Competitive athletes are always looking for the edge, the advantage that will make them run faster, lift more, recover faster, and, in many cases, look better than their peers. When it comes to taking supplements, that quest for the optimal timing is no exception.
There are probably as many opinions on the best time to take creatine as there are people taking it. You could run the gamut with the results of all the research studies on creatine and still come up with a multitude of optimal times to take the wildly popular muscle enhancing supplement. The consensus coming from all this research and analysis is that more research is needed. And, like all good hypotheses, everyone thinks theirs is the best one. So, let’s take a look at some of the most popular theories on when to take creatine, thereby giving you enough information to figure out what would work best for you. Of course, it’s always important to consult your physician before beginning a new supplement protocol. And if you are training with a fitness professional, that might be the first place you look for guidance.
Proponents of taking creatine pre-workout typically contend that you are enhancing the body’s supply of creatine immediately before you begin to use it in especially challenging workouts. It’s almost like filling the gas tank before you begin to take a trip. The further you travel, the more gas you use, so it can’t hurt to fill ‘er up before you begin. In the gym, the more power you make available to the muscles means the harder you can work the better the results. The problem with this thinking is that you do not use creatine immediately upon consumption. It’s a consistent dosing practice as opposed to individual dosage, so it’s more important that you take it regularly than take it in relation to when you work out.
This study found that there isn’t enough evidence to substantiate the theory that timing of taking creatine should be of any real concern and that more well-controlled studies are required to determine whether or not timing influences creatine’s ergogenic effects.
Those who believe that the best time to take creatine is after a workout usually contend that it is the optimal time to replenish what you’ve used during your workout. Since the entire goal of creatine dosing is to fill the muscle stores, it would seem like the perfect time to bring the levels up to where they were pre-workout. In addition, creatine aids in and shortens the length of time of muscle recovery, so this would be the perfect time to maximize the potential to heal quickly, with as little fatigue as possible. There are also theories that the best time to consume protein is immediately after a workout and that, if you also supplement with creatine, it is ideal for you to take them together.
While the results of this study confirm that consuming creatine immediately post-workout is superior to pre-workout in terms of body composition and strength comparison, the study itself is flawed. There was a small sample size (19 recreational bodybuilders) studied over a 4 week period of time and there was no standardization of the weights used for each participant. Yet another study that proves more solid research is required before any definitive answer to the question of when to take creatine can be given with confidence.
People who advocate taking creatine on rest days claim it is the best way to make sure you maintain a high level of the supplement in your muscle stores. However, the two most frequently used protocols for taking creatine require daily consumption during a maintenance phase regardless of when you take it. If you are taking creatine daily as part of your protocol, taking it during rest days is just part of the regimen. If, on the other hand, you are merely taking it on rest days, there’s not a lot of research about its efficacy when taken this way.
Despite all the theories as to when it is best to take creatine, the most important things are that you take it every day and that you properly hydrate when supplementing. Whether it’s before a workout, after a workout, at bedtime, first thing in the morning, or any other type of routine that gets you to take it as needed (daily, in most cases), the consistency of saturating your muscle stores is what matters most. And even if you miss a day here and there, get right back on schedule. Once you have made it to your maintenance phase, it would take approximately 4-6 weeks for your levels to reduce to the point of having to start over again.
Pre- or post-workout doesn’t seem to matter in this study of the impact on strategic supplementation of creatine and resistance training in older adults. The results of the double-blind study were a mix of findings to support both pre and post supplementation theories.
Creatine is an amino acid that is primarily stored in the skeletal muscles, though smaller amounts of it are found in the liver, pancreas, testes, and kidneys. It is synthesized in the liver, then carried via the circulatory system to storage sites (stores), 95% of which are in the skeletal muscles.
