Relatively cheap and safe, creatine helps to replenish ATP -- the main energy source for cells -- during intense exercise. Unlike with many supplements, you do not experience the effects of creatine instantaneously. Your cells store creatine for future use, keeping your muscles saturated for when you need it the most. However, other factors can influence how quickly creatine works.
While not required, you may decide to begin creatine supplementation with what is commonly known as a “loading phase.” As described in a 2007 review in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, a loading phase is a period of additional creatine ingestion aimed at saturating your muscles as quickly as possible. According to this review, subjects who took a creatine supplement daily for a week or more increased their total creatine concentrations. If you want to see results from creatine quickly, a loading phase may be the right choice for you.
Whether you choose to load creatine or not, you will need to decide on your maintenance dose. This dose is the amount of creatine you take daily after loading; in the absence of a loading phase, it is how much creatine you take from the beginning. Many products recommend 5 grams daily taken at your convenience to influence strength gains. If you are not very active, daily doses as low as 2 grams may still offer benefits, especially for cognition. A 2012 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggested that athletes aim for 0.1 gram of creatine per kilogram of body weight to support muscular adaptations. If you follow an intense resistance-training program, inadequate creatine supplementation can lead to depleted creatine stores -- and stalled progress. Your maintenance dose remains an integral factor in how quickly -- and how consistently -- you see results from creatine.
Creatine’s relationship with ATP influences maximal workload. Consequently, you will notice quicker and better benefits while supplementing with creatine if you participate in certain training activities. Creatine enhances power output during intense exercises -- meaning it can help you grind out another repetition or two during heavy back squats. Creatine does not play a similar role in aiding endurance, so long-distance runners will not experience the same improvements. Conclusions drawn from a 2000 study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicated you will notice more physical adaptations from creatine use when you engage in high-intensity activities such as weightlifting, sprinting, football or hockey, and the speed of these changes is positively correlated with how often you participate.
Diet plays an important role during exercise as well as during the recovery process. If you do not fuel your workouts with adequate carbohydrates -- around 1 gram for every kilogram of body weight -- you will not reach the intensity necessary to really take advantage of creatine supplementation. And if you fail to replenish your body with protein, your muscles will be unable to recover even with creatine saturation. Strength gains occur mostly during the recovery stage, when your muscles use available protein to repair damaged tissues. A simple post-workout protein shake can make a huge difference -- the average commercial protein powder contains around 20 to 25 grams of protein per serving. By paying attention to your dietary needs, you provide creatine with the tools it needs to enhance adaptation. Otherwise, you risk slowing this process down -- or losing the benefits of creatine completely.