Creatine is an outstanding muscle-building & workout-enhancing supplement. But when is the best time to take it in order to maximize its benefits?
Sports performance researchers have tested the timing of creatine doses, and I share their results in this article.
Up ahead we’ll get into ways to take creatine, how much creatine to take depending on your fitness goals, and answer several common creatine FAQs.
I’ll also discuss the different timing choices you have as far as when to take your creatine, including what sports science has to say about which of your options is the best.
(Is there such a thing?)
So, when should you take creatine?
Creatine is one of the most heavily researched supplements, yet there is no definitive evidence proving one specific dosing time is better than any other.
However, sports science research has shown that taking creatine close to your workout time provides more benefits than taking it hours away from exercising.
Science resources included
As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science & medical resources, clinical studies, and nutritional data used in this article.
Options on when to take creatine
As I said at the outset, creatine is one of the most clinically-tested sports supplements on the planet.
Not much research on creatine dose timing
Unfortunately, very few of those studies were conducted specifically in regards to the timing of the creatine dose on workout days.
In other words, there haven’t been enough researchers trying to determine if one time of day was better for taking creatine than any other on our training days.
On off days, take creatine at whatever time you want to.
On the workout days is where all of the creatine timing debate is centered.
One creatine timing idea with 4 different opinions
So in lieu of hard evidence pointing to a single “this is definitely the best time to take creatine” solution, we ended up with one general idea and a few differing opinions about that idea.
Everybody’s who’s been taking creatine for a long time (for muscle building & exercise performance enhancement purposes) most likely follows one of those opinions.
Here’s the idea that hatched the 4 opinions about when to take creatine:
“It’s best to take creatine close to your workout.”
I’ll explain how this creatine timing idea came about in a sec.
First though, here are the 4 opinions that came out of it as a result.
And like I said, almost every creatine user follows one of the following lines of thinking.
1. The “take creatine whenever” opinion
This person says “I disagree with having to take it near my workout. I take my daily dose of creatine at whatever time of day I want.
My muscles’ creatine stores are refilled daily, so it doesn’t matter if I take it near the time of my workout or not.”
This is a reasonable choice.
Assuming the person either loaded their creatine or has been taking a 5 gram daily dose for some time, their muscles’ creatine stores should indeed be full (2).
The only issue with this Whenever opinion is that there is scientific evidence to support that original idea, the one that says the best time to take creatine is near your workout time.
I’ll be sharing that evidence in a little bit.
2. The “take creatine before working out” opinion
This 2nd person says “I agree that it’s best to take creatine near my workout time, and I believe it’s better to take creatine before I work out.
That way I have all of it in me to use when I start working out.”
This too is a reasonable choice.
If they read any sports science research, they may also try & support their reasoning by saying something like
“In most creatine research studies on athletic performance, they took their creatine before exercise.”
That may or may not be true, but it doesn’t prove Before is better than After, since there haven’t been any substantial studies comparing taking creatine pre-workout vs. post-workout.
3. The “take creatine after working out” opinion
This 3rd person says “I agree that it’s best to take creatine close to when I work out, and I believe it’s better to take it after my workout.
That way my worked muscles instantly get replenished with all of the muscle building benefits of creatine right when they need it the most.
Plus, a research study said it was better.”
Another reasonable choice (though a little uninformed about the study).
After intense exercise, flooding the body with protein, carbohydrate, & creatine has been shown many times to promote muscle & strength benefits (3).
Regarding the research they mentioned:
An oft-cited sports science study that is used a lot to bolster the Creatine After Workout opinion compared the muscle & strength gains over a 4-week period of two groups (4).
One took their creatine right before working out, the other group took it right after.
The group that took their creatine post-workout had better outcomes.
But the results weren’t statistically significant, and the sample size in their study was very small as well.
So the researchers had to make inferences that post-workout creatine was better.
Their exact words were
“supplementation with creatine post workout is possibly more beneficial in comparison to pre workout supplementation…”.
Unfortunately, this is not an example of a substantial study with definitive & robust outcomes, despite the After group experiencing bigger gains in strength & muscle growth.
This study’s results have been misinterpreted in online media by people who:
- likely don’t know how to interpret scientific data, or
- only read the available study Abstract and didn’t bother to track down the entire document.
4. The “take creatine before AND after working out” opinion
Person #4 says “I agree that on workout days it’s best to take creatine close to my workout time.
And since no one knows for sure if taking it before is better or taking it after is better, I’m going to take it both before & after my workout.
Plus, there’s a study that proved this was the best timing for taking creatine.”
This is yet another reasonable choice (although again, the study reference is a wee bit inaccurate).
Taking creatine close to your workout – both before & after it – might end up being (eventually) proven to be the best way to take creatine.
But it actually does have a lead over the three other choices – Whenever, Before, & After – at this point in time.
How is that?
Because it’s the only one of the 4 creatine timing alternatives that actually has a research study with statistically significant results to back it up.
Science shows before & after is better…
…or more accurately,
Science shows before & after is better than “Whenever”.
The original idea that it’s best to take creatine close to your workout was likely borne from this Australian sports science study that tested creatine timing on recreational bodybuilders (5).
The participants were split into two groups.
