This article was originally published at MyProtein.com by Gareth Sapstead.
It’s one of the most popular supplements to provide energy and build muscle, but when’s the best time to take creatine supplements to ensure that you maximise its benefits?
Creatine is a performance enhancing (ergogenic) aid that has been shown to increase physical performance in short burst, high intensity exercise, like sprinting and weight lifting.1 It plays a role in freeing energy at the cellular level for optimal muscular function. Although it’s widely used for enhancing performance, it has also been shown to aid in muscle recovery after a workout.2
Creatine is also linked to increasing body mass during training. Research has shown gains of 0.9kg – 2.2 kg (2-5lbs) more in athletes who supplement their workouts with creatine over several months than those who don’t.2 Therefore, the best time to take creatine is 30 minutes before a workout and also as part of your recovery shake or meal post-workout, when muscles are growing and rebuilding.1,3
What is creatine?
Creatine is a molecule that resides primarily in skeletal muscle. It plays a key role in freeing energy from the cell’s stores for use as well as helping to rebuild the cellular form of energy (ATP, or adenosine triphosphate). About half of the body’s creatine comes from animal sources in the diet, and the rest is synthesized by the liver and kidneys.3 When creatine becomes depleted, performance can decline.4 For this reason, it’s beneficial to take creatine both before a workout and afterwards for recovery.
Why take creatine supplements?
Creatine can help increase your performance during short duration and high intensity exercise —like heavy lifting and power exercises.3 Generally, creatine impacts your endurance, strength, and power. Regular diets provide 1-2g/day of creatine (found primarily in red meat and some seafood), which leaves muscles about 60-80% at their max saturation level.3 This is where the supplemental form of creatine (creatine monohydrate) is useful.
Some of the potential performance enhancing benefits of creatine include:
- Increased single and repeated sprint speed
- Increased performance during max effort lifts
- Increased anaerobic threshold
- Increased work capacity5
Athletes in the following sports may benefit from the use of creatine:
- Max effort sports like bodybuilding, Olympic weightlifting
- Sprints (track, swim, cycling), Track/Field Events
- Sports with constant movement/running: basketball, field hockey, lacrosse, rugby, soccer, American football
- Ice hockey
- Combat sports6
Taking creatine supplements before a workout
Due to the muscle’s natural state of suboptimal creatine levels, supplementation can increase muscle stores. The best way to maximize these stores (if you are supplementing for the first time), is to take about 5g creatine 4 times daily for 5-7 days. Or 0.3g/kg/day based on bodyweight.
Once creatine stores are optimized, a daily dosage of 3-10g (based on body size) can be enough to maintain the desired higher level.
Base it on bodyweight a better target would be 0.03g per kg of bodyweight per day. Meaning if you choose to have a loading phase and you weigh 80kg, that would be 24g/day followed by maintenance at 2.4g/day.
Some research has shown a loading phase to not be necessary though, but we’ll discuss this at a later point.
Vegetarians, vegans, or individuals of larger body mass may need larger doses of creatine to maximize their stores before a workout.3
Take your creatine around 30 minutes before your workout, bash out a warm-up, and that should be plenty of time to allow some creatine availability before your first set.
Taking creatine after a workout
As discussed previously, dietary creatine is often not adequate to maximize the body’s stores of creatine. For this reason, one of the best times to take creatine is by supplementing after a workout. This can aid in muscular recovery by replenishing what was used during your workout and helps keep muscle stores optimized and ready for your next workout.3
Additionally, it has been shown that creatine can assist with increasing glycogen storage in the muscles post-workout when taken with carbohydrates (more than carbohydrates alone). (3) Glycogen is stored energy for the muscles to use in the future, which helps performance and delays fatigue. Creatine has also been shown to reduce inflammation, which can help aid in injury recovery. What’s more, creatine increases intracellular fluid, which can make muscles appear fuller.3
Take creatine anytime
While there are obvious benefits to taking creatine both before and after a workout, it is also shown to be safe and for all healthy individuals of any age. Building up and maintaining muscle creatine stores by taking a low dose daily (for example, 3 grams) can help with brain health and improve treatment of creatine synthesis deficiencies.3
So, the best time to take creatine supplements are when it suits your daily schedule. Other potential benefits of creatine include heart health, minimizing bone loss, and improved cognitive function.4 There have been no studies showing negative effects in healthy adults from taking creatine regularly.2
The best way to take creatine
Creatine monohydrate is the common supplemental form of creatine. Because it aids in short term performance, the best time to take creatine is 30 minutes before your workout for immediate impact. With creatine, mix the powdered creatine monohydrate with water for quick digestion and availability prior to a workout.
After an intense training session, it is best to take creatine with a combination of carbohydrate and/or protein sources to help maximise muscle retention, which makes it the perfect addition to your post-workout recovery shake.3 Additionally, the benefits of daily creatine supplementation can keep your muscles’ stores maximised, and have other potential long-term health benefits.4
Take home message
So, you now know that the best time to take creatine is pretty much any time, or especially befoer and after a workout. Creatine is a great supplement for a whole host of different sports and goals, especially if you’re looking to build muscle, or increase power over a short amount of time by supplying your muscles with the energy they need. It’s also incredibly convenient to take, with no real rules as to when, other than when it suits you best.
Pick a pure Creatine Monohydrate powder with just one ingredient “creatine monohydrate”. It’s tried, tested and proven, with no extra junk. Here are a few good products (Amazon links):
- Optimum Nutrition Micronized Creatine Monohydrate
- PhD Nutrition Creatine Monohydrate
- Bulk Powders Creatine
- MyProtein Creatine
- Rodriguez, N. R., DiMarco, N. M., & Langley, S. (2009). Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and athletic performance. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(3), 509-527.
- Kreider, R. B., Wilborn, C. D., Taylor, L., Campbell, B., Almada, A. L., Collins, R., … & Kerksick, C. M. (2010). ISSN exercise & sport nutrition review: research & recommendations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7(1), 7.
- Kreider, R. B., Kalman, D. S., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Wildman, R., Collins, R., … & Lopez, H. L. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1), 18.
- Harris, R. (2011). Creatine in health, medicine and sport: an introduction to a meeting held at Downing College, University of Cambridge, July 2010.
- Kreider, R.B., Jung, Y.P. (2011). Creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of Exercise Nutrition Biochemistry, 15(2), 53-69.
- Williams, M. H. (1999). Facts and fallacies of purported ergogenic amino acid supplements. Clinics in sports medicine, 18(3), 633-649.