Whether you’re into lifting weights or sprinting (or both!), you are probably familiar with creatine. As one of the most popular and well-researched sports nutrition supplements on the market, it’s no secret that creatine is an integral part of many supplement regimens.
Recently, there has been a lot of debate surrounding the benefits of creatine cycling. Despite being recommended by many fitness trainers, is a creatine cycle really necessary?
This article will help you understand the creatine cycle, how it works, and if it’s actually beneficial.
- Creatine monohydrate is scientifically proven to improve exercise performance, increase energy production, improve muscle mass, and support muscle recovery.
- The creatine cycle starts with a high dose loading phase that involves taking ~20 grams of creatine for 5-7 days. Following the loading phase is a maintenance phase where you consume 3 to 5 grams of creatine for up to seven weeks. After that, creatine supplements are discontinued for two weeks before the cycle repeats itself.
- There is no solid research that suggests cycling creatine is beneficial or prevents the body from developing a tolerance to it. Your body will not build up a tolerance to creatine.
- The best way to ensure creatine is doing its job is by taking at least 3 to 5 grams every day. If you’re looking to build muscle creatine stores faster, you can begin with a loading phase and then transition to a maintenance phase. You can stay in the maintenance phase for as long as you desire.
BENEFITS OF CREATINE SUPPLEMENTATION
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details, we are going to give you a quick and dirty overview of creatine and its benefits.
Creatine is a molecule made in the kidneys and liver from three amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine. Our body naturally produces around 1 to 3 grams per day. It is primarily stored in skeletal muscle cells as creatine phosphate.
We can also get creatine through our diet from red meat, fish, and dietary supplements.
Creatine supplies energy to your muscles to help them work harder and longer. Basically, it acts as a rapid yet limited energy source for muscle contractions.
Unfortunately, your body can only produce so much creatine. The muscle creatine stores of athletes often get depleted very fast. Many athletes choose to supplement in order to increase their muscle creatine stores to generate more energy and fight fatigue.
- Prevention of sports-related injuries
- Improved muscle recovery
- Performance improvement
- Helping athletes tolerate heavier training loads
- Improved energy production
- Increased growth of lean muscle mass
THE CREATINE CYCLE DEFINED
Many trainers recommend that athletes cycle creatine to improve the effectiveness of creatine supplements and reduce the risk of a person developing creatine resistance or becoming “immune to creatine.”
The creatine cycle is composed of the following:
- A loading phase
- A maintenance phase
- A cycle off phase
In short, the creatine loading phase involves taking a hefty dose of creatine each day for about a week. Next, you’ll taper off to a maintenance phase that lasts several weeks. Finally, once the maintenance phase is over, you’ll take a short break from taking creatine supplements before repeating the cycle.
Even if you are hitting your macros and following a well-balanced diet, your creatine stores will likely remain at approximately 60-80%.
In order to reach the threshold of creatine your body can store (~3 grams per kilogram of muscle mass), you’ll need to supplement with creatine.
The creatine loading phase is considered the quickest way to top off muscle creatine stores and enhance athletic performance.
During the loading phase, a person should consume around 0.3 grams per kilogram of body weight (~20 grams) of creatine monohydrate per day for 5-7 days. This will allow full muscle saturation to occur.
According to the International Society for Sports Nutrition, the most effective way to increase muscle stores is by breaking down how much creatine a person needs each day into small doses. For example, a person may consume 5 grams of creatine four times per day for 5-7 days.
While it may sound good to take megadoses to maximize creatine levels and build muscle mass, unfortunately, it does not work that way. Taking large amounts of creatine above what is recommended can lead to weight gain, stomach discomfort, and bloating.
The maintenance phase involves reducing your intake to 3-5 grams of creatine per day. It can be divided up or taken all at once. However, your total daily dose of creatine should not exceed this amount.
The maintenance phase typically lasts up to seven weeks.
The thought is that after five to seven weeks of being in the maintenance phase, a person may develop a tolerance to creatine, which may result in decreased effectiveness.
After 4-7 weeks of following a maintenance phase, you will begin to cycle off. This consists of a two-week break from taking creatine before repeating the cycle, starting with the loading phase.
While the other two phases have research to support their efficacy, the “cycling off” phase lacks solid scientific evidence. As such, it remains highly debated among fitness trainers and athletes.
DO YOU NEED TO CYCLE CREATINE?
As mentioned earlier, creatine cycling using a loading and maintenance phase remains popular and well-studied. However, there is less evidence to support the benefits of taking a break from creatine supplements.
Technically speaking, your body produces creatine with or without supplementation. Therefore, your body will not stop making creatine even if you supplement with it for long periods of time.
With that said, if you notice improvements or feel better utilizing a creatine cycle that includes a break every few weeks, there’s no reason to stop. It ultimately comes down to personal preference.
The best way to ensure your muscle creatine stores stay saturated is by consistently taking creatine supplements (yes, even on your off days!).
Although creatine loading is beneficial and can result in acute improvements in body composition and strength, it is still possible to saturate and maintain creatine stores by taking lower doses of creatine.
Many studies suggest daily doses of 5-10 grams, or even as low as 2-3 grams, can be effective when consistently taken. However, it may take longer to saturate your muscles.
USE CREATINE MONOHYDRATE TO MAINTAIN CREATINE STORES
The key to maintaining creatine stores is to pair a trusted supplement with a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of creatine-rich foods such as red meat, chicken, salmon, and pork.
Creatine monohydrate is hands down the best creatine supplement on the market today. It has been heavily researched and continues to show consistent, reliable results. Additionally, it is one of the safest supplements available for athletes.
In fact, the International Society of Sports Nutrition states that creatine monohydrate is the most effective nutritional supplement available to athletes to improve lean body mass and high-intensity exercise capacity.
INCREASE CREATINE'S EFFECTIVENESS WITH CARBS
According to several studies, one way to increase the effectiveness and absorption of creatine is by pairing it with fast-digesting carbs.
For example, one study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that carbohydrates may increase muscular retention of creatine.
Another study recommends that endurance athletes who perform high-intensity workouts (soccer, jogging, martial arts, etc.) or prolonged exercise pair creatine with a high carbohydrate diet to achieve heightened glycogen stores.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU CYCLE CREATINE?
If you choose to utilize a creatine cycle, it should last no more than eight weeks, followed by a two to three week period where you refrain from using creatine supplements.
SHOULD YOU CYCLE CREATINE?
Ultimately, it is a personal choice. There is no scientific evidence to suggest any benefits to cycling creatine.
CAN I TAKE CREATINE FOR 3 MONTHS?
Yes. If you consistently supplement with 3 to 5 grams of creatine daily, your muscles will become fully saturated. No studies suggest negative effects of taking creatine for longer than three months. Creatine breaks are not required.
Creatine is one of the safest, most effective supplements athletes can take. It improves athletic performance, reduces muscle fatigue, supports muscle growth, and helps the muscles recover more quickly.
Creatine cycling is a popular method to help prevent the body from developing a tolerance to creatine. It involves a loading and maintenance phase, followed by a two-week break from the creatine. At this time, there is no solid scientific evidence to suggest that a person can build up a tolerance to creatine or that cycling creatine is beneficial.
However, scientific evidence does suggest that a loading phase followed by a maintenance phase is the quickest way to saturate muscle creatine stores. Ultimately, the choice is yours to decide what works best for you. You do not need to cycle creatine as long as you’re using creatine daily to maintain your creatine muscle stores.