Creatine is a supplement that is known for having a 'loading' phase followed by a 'maintenance' phase. A typical creatine cycle has three parts to it.
Take 20-25g (or 0.3g/kg) for 5-7 days (Loading)
Then take 5g daily for 3-4 weeks (Maintenance)
Take a week or two off creatine, and then repeat (Wash-out)
Many studies done on creatine use a loading protocol, some studies do not.
No, you do not need to load creatine. Many studies use either a straight dose of 5-10g daily, or even smaller amounts (2-3g). These studies also note benefits with creatine supplementation.
This method is called 'Just taking creatine'
Creatine loading will cause faster saturation of muscles with creatine, and can cause greater acute increases in strength and body weight (via water retention). This may also confer a psychological benefit, since you can 'see' yourself getting bigger.
Taking a smaller dose for a longer period of time will eventually reach the same saturation point, but will take longer.
The differences at the end of a cycle, should you choose to end the cycle, would be minimal.
(Common phrases used by users for this page include which difference between creatine loading and maintenance, how is creatine loading done?, do you need a loading phase with creatine, creatine loadout, creatine loading phase and maintenance, creatine loading 10g)