The results you get from creatine supplementation are not instantaneous. It takes time for creatine muscle saturation to occur. Muscle saturation is building up creatine stores in the muscle so they become full.
How long for creatine to work? To feel the effects of creatine use, creatine stores in your muscles need to increase to the point of muscle saturation. This process can take anywhere from 1 week or less to 4 weeks depending on whether a loading phase is used. Daily intake of between 2-10g is required to maintain creatine muscle saturation ongoing.
Increasing creatine through supplementation has proven strength and performance benefits, and in this article I’m going to explain:.
- The results you can expect during the early stages of creatine use and through to consistent and ongoing supplementation;
- Loading, dosing and maintenance levels of creatine; and
- How to tell whether creatine is working.
Does Creatine Start Working Right Away?
It takes time for the effects of creatine supplementation to be felt.
While creatine is found naturally in our body, with 95% stored in our muscles and the remaining 5% found in your liver, kidneys and brain; it isn’t until we increase our creatine stores and saturate our muscles that we will experience benefits and see improvements in our training output.
Creatine is stored in your muscles as what’s known clinically as ‘phosphocreatine.’ The easiest way to think of this, is as a stored form of energy in your muscles.
When we build on our natural creatine stores through supplementation we have more energy currency to spend leading to increased performance and strength gains.
Unsurprisingly, one serving of creatine isn’t going to get us there though.
Building up creatine stores in the muscle, so there is a surplus there for you to access, can take anywhere from 1 week or less through to 4 weeks, depending on whether you start your creatine use with a loading phase, of up to 20g a day for 5-7 day, moving then to a maintenance dose of between 2-10g daily.
Or, whether you start your creatine use on a maintenance amount, in which case it will take up to 28 days to create creatine muscle saturation.
Should you take creatine? If so, when and how much?
What Sort Of Results Can You Expect After 1-Week of Creatine Use?
The performance impacts of creatine could start to be felt anywhere from 1 week or up to 28 days after commencing use, it really depends on where creatine levels are in the muscle.
If you have loaded your creatine supplementation, there may be subtle performance benefits noticed in your training following that loading phase, because a loading phase can achieve creatine saturation at a faster rate.
For reference, one study undertaken around high intensity cycling, showed that there was a 3.7% increase in cycling power, following a 4 day creatine loading phase.
In addition to feeling some changes in performance, you may also notice physical changes in your body after 1 week of creatine use.
These could include:
- Muscle fullness as creatine draws in water, so with more creatine in your muscles they will hold more fluid and appear fuller; and
- With more fluid being retained in muscles you may see an increase in your scale weight. This isn’t your body ‘putting on weight’ but rather just holding on to more water than it usually does without creatine use.
If you haven’t had a loading phase and are building creatine levels up through a maintenance amount daily, it may take longer, possibly up to 4 weeks, for you to start experiencing changes in your performance output and also any of the mentioned physical changes.
What Sort of Results Can You Expect After 1-Month of Creatine Use?
If you went through a loading phase and then moved straight into a maintenance phase of creatine use, then after 1-month of creatine use it is likely that muscle saturation has been reached and is being consistently maintained.
This supplementation approach should mean that you are seeing incremental improvements in your training output.
Studies have indicated that consistent users of creatine can see an 8% increase in strength and experience greater power output in high intensity exercise. The rate of performance improvement achieved is also connected to how often you expose your body to that type of training. So you need to be training in an activity consistently, while supplementing with creatine, to see results.
From a physical perspective, scale weight may begin to level out because you are taking a consistent amount of creatine daily and allowing your body to adapt to the supplementation regime.
In instances where a loading phase hasn’t been undertaken it may take a month to start feeling the initial performance impacts and seeing physical physical changes like muscle fullness. This is more akin to the results that are common after 1 week of creatine use through a loading phase.
Again though, how quickly results are felt are dependent on what your creatine stores were to begin with and how long it takes to achieve creatine saturation. This can vary from individual to individual, which is why paying attention to physical changes in the body is helpful, as we are able to get a sense of how the body is responding to creatine supplementation.
What Sort of Results Can You Expect After 3-Month of Creatine Use?
