Creatine is one of the extensively researched and most-loved sports performance enhancers on the market, for good reason!
It can help increase physical performance in successive bursts of short-term, high-intensity exercise, and so much more. But does it really matter when to take creatine?
What is creatine?
First things first, here’s an introduction to creatine monohydrate. Feel free to skip this bit if you’re already creatine-clued up!
We already have creatine in our bodies, most of which can be found in our skeletal muscle (~95%).1
Foods like seafood and red meat also contain creatine, with a pound of salmon or uncooked beef providing around 1-2g of creatine.2
How much creatine a day?
It’s generally recommended that we replenish our bodies with around 1-3g of creatine per day to maintain normal creatine stores.3
What does creatine do in the body?
Maintaining optimal creatine levels in the body allows us to create more adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an organic compound which helps us to create energy in the body.
When you perform high-intensity training, like weightlifting, ATP gets broken down very quickly to provide you with that explosive burst of energy, e.g. standing back up after performing a barbell squat.
Supplementing with creatine has been shown to increase the amount of creatine in our muscles, which then allows the powerful ATP to be restored quickly.
What is the creatine cycle?
There are three phases:
Taking 10-20g of creatine per day for 5-7 days, with the goal of rapidly increasing muscle creatine levels.
However, it must be noted that dosage requirements may vary based on the individual’s needs due to potential digestive complaints.
If this is the case, the dose can be lowered, the loading slowed down (with the timeframe extended), or you may want to skip straight to the maintenance phase.
The second phase lasts 4-8 weeks and ensures creatine stores remain full, with 3-5g usually being sufficient for most people.
Dependent on muscle mass, dosage may need to be adjusted.
Some suggest this phase lasts from 2-4 weeks without taking supplementation before starting the cycle again, while others believe it only results in the loss of potential gains.
The creatine cycle is a source of debate, with many deeming it ineffective, while others believe it to be necessary, so we’d recommend seeing what works for you.
Handpicked content: Finding the best creatine for you
- Creatine is a sports performance enhancer
- Maintenance of optimal creatine levels creates more ATP, which in turn creates more energy in our bodies
- The creatine cycle has three phases: loading, maintenance, and time off
- Loading: 10-20g for 5-7 days to rapidly increase creatine levels
- Maintenance: 3-5g for 4-8 weeks to ensure creatine stores remain full
- Time Off: 2-4 with no supplementation, before starting the cycle again
- The optimal creatine cycle is a source of debate, so personal experience should be considered
When should I take creatine for best results?
To make the most of the creatine you're taking, it's been suggested there are optimum times to take it.
Is there a best time to take creatine?
There is still debate in the fitness world of how much creatine you should be consuming day-to-day for optimal results, the jury is also still out on when to take creatine.
Let’s look at what the research says, shall we?
Take creatine whenever you like
A lot of research focuses on how much creatine you should take throughout the day depending on the creatine you ingest through your normal diet and the training that you do, rather than when.
Some research has even reported that there is seemingly no difference between taking it after or before exercising.4
If you eat animal products like meat and eggs
For people following a diet that contains 1-2g a day of creatine, the most effective way to increase muscle creatine stores to their full potential is to take 5g of creatine 4 times a day for 5-7 days.5
This is also known as ‘creatine loading’.
Once your muscles have been ‘refilled’ and have reached their saturation points after this period, you should maintain your replenished creatine store by ingesting 3-5g of creatine a day.6
If you are vegetarian or vegan
Because dietary creatine is only found in animal products, it is suggested that vegans and vegetarians may have to initially supplement more to reach their muscle creatine saturation point.
For example, by taking an additional 1-2g of creatine on top of the recommended 5g of creatine, 4 times a day (making it 6-7g – 4 times a day).7
Then, once you’ve reached healthy levels of creatine in your muscles, you can apply the same logic to your maintenance creatine intake by adding 1-2g of creatine to the recommended 3-5g of creatine every day8 (making it 4-7g a day).
As larger athletes have a higher muscle mass, they may need to ingest as much as 5-10g per day to maintain their muscle creatine stores.9
Take creatine after a workout
How about taking creatine after a workout? Does that have any extra benefits?
One 4-week study followed adult men who weight-trained 5 days a week and either took 5g of creatine before or after they exercised.
