Creatine is one of the most frequently researched and popular supplements in the fitness industry, but there’s still a lot of confusion about the best time to take it.
Does it matter if you take creatine before or after a workout? Research suggests that the best time to take creatine is after a workout because it has a more positive effect on increasing lean muscle mass and muscular strength. But there are also some benefits to taking it before your workout because your body can digest it fast enough to be able to utilize it during exercise.
To make things more complicated, findings from other studies suggest that there is also some merit to taking creatine during a workout. So how do you know what the best time to take creatine is?
In this article, I’ll review the research behind the timing of creatine consumption, discuss what happens when you take creatine before or after your workout, and answer frequently asked questions about creatine timing.
Creatine Timing: What Does The Science Say
Many studies show that taking creatine after your workout is superior to taking it before your workout. In a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, subjects who consumed creatine after a resistance training workout experienced a larger increase in lean body mass than the subjects who took creatine before their workouts.
A study published in the Journal of Exercise and Nutrition backs this up. Researchers discovered that post-workout creatine consumption was superior for improving body composition. At the end of the study, the body fat percentages of the subjects who took creatine after their workouts were lower than those of the subjects who took it prior to exercise.
This experiment also showed that taking creatine immediately following a workout had positive effects on muscular strength. The subjects in the post-workout creatine group reported larger increases in their bench press 1RMs than the pre-workout creatine group.
While most research has concluded that post-workout creatine consumption is most ideal, taking it before your workout is also beneficial. Researchers from Canada discovered that increases in chest press and leg press 1RMs occurred regardless of creatine timing. In fact, the participants who took creatine before working out reported larger 1RMs at the end of the study.
It should be noted, though, that none of the subjects had done any resistance training within the previous 16 weeks. It’s likely they would have realized increases in strength and muscle regardless of when they took creatine. Even the subjects who were in the placebo group were able to increase their 1RMs over the course of the study.
Furthermore, based on the participants’ dietary logs, the study also shows that the ones who took creatine before their workouts increased their overall calorie consumption more than the subjects who took creatine after their workouts. It’s possible that the increased food intake also played a role in their strength increases.
There is also some evidence that taking creatine during a workout is beneficial as well. Intra-workout creatine consumption can not only improve muscular strength but also enhance muscular endurance.
All of these findings suggest that when you take creatine isn’t as important as taking it consistently. Even when you take it on non-training days, it will help build up the creatine stores in your system, which your body can then use the next time you work out.
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Taking Creatine Before Workout
The idea behind taking creatine before a workout is that it can aid in replacing creatine levels that deplete rapidly during your workout. When you take it 30-60 minutes before you exercise, your body has enough time to reach peak creatine levels during your workout.
Creatine is a popular ingredient in pre-workout supplements for this reason. And when combined with caffeine, creatine can result in greater athletic performance. A study done on healthy, physically active men showed that creatine + caffeine supplementation resulted in greater power output during high-intensity sprints.
There is some conflicting information about whether or not caffeine can inhibit creatine consumption or cause you to fatigue faster, but most research shows that this isn’t true. Taking caffeine and creatine at the same time can even enhance the effects of creatine.
Taking creatine with caffeine can cause GI distress in some individuals, though. If you take a pre-workout supplement that contains creatine, or if you take it with a cup of coffee or another caffeine source, you may experience stomach cramping, bloating, or diarrhea. It’s best to test the combination of caffeine and creatine first before trying it prior to a workout.
It should also be noted that taking creatine before you workout may be more effective for resistance training workouts and less effective for high-intensity cardio exercises.
As well, higher dosages of creatine take longer to digest. If you want to take it prior to working out, it’s best to take no more than 5g so your body can digest it fast enough and utilize it properly during exercise.
Taking Creatine After Workout
I’ve already discussed how taking creatine after a workout can result in greater increases in lean muscle mass and increased muscular strength. Researchers believe this is due to the increase in skeletal muscle blood flow that occurs from resistance training, which results in a higher amount of creatine being stored in the trained muscles.
That increased blood circulation, combined with the loss of glycogen and other nutrients your body experiences during a workout, also means your cells are more primed to replace what was lost during exercise.
Another reason to take creatine after a workout is that it aids in recovery, although creatine consumption on its own may not reduce muscle damage or improve recovery after resistance training. It appears that creatine’s recovery benefits are enhanced by taking it with a high-carb or high-protein + high-carb meal after a workout.
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Frequently Asked Questions:
Can You Take Creatine During A Workout?
Many experts claim that post-workout is the best time to take creatine. However, as I mentioned above, taking creatine during a workout can be just as beneficial as taking it before or after exercise. If you take no more than 5g within 30-60 minutes prior to working out, your body has enough time to put it to use.
Recommendations against taking creatine during a workout arose from myths that it can cause dehydration and muscle cramps. Some people also believed that athletes who took creatine were more prone to injury, but most research has debunked these myths.
In a study analyzing injury rates in NCAA Division IA football players, researchers discovered no significant difference in the number of reported instances of cramping, dehydration, injuries, and illness between athletes who took creatine and those who didn’t.
Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, consistent creatine intake is more important than timing. Once you’ve been taking it for a while, your body will have built up enough of it that you can still realize its effects regardless of when you take it. If putting creatine in an intra-workout shake will help you remember to take it, there’s no harm in taking it during a workout.
Is Creatine On Its Own A Pre-Workout?
Many pre-workout supplements contain creatine, but creatine on its own isn’t a pre-workout. Pre-workout often has caffeine, beta-alanine, BCAA’s, and other ingredients that boost energy and promote vascularity. Creatine alone doesn’t provide the same sudden burst of energy as pre-workout.
The effects of creatine and pre-workout also last for different lengths of time. Pre-workout’s energy-boosting effects wear off after a couple of hours. On the other hand, when you take creatine regularly, your body is able to use what it has already stored for future workouts.
As well, pre-workout doesn’t have the same effects on increasing lean muscle mass that creatine has.
Some pre-workout supplements are considered “pump” supplements because they increase nitric oxide production. This increases blood flow to the muscles, helps them appear fuller, and reduces time to fatigue, but it’s not necessarily beneficial for building muscle mass.
Studies done in mice have shown that L-citrulline, another common ingredient in pre-workout supplements, may increase muscle skeletal muscle weight. However, other research suggests that L-citrulline supplementation doesn’t have any long-term significant positive effects on body composition.
So, in short, creatine and pre-workout serve two different purposes. Pre-workout is used for a quick-acting energy boost and temporary appearance of fuller muscles while long-term, consistent creatine supplementation can help increase lean muscle mass and muscular strength.
Other Creatine Resources
- 30 Natural Sources of Creating (Plus, How Much To Eat)
- Can You Get Stronger Without Creatine (Science-Backed)
Research suggests that taking creatine after a workout is most optimal. It’s better for increasing lean muscle mass when combined with a resistance training program. It may even have more benefits when taking it with a high-carb or high-carb/high-protein post-workout meal.
However, taking creatine before or even during a workout is beneficial as well. Taking it consistently is more important than the exact timing, so it’s better to take it at a time that you’re most likely to remember.
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.