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Should You Take Creatine Before or After a Workout?
Creatine is one of those supplements most gym-goers know about. Informal surveys suggest that roughly 60% of weightlifters use creatine regularly.
And yet, this oft-cited and frequently referred to supplement is still not that well understood by many who use it. Lifters and athletes assume that creatine will benefit their progress but don't understand how or why it does so.
Additionally, it seems like every trainer, lifter, and TikTok fitness influencer has a different opinion on how and when to take creatine. Some say you need a "loading phase" where you take more than the recommended dosage. Plenty of folks say that creatine needs to be taken before your workout to help you get a solid pump and have energy for your workout. Still, plenty of others assert that creatine plays an important role in muscle recovery and is best taken after a workout.
That's a lot of conflicting, ambiguous advice for a supplement many consider essential.
Let’s delve deeper into that and see if we can figure out what creatine actually does and whether you should take creatine before or after a workout.
What Does Creatine Actually Do?
After being taken orally, the creatine compound will bind with phosphate in the body, making it a phosphate. Phosphates are the groups of molecules in the body largely brought into play during the manufacture of ATP—the prime form of energy used by the body to complete physical tasks.
Heat energy results from phosphates being utilized for energy, and this energy becomes the driving force in any action being undertaken. It is also transformed into ADP energy through this process as phosphates are used, which cannot be relied upon for energy.
This is where creatine comes in. With regular supplementation, it will introduce and maintain higher levels of phosphates which allow the useless ADP energy to be converted back into useable ATP stores. Ultimately, that means creatine supplementation creates more ATP stores, which in turn means better performance in the gym.
As creatine is a naturally-occurring compound in the body, it is also the go-to energy source when activity is undertaken. Thus supplementation ensures more chance of the energy to draw on being there when required
Creatine’s anabolic properties mean that it can also hydrate muscle cells, which leads to increased protein synthesis in them. A pleasing side-effect of this for many users is the fact that hydrated muscles tend to look bigger and more pumped.
Supplementation with creatine has also been shown to help with the following:
- Improved brain performance
- Increased metabolizing of glucose for energy
- Improved bone mineral density.
These findings have made creatine a much more far-reaching supplement than one simply for weight training.
What Are the Benefits of Taking Creatine before a Workout?
The short answer is arguably not that many. Your muscle cells first need to be saturated with creatine to have any effect, which is why loading phases are recommended by many brands (as well as the fact that you’ll quickly finish the first bottle).
Although not strictly necessary in the long run, any initial loading takes at least a week to do before any majorly unnoticeable effects are seen or felt. And even when the body’s cells are already saturated with creatine, it will only make a difference according to the actual working out being undertaken, which will ultimately utilize the creatine phosphate stores already in the cells rather than from any in the stomach.
One consideration with taking creatine before a workout is that a lot of athletes and weightlifters also take pre-workout supplements before hitting the gym. Pre-workouts tend to be high in caffeine, and there is a small body of research suggesting that caffeine may inhibit creatine's effectiveness, though this isn't currently conclusive.
What Are the Benefits of Taking Creatine after a Workout?
If you consider that the purpose of many well-thought-out, post-workout snacks or meals is to include insulin-spiking foods. Insulin, in fact, helps with sending more creatine to muscle cells, which would indicate that taking creatine at this time will also help its uptake to muscle cells—the primary reason for its use.
On top of that is that the body absorbs many nutrients much more readily after a workout, and the creatine taken at this time will help it replenish any low creatine phosphate stores.
Does it Matter Whether You Take Creatine Before or After a Workout?
The fact is there are a whole host of factors that make this less than a black-and-white issue.
In really non-specific terms, though, the answer is most likely leaning towards a big ‘no’ here. The main issues will be more related to the product itself and the overall quality, as well as the recommended dosage and consistency. On top of that, you have training frequency, duration, and intensity to consider.
Largely though, it seems as if the very nature of creatine indicates that as long as sufficient levels of the compound are maintained in the body (usually 3-5 grams), then so is the likelihood of more readily-available energy. This is likely to be the case whenever the supplementation is taken, whether before or after any specific session.