Creatine is an energy source in muscles that is found in animal foods such as cod, beef, pork, and dairy, though the average daily intake from food is about 1 gram. It is also made synthetically and is considered to be a safe, effective dietary supplement. Originally used by Olympic sprinters, creatine is now one of the most popular supplements on the market. Bodybuilders, runners, weight lifters, and many other competitive athletes use it to increase muscle mass, build strength, maximize workouts, and reduce time of muscle recovery. And if it’s muscles you want, creatine will certainly help you achieve that goal in a timely fashion.
There are a multitude of reasons to supplement with creatine and the majority of them involve better athletic performance as a result of increased energy, lean muscle mass, improved strength, and the ability to work harder, smarter, and make greater gains. Its main function is to keep the body’s energy stores high, which will enable you to get those short term boosts of energy to do one more rep, one more set, one last mile in the race, and any number of other athletic feats. It has also been shown to help with muscle loss in older adults and reduce the recovery time after an intense workout.
Creatine is a vasodilator that pushes more liquid and blood to the muscles which, in turn, means that your muscles will look bigger and better because they are fuller. So, yes, all of that additional hard work will pay off in bigger muscles. And who doesn’t want that?
Creatine is currently so popular that the likelihood of not finding someone who uses it in any gym is probably slim to none. The problem with asking the person on the next bench in your weight room how to take creatine is that they could easily be doing it the wrong way. Thankfully, there are plenty of available resources to give you the lowdown on how to use creatine for optimal results.
Basically, there are 3 ways to dose creatine: small daily doses, loading which starts with high doses and leads to lower maintenance doses, and either pre or post-workouts, depending on individual preference.
The small, daily doses are straightforward, simple, and quite effective. You won’t get the big, dramatic increase in muscle mass that will make you the envy of your fellow gym friends, but you will get those same results at a steady pace and in a (slightly) longer timeframe.
How and when to take your doses is not nearly as important as you being consistent with them. The object is to get to the saturation point, which will bring you to the maintenance phase where you commit to supplement daily for as long as you want to reap the benefits of creatine supplementation.
The pre or post-workout drinks taken a few times weekly, or the “energy” drink that includes creatine that you buy from the corner store or the vending machine at the gym probably aren’t going to get you any significant results. The key is to determine what you’re looking for and develop a systematic plan to achieve those goals. Half measures don’t even get you half of the benefits you’ll reap from committing to consistency.
The loading phase is the most popular way for people to take creatine. The goal is to fully saturate the muscle’s stores and then move to the maintenance phase where you take enough creatine to maintain your saturation levels. Typically the loading phase involves taking high doses of creatine 4-5 times per day for 5-7 days. Next, you would transition to the maintenance phase of 3-5 grams once per day. The loading phase may cause gastric distress, bloating, or water weight gain, but it will go away soon enough.
The main difference between the small daily doses and the loading phases is that the small daily doses take more time to achieve the results than the loading phase. And they don’t produce results so quickly that you will be the envy of the weight room (for about two weeks until the slower dosers catch up).
The best time to take creatine is the best time it works for you to ensure that you are getting maximum results from supplementation. If used correctly, and there are plenty of resources to help you with that, you will build strength, increase your lean muscle mass, get boosts of energy that enable you to work harder and improve your overall athletic performance, no matter what your sport is. Olympic sprinters were the first group of athletes to use creatine. Since then it has become an incredibly popular supplement that is safe, effective, and approved by the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN).
If you have a pre-existing kidney disease, are pregnant, or breastfeeding, you should avoid supplementing with creatine. Otherwise, consult your physician or healthcare practitioner, as well as your trainer or coach if you have one, to determine the best course of action if you were to supplement. Don’t forget the critical component of hydration, especially when taking creatine.
And if you do choose to use creatine in the most effective way, get ready for the looks from your co-workers, family, friends, and the folks in the weight room.
If you’d like additional information on creatine, Care/of’s articles Best way to load on creatine, Creatine for women and Is creatine vegan friendly can be found by clicking on the links cited within.