PowerliftingTechnique.com is independent and supported by our readers. We may earn a commission if you buy through the links below. For more, see our disclosures page.
Creatine is the most researched performance supplement out there. Many people know it is worthwhile to take but may wonder when its benefits start to kick in.
How long does creatine take to work? When taken at a maintenance dose of 3-5 grams per day, it will take 2-4 weeks to notice creatine’s effects. This process can be sped up by creatine loading. Creatine loading involves taking 20-25 grams per day for the first 5-7 days of supplementation, causing the muscles to reach saturation more quickly.
There are still many myths about creatine supplementation, and if you fall victim to some of these myths, creatine will not benefit you in the way it should.
In this article, I’ll discuss:
- What creatine is
- Why people take creatine supplements
- The potential benefits of taking creatine supplements
- How long it takes for creatine to work
- How much creatine kicks in and if we adapt over time
- What happens when you stop taking creatine
- How loading impacts effectiveness
- Safety of creatine
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid made primarily by the liver, kidneys, and pancreas and in smaller amounts in the brain and testes. Creatine is stored as phosphocreatine in body parts with high energy demand, like muscles.
In simple terms, phosphocreatine can bind to other molecules in the body to produce more ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is required for quick bursts of energy. Creatine can be obtained through food like red meat and seafood but in much smaller amounts than through supplementation.
Why Do People Take Creatine Supplements?
People take creatine supplements to aid in athletic performance. Creatine has been shown in research to boost strength and power, increase muscle mass, improve cognitive ability, and enhance recovery. Each of these essential benefits will be discussed further in the next section.
The reason creatine should be supplemented is that it is difficult to obtain the necessary amount of creatine to improve performance through diet alone.
A 4 oz steak, for example, would only supply about 0.5 grams of creatine. Obtaining enough creatine through the diet would mean eating several pounds of meat daily. It is much easier to consume the necessary 3-5 grams per day with a supplement.
What Are the Benefits of Taking Creatine Supplements?
There are four major benefits of creatine supplementation:
- Increase strength and power
- Increase muscle mass
- Improve cognitive ability
- Enhance recovery
1. Increase Strength and Power
Supplementing with creatine leads to performance improvement in strength and power outputs. Athletes repeatedly show improvement in short-duration, high-intensity activities.
Creatine helps the body resynthesize more ATP. ATP is required for activity, especially explosive activity lasting ten seconds or less. This means that creatine can help you sprint faster, jump higher, and lift heavier over time.
For female powerlifters, we talk more about supplements and how to follow an effective powerlifting diet in Female Powerlifting Diet: Complete Guide.
2. Increase Muscle Mass
Creatine has been shown to increase lean body mass. Research shows that creatine supplementation can increase muscle tissue's cross-sectional area (in simple terms, the size of the thickest part of a muscle fiber) and contractile protein (the parts of the muscle most responsible for muscle contraction, known as actin and myosin).
It has specifically been shown to increase size in Type II muscle fibers, which are important for performance in explosive activities.
Creatine can also increase muscle glycogen, which the body uses for fuel during training.
3. Improve Cognitive Ability
Creatine can improve cognitive function. An often-overlooked benefit of creatine is the research showing that it can improve short-term memory and reasoning. It has also been shown to have a protective effect on the brain and lessen the occurrence and severity of concussions.
Most people only recognize the physical benefits of creatine supplementation, but all people can benefit from improved cognition. It is worth pointing out that even people that do not prioritize weight training can still benefit from creatine.
4. Enhance Recovery
Creatine can be a powerful recovery tool. Studies show creatine helps with recovery throughout a training session by delivering much-needed ATP to working muscles, allowing for an increased workload.
In addition, creatine may help reduce the post-exercise inflammatory response and decrease muscle soreness after training. It can also be helpful in recovering from injury.
How Long Does Creatine Take to Work?
The effects of creatine can kick in as fast as a week or take as long as a month. The difference is the dosage used when beginning supplementation.
In a loading phase, you take 20-25 grams daily for the first 5-7 days of supplementation. After that, you take a maintenance dose of 3-5 grams daily. This allows the creatine stores in the muscles to reach a saturation point sooner, allowing you to experience creatine’s benefits more quickly.
However, a loading phase is not necessary, and you can begin from day one by taking a maintenance dose of 3-5 grams of creatine per day. With this method, it will take 2-4 weeks for the creatine to “kick in.”
How Much Does Creatine Kick In?
