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Fact checked by Andrew Lenau, ISSA CPT & Sports NutritionistFACT CHECKED
August 03, 2023
If there was one thing many of us would change about our bodies, it would be the ability to gain lean muscle mass as fast as we put on fat. Unfortunately, there's not a lot we can do about this little inconvenient truth.
That said, there is a way to speed up the process of building muscle and creating lean body mass. To do that, the most effective supplement on the market is, without a doubt, creatine. Creatine supplementation is not only the most effective means to put on muscle, it does it the fastest.
The good news is that even the most impatient lifters will see results pretty fast, so let's stop waiting around and answer the question: Exactly how long does creatine take to work?
Table of Contents:
Creatine is a non-proteinogenic amino acid with a high-energy phosphate group attached (this is important below). Your body is able to synthesize creatine internally through the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine. However, most of our creatine stores are consumed through our diet, primarily red meat and fish.
95% of our total creatine is stored inside our muscle tissue, with the remaining 5% stored in our testes and brain. Our muscles hold most of our creatine due to its role in one of our three metabolic systems: the ATP-CP or phosphagen system.
The phosphagen system supplies energy for physical activity that's quick and highly intense, including movements such as sprinting and weight training.
When ATP is used to generate energy, it loses one of its phosphate groups and becomes ADP. To synthesize ATP, creatine phosphate will give up its phosphate group to join an ADP compound to replenish ATP.
This question is hard to answer as there are so many factors to consider. Things to think about include:
That said, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect on average. Let's look at a few different timelines.
If you choose to take a maintenance dose of 3-5 grams immediately rather than perform a loading phase, you likely won't experience anything after one week.
Remember that when you first start taking creatine, the entire purpose is to increase your creatine stores. Therefore, you won't see any real benefits until you've raised your levels significantly. Taking 3-5 grams of creatine from day one will take about one month to fill your creatine stores.
Now let's consider you partake in a loading phase of 5-7 days. During this period, you'd take 20-25g daily, filling your stores in 5-7 days. Doing this will yield results immediately.
Short-term supplementation can yield serious results, including the improvement of the following:
Keep in mind that your initial weight gain comes from your muscle cells drawing in water. However, when paired with resistance training, a portion of this weight gain will also be muscle growth. You can learn more about this in our article: Does Creatine Make You Gain Weight?
If you started taking your maintenance dose on day 1, your creatine stores will be filled after one month, yielding the same results as above.
For those who do a loading phase for the first 5-7 days, you'll be on a maintenance dose for the remaining time (3-3.5 weeks)².
Your initial gains will slow down during maintenance, so from here on, your gains will continue but at a slower rate. However, you should feel better and stronger.
Now let's look at what happens before and after taking creatine. The most profound effects occur before and after your loading phase. This is when you drastically change your uptake, causing significant physiological changes and noticeable performance improvement.
You will notice your body and muscles look much fuller as you will add weight quickly. In the gym, you'll have more energy regarding your workload, including lifting more weight. In addition, you'll find that you can perform at peak levels for longer periods.
One Reddit user explains their "after" experience taking creatine: "I started taking it about a month ago. I put on about 3lbs, but I don't feel any different (e.g bloated or chubbier). I can still see the vein in my bicep even no pump. So that made me feel better. It did make me thirstier, and I already drink a TON of water. I do think I see a improvement in performance... can get a few more reps, and/or go up a bit of weight (I've been training for a few years, so I don't progress in weight much -- so that has been nice)." (source)
In addition, another Reddit user provides a women's perspective on their "after" experience of taking creatine: "I did a 10 day loading phase of 10g/day. Now I maintain on around 3g/day. I actually do notice a difference in how fast I'm progressing. I do power through fatigue much better than I used to. I was paranoid about bloating while loading, and I know you need lots of water anyways while you take it to avoid cramping. I no joke drank at least 6L of water per day. (That was a little much to maintain, but I'm always a 3-4L kind of lady.) I did not gain weight from creatine. I bloat a little more frequently than I used to, but the bloat doesn't persist. I know some people have much more bloat and discomfort, but I was lucky and I'm really glad I gave it a try. I have no thoughts on creatine while losing weight - I'm eating at or above maintenance every day. My priority is building strength." (source)
As mentioned several times, numerous factors can affect how long it takes for creatine to "work." Let's take a closer look at each.
What you eat can affect how long it takes to fill your stores on two fronts.
The first is that certain foods will provide more creatine. For example, vegans are notorious for having significantly lower creatine stores than meat eaters. Again, red meat and fatty fish are the best natural sources of creatine.
Second, it's been found that taking creatine with carbs may help with creatine absorption and retaining a higher amount of creatine. At the same time, creatine can also help absorb carbs, so it's a win-win.
While this shouldn't need to be said, consistency is a massive component of creatine supplementation, especially when you first begin. For example, if you were to only take creatine every other day when you first start, it would take twice as long to fill your stores.
