At this point in time, most researchers, pharmacists, and scientists agree that creatine is safe. If this is true, then why do we always hear horror stories from people who claim to have been negatively affected? Many people on the Internet claim that creatine causes kidney stones; some people will even tell a first hand account of how something terrible happened to them. Are all of these people lying? Probably not. Supplements can negatively affect you if you do not know how to properly use them. But this is true with any substance. Water is the most important substance known to man, but if you drink too much water at one time you could die. Tuna fish is a very healthy food choice, but if you eat too much of it you will suffer from its high levels of mercury. What I’m trying to say is that – Creatine is not bad, misusing it is bad.
People aren’t trying to damage their bodies. Many people simply do not know exactly how to take their supplements. There is so much information (and misinformation) on the internet that it’s hard to figure out what to do. That’s where I come in. I will explain exactly how much to take and when to take it. If you follow my guidelines, you will be safe and your results will be maximized. (These guidelines apply to 100% the monohydrate form, however they should also apply to malate, ethyl ester, and alpha-ketoglutarate. If you take a different form than consult your supplement’s label.)
Three stages in creatine supplementation
The loading stage
Supplement companies often recommend that when you start dosing you should begin by loading. This means that when you first begin taking, you should take abnormally high doses. Companies claim that this saturates your muscles so that you can see results faster. For example: On the back of my monohydrate jug, the label instructs you to consume 20 grams for the first seven days and then it tells you to consume 5 grams per day after the first seven days.
Advice on the loading stage
I always believed that the “loading stage” was, in part, a way for supplement companies to sell more product. Obviously if you use more, then you run out sooner and you need to go out and buy more. I do not suggest that you completely abandon the loading phase however because I believe that it may provide some benefits. I recommend a mini-loading phase, in which for the first three days that you begin supplementation, you consume 12 grams per day. These 12 grams should be consumed in 3 doses of 4 grams each. The time at which you take your 3 doses does not matter much, but it should preferably be separated by at least one hour. With each dose you should drink at least 8 ounces of water, or 8 ounces of either apple or grape juice.
For example – For the first three days that I am taking creatine: I consume 4 grams with approximately 10 ounces of apple juice, with my breakfast. Then about midway through my day I consume another 4 grams with approximately 10 ounces of apple juice. And finally, I consume another 4 grams with approximately 8 ounces of water immediately before bed. On the fourth day I begin my “maintenance phase”.
The maintenance stage
The maintenance stage comes after the loading stage and it encompasses a majority of the cycle. For Example: My jug tells you to take 5 grams per day.
Advice on the maintenance stage
I have heard that you can take as many as 10 grams per day during the maintenance phase, however I recommend 6 grams on workout days and 3-4 grams on non-workout days. On workout days – you should take 4 grams with 8-12 ounces of water, about 30 minutes before your workout; and you should take 2 grams with 8-12 ounces of either water, apple juice, or grape juice immediately after your workout. On non-workout days you should take 3-4 grams with 8-12 onces of water, with your breakfast. This plan will maximize your results while keeping you safe. I follow this plan for 6 weeks before I temporarily stop taking creatine altogether.
The cycling stage
“Cycling” is term commonly used in the supplement world. Cycling means that you take a substance for some time, then you stop taking it for some time. This is very important.
Advice on the cycling stage
After taking creatine for approximately 6 weeks your body has adapted to it. Increases in strength have probably slowed down and since you have an abundance of it in your system, your body has stopped naturally producing it. Therefore I recommend that after the 6 week maintenance phase you take 3 weeks off from supplementation. This causes your body to start naturally producing again, and when you restart the whole cycle with the “mini-loading phase” your results will skyrocket again. The combination of your body’s naturally produced creatine with the supplemented dose will once again ignite muscle growth. Don’t worry that when you cycle off your muscles will wither or your strength will go away, as long as you keep training you will keep your initial gains, and when you come back it’ll be just like when you first started using it.
In review- your “cycle” should last 9 weeks and three days. Start with the “mini-loading phase”, continue on to the 6 week maintenance period, and then completely stop taking supplemental creatine for 3 weeks. After this you simply start back up from the beginning.