The control group were like a Whenever group; that is, they took their creatine several hours away from their workouts, once before breakfast and once at bedtime.
The study group took their creatine both right before & immediately after their workouts.
The study lasted for 10 weeks, and the researchers tracked muscle, fat, & body mass as well as strength, which was measured using the squat, bench press, & deadlift exercises.
Before & After vs. Whenever results
Below are the main takeaways from comparing the starting & ending numbers of both groups.
Both groups got much stronger
This shows that daily creatine + resistance training is effective at increasing muscle strength, regardless of when you take it.
Both groups increased lean muscle
Again, results indicating that strength training + daily creatine builds muscle.
But only the Before & After group reduced their body fat %, as the Whenever group had no change in theirs.
And the Before & After group had better results
Compared to the group taking creatine hours away from their workout, the Before & After group had much better improvements in terms of:
- more lean muscle mass
- greater reduction in body fat %
- greater increases in strength
Summary of when to take creatine
In one sense the jury’s still out on exactly when is the best time to take creatine.
If there were more studies specifically on comparing different dosing times against each other, maybe we’d have a clear winner.
However, from another perspective this sports science study that directly compared Whenever vs. Before & After offers strong evidence that taking creatine both pre-workout & post-workout is superior to just dosing sometime during the day, hours from working out.
How to take creatine
Creatine powder has little taste to it, especially after it’s been mixed into water or whatever.
It’s also been ground down to a fine crystallized granule that dissolves very easily in any liquid you mix it into.
So you can take it with water, juice, a protein shake, a homemade pre- or post-workout smoothie concoction…or whatever else you want.
Tip: Careful you don’t waste any of your powdered supplements when mixing them into real thick smoothies.
You might end up leaving some of your supplements on the sides of your blender when the fruit &/or veggie fiber clings to them.
A possible extra edge around workout time?
The Australian sports science study on creatine timing I referenced earlier discovered something else: combining your creatine dose with simple carbs & fast-digesting protein may increase your creatine benefits (6).
The group that drank the creatine + whey protein + simple carbs immediately before & immediately after their workouts beat the group that took their creatine at home in several areas:
- Added more lean muscle
- Lost more body fat
- Gained more strength (squat, bench, deadlift)
Because of the way the study was designed, the one thing we can’t determine is how much of those extra benefits are due to adding whey & carbs to the creatine, versus how much is due to taking the creatine right before & after the workouts.
Still, this is a legitimate research study that has been peer-reviewed and even included for reference in the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) Position Stand on Nutrient Timing (7).
In addition to that, the ISSN concluded that
“The addition of carbohydrate or carbohydrate and protein to a creatine supplement appears to increase muscular uptake of creatine” (8).
So this method of taking creatine on workout days is definitely worth a try if you’re looking for every possible benefit creatine offers.
How much creatine should you take?
The daily maintenance dose as recommended by the International Society of Sports Nutrition is 3-5 grams (10).
Creatine loading for athletic benefits
If you are taking creatine for its muscle building and exercise performance benefits, the ISSN recommends that you first fill your muscle’s creatine stores by taking up to 20 grams per day for 5-7 days.
This is known as creatine loading.
It is important that this amount be broken down into several small doses throughout the day, e.g., 4 x 3-5 gram doses.
Spreading the large daily dose during the loading phase will prevent any stomach or digestive upset that downing large amounts of creatine at once can cause.
After the loading phase over the first 5-7 days, you can drop down to the maintenance dose of 3-5 grams per day.
Thanks to the loading you did, this small daily amount going forward is sufficient to keep your muscle’s creatine stores full.
This is the state you want them in while you are strength training or involved in strenuous workouts or athletics.
Here are answers to the some of the most common questions asked about creatine.
Can women take creatine?
Yes, and women who are athletes or who strength train regularly will receive the same muscle building and exercise performance benefits as men (11).
For years, uninformed ‘bro science’ gym talk created a public opinion that creatine only worked for men.
Numerous sports science studies have clearly demonstrated otherwise.
I wrote an article on creatine for women here on heydayDo that shares the research proving creatine’s effectiveness for female athletes, strength trainees, & fitness buffs.
If you’re interested, you can read it here.
What is creatine made of?
Our bodies make creatine out of three amino acids: arginine, glycine, and methionine.
Our kidneys & liver do this and then the creatine makes its way to our muscles, where it will be used when called upon.
We also take in creatine from food sources too: beef, pork, chicken, & fish all have creatine in them.
And finally, the creatine powder we take is synthetically made in a lab reactor using the chemicals sarcosine – an amino acid derivative (13), and cyanamide – an organic compound not to be confused with cyanide (14).
Does creatine cause hair loss?
There are no scientific studies or medical research evidence connecting creatine supplementation to hair loss.
A small creatine study with South African rugby players several years ago noted raised DHT (dihydrotestosterone) levels (15).
DHT is sometimes connected to hair loss, so a subsequent “creatine makes you bald” meme started making the rounds.
But whoever was passing around that false rumor must not have noticed that none of the rugby players in that study lost any hair 😏.
Does creatine have calories?
Does creatine have carbs?
Does creatine have protein?
Related creatine articles here on heydayDo
I hope my article on the best time to take creatine is useful to you, and I wish you well on your fitness journey.