Have you ever wondered whether timing matters for creatine supplementation?
By Dr. Adam M. Gonzalez
SHIFTED’s Chief Scientific Officer
There is a tremendous amount of research to support the fact that creatine monohydrate is the most effective supplement for increasing strength, muscle size, exercise capacity, and even aspects of recovery.
Although the timing of creatine supplementation has been proposed as an important consideration to optimize gains, this area of research is still in its infancy.
So when is the best time to take creatine?
Let’s dive into the research.
Why might creatine timing matter?
The primary mechanism by which creatine supplementation exerts its effects is by increasing intramuscular storage of creatine and phosphocreatine. Higher levels of intramuscular creatine enhance energy regeneration during exercise, particularly during bursts of high-intensity performance. This in turn, increases work capacity, delays fatigue, and improves performance – which allows for better gains over time.
The success of creatine supplementation is dependent upon its ability to saturate creatine stores within the muscles.
Studies clearly show that supplementation with creatine monohydrate (typically 3-5 grams per day) can increase intramuscular creatine storage. However, there are only a few studies that have examined the impact of creatine timing on total creatine uptake and performance outcomes.
There is a theoretical rationale for why supplementing with creatine in close proximity to exercise may further enhance creatine uptake. Exercise enhances blood flow to the working muscle and activates creatine transport systems inside the working muscle which together may enhance creatine delivery and uptake to increase total muscle creatine content. This notion is supported by studies (1, 2) showing greater creatine uptake by the muscle of an exercised leg versus a non-exercised leg. But the question remains – Should creatine be taken before or after your workout?
Should I take creatine pre- or post-exercise?
To date, there have been five published research studies investigating the effect of creatine supplementation before or after resistance exercise.
In the first study, there were no significant differences in pre- vs. post-exercise creatine supplementation on muscle size and strength using a traditional statistical approach. However, using magnitude-based inferences (a statistical
approach that has been challenged), the post-workout supplementation group was possibly better.
Nevertheless, this study was limited by its short 4-week duration and lack of a placebo group and participant blinding. Two later studies lasting 12-weeks and 8 months showed no effect of timing on muscle size and strength adaptations when older adults took their creatine either pre- or post-exercise.
In a 2021 study, timing of creatine supplementation also did not influence gains in unilateral muscle size or strength in young adults using a within-subject design. Finally, the latest 2022 study also showed no preferential benefits when creatine was taken before or after resistance training for 8 weeks.
What’s the bottom line?
It does seem that supplementation with creatine in close proximity to exercise is superior to other times in the day. However, there does not seem to be a clear advantage to pre- or post-exercise creatine supplementation. You can even sip on creatine during your workout and experience
While there remains limited evidence in this area of creatine research, the current consensus would be that creatine monohydrate can and should be supplemented either before, during, or after your workout. Go with what works for you.
SHIFTED has included creatine monohydrate in our pre-workouts to assure you are maximizing your gains with the most effective supplement for increasing strength, muscle size, exercise capacity.