Written by Carina Fabia
Last updated on: Sep 17, 2022
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Creatine is an effective supplement used by athletes, bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts for its performance-enhancing benefits. Here we will look at the evidence as to what time you should take creatine for the best results.
Although there is no conclusive evidence to show when the best time is to take creatine, it’s better to take it close to your workout. Creatine has numerous positive effects for fitness and athletic performance. These are achieved by provide an increased amount of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) energy, allowing for greater total training volume.
Read on to learn the different opinions on the optimum time to take a creatine supplement...
The best time to take a creatine supplement has divided opinions. There are 3 camps when it comes to the timing of creatine supplements. Pre workout, post workout and timing being irrelevant.
Taking creatine immediately before a workout is backed by evidence. Research found taking creatine before training results in muscle creatine levels, which leads to more available ATP energy to enhance exercise performance (10). Creatine monohydrate is often an ingredient added to pre workout supplements.
Support for the hypothesis you should take creatine after exercise is based on the fact the muscles are more receptive after training, which allows them to absorb nutrients like creatine more effectively (10).
However, some evidence shows the amount of creatine stored in the muscles is the only important factor. Therefore, taking creatine will be equally as effective before training as it would be after. It is not the timing which matters it is the proximity to the workout (10, 11).
One study became popular as it stated taking creatine after a workout is more effective than before a workout. However, upon observing the results, the study cannot find any conclusive evidence to support either position (11).
The same study as mentioned above demonstrates taking creatine is highly effective for increasing muscle mass when used in combination with resistance training. Increases in muscle mass were slightly greater with subjects who took creatine after resistance training compared to subject who did the same training without taking a creatine supplement (11). It was also found creatine supplementation after workouts causes greater improvements in lean muscle mass and strength (11).
The limited studies appear to be somewhat inconclusive, but some evidence points towards post-workout supplementation being the more effective strategy by a fine margin for muscle mass and strength. However, more research is required to substantiate this position (12, 13).
The eventual findings in the study on strategic supplementation of creatine found creatine improves muscle strength but requires resistance training and post-exercise consumption for optimal results (14). Other studies suggest splitting the dosage between pre-and post-workout periods is an effective strategy for getting a good balance.
If your primary goal is to gain muscle mass, the best supplementation timing is unclear. But the closer in proximity to your workout appears to have the most benefits. The most gains will be experienced when creatine stores are maximized allowing for maximum ATP energy (15).
Creatine has a number of positive effects which will improve your training performance and help build muscle mass. And there is plenty of research to support this. So, let’s look at the scientific research supporting the benefits of taking creatine.
Creatine is contained in skeletal muscle, approximate 65% of this is stored as phosphocreatine. This can be used to provide the muscles with more ATP. This aids in the energetic muscle contraction during vigorous exercise. More ATP means more training can be completed before the muscles fatigue (1).
Muscle functionality is dependent on ATP and creatine can synthesize and resynthesize ATP which allows for better performance. Studies have shown the availability of muscle creatine stores increases after ingesting 5 grams of creatine 4-6 times a day over several days. 20 grams (0.7oz) per day for 5 days improved performance and decreased fatigue in subjects by approximately 6% (1).
During a 10-second maximal handgrip exercise, taking creatine enhanced anaerobic ATP synthesis (3). The findings from a study on increased muscle phosphocreatine concentration on the synthesis of ATP led to an improvement in performance (4).
Creatine has also been found to selectively stimulate the rate of muscle protein synthesis of proteins, actin, and myosin heavy chain (5). However, it also found creatine affects the rate of synthesis and has no effect on the rate of degradation.
Research has found creatine supplementation will decrease lactic acid during incremental cycling exercises and raises the lactic acid threshold. This means creatine can improve endurance during exercise or sport (6).
Creatine is frequently used in sports nutrition. It is known to assist in the development of more power and strength. Research has found it to improve maximal power and strength by 5-15% in the short-term, a 1-5% improvement in single-effort sprint performance, and an increase of 5-15% of work performed during repetitive work sprint performance. There were also improvements in strength gains, fat-free muscle mass, and high-intensity exercise performance (7).
Taking creatine has been found to support muscle growth. A study found when combined with protein and carbohydrate, creatine monohydrate enhances the response to resistance exercise. The addition of creatine monohydrate to protein and carbohydrate resulted in more muscle growth than an equivalent dose of protein and carbohydrate alone (15).
It is generally accepted creatine supplementation increases creatine storage and promotes a faster regeneration of adenosine triphosphate during high intensity exercise. This allows for better physical performance during training and allows the body to produce superior gains over time. It has been found if you take creatine at a rate of 0.1 g per kg of body weight, combined with resistance exercise, adaptations to training improve at a cellular and sub-cellular level. (16).
Currently, research suggests creatine monohydrate is the most effective nutritional supplement on the market, with nearly 70% of several hundred peer-reviewed research papers showing a significant improvement in exercise outcomes. It also found creatine monohydrate is safe, has no detrimental health effects, and is suitable for rehabilitation goals. Creatine monohydrate is currently the most extensively studied creatine used for muscle gains (17).
While creatine has all of these benefits, it is important to follow the right protocols for consumption.
Research conducted by the International Society of Sports Nutrition found the “loading” protocol of four doses of 0.3 grams per kilogram of body weight per day for 5-7 days. Then 3-5 grams per day after, led to a 10-40% increase in muscle creatine and phosphocreatine stores.
The extent of this increase depended upon original creatine stores, this was normally correlated with the consumption of dietary creatine (8). Those who do not consume creatine rich foods such as red meat or fish will have lower creatine stores. Such individuals were found to experience a 20-40% increase in muscle storage after taking creatine. Those with higher muscle storages only experienced a 10-20% growth in creatine levels. The reason for this is those with lower creatine levels could take more creatine into the muscle before reaching the saturation point.
However, the loading protocol is not completely necessary, and an initial loading phase is not entirely necessary. Taking creatine without loading has been found to increase creatine stores at a similar rate.
This is largely due to the performance improvements in exercise regimens. Additional research suggests the loading protocol can be used for as little as 2-3 days before subjects start yielding these performance gains (8). Furthermore taking creatine monohydrate at a dosage of 0.25 grams for each kg of fat-free mass per day may be an alternative dosage sufficient to increase muscle creatine stores.
Other protocols include the “cycling” strategy of 3 grams per day for four weeks. Then 6 grams per day for 12 weeks is equally as effective in increasing muscle stores. However, these increases were gradual and better suited for a long-term performance or muscle gain strategy.
You may also want to know whether supplementing on rest days is advisable or not, and research suggests taking creatine on rest days is an effective way to keep the creatine stores elevated. You should therefore take creatine on rest days.
The question of “When should I take creatine?” is not really the correct way to approach the timing of creatine supplementation. Rather it should be reframed as "How can I take creatine to maximise my creatine stores so I can maximise my physical performance?". The best way to do this is to follow a scientifically proven creatine supplementation protocol.