Results showed that the group that took creatine after exercising experienced a greater increase in lean mass and greater decrease in fat mass.10,11
Take creatine before a workout
Ideally, you’re aiming for around 30 minutes to an hour.
Creatine stores in the body can deplete rapidly, so you need to make sure you have enough to reap maximum benefits from your workout.
Should I take creatine on rest days?
You absolutely can, but it depends on your approach to taking creatine – for example, if your cycling, loading, and maintenance routine requires a certain amount, even on rest days.
If not, it can still help muscle recovery and keep your levels elevated.
Both before and after your workout
Some even suggest splitting your dose between workout phases to receive the benefits of both!
The evidence seems to point towards the theory that it doesn’t really matter when you take your creatine supplement.
- Research evidence can vary, so take creatine whenever works best for you
- Approaches to creatine supplementation can be dependent on diet – such as whether you have a meat-inclusive or vegetarian/vegan diet
- Those with a higher muscle mass may need to ingest a higher amount of the creatine to maintain stores
- Studies show taking creatine after a workout has positive effects
- You should take creatine 30 minutes to an hour before your workout for full effect
- It’s safe to take creatine before bed and may even help prevent sleep deprivation
- You can take creatine on rest days, but it depends on your body type and goals
- Some people split their creatine between workout phases to get benefits from both
3 of the best types of creatine
We've rounded up 3 of the best creatine types, along with our very own product recommendations.
1. Creatine powder
Creatine powder is one of the best ways to take the supplement as it means you can add it to pre-workout shakes, smoothies, juice or other drinks.
Research suggests that creatine can be more effective if it is taken with carbs and protein, so you can easily achieve this with powder – just add it to your meals or drinks!
2. Creatine capsules
Don’t want all the faff of preparing a drink? Pop one of these pills instead to get your creatine fix.
These creatine capsules are also great for when you are travelling or lead a busy lifestyle as you can simply pop them in your bag – no shaker needed!
3. Creatine gummies
Super convenient and refreshing, these mint-flavoured chews are great for taking while you’re out and about, or even while you’re in the gym!
They taste great and offer an alternative option for those who don’t like the taste of the powders or swallowing capsules.
Can I take creatine with pre-workout?
Yep! In fact, as most creatine powders leave little to be desired in the flavour department, mixing in creatine with your usual pre-workout could be a great way to take it. It might help you to remember to take it, too.
What happens when you stop taking creatine?
Your creatine levels will drop, and you may experience decreased strength in some activities if you are used to training with a creatine supplement.
Is creatine safe for everyone?
Creatine is generally considered safe, with evidence showing that it’s one of the few nutritional supplements on the market with consistent ergogenic (physical performance enhancement) benefits.12
However, some studies have seen links between creatine and gastrointestinal complaints.13
And those with concerns around – or medication for – chronic renal failure should avoid taking creatine as this may cause incorrect diagnosis of chronic renal failure in medical tests.14
As with any new supplement, consult with a healthcare professional is advised.
- Creatine powder can be added to various drinks
- Capsules are a good, quick creatine fix
- Creatine gummies are a refreshing alternative
- You can mix your supplement with any pre-workout you have
- If you stop taking creatine your creatine levels will naturally drop
- Creatine is considered safe for most people, but should be avoided if you have concerns or medication for chronic renal failure
Other creatine FAQs...
Is creatine loading safe?
It’s considered a safe and effective way to give your creatine levels that desired boost.
How long does it take for creatine to show results?
It varies from person to person and their chosen approach, but results can be seen anywhere from one week to 28 days.
There is no evidence that says you should drink more water when taking creatine supplements.
The recommended 6-8 200ml glasses of water still applies, although you may require slightly more water to counter the water lost through sweat during exercise.
- Creatine loading is a safe and quick way to boost your levels.
- Results can be seen from one week to one month, based on the individual.
- Drink the recommended 6-8 glasses of water a day while taking creatine, plus a few more glasses to make up for the water you lose through sweat when exercising.
The final say on creatine
Phew, that was an intense learning session.
You’re now packed with all the knowledge you need on creatine, including when to take it, the different varieties you can try, information about the creatine cycle, and creatine FAQs.
If you’re heading to your workout and want more information about how to make it as effective as possible, check out these articles:
Last updated: 11 August 2021