Relatively cheap and safe, creatine helps to replenish adenosine triphosphate (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.
Creatine increases energy stores in your muscles that can be used during high-intensity workouts.
Load It Up
While not required, you may decide to begin creatine supplementation with what is commonly known as a "loading phase." A loading phase is a period of additional creatine ingestion aimed at saturating your muscles as quickly as possible.
Creatine is often taken in higher amounts, such as 20 grams, for five to seven days during this time. If you want to see results from creatine quickly, a loading phase may be the right choice for you.
Maintain Muscle Gains
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.
According to a 2017 study published by Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the average adult needs 1 to 3 grams of creatine per day to maintain normal levels. However, athletes with a lot of muscle mass often need 5 to 10 grams per day to maintain their levels.
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 consistently you see results from creatine.
Turn Up the Intensity
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.
According to HealthLine, you will likely notice more physical adaptations from creatine use when you engage in high-intensity activities, such as weightlifting, sprinting, football or hockey. The speed of these changes is positively correlated with how often you participate.
Review Your Diet
Diet plays an important role during exercise as well as during the recovery process. If you do not fuel your workouts with adequate carbohydrates, you will not have the energy to 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. 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.
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Safety and Efficacy of Creatine Supplementation in Exercise, Sport, and Medicine
- HealthLine: How Creatine Boosts Exercise Performance
- HealthLine: Is the Creatine Loading Phase Necessary?