Creatine loading is an interesting concept. While many people agree that you should do it, there have not been any serious studies published to show whether it is critical or not. While that lack of medical backing should not be too much of a cause for concern, it still has to be taken into account.
First let us look at creatine in the body and then see if it makes sense to load creatine or not.
Your body naturally burns anywhere from 3 to 4 grams of creatine in a day if you are active and working out. It is used during workouts to replenish ATP stores that get burned up during the workout. The body will naturally synthesize creatine from amino acids so you usually have some in your system if you eat a protein rich diet or take amino acid supplement.
It is used in the body to increase anaerobic work capacity. Several studies have shown an increase in strength and lean body mass. Other studies have provided mixed results on reducing muscle recovery periods and increasing high-intensity endurance activities (running, sprinting, etc). But while everyone seems to agree that there are benefits it has been difficult to pinpoint a precise amount of expected benefit or exactly how much you should use. Part of this has to do with the varied level of study groups that contain people with different levels of fitness and activity. Also there is a slight variance in amount produced in used in each individual.
Typically the body can produce about 2 to 3 grams per day with production occurring in the kidneys, liver, and pancreas.
Based on the above information is seems reasonable to assume that a person who is working out hard 4-5 days a week is going to be close to even or have a net negative on the amount of creatine in the body (production occurring naturally in the body based on what is being used). If your body produces a minimum amount of creatine at 2 grams per day, that is 14 grams per week available in your system. If you burn 4 grams over 4 days of working out you would use 16 grams if it was available. This is just an example but a perfectly plausible one.
The idea of creatine loading is to ensure that body is fully saturated with creatine. Also you are training your body to absorb and use this similar, yet still a foreign substance. During the initial loading phase it is assumed that the body won’t absorb everything you give it. But by the end of the phase your stores should be at a maximum level and the body will be used to absorbing the daily dose which is less than the loading dose.
Now you are in a situation of having, let’s say 20 grams in your tank available for a workout. Even if you burn 5 grams in a day there is plenty available to replenish that store already in the muscle. Plus if you are taking in an additional 3 to 5 grams per day in addition to the 2 to 3 grams your body naturally makes you can be assured of being completely flush with creatine for your body’s needs.
Is It Critical
The word critical makes this statement rather easy to answer. No, creatine loading isn’t critical to your success in muscle building or gaining especially compared to the option of not taking creatine at all. But will creatine loading make a difference during your training cycle? For that the answer has to be a resounding yes.
You just don’t know how much your body naturally produces, what is currently in the tank, or how much you are burning each week. It makes the most sense if you are going on a creatine cycle to start with a creatine loading phase to ensure that your body is in the best position possible to utilize this supplement. Why would you not want to obtain the maximum benefit from a supplement?