After 3-months of supplementing with creatine, regardless of whether or not a loading phase was utilised at the start of supplementation, you should see an upswing in performance and strength compared to where you were prior to supplementing.
This will vary depending on the training activity you participate in, but will likely feel like you are able to push harder and manage additional reps or lift heavier weights as well have a greater performance capacity when undertaking high intensity workouts, like sprints.
Of particular note research specifically around long-term creatine use and strength showed creatine use combined with resistance training resulted in an increase in max weight lifted. Test participants taking creatine versus those taking a placebo, with all other parameters the same, resulted in bench press increases of around 43% for a 1RM and 14% average increase in general strength.
Another study tested the results of creatine after 6 weeks of prolonged use, finding increases in sprint capacity and output and sustained increases in fat free mass following creatine supplementation ceasing.
In terms of what’s next, following 3 months of creatine use, you can continue to use creatine to support ongoing progression and results, or stop using it.
- So if you want to use creatine for long periods of time, evidence suggests this is ok; or
- If you want to stop and take a break, any performance gains achieved while using creatine will be maintained, providing your usual training regime continues.
Best Ways To Take Creatine For Fastest Results
Research indicates that a loading phase of 20g a day for 5-7 days must be followed by a maintenance phase for best results. For better absorption a typical recommendation is for the 20g dose to be split into 5g servings across the day.
Interestingly though, another study found that ingesting creatine as a 1g serve, 20 times a day during a loading phase, resulted in less waste and urinary excretion of creatine.
Meaning, it was absorbed a bit more efficiently into our muscles. This study was directly compared to 5g servings which resulted in more urinary excretion of creatine.
It seems the best way to supplement creatine is:
- With a loading phase;
- With the loading phase dosage split into multiple serves across the day to allow better absorption into the muscle and less waste by us just peeing it out; and
- With a maintenance period of creatine following any loading phase.
Match that with workout intensity and nutrition and you’ll likely start seeing, feeling and experiencing the results.
Does The Amount You Take Affect How Fast Creatine Works?
The amount of creatine you take initially will dictate how quickly you saturate your muscles with creatine. The quicker we achieve creatine muscle saturation, the quicker we experience the effects of creatine supplementation.
However, our bodies can only ingest so much creatine before it becomes waste and we just process it out of our bodies, passing it through our urine.
So, if we can, we want to build creatine stores in the muscles quickly to achieve muscle saturation, moving to a maintenance amount to regularly replenish our muscles and keep creatine muscle saturation.
The purpose of a maintenance level of creatine is to find the optimal amount creatine necessary to maintain creatine stores in the muscle without generating too much wastage and avoiding other possible side effects like gastrointestinal distress.
To determine the best maintenance amount of creatine to take there are a couple of approaches to consider:
- Studies have shown a regular daily dose of 3-5g is sufficient to build and maintain creatine stores in the body. This is also largely the dose that will be suggested on many creatine supplements you’ll see on the market. More sedentary users will be at the lower end of this range, with 5g the more prudent amount for higher level athletes.
- Another tested approach is to determine your maintenance dose based on your body weight which is suggested at around 0.03g to 0.1g of creatine per body weight. This approach may benefit athletes or those higher in lean muscle mass because it gives some flexibility around what the optimal creatine maintenance amount is to keep creatine up stores.
- It has been suggested that more than 10g of creatine is not necessary for maintenance.
Does A Loading Phase Affect How Fast Creatine Works?
A loading phase affects how quickly we build creatine muscle saturation. So it certainly affects how fast creatine will start to work. The quicker we achieve creatine muscle saturation, the quicker we create a store of energy in the muscles that we can access for our performance goals.
A typical loading phase of creatine is 20g a day for 5-7 days. This has been found to typically achieve creatine muscle saturation among users.
Sometimes though, too much creatine can make you feel unwell. This approach, while providing a fast uptake of increased creatine in the muscles, isn’t necessary for everyone.
Creatine muscle saturation is still achievable through creatine intake at a standard maintenance level. It may add up to 3 weeks to get to requisite muscle saturation but it will help manage any stomach sensitivities that could be experienced.
Does The Creatine Brand Affect How Fast Creatine Works?