Taking creatine with a loading phase will significantly speed up your absorption of creatine. As mentioned above when discussing creatine loading impact effectiveness, using a loading phase of 20-25 grams of creatine a day can fill your stores in 5-7 days⁴. On the other hand, using 3-5 grams of creatine a day takes a whole month.
Some people may not be able to take 25 grams a day and may opt to take less (10-15 grams), which puts the loading phase around two weeks or so.
Now, just because you skip the loading phase and take a small dose to start doesn't mean you won't also see results. It will just take longer to boost your creatine levels.
One Reddit user explains their experience, which involved bypassing the loading portion. "Just started taking creatine about 2 months ago. 5g daily, no loading phase. What I've noticed so far:
I know a lot of that is anecdotal and could be attributed to a lot of things other than creatine, so YMMV. Even if it's a placebo effect, it seems to be doing something positive, so I plan to keep taking it for the foreseeable future." (source)
When it comes to types of creatine, there has been a lot of talk about new variations of creatine being absorbed faster, but many of these claims are exaggerated or just wrong. Studies have shown that any difference, if one exists, is small⁵.
Plus, creatine monohydrate has advanced, and some micronized versions may be absorbed faster. All that said, the type of creatine most likely doesn't make much difference.
My favorite creatine is Optimum Nutrition Micronized Creatine Monohydrate for its premier reputation, in addition to the fact that micronized creatine is highly soluble and as pure as you can get.
Interested in some more of my top creatine picks? Check out our article featuring the 8 Best Creatine Supplements.
Another choice you'll have is if you want to take powder or pills. The creatine used is exactly the same, but the primary difference will come down to convenience price. Pills are pre-measured and allow you to take them anywhere with you, but they're going to cost more.
If you like the idea of pills over powder, my recommendation is Optimum Nutrition Micronized Creatine Capsules. You'll get high quality creatine in every capsule, and they also ensure you're getting the correct dosage to hit your muscle-building goals.
To learn more about the differences between creatine pills vs powder, check out our article, Creatine Pills vs Creatine Powder: Which Is Better?
Creatine has an incredible track record when it comes to safety. From the studies we have, there doesn't seem to be any reason you ever really need to stop taking creatine or cycle it.
We will generally cycle a supplement if our body builds up a tolerance to it or if our body is producing. However, none of this happens, and our natural creatine production doesn't suffer from exogenous consumption. Remember that our body consumes creatine naturally, so all you do with taking creatine supplements is get it from a better source.
If you do decide to stop taking creatine at some point, learn what will happen by checking out our article: What Happens When You Stop Taking Creatine?
The benefits of creatine can be seen in almost every aspect of your life, from cognitive function to performance benefits. Here's a non-exhaustive list of the many health benefits that creatine provides⁴.
You may have heard horror stories in the media or from naysayers about how creatine can break down healthy kidney function, but these are largely exaggerated.
Claims that creatine supplementation can cause renal failure, or at least harm your kidneys, have some truth to them. However, this only applies to those who already have kidney damage. Creatine can cause extra stress to the kidneys, so if they already have a low function, the extra stress can cause more injury.
On the other hand, healthy individuals will not experience this issue, as dealing with stress is what your kidneys are supposed to do. We like to explain this using a walking illustration. Walking is great for general health when you're healthy. But if you have a broken ankle, walking will only make it worse.
The most common side effects of creatine revolve around bloating and gastric distress. If this is an issue, you can choose to take smaller doses more frequently. Instead of taking 5 grams at once, take 1g servings five times a day.
That said, numerous studies have looked at whether creatine is a safe short-term and long-term supplement (10+ years). They have all concluded that taking creatine supplements as long as the individual is healthy⁵.
It's time to answer some specific questions.
You should take a creatine supplement every day! This is how you will maintain high creatine stores.
Studies show that it likely doesn't matter. However, if there is a benefit, it is from taking creatine after your workout. For more information on this topic, check out our article: When's The Best Time To Take Creatine?
The entire time. Creatine provides benefits through chronic supplementation. Its benefits aren't acute as such when taking creatine.
When taking creatine, drink 8 ounces of water. Then, throughout the day, drink a gallon.
You will gain 1-3kg of weight in your first week of supplementation. Learn more by checking out our article: How To Take Creatine To Build Muscle & Strength.
Creatine provides the ability to replenish ATP, your body's true source of fuel. When we say "energy," we are not talking about stimulation but rather a source of fuel that's necessary to function.
Yes! You can expect to be 5-15% stronger.
Creatine supplementation can increase sprint speed by 1-5% in the first few weeks.
As mentioned above, creatine is hands down the best supplement you can buy. I have a saying: "If you're not taking creatine, you're doing it wrong."
In reality, it doesn't matter how long it takes to start seeing the effects of creatine, as you'll see it relatively fast. Depending on your starting dose, the gains will come in one week to one month. Plus, once you see the effects, they'll stick with you, and you'll see new improvements as you progress.
With everything considered, your wait time shouldn't matter. As long as you take creatine, you're doing it right.
Now that you know you'll see significant gains relatively quickly, head over to our article on the 8 Best Creatine Supplements For Lifters so you can start seeing results now!
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