Creatine is an amino acid found naturally in food, but it can also be taken in supplement form. It is effective in increasing your stores of ATP, which is your body's main source of energy for short, intensive exercises, and it can aid in building muscle. When you start on a new cycle of creatine, you will need to take a higher dose for a few days -- this is known as the loading phase. To achieve maximum results, your training needs to be on point during the loading phase.
The Loading Phase
According to Charles Poliquin, owner of the Poliquin Performance Center for elite athletes, the loading phase is crucial when taking creatine, as it allows your body to top up its own creatine stores. Poliquin advises taking 0.45 g of creatine per kilogram of body weight for a five-day period, which can be broken down into smaller doses if you want. After this, continue with a steady 5 to 10 g per day. Each cycle should last about eight to 10 weeks, with a four-week break in between.
One of creatine's supposed benefits is that it increases your strength and power levels. To see how well you respond to creatine, you should set some tests during the loading phase. Pick two strength exercises, such as the squat and bench press, and record your single-repetition maximum. Add an explosive exercise, like a vertical jump or broad jump, and an exercise that lasts about 10 to 20 seconds, like a 100-meter sprint. Record your weights, distances or times, and retest at the end of your cycle to see how well you respond to creatine.
According to research from the University of Hawaii, creatine helps draw more water into your muscle cells, making the muscles appear larger. To take advantage of this, you may want to perform exercises that also help pump up your muscles temporarily. Perform your exercises at a slow tempo, and hold every repetition for a count of two seconds in the peak contraction position while squeezing the muscles as hard as you can. This draws more blood into the muscle and combined with the increased water, makes your muscles look bigger. A warning, however: As creatine does draw water away from the rest of your body, it is beneficial to drink an extra few glasses of water each day throughout the loading phase to help prevent dehydration.
While creatine is most noted for its benefits to strength and power levels, it may also assist in longer duration. As you tire during endurance events, hydrogen ions and lactic acid start to build in your muscles, causing a burning sensation and forcing you to reduce intensity. Creatine can bind to hydrogen ions, delaying the buildup of lactic acid and reducing muscle soreness. To make the most of this effect, try to perform one or two longer cardiovascular sessions such as swimming, jogging or cycling during the loading phase.