From what seems to have been researched and discussed, the brand of creatine does not appear to be a key indicator of achieving fast results.
What appears to be more important is ensuring the purity and quality of the creatine supplement. The best way to check this is reviewing the ingredients panel of your creatine supplement and ensuring the listed ingredient is ‘creatine monohydrate.’
As a guide, creatine monohydrate is the most common and primary creatine supplement used in the majority of studies undertaken on creatine showing its effectiveness – so this is a good place to start.
Does The Type of Workouts Affect How Fast Creatine Works?
The research suggests that creatine benefits are felt more around anaerobic intermittent exercise like sprints, high intensity interval training and strength or weight training. So if that is your preferred training style you’ll be more likely to experience faster results using creatine.
Steady state endurance training has been shown to have a benefit, just not to the same extent as the anaerobic training mentioned. It is widely accepted through the majority of research that creatine improves weightlifting performance and training volume because the greater energy stores in muscles help users push to overload the muscle, forcing muscle and strength changes.
My key takeaway for you to consider is, working out of any kind will mean we are tapping into the creatine energy surplus stored in our muscles.
So when introducing creatine and maintaining a high training output, whatever your desired activity type may be, it is preferable to be consistent with your creatine supplementation to ensure you are:
- Creating that initial saturation of creatine in your muscles; and
- Maintaining creatine saturation in your muscles.
How Do You Know If Creatine Is Working (4 Signs)
When it comes down to it, it is important to be able to recognise whether or not our creatine supplementation is working.
Here are 4 signs that will give you a good indication of whether your creatine use is working:
- Increase in muscle
- Increase in strength
- Increase in performance output
- Decrease risk of injury
1. Increase in Muscle
2. Increase in Strength
You will increase your strength. Research has shown gains in muscle mass will drive an increase in training volume and muscle adaptations.
3. Increase in Performance Output
4. Decrease Risk of Injury
Studies have indicated creatine use minimises cramping and prevents injury, with users experiencing less incidences of dehydration, cramping, muscle tightness and muscle strains compared with counterparts not supplementing with creatine.
The Bottom Line
Creatine supplementation is only as good as the training and nutritional regime you have in place. Two primary areas you need to ensure are on point to create an ideal environment for creatine supplementation to influence body, muscle and performance adaptations are:
- Ensuring your workouts are fueled with appropriate levels of carbohydrate so you have the energy to maintain workout intensity and push your body to tap into and maximise use of your creatine stores; and,
- Getting in enough protein to support muscle growth and recovery of damaged tissue, because creatine alone won’t do this.
Neglecting the above could mean you are slowing down progression and missing out on maximising the benefits of creatine supplementation.
Have a FeastGood Nutrition Coach help you get results faster than trying to stick it out alone
Other Creatine Resources
- Creatine Makes Me Feel Dizzy: Why & How To Fix
- Does Creatine Make You More Vascular? (What Science Says)
- Creatine Every Other Day: Should You Do It? Pros & Cons
- Creatine Shits: Is It Normal To Poop A Lot On Creatine?
- Can You Build Muscle Without Creatine? (What Science Says)
- Can You Dry Scoop Creatine? Benefits, Risks, & Effectiveness
- Does Creatine Make You More Aggressive? (Science-Backed)
- Does Creatine Make You More Hungry? (What The Science Says)
- Creatine Makes Me Tired: Causes & How To Fix
- Can You Mix Creatine With Milk? (Yes, Here’s How To Do It)
- Can You Mix Creatine With Pre-Workout? Yes, Here’s How To Do It
- Can You Take Creatine Before Bed? And, Does It Affect Sleep?
About The Author
Steph Catalucci | Nutrition Coach
@macronutritionau | macro-nutrition.com.au
Steph Catalucci is an online nutrition coach from Australia, working with clients all over the world. Her passion for nutrition was born through wanting to treat her body better, for health and performance. She is a strong advocate for understanding nutrition to develop informed nutritional habits that go beyond just food. Steph leverages a decade of her own nutritional experience to help people make sense of the noise and carve a path forward with their nutrition, supporting clients with whatever body composition goal they have. When not coaching or writing, you’ll find her training for her next powerlifting competition.