No matter how or why you train, you know that timing is everything. When to lift. When to eat. When to rest. When to sleep.
And when you take your supplements, you want to know how to time them, so you get the most bang for your buck.
When it comes to creatine, the most popular sports supplement available today, the same holds.
Do you take it pre-workout, post-workout, on an empty stomach, or before bed?
For optimum results and to get the most out of your hard-earned money, it’s good to know what the research says.
Let’s dive in and discover when the best time to take creatine might be. But first, a refresher.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a naturally occurring substance in your body. Most of the creatine in your body is stored in your muscles because that’s where it’s used.
There’s small amounts of creatine in your brain and other organs too, but the majority of it, approximately 95%, is in your muscles.
Your body needs creatine to make energy if you’ve ever rushed to lift the lid off a boiling pot on the stove.
If you’ve ever sprinted to catch the bus.
If you’ve ever snatched a barbell overhead at the heaviest weight possible.
If you’ve ever thrown a ball as hard as possible.
You’ve used creatine.
All of these exercises and others that demand your top speed and strength use a unique energy pathway in your muscles. And this energy system relies on creatine.
To read more about creatine, read our full article which discusses what creatine is, its health and exercise performance benefits and a more detailed explanation about the specific energy pathway that uses creatine.
Why take Creatine?
Creatine is one of the most researched sports supplements available on the market today. Many studies have been done on how creatine works and whether it is effective.
Knowing that all this research stands behind it, you can be assured that creatine is considered safe to take.
Studies have shown that creatine:
- Improves athletic performance,
- Increases muscle mass,
- Decreases body fat,
- Helps muscles recover after intense workouts,
- Reduces muscle fatigue during training,
- Reduces inflammation and aids in muscle, brain, and neuron repair,
- Supports depression and anxiety treatments,
- Improves the health and performance of vegans and vegetarians,
- Shows promise for patients suffering from neuromuscular diseases.
- Improves the quality of life for the elderly affected by the loss of muscle mass and memory loss.
You can see that there are a lot of good reasons to take creatine.
For this article, we will focus most of our attention on athletes and weightlifters who want to know when the best time to take creatine is.
The argument on taking creatine before you exercise
It’s easy to see why we would think that taking creatine before you hit the gym would be the best timing for the supplement.
Your muscles are going to require that creatine almost immediately, so why not take it 30 to 60 minutes before training?
Creatine is usually taken as a powder dissolved in water. Some pre-workout drinks contain creatine along with other stimulants. In liquid form, creatine will be absorbed faster in the body than as a tablet or capsule.
If you understand the energy cycle within the cell and the role creatine plays in ATP production, it makes sense to take your creatine supplement before your workout and not after.
In theory, you should be able to create more power, energy, and last longer in the gym with creatine fueling your muscles.
The workout that allows you to train harder and heavier will no doubt cause more muscle growth.
Science says, “Yes”.
The argument on taking creatine after you exercise
Many protein shakes that are meant to be taken after a training session contain creatine and for a good reason.
After a workout, your muscles are depleted. The standard rule of thumb is for weightlifters to consume a liquid protein shake within an hour or less of their workout.
Why not add creatine into the mix when your body is primed and ready to absorb it?
Creatine is super beneficial in the repair and rebuilding of the muscle that was just “torn down” in your workout.
If you take creatine after your workout, your muscles will recover faster so you’re ready to train again sooner than you would without taking creatine.
The research also tells us that athletes who are injured recover faster if they take creatine even without training.
So creatine after a workout also gets a “Yes” from science.
Can I still take Creatine on rest days?
According to the research, there is no harm in taking creatine on your rest days. Creatine is one of the safest sports supplements you can take.
If you recall, some of the people who can also benefit from taking creatine are not individuals who can workout, let alone at high intensity.
Taking a maintenance dose of creatine on your days off will ensure that your muscles will recover and be in top condition for the next time you train.
Creatine on rest days? Again, science says, “Yes”.
The general rule of thumb is to take a maintenance dose of creatine every day whenever it suits you best. If you do this regularly, you will begin to see the benefits.
So, when is the absolute best time to take creatine?
We’ve talked about the rationale of taking creatine before your workout. We’ve talked about the reasons why you should take creatine after your workout.
And we can’t ignore the evidence that creatine helps people who don’t work out at all, thereby supporting the theory that taking creatine on your day off can be beneficial as well.
So are we any further ahead than when we started this article?
No, and yes.
The best time to take creatine when it comes to weightlifting and training is to take some of your daily doses before your workout and then the other dose after your workout.
The answer is both before and after.
On your off days, take your creatine when it works best for you. If that’s first thing in the morning, do it then. If it’s right before bed, take it then. Or you can spread out your dose throughout the day.
One thing we do know without a doubt is that taking creatine with carbohydrates, and to a lesser degree protein, improves our bodies’ ability to absorb it.
If you take a pre-workout drink, find one with creatine in it. If you enjoy your protein shake, add some creatine powder to it if it doesn’t have any in it.
On your off days, take your creatine along with your meal or split it up and add it to several meals throughout the day.
Taking creatine with carbohydrates and protein might be even more important than figuring out if you should take it before or after your workout.
The Final Word
Creatine is one of the most researched sports supplements on the shelves today. Best of all, it’s very affordable, and we know that it works.
The best time to take creatine is to split up your daily dose into a pre-workout and post-workout drink. If you like to workout on an empty stomach, then take it after your workout in a protein recovery shake or as part of your first meal post workout.
On days where you don’t train, it doesn’t matter when you take creatine. However, you’ll see the best results if you take it along with a meal. The additional carbohydrates and protein will help creatine absorption.
- Related: What is Creatine Loading Phase?