Creatine before or after training? Or doesn't it really matter?

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The usefulness of creatine for strength athletes has been scientifically proven. But there is still a lot of discussion about what you should do and what not to do for an optimal effect of creatineFor example, how important is the timing of creatine intake? Is it best to take creatine around your workout and if so, better before or after?

Key points:

1.   The timing of creatine intake is probably not very important.

2.   A limited number of studies suggest that creatine does its job best when taken after exercise. However, the study size is too small for firm conclusions.

3.   Creatine certainly doesn’t seem like a typical pre-workout supplement. It really does not belong in pre-workout supplements.

4.   The most important thing is that you take the creatine daily (dose 3-5 grams). So choose a fixed time when it suits you best.

5.   For those who experience stomach problems due to creatine, there are strategies to be able to use the supplement without major problems.

TIMED NUTRITION

Timed nutrition, the strategic timing of nutrition, is a hot topic within the strength sport. For example, see our article on timed protein intake.

It is often claimed that supplements should be taken immediately before or after training. And sometimes there is something to be said for that. Citrulline malate, for example, is best taken before your workout. That’s why, like caffeine, you’ll often find this supplement in ready-to-use pre-workout products (PWOs).

CREATINE AND TIMING

Those PWOs also often contain creatine, which would suggest that it is best to take creatine before training. In principle, however, the time of intake for creatine does not seem relevant. After all, creatine is about building up a certain stock in your body iv ] .

RESEARCH

However, it cannot be ruled out that the positive effects of creatine can be enhanced when you take the substance around your training. Research has been done on this, albeit relatively little when you consider that creatine is one of the most researched supplements.

STUDY 2013

In August 2013, the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition published the results of a study by Antonio and Ciccone i ] conducted among 19 male bodybuilders. The specific aim was to find out what the effects are of creatine intake (5 grams) before versus after strength training. What turned out? The subjects who took creatine after the training had built up no less than twice as much muscle mass after four weeks and burned almost 1 kg more fat mass than the men who took the creatine before the training.

The logical conclusion of the oft-cited study is that intake after training results in more muscle building, strength gain and fat loss than intake before.

METASTUDY 2018

Two studies by Candow ea were published in 2014 and 2015, conducted among older non-strength athletes. Its results, along with Antonio’s, were recently included in a meta-analysis by Forbes et al ii ] .

Summarizing the three studies, it is concluded that creatine supplementation, regardless of the time of intake, contributes to muscle growth and strength gain. However, if you take the creatine after training, those effects may be slightly greater than if you take it before training.

How is that possible? According to Forbes and co, the better uptake of creatine after training probably has to do with the ‘pump’ that is created in your muscles, which gives you better blood flow. And the only way to get more creatine into your muscles is to send more blood to it. The muscle cells may also be (a bit) more sensitive to the effect of creatine after training.

The compilers of the analysis hasten to mention that the available study material is too scant for firm conclusions:

Based on the available evidence, it is recommended to take creatine after training to maximize gains in muscle mass and strength; however, these findings are based on a small sample size and precise mechanisms explaining these findings remain to be determined.[ii]

In addition, you may wonder to what extent timing is still important if you use creatine for a longer period of time. Once the creatine stores in your muscles are filled, all you need to do is replenish them daily, and you can at any time v ] .

META-STUDY 2021

A second meta-study on the timing of creatine supplementation, from 2021, comes to more or less the same conclusion as Forbes vi ] . That timing doesn’t seem like a big deal, according to the authors:

As it stands, adapting creatine timing specifically, according to when training is performed, is not currently supported by solid evidence and should not be considered a real concern for now.[vi]

NO PRE-WORKOUT SUPPLEMENT

What we can say with certainty is that creatine is not a typical supplement to take immediately before training. Yet it is often one of the most important components in a PWO. Thus, it is incorrectly suggested that creatine has an acute effect on training.

It is likely that manufacturers like to put creatine in their PWOs because then users are more likely to notice a difference.

ADVICE

With creatine supplementation, it is first and foremost important that your dose is large enough: 3 to 5 grams per day. (During the first week you can take a larger dose (10 to 20 grams; the so-called loading phase. This is not strictly necessary, but it does make the creatine work faster.)

The time when you take creatine seems of little or no importance. The limited study material does seem to indicate a slight preference for intake after training, but according to coach, author and podcaster Eric Trexler, the time just doesn’t really matter. It is most important that you take the creatine daily, because that is often forgotten:

I think consistency is the biggest thing with creatine rather than timing.[vii]

So take your creatine when it suits you best.

Trexler does add that some people experience stomach upset from creatine viii ] . Do you also suffer from this and you want to continue to use creatine, read the addendum to  this article for solutions. Simple strategies to minimize the potential for discomfort include taking creatine with food, mixing it into a hot drink, or splitting it into several smaller individual doses.

REFERENCES

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