IF YOU RECENTLY started taking creatine, you may have noticed instructions to take three to 4 times the serving size amount during the first week of supplementation listed on the bottle. This strange phenomenon is called the creating loading phase—and it’s been confusing gym goers for a very long time.

You should absolutely incorporate creatine into your routine if your chief fitness goal is to gain muscle (as long as your doctor okays it, of course)—that much is true. It’s one of the most researched supplements on the market, and dietitians and doctors alike agree its safe and effective so long as you follow dosage guidelines.

Those guidelines are a bit confusing right from the start, though. Take a look at the instructions label on your container. It probably reads a little something like this: “Mix 1 scoop (5,000 mg) in water or your favorite beverage 3 to 4 times per day for the first 5 to 7 days. Do not exceed 5,000 mg per serving. For maintenance, take 1 serving (5,000 mg) immediately after training.”

Three to four servings in one day? That seems quite aggressive. What’s the point in taking a ton of creatine right at the beginning, just to leveling it off after? Is creatine loading necessary for the supplement to be effective?

Below, Chris Mohr, Ph.D., R.D., co-owner of Mohr Results, a nutrition consulting company, clears up some confusion.

What is the creating loading phase?

But first, let’s talk about why creatine loading is a thing. Creatine loading is advertised by supplement brands and influencers as a way to “bring faster results” to muscle building. As shown on the back of your creatine tub, it’s recommended to take an upwards of four times the normal amount throughout the first week of taking creatine. This is followed by taking 1 normal dose daily after the first week is up.

The idea behind this is that your muscles will rapidly increase its creatine stores, and then later doses will maintain those newly developed stores. But, does it really work that way?

Does loading creatine work?

“Creatine loading is still recommended on the suggested use, but isn’t necessary,” Mohr said. “While the loading phase is not dangerous or unhealthy, research suggests after 30 days, results from using creatine end up the same for strength gains. That said, if someone needed faster results (e.g., 5 days vs. 30 days) then the loading phase could be considered.”

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In other words, if you needed to, say, look hulked for a high school pool party in a week, the loading phase might be a good idea. But if you’re a dad who is just looking for a little help schlepping around the kid, there’s no real need to creatine load.

What is creatine, and how does it work, anyway?

Your body actually makes its own creatine, by way of your kidney and liver, after you eat meat. Your muscles then convert creatine into creatine phosphate, which is then generated into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which your body uses for explosive exercise.

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Complicated, yes, but important because creatine is stored. You can either push your creatine stores to their upper end by loading, or incrementally, by consistent smaller dosages.

How do I do creatine loading?

It’s not dangerous to give creatine loading a go.

Most creatine companies recommend taking between 20 to 30g a day to creatine load. One scoop is typically 5g. You’ll want to only take one scoop at a time to mitigate potential side effects. Think one scoop with each meal and snack.

Are there any side effects to creatine loading?

Personally, I’ve also found the creatine loading phase gift me with some unpleasant gut cramps, not to mention frequent bathroom breaks considering all the water I was drinking along with the supplement. So I was relieved to hear that I could back off from loading, at the blessing of Mohr, who has heard of similar complaints before.

There was one cautionary sentence Mohr did send along, however: “Also creatine won’t work without a solid nutrition plan and training.”

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Paul is the Food & Nutrition Editor of Men’s Health. He’s also the author of two cookbooks: Guy Gourmet and A Man, A Pan, A Plan.

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Cori Ritchey, NASM-CPT is an Associate Health & Fitness Editor at Men’s Health and a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. You can find more of her work in HealthCentral, Livestrong, Self, and others.

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