Disclaimer: This post has not been written or reviewed by a medical professional. Under no circumstances should it be used as medical advice to diagnose, prevent or treat any illness, disease or medical condition. You use the information at your own risk.
As we mentioned in our article on creatine-free pre workouts (click here to read the article in full), creatine is one of the few supplements proven to be both beneficial and safe.
In fact, creatine has been studied more rigorously than almost any other supplement, and its effectiveness has been proven again and again. It’s also cheap, making it a no-brainer for almost anyone interested in strength training.
This effectiveness leads to a lot of questions though. How much should I take? Do I need to cycle creatine? And does caffeine counteract its effects?
Out of all these questions, one of the most common is when creatine should be taken. And that’s what I aim to answer in this article.
Why Take Creatine in the First place?
Creatine plays a vital role in how the body creates energy. When you lift weights, the body mainly uses a chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). To generate energy, it breaks ATP down into adenosine triphosphate (ADP).
The muscles only have a limited supply of ATP though. To replenish it, creatine is used to convert ADP back into ATP. The more creatine available, the faster ATP stores can be regenerated which can lead to an increase in power and strength.
This is why having an adequate supply of creatine is vital for weight lifting. The body can create creatine in the liver, but supplementing ensures you have plenty available.
Creatine may have additional benefits aside from speeding up ATP regeneration and increasing your workout capacity. Examine.com notes that there is a reduction in in fatigue when taken by people with traumatic brain injuries. Creatine may also increase muscular endurance and boost testosterone levels.
In short, taking creatine can help you work out with more intensity, for longer, and with heavier weights. This can noticeably speed up your progress.
When Should Creatine be Taken?
The amount of creatine you take each day depends on your weight. A commonly quoted figure is 0.03g/kg/day, which translates to approximately 2.5g per day for an 80kg person.
This may be on the low side though, as there are potential benefits to doses of up to 10g/day. Many people start by taking a dose of around 3-5 grams.
Should this be taken before or after a workout though?
This is a trick question, as it may be a good idea to take creatine both before and after your workout.
When you take creatine around 30-60 minutes before you head to the gym, you’re loading up the muscles with a supply that can be used to increase strength and power output. So, it makes sense to take a dose of creatine around 30-minutes before a workout (which is why many PWOs contain creatine monohydrate).
That doesn’t mean the post-workout period is any less important though. During this time, your muscles are desperately trying to recover from being pushed to the limit. Supplementing creatine helps restore the muscles and prepares you for the next gym session.
In short, taking creatine both pre and post workout is probably a good idea.
What about off-days though? When you don’t have a workout, a single maintenance dose of creatine is probably all you need.
Side Note: Creatine monohydrate is the cheapest form of the supplement but provides the same benefits as any other. No other form of creatine has proven to be more effective than bog-standard monohydrate.
What Are The Benefits?
We’ve already talked about some of the potential benefits of supplementing creatine, but here’s a more detailed breakdown of those that are relevant to exercise:
- Increased power output and strength during athletic performance. One meta study notes that it was “able to increase a 12% improvement in strength to 20% and able to increase a 12% increase in power to 26% following a training regiment using creatine monohydrate.“
- Increased anaerobic cardiovascular capacity when running. The same effects have not been shown when swimming though.
- Improved lean muscle mass building properties – although these are hard to study due to gains in water weight.
- Potentially increased resistance to fatigue when exercising.
- Enhanced muscular endurance during weight lifting and other athletic activities.
- A small increase in testosterone levels – although this is a relatively minor effect.
- There’s also evidence that creatine can improve sprint performance, increase cycling leg power, speed up improvements in squat and bench press, and increase overall athletic performance in team sports. It can also lead to enhanced muscle fullness due to an increase in water within muscle cells.
In short, there are a lot of proven and potential benefits. But are there any reasons not to take creatine?
There are few negative side effects to creatine – it’s a remarkably safe supplement for most people. It can cause increased water retention, however, so be prepared to put on some weight when you first start taking it.
There is a potential link between creatine and hair loss in some people, although there aren’t any direct studies for this. Studies have not shown any link between kidney problems and creatine in healthy individuals who aren’t taking other medication.
Do I Need to Load Creatine?
Until recently, people who wanted to start taking creatine were often advised to take a higher loading dose. The goal was to saturate the muscle cells with creatine to gain the benefits in less time.
This probably isn’t required though. While you can use loading to “test” how you respond to creatine, you’ll still get the same benefits taking a standard daily dose. Avoiding high loading doses can also reduce the chance of stomach cramping.
The Quick Answer
Creatine is as close to a “no-brainer” as you can get with a workout supplement. It’s legal, proven to be effective, and is safe for most people to take. If you want to get stronger, it’s certainly a supplement to consider.
For best results, creatine should be taken around 30-60 minutes before a workout. It can also be taken immediately after a session to aid recovery and maximize results.