Best Time to Take Creatine – When Does it Help the Most?

After more than 20 years of creatine research, sports scientists still debate one key question: when is the best time to take creatine?

best time to take creatine

Most experts agree creatine is a vital element of any successful muscle building program, but when it comes to the best time to take creatine, that depends on who you ask and what their goals are.

To determine the best dosing time, experts and athletes weigh benefits against side effects. Examining evidence leads most experts to promote 1 of 3 creatine dosing options:

• Pre-workout
• Post-workout
• Both pre- and post-workout

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Attempting to resolve this debate, scientists behind a 2013 study pitted pre-workout creatine against post-workout creatine. Let’s examine what this study revealed and whether a best time to take creatine truly exists.

Pre Versus Post: The Head-to-Head Showdown

Published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the 2013 study aimed to discover whether pre- or post-workout creatine dosing had a greater effect on body composition and strength gains.

The Set-Up: The participants were 19 men in their early 20s who lifted regularly for at least a year prior to the study. After a 4-week washout period, they took 5 g creatine before or after their weight session. Weight training sessions lasted approximately 60 minutes and took place 5 days a week. On rest days, volunteers took creatine whenever they wanted. [1]

The Results: After 4 weeks, the researchers measured changes in body composition and strength. Both groups showed improvements in all 5 parameters:

• Increased body weight
• Increased lean body mass
• Decreased fat mass
• Decreased body fat percentage
• Increased 1 rep max bench press

Although both groups improved, the post-workout group experienced bigger improvements on average. The researchers concluded “consuming creatine monohydrate post exercise may be superior to consuming it pre exercise.” [1]

Limitations of the Study

While this study answers some questions about the best time to take creatine, it falls short in at least 3 ways.

First, the participants used no loading phase. Creatine loading allows muscles to reach peak creatine concentration quickly so users get maximum benefits sooner. Lower daily doses like those used in this study raise muscle creatine at a much slower rate. [2]

In the real world, using a loading phase isn’t always necessary, and some athletes choose not to use one. But, it seems the participants in both groups may have seen more dramatic results if a loading phase were included in the study.

Second, most gym-goers don’t use creatine in isolation. Instead, creatine usually accompanies a pre- or post-workout meal or is taken as part of a workout supplement with additional ingredients.

For example, a basic workout nutrition plan might utilize a combination of creatine, liquid protein, and carbs. Enhancing creatine’s well-documented effects, these macronutrients supply additional energy, influence hormone levels, and aid protein synthesis. Together these ingredients have a synergistic effect many athletes rely on to grow lean mass at a reliable rate.

Of course, the researchers probably wanted to isolate creatine’s effects, which is a valid decision. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to see if adding protein and carbs influenced the results.

Finally, the study didn’t test the third dosing option: using creatine both before and after a workout. Results are obviously more clear-cut when 2 opposing options face off. But, the possibility remains that using both dosing times may produce similar or better outcomes than the either-or choice presented in this experiment.

Studies like this one are not intended to answer every question, and these shortcomings do not invalidate the work and results seen in this study. However, more research is needed before anyone definitively concludes post-workout is the best time to take creatine.

When Should You Take Creatine?

Despite its limitations, this study makes one fact clear: taking creatine around your workout builds muscle and increases strength. Remember, both the pre- and post-workout groups improved in the tested areas. So, no matter how you’re currently using creatine, you haven’t been doing it “wrong.”

To make the biggest gains with creatine, use what you learned from this study to evaluate your current regimen. Those taking creatine pre-workout should consider switching to post-workout to see if their results improve. Post-workout users might add creatine to their pre-workout supplement for an additional boost.

Ultimately, the best time to take creatine is the nutrient timing which produces the best results for you. Using what you now know, look over the top 10 creatine supplements recommended by Supplementing.com experts and find the one right for your needs.

References

[1] Antonio, Jose, and Victoria Ciccone. “The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 11.1 (2013): 36. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3750511/.

[2] Hultman, E, K Soderlund, JA Timmons, G Cederblad, and PL Greenhaff. “Muscle creatine loading in men.” Journal of Applied Physiology. 81.1 (1996): 232-7. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8828669.

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