In a meta analysis that included 22 studies on creatine, creatine produced an 8% greater increase in muscle strength, on average, than a placebo. Max reps at a certain percentage of the participants’ one-rep maxes also increased 14% in those using creatine.
Short-term creatine supplementation consistently shows 5-15% increases in power, strength, and work performed during repetitive sprinting bouts. These small increases can make all the difference for those looking for a competitive edge.
Do You Adapt To Creatine Over Time?
The amount of long-term research on creatine is lacking. Much of it was done to make sure there are no potential side effects of extended use of creatine, such as changes to clinical markers of health.
Anecdotally, you will see the most change from creatine usage in the first few months of use. Creatine will continue to work for as long as you take it, but progress may slow.
Generally speaking, the more training experience obtained, the longer it takes to see results. This isn’t because creatine stops working, but rather because you have established a new normal, with the body having fully saturated creatine stores.
What Happens When You Stop Taking Creatine?
Performance may decrease slightly when you stop taking creatine, and you may notice a slight drop in energy.
Creatine stores will begin to noticeably deplete in about two weeks. When supplementing creatine, the body no longer needs to produce it on its own, so it can take a few weeks for the body to regulate itself and begin producing creatine again.
Since creatine aids the body in producing more quick bursts of energy, you may notice slightly lower energy levels when doing things like lifting or sprinting after you stop using it. You may also notice that you can’t get the same amount of reps at a given weight that you used to.
Creatine also draws fluid into the muscles. The initial weight gain experienced with creatine usage is largely due to this process. So as you stop using creatine, you can expect a similar drop in weight, and you may also notice that your muscles don’t look as full as they used to.
That is fine if you have a specific reason for discontinuing your creatine usage. Continue to train hard, and your performance won’t drop off much, but since creatine is pretty cheap, it may be worth staying on it.
Wondering if you should take creatine when you don’t work out? Check out Should I Take Creatine on Rest Days?
Does Creatine Loading Impact Effectiveness?
Creatine loading does not impact effectiveness. However, it will allow you to start seeing results from creatine sooner.
For maximum results from creatine to be seen, muscle creatine stores must become saturated. This can occur within 5-7 days from loading and may take up to 4 weeks when taking a maintenance dose.
Either route works in the long term, but you will have to decide for yourself if having the benefits kick in a few weeks earlier is worth it. For instance, maybe you haven’t been taking creatine, and you get invited to a powerlifting competition that is a few weeks away. This may be a situation where loading is beneficial.
Taking a long-term approach to training, it can take years to make significant progress in the weight room once your newbie gains wear off. With this understanding, it probably isn’t worth loading creatine unless you like spending money on supplements more often than necessary.
Is Creatine Safe?
Research has repeatedly shown that creatine is very safe for consumption. After years of being studied extensively, there are very few instances where creatine caused any side effects. Most side effects are experienced when exceeding the recommended dosage.
While unlikely, it is worth noting that a past case study showed that creatine could worsen kidney dysfunction in people with kidney disorders. However, in healthy individuals, creatine does not negatively affect kidney function.
Even after long-term use, creatine does not seem to have any serious potential side effects. That said, make sure you buy your creatine from a quality company that is third-party tested for purity.
Our Favorite Creatine Powder
I recommend NutraBio Creatine Monohydrate Powder. NutraBio’s products undergo rigorous testing for purity, and its labels are fully transparent, so you know exactly what you’re consuming.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I Take Creatine While Cutting?
Yes, you should take creatine while cutting. Creatine replenishes ATP, which will give you more energy as you train. This is especially important while being in a calorie deficit. Creatine can also increase strength. This enables you to train heavier, allowing you to retain more muscle mass as you drop body fat.
Does It Matter When I Take Creatine?
No, it does not matter when you take creatine. Research shows that the timing of creatine is of little importance. Taking it consistently with a standard maintenance dose of 3-5 grams daily is more important.
Some research has actually shown the benefits of taking creatine after training, but future, well-planned studies need to investigate this more fully. As of right now, the most important thing is that you remember to take it.
If you’re considering using creatine or are new to using it, you may wonder, “How long does creatine take to kick in?”
You can take a maintenance dose of 3-5 grams per day to start seeing benefits in 2-4 weeks, or you can do a loading phase of 20-25 grams of creatine for the first 5-7 days to help it “kick in” sooner.
Both ways are effective and can get you to your goals. If you have an important competition coming up soon, loading may be worth it. If not, save money and take 3-5 grams daily.