Your body doesn’t do things quickly—so when we talk about Creatine supplementation, when does it kick in?
You’ll be able to make the most of your supplementation if you’re smart about it. That’s why, today, we’re looking at how Creatine works and how supplementation gets into your muscles.
Creatine: What Is It?
Creatine is at the center of your muscles’ energy cycle, where it improves energy stores and then helps re-synthesize more while you are training.
Energy is stored in the muscles—and other areas of the body—as adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This is a high-energy molecule that can be rapidly spent to produce energy, breaking down from tri-phosphate to duo-phosphate.
This process leaves you missing some of the energy from the original ATP store, however. So how does your body re-constitute these ATP for storage and use in future? It has to borrow more phosphorus from somewhere else.
This is where creatine comes in. Creatine binds to phosphorus to produce creatine phosphate (CP)—as a way of moving phosphorus to the muscles, where it donates this phosphorus back to these free ADP, making more ATP.
This doesn’t just happen after training sessions during recovery. It’s happening all the time, and at a rapid pace during exercise.
The idea of creatine supplementation is to increase the existing store of ATP in your muscles during rest, but also to assist in the re-building of these high-energy molecules during exercise—which helps you maintain strength levels for longer.
This is why it’s so important to know when it kicks in: creatine loading isn’t always a fast process, and the results are based on keeping up your intake. You might not see a change in the first few days which and you need a longer perspective.
How Long Does It Take To Kick In?
When it comes to creatine “kicking in”, the idea is that you are primarily moving from a mild deficiency—or mismatch between your needs and levels—to a healthy balance.
This means it should be treated like any nutrient—your body isn’t going to be fully stocked immediately. The processes around absorbing it and storing it get more efficient, and your levels ease up with time. You could be urinating some of the extra creatine out, initially.
The average creatine dosage, somewhere around 2.5-5g a day—will usually start to show up in your workouts after 2-4 weeks, depending on how you respond.
This regular supplementary dose helps you to combat the usual low levels of creatine in most people’s diets. It also improves your water retention in muscles, which helps with mechanical work (since it’s a hydrolysis, which produces water solubles).
This is the standard dose and time, but obviously the more creatine you’re taking relative to your bodyweight, the more effective your response is likely to be. This is also going to be true if you’re on a lower-creatine diet, where a supplementary dose is a more significant top-up—especially for plant-based diets.
But what if you’re just not willing to wait a month to get your creatine benefits? One of the ways you can change this timeline is to front-load creatine…
Front-loading is a process that speeds up when creatine supplementation kicks in. It involves a short period of extra-high supplementary dose, for a few days, to help replenish stores and beat out this slow adaptation process.
Typically, you’ll go from a normal 2.5-5g dose all the way up to 20-25g a day for roughly 5-7 days. This massive uptick in creatine levels in your diet helps rapidly improve the creatine stores in your muscles and the secondary effects like water retention.
This can shorten the timeline slightly, where you start seeing results within the first two weeks. It will especially show up in your water retention, which can spike more easily than your resting creatine stores. However, this does mean an improvement in results, smoothly, over the first week.
There is an obvious set of risks that come with this; however: creatine’s potential for causing digestive discomfort, cramping, and diarrhea do go up when you’re loading.
These are some significant changes for your body to process and, while the risk and severity are still very safe—it does pose a problem if you know you have a delicate gut response. It requires better attention to hydration, which is going to help your creatine into muscles, as well as reducing its impact on the gut.
If you’re loading heavily, consider taking your creatine in 2 drinks a day, for example, to reduce the all-at-once digestive burden.
Some People Seem To Be Low Responders
For some people, neither front-loading nor regular doses seem to have a huge effect.
There are a few times this is possible. First, if you’re one of the few people eating enough high-quality red meat to not be low-creatine, you might not get a significant return from supplementation in the first place. It’s rare but totally possible.
Second, you might be a non-responder. This is probably even rarer—creatine is a pseudo-vitamin, and your body does need it—but some people just don’t note a significant response to creatine supplementation.
Third, you could just be seeing that the real-world applications of a healthier diet aren’t significant. While creatine is a great compound in its own right, you might be limited by other factors like proper calorie, protein, or carb intake that need your attention first.
How Much Does It Kick In And Do We Adapt Over Time?
Creatine results kick in after roughly 2-4 weeks, depending on dose and personal response. They also begin to wear off, as you establish a new normal within the body, after around six weeks.
The difference here is that you’re maintaining levels at a healthy, optimal state, rather than addressing a deficiency. After this time, you’re also likely to have a new normal in terms of water retention, so some of the more feared effects like “looking” softer even out well on maintenance doses.
What Happens When You Stop Taking Creatine?
When you stop taking creatine, it seems that you keep all the strength benefits you’ve built up while using it. These are changes in the muscles themselves because of the work that creatine enabled, but they don’t depend on it.
What does drop off is strength-endurance: the amount of work you can do before peak performance in strength and power drops off in response to fatigue.
This is the one to watch out for when you come off creatine, especially if you’re on a plant-based diet. Fortunately, you don’t have to cycle off creatine since it’s not a downregulating substance, like caffeine, for example, and it’s actually really healthy overall.
Creatine’s a simple and effective supplement that helps support your muscles—among other organs. The way you load it and the doses you use affect how rapidly it gets into your system and the results you see.
Loading or not, the goal is to be patient with the process and stay consistent with supplementation. Your body will thank you for the support; it’s just going to take a short while to get acclimated to the improved dietary habit—and the results will add up with consistent use.
Be patient, be consistent, and creatine will help your body in some really robust ways!
- Creatine in the ATP-CP energy system: https://doi.org/1007/s00726-009-0263-6
- Creatine loading improves acute results: https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13030826
- Creatine produces short- but not long-term water retention: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w
- Creatine non-responders: https://doi.org/10.1519/12392.1