Many of my nutrition clients are taking a creatine supplement to encourage muscle growth, but they’re wondering if creatine becomes less effective the longer they take it and if they should be cycling on and off to achieve the best results.
- Cycling creatine is unnecessary because your body does not build up a tolerance to creatine. Creatine supplementation has been proven safe for long-term use and does not become less effective over time.
- Stopping creatine, even for 1 to 2 weeks, could affect your energy levels and performance in the gym. So, if you enjoy the benefits of creatine, there is no reason to cycle off unless you decide to stop working out.
What Does it Mean to Cycle Creatine?
Creatine cycling involves taking a certain dose of creatine for a particular number of weeks, followed by a few weeks without taking any creatine before repeating the cycle.
A typical creatine cycle will include a loading phase, followed by a maintenance phase, and end with a complete break from creatine before the cycle repeats itself.
A loading phase happens when you start taking creatine and involves taking much larger daily doses of creatine in an attempt to saturate your body’s creatine stores more quickly so that you maximize the benefits of creatine sooner.
During the loading phase, which should last for 5 to 7 days, you should take around 20-grams of creatine per day divided into four 5-gram servings throughout the day.
After the loading phase is complete, you decrease your daily dose of creatine to a maintenance dose (around 5-8 grams) for around 6 weeks.
After 6 weeks, some people believe that your body builds up a tolerance to creatine and that it could be beneficial to stop taking it for 1-2 weeks before starting again which is why people have been interested in creatine cycling.
However, there is no solid evidence that supports this theory, and therefore cycling your creatine is likely a waste of time that sacrifices your overall progress in the long run.
3 Reasons Why You Don’t Need to Cycle Creatine
While some trainers swear by creatine cycling, here are a few reasons why it is unnecessary to achieve optimal results:
1. You Cannot Build Up A Tolerance To Creatine
One of the main reasons that you should cycle a supplement is if you have the potential to build up a tolerance. However, contrary to what some trainers might believe, your body does not build up a tolerance to creatine.
Although over time you may not notice the effects of creatine as much, this is not because it is becoming less effective. You will simply become more accustomed to the effects of creatine and how you feel while taking it, so it will become your new normal.
There is also no evidence to support the notion that your body would stop producing its own creatine despite supplementing with creatine over a longer period, although it may take a few weeks for your body to adjust back to producing the amount it did prior to supplementation.
This is because the body naturally acquires its creatine stores through consuming foods like red meat and seafood, along with production by the liver, pancreas, and kidneys.
2. Creatine Is Safe To Consume Long-Term
Another reason that you do not need to cycle off of your creatine supplement is that creatine has shown to be safe to consume over an extended period, with no breaks.
“Short and long-term supplementation (up to 30 g/day for 5 years) is safe and well-tolerated in healthy individuals and in a number of patient populations ranging from infants to the elderly.”– International Society of Sports Nutrition
Creatine is one of the most well-researched fitness supplements available on the market, and there have been long-term studies done that illustrated no negative health effects to those participating in these studies.
- If you want to know exactly how much creatine to take for your bodyweight and goals, use our Creatine Calculator
3. Consistently Taking Creatine Is More Beneficial Than Intermittent Consumption
Taking a maintenance daily dose of creatine (around 3-5 grams) is more beneficial than taking it intermittently (stopping and starting again), because halting creatine supplementation can affect your performance in the gym (more on this later).
Additionally, when you cycle off creatine, you need to do a loading phase when you cycle on again to saturate your stores more quickly. Some individuals find that loading phases cause digestive upset due to the larger dose of creatine.
If you take creatine consistently (without cycling), you would not require loading phases every 6 weeks or so and could instead take a lower dose indefinitely and avoid digestive issues.
How to Cycle Creatine Properly
Despite the lack of evidence of the benefits of cycling creatine, if you still decide that you want to cycle creatine there are a few ways to make sure you are doing it properly.
A common creatine cycle to follow looks something like this:
Step 1: The Loading Phase
Start with a loading phase for 5-7 days. During this loading phase, you should be consuming a creatine dosage of 12-32 grams per day*, which should be split into four separate doses throughout the day.
The premise behind a loading phase is to fill the creatine stores in your muscles quickly to experience the benefits at a faster rate.
*To calculate exactly how much creatine you should take for your loading phase, head over to our creatine calculator.
- Some people find that they get thirsty during a creatine loading phase – find out why
Step 2: The Maintenance Phase
After the loading phase, you will enter a maintenance phase for 4-6 weeks. At this point, your creatine stores should be saturated and you can now reduce your creatine intake to 3-8 grams per day to maintain your levels.
The maintenance dose of creatine can be taken all at once and does need to be split into separate doses throughout the day.
It is important to note that you can saturate your creatine stores on a maintenance level dose the same way as you could in your loading phase, it would just take longer (around 4 weeks), and with such a short period before cycling off it’s more beneficial to do the loading phase.
Step 3: Cycling Off
Once the maintenance phase is complete you will stop taking creatine altogether for 1-2 weeks and allow your creatine stores to return to baseline.
You can cycle off for longer if desired, but the longer you spend without supplementing, the slower your rate of gaining strength, endurance, and muscle mass will be.
Step 4: Repeat The Cycle
After your break from creatine supplementation, you can go ahead and repeat the creatine cycle at the beginning of the loading phase.
What Happens if You Stop Taking Creatine?
One of the arguments as to why you should not creatine cycle is that when you stop taking creatine intermittently you can experience some negative side effects as your body adjusts.
When you stop taking creatine, it is normal to notice declines in energy and strength and increases in fatigue in what people describe as symptoms of creatine withdrawal.
In addition to this, when you are supplementing with creatine, your body’s natural production decreases slightly but will return to normal if you decide to stop supplementing.
Your body will experience a temporary readjustment period as it transitions back to producing enough of its own creatine stores as it would have done pre-supplementation.
- For more information, check out our article What Happens When You Stop Taking Creatine
Frequently Asked Questions
Do You Need to Take a Break from Creatine?
There is no evidence to suggest that you need to take a break from creatine supplementation. Many long-term studies have been conducted on creatine that confirms the safe long-term use of creatine.
Can You Take Creatine Year-Round?
Creatine is safe to use year-round without taking any breaks. Studies have shown that a modest creatine dose of around 3-5 grams per day will not produce any adverse side effects over time.
What To Read Next:
- Can You Dry Scoop Creatine?
- This Is Why Your Creatine Is Not Dissolving
- Creatine Every Other Day: Should You Do It?
- Can You Take Creatine Forever?
- Can You Take Creatine Before Bed?
- If You Missed a Day of Creatine Do These 3 Things
- Creatine On An Empty Stomach
Kreider, R.B., Kalman, D.S., Antonio, J. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 18 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z
Kreider RB, Melton C, Rasmussen CJ, Greenwood M, Lancaster S, Cantler EC, Milnor P, Almada AL. Long-term creatine supplementation does not significantly affect clinical markers of health in athletes. Mol Cell Biochem. 2003 Feb;244(1-2):95-104. PMID: 12701816.
About The Author
Colby Roy is a holistic health and nutrition coach. She is certified through Precision Nutrition and has a passion for all things nutrition and healing the body. More specifically, Colby likes to work with clients who want to optimize their gut health and energy levels.
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