the blood and excrete it from the body in the urine. This is situation is only complicated by the fact that urine volume is simultaneously decreasing as a result of muscle fluid retention (muscle volumizing). Although it appears that most persons can handle this load, persons with preexisiting kidney conditions should probably abstain from creatine use.

Therefore, we make very concentrated, creatine-rich (and expensive), urine after just a few days of loading. Which brings us to another disadvantage. Creatine loading is costly since we ingest much more creatine than we actually use (than our muscles actually absorb).

Is loading really necessary?


To review, it was previously shown that 20 grams of creatine daily for 5 days raises muscle creatine content by approximately 20%. More recently, Dr. Greenhaff and colleagues have shown that similar increases in muscle creatine content can be obtained with as little as 3 grams of creatine daily if taken for 28 days (instead of 5 days). Therefore, a rapid loading phase may not be absolutely required to “load” our muscles with creatine. You just need to be more patient. Additionally, you would only need to supplement once per day, which is an advantage. Find out why here.

Take Home:

If you are not going for the immediate pump, but instead would rather save a few bucks, consider leaving out the loading phase.

Original Scientific References:

Harris R.C., Soderlund K., Hultman E. (1992) Elevation of creatine in resting and exercised muscle of normal subjects by creatine supplementation. Clinical Sciences, Volume 83(3), pages 367-374

Hultman, E., Soderlund K., Timmons, J. A., Cederblad, G. and Greenhaff, P. L. (1996) Muscle creatine loading in men. Journal of Applied Physiology, Volume 81(1), pages 232-237.

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