By now, you probably know that creatine is one of the most well-studied and effective supplements available when it comes to building muscle and strength, and maybe you’ve decided to take the plunge. You’ve even determined WHICH creatine to buy, so your only remaining question is, when should you take your creatine supplement?
Nutrient timing has been a hot topic of debate in the fitness industry for decades, and creatine has only added fuel to that fire. Even with all the chatter, though, when you should take your creatine basically comes down to three schools of thought: before training, after training, or whenever.
Let’s take a look at the arguments from all three camps and then try to figure out which one really IS right.
Taking creatine builds up your muscle stores of creatine phosphate, which can help you replenish ADP, the powerhouse molecule that fuels your most intense contractions.
That means you can train harder and longer than if you weren’t using creatine.
Making a somewhat logical jump from that scientific starting point, the pre-workout crew says that you need to take in creatine shortly before you train so that you will have as much creatine phosphate as possible available for your upcoming activity.
Sounds good on the surface, but there’s a problem.
The reason that pre-workout creatine supplementation may not work quite as intended is that, if you’ve been using creatine for awhile, then your muscles are already full of creatine phosphate, and any last minute addition won’t do much other than maybe upset your stomach. After all, the blood that would normally be used to help digestion will head for your pumping muscles.
And if you haven’t been using creatine already?
Well, it’s possible in that case that you’d get a slight bump in performance from pre-workout supplementation, but it generally takes several weeks to build up your creatine phosphate stores. One five-gram dose won’t do you much good.
So, if taking creatine before your workout is not the best plan, then taking it AFTER must be the way to go, right?
Maybe, but not necessarily.
Post-workout creatine supporters will point to the “anabolic window” as THE most important period of the day. If you’re not familiar with the anabolic window, it’s the hour or so after your workout, when your muscles are depleted of glycogen and other nutrients, and when they are supposed to be their most receptive to absorbing the food and supplements that you take in.
In theory, then, if you consume creatine after your workout, it will ALL be sucked into your tired muscles, post-haste, and you’ll be on your way to growth.
Once again, though, there’s a problem.
While recent research has shown that the post-workout time period may present a small opportunity for increase anabolic action, those results are confounded by the fact that the studies generally involve increased protein and supplementation across the board.
In other words, subjects are eating better all day long while they’re in the study, so it’s hard to isolate the time factor as being any more important that the improved diet itself.
What’s more, even if there is an anabolic window, scientists have found little to no evidence to suggest long-term results in building muscle or strength are ANY better if athletes feed themselves while the window is “open” than if they don’t.
So, while post-workout creatine supplementation makes a bit more sense than pre-workout consumption, neither is perfect.
And that leaves us with …
The key to success in fitness and most other areas of life is consistency. You have to hit the gym regularly and not skip workouts. You have to eat well, every day. You need to get a decent amount of sleep each night.
And, if you’re going to take creatine, you need to stick with it if you hope to reap the maximum benefits.
Especially since there is no clear-cut winner in the nutrient timing sweepstakes, the best plan for most lifters is simply to consume your creatine whenever is best for you.
If taking creatine before a workout bothers your stomach, take it afterwards. If you always forget to add creatine to your post-workout shake, then take it at some other time during the day.
Just make sure that you establish a routine for consuming your daily dose of creatine, and then stick with it!