Taking creatine supplements is common among athletes and gym-goers since they’re proven to help increase energy levels and muscle recovery after intense exercise, both of which are necessary for maximizing muscle growth.
However, some people argue that in order to avoid your body from developing a tolerance to creatine, it should be cycled – on and off. In actuality, there is no proof that this is the case, cycling creatine has not been shown to have any advantages.
It is not necessary to cycle off creatine periodically. Although I must follow with a disclaimer – it’s possible that you may not react well to creatine, like any substance. So please, speak to a health professional before using ANY supplement, particularly something over for the foreseeable future.
It’s understandable that many people are weary of taking creatine supplements for extended periods, for safety concerns, particularly if you’re a beginner to taking creatine.
But here’s the thing – creatine is a completely natural substance that is in all of our bodies, much like protein. We’re just “topping up” what’s already in our body – the same way you’d take a multivitamin to increase levels of micronutrients.
Creatine has been proven safe and effective in study after study, even with long-term creatine use. In fact, there’s even a study that looked at daily creatine supplementation over 5 years which showed no notable side effects across a wide range of age groups.
What is a Creatine Cycle?
A creatine cycle is when you take creatine daily over a specific number of weeks, then discontinue use for an equal or shorter timeframe before starting another “cycle” of creatine supplementation.
For example, you make use of creatine for 8 weeks, followed by 8 weeks off, then back on again for 8 weeks – and the cycle continues. The idea is to stop your muscles from building up a tolerance to continued creatine use – but there is no evidence to support this.
It’s common for bodybuilders to cycle on and off steroids to limit damage to their endocrine system, heart, and other obvious health issues. But creatine is not a steroid – far from it – and shouldn’t be treated with this same cycling method.
Most “cycle” intake times are between four to six weeks, with the first week being referred to as the loading phase and the following weeks as the maintenance phase. Then, users would cycle on and off using a timed protocol, but as I stated – there is no need to do this with creatine, it’s purely optional.
Perhaps you’d like to drop some water weight that the creatine may be causing, or you’re having some stomach upset, but that’s it. There’s no known performance benefit to cycling with creatine of any type.
How much creatine to take per day?
The loading phase typically lasts between three and seven days. During this period, creatine is supplied in high quantities. Depending on body weight, about 20g to 25g of creatine is consumed orally. An exact determination is made by multiplying the fat-free body mass in kg by 0.3g The value obtained reflects the amount to be taken in grams.
For example, if your feet-free body mass is 80kg, you need to take around 24g of creatine per day during the loading phase. Remember, the loading phase only last a maximum of 7 days, and is not necessary – it simply speeds up the time creatine takes to become effective by 1 – 2 weeks.
The calculation: 80 x 0.3 = 24g
In this phase, it is recommended to take distribute doses of 3 to 5g per day in order to optimize absorption.
In the maintenance phase, the intake of up to 5g daily is recommended – and this can run for as long as you’d like without any need to cycle off. Anything above that is likely too much and is mostly excreted in the urine.
Studies have shown the same effects even with lower doses of 2 to 3g daily. You get your individual maintenance requirement by multiplying the lean body mass by 0.03. Using our 80kg buff dude – 80 x 0.03 = 2.4g per day. Although, I’d round up to 2.5 – 3g.
In creatine frontload with a loading phase, the creatine muscle stores should be saturated quicker. However, this phase is quite controversial and not nessesary for results.
It has been scientifically proven that when taking 3g per day for a month without a loading phase, muscle creatine levels are the same as when supplementing with a loading phase. Accordingly, the body reduces the body’s own natural creatine production on the basis of supplementation.
In order to keep this process going, a break seems to make sense. However, the “down-regulation mechanisms” have not been scientifically proven with regard to creatine supplementation.
After stopping the supplement completely, the values drop to the original value in the muscles within about four weeks.
How to Cycle Creatine
- The initial loading phase is 20 – 25g a day for 1 week
- The maintenance phase is 3 – 5g a day for 4 – 6 weeks
- Stop creatine use after weeks 4- 6, taking an equal 4-6 weeks off
- Repeat the cycle
Creatine before or after training?
There are also different opinions as to when to take it, with most manufacturers recommending taking it after training because the creatine stores in the muscles and liver are exhausted. Thus, the body can quickly gain new creatine from the supplement and has full stores for the next training session.
Taking it before exercise is based on the assumption that the active ingredient is absorbed into the bloodstream after approx 1 – 1.5 hours and can therefore be absorbed by the muscles immediately during training. In this case, the supplement is taken about an hour beforehand.
Basically, it doesn’t matter when it is taken. As long as your stores are full, you will get the full effect, whether you take it before or after your workout. In theory, you can just take your creatine with breakfast.
How to Take Creatine Powder
It is recommended to consume creatine (especially powder) with lukewarm water to optimize solubility and effectiveness. The additional addition of carbohydrates, eg in the form of dextrose or maltodextrin, can increase absorption but is minimal and not required.
During use when training and sweating, you should definitely make sure you drink enough fluids (read about water and muscle here) to avoid dehydration. Due to the processes described above, the body has an increased need for fluids.