Creatine is by far the most popular dietary supplement among fitness buffs, athletes, and bodybuilders. It is a combination of amino acids that are essential for energy. However, there are many myths surrounding its use, which makes people wonder if the process of creatine loading is really necessary. Here’s what you should know before you get started.
How Creatine Works
Before you can truly understand the benefits (or the lack thereof) associated with creatine loading, it is important to understand how this product really works. In short, once consumed, the three amino acids found in creatine – glycine, arginine, and methionine – bind with phosphate molecules to form creatine phosphate. Now, you might already know that ATP, or adenine triphosphate, is your body’s source of energy. ATP fuels your body by hydrolyzing (breaking down a substance with water) a phosphate group – which is where creatine phosphate comes into play.
Creatine, ATP, and ADP
When these phosphate groups are hydrolyzed, one phosphate is lost and the ATP turns into ADP, or adenine diphosphate, which is completely useless to your body until it converts back into ATP. The phosphate-bound creatine in your body will donate a phosphate group to ADP in order to create ATP. This allows you to train harder and longer than before. The more creatine in your body, the more effective this process becomes, and that’s why so many athletes depend on creatine loading to ramp up their strength and stamina – to saturate their muscles before dropping back to a maintenance dose.
Three Types of Creatine
Deciding whether or not you should load creatine becomes a bit simpler once you understand the three main different types of creatine products that you can find in health food and nutrition stores.
- Premixed Creatine and Sugar: Studies back in the 1960s proved that when people ingested a solution of carbohydrates (essentially sugar water) along with their creatine, they showed a 60% increase in the total concentration of creatine in their muscles. As such, many companies offer a premixed solution of creatine and sugar to assist with absoprtion. This is also why it’s recommended to drink something sweet like grape juice when taking regular creatine.
- Creatine with Insulin-Like Agents: The insulin-like agents in these creatine supplements act much like sugar. Theoretically, these ingredients can help boost your insulin levels, which gets nutrients (including the creatine itself) to the muscles without a ton of extra sugar and empty calories. There are also a variety of products offering creatine blends in pill form.
- Pure Creatine Monohydrate: Finally, this is creatine in its purest form. There are no sugars and no insulin-like agents; all you get is the three amino acids that build the creatine molecule.
Should You Load Your Creatine?
Creatine loading is the process by which some athletes will ingest large doses of creatine (up to 20g) for anywhere from five to 10 days, then back down to about 3-5g as a “maintenance” dose for up to 30 days. There is much debate as to whether loading with creatine provides any real, tangible benefits. The only time you should consider creatine loading is when you are using a product that consists of 100% pure creatine monohydrate without any added sugars or insulin-like agents, which make creatine more bioavailable in your bloodstream and essentially do away with the need to load.
Studies show that taking 20g of 100% pure creatine for five days offers better muscular retention than using 3g of creatine for 14 or even 30 days. However, when using products that contain sugars or insulin-like agents, creatine loading can do more harm than good by sending your blood sugar and insulin levels through the roof.