It has been convincingly proven that supplementation with creatine improves strength performance in many people [ i ] , so that more or faster muscle growth can be achieved. But is it necessary to take creatine in cycles? Or is it better to use it continuously?
ARGUMENTS FOR CYCLING
For cycling creatine (eg 3 months ‘on’ and 1 month ‘off’) the following three arguments are usually given. But are they correct?
1. Maintaining natural creatine production
The enzymatic system involved in regulating creatine production is extremely sensitive. It adapts very quickly to rises and falls in external creatine consumption. If you take creatine supplements for some time, with the recommended dose of 3 to 5 grams per day, it is indeed possible that your body produces less creatine itself [ ix ] . However, when you stop taking creatine, your natural creatine production will be restored to its previous level within a short time [ ii ] [ iii ] .
2. Avoiding harmful effects of creatine, especially with regard to liver and kidneys
Creatine is by far the most researched strength sports supplement. It is one of the few whose effectiveness has been conclusively demonstrated, barring non-responders. In addition, there is also ample evidence that creatine use, whether short-term or long-term, has no adverse effects on health [ iv ][ v ] . Also alleged adverse effects on the functioning of the liver and kidneys have been amply disproved by science.
3. Optimizing the effectiveness of creatine
The main reason why strength athletes often use creatine in cycles is because they experience a boost when they start a new course. But in fact they only regain the strength they lost when they stopped taking creatine (see next section).
When you start (again) with creatine, you experience its effect due to the sudden increase in strength during your training (both in explosive and maximum strength). If you use creatine for a longer period of time, you have become accustomed to that (slightly) higher strength level, which does not mean that it is no longer there. There is no evidence that habituation occurs after prolonged supplementation of creatine. Your muscles just remain full of creatine and will therefore continue to reap the benefits during short and heavy efforts.
In addition, there may also be a placebo effect that is enhanced because your muscles will retain more fluid as soon as you start taking creatine (water retention). This makes your muscles look bigger (fuller). In addition, your body weight will increase somewhat, but that is purely a result of the extra fluid in your body.
It must be said that the many studies on the effects of creatine supplementation are almost all short-term studies. This usually involves at most a few days or weeks of creatine supplementation. And the few studies on long-term creatine use were only about its safety. It is therefore not completely excluded that the beneficial effects for strength athletes decrease in the longer term. Yet as long as you use creatine and continue to make decent progress, we see no reason to stop the supplementation.
According to scientist and creatine expert Dr. Darren Candow it probably makes little or no difference in the long run whether you use creatine continuously or in cycles. And even if you don’t use creatine at all, you can use your muscle growth potential to the fullest. The success of a natural bodybuilder stands or falls with a well thought-out training program, the right nutrition and sufficient rest.
All in all, there are no convincing arguments for interrupting creatine supplementation from time to time. Creatine is also a relatively cheap strength sports supplement, so you don’t have to do it for cost savings.
Therefore, cycling is normally not necessary, also concludes Examine.com [ x ] . Of course there may be circumstances why you decide to (temporarily) stop taking creatine. For example if you go on holiday or if you are simply tired of having to take such a scoop of powder every day.
WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF YOU STOP TAKING CREATINE?
When you stop your creatine supplementation, it takes a while for the creatine levels in your muscles to return to normal (i.e. at the level of homeostasis). Your last dose of creatine will work for up to 24 hours. After that, the creatine levels in your body will slowly decrease. Depending on how long you have been taking creatine, it can take 2 to 4 weeks for your body to be completely free of the supplemented creatine [ vi ] .
What will you notice from that creatine stop, assuming you’re responsive?
In the first place, you will probably experience some loss in strength. After all, the most important effect of creatine is an increase in rapid strength and maximum strength. When the supplemented creatine disappears from your body, that little extra strength also disappears logically. Fortunately, that does not mean that muscle mass disappears. The relationship between muscle size and strength is not a one-to-one and in this case the loss of strength is the result of lower creatine levels in your muscles, not reduced muscle mass.
Conversely, there may be an adverse effect, although this remains a bit of speculation. By losing strength, you take a (small) step back in the load that you put on your muscles. It will take some time for you to get back to the strength level you were on the creatine supplement – something I experienced myself after stopping creatine over a vacation. Until then it is difficult to create overload, the main training condition for muscle growth.
Creatine supplementation may also contribute to recovery during and after strength training. So if you have stopped and the extra creatine has disappeared from your body, you may experience that you have a little more trouble with high training volumes and therefore also with a high training frequency.
But mind you, creatine is a helping hand, not a panacea. So if it stops after a while, your mass and strength really won’t collapse like a house of cards.
You can use creatine both continuously and intermittently. Both methods are safe and in the long run it seems to make little to no difference which one you prefer.
We do have a slight preference for continuous use, in order to avoid possible loss of strength due to stopping creatine supplementation.
And remember, even if you don’t use creatine at all, you can fully utilize your muscle growth potential. The success of a natural bodybuilder stands or falls with a well thought-out training program, the right nutrition and sufficient rest — supplements aren’t that important.
- [i] https://examine.com/supplements/creatine/
- [ii] https://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/fit-5-fitness-myths/
- [iii] https://www.livestrong.com/article/460943-side-effects-of-stopping-creatine/
- [iv] https://examine.com/nutrition/is-creatine-safe/
- [v] https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/6-side-effects-of-creatine-myths-debunked.html
- [vi] https://mentalhealthdaily.com/2015/12/12/how-long-does-creatine-stay-in-your-system/
- [vii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15320650
- [viii] https://examine.com/rubric/effects/view/e5b1982aceddbdc18407270d37a52046/125994b3032942b8ffd0dd9aa9c85f6d/all/
- [viii] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6470649_New_insights_into_creatine_function_and_synthesis
- [x] https://examine.com/nutrition/do-you-need-to-cycle-creatine/