Creatine monohydrate has long been used by athletes for greater muscle gain and energy during workouts. Not many question its effectiveness, as there is plenty of research backing creatine as a training supplement.
However, one thing many athletes overlook is when to take creatine for maximum gains. A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition looked at this very topic and found that the timing of your creatine consumption can have a surprising impact on the supplement’s benefits. Let’s dive into this study and see what the big takeaways are for athletes using (or interested in using) creatine.
Background & Methods
The authors of the study outline the background in the study abstract:
Chronic supplementation with creatine monohydrate has been shown to promote increases in total intramuscular creatine, phosphocreatine, skeletal muscle mass, lean body mass and muscle fiber size. Furthermore, there is robust evidence that muscular strength and power will also increase after supplementing with creatine. However, it is not known if the timing of creatine supplementation will affect the adaptive response to exercise. Thus, the purpose of this investigation was to determine the difference between pre versus post exercise supplementation of creatine on measures of body composition and strength.
Nineteen healthy recreational male bodybuilders were recruited for this study. They were randomly assigned to one of two groups:
- The PRE-SUPP group consumed 5 grams of creatine monohydrate immediately before exercise
- The POST-SUPP group consumed 5 grams of creatine monohydrate immediately after exercise
The subjects trained, on average, five days per week for four weeks using a periodized bodybuilding split-routine. On non-training days, subjects consumed the creatine at their convenience. There were no differences in calorie or macronutrient consumption between the groups. Body composition and strength were determined before and after the study.
Results & Takeaway
After the four-week period, the mean change in PRE-SUPP compared to POST-SUPP groups were as follows:
- Fat free mass (kg): +0.9 ± 1.8 (PRE-SUPP) vs. +2.0 ± 1.2 (POST-SUPP)
- Fat mass (kg): -0.1 ± 2.0 (PRE-SUPP) vs. -1.2 ± 1.6 (POST-SUPP)
- Bench Press 1-Repetition Maximum (kg): +6.6 ± 8.2 (PRE-SUPP) vs. +7.6 ± 6.1 (POST-SUPP).
It can be a bit tough to analyze those numbers, but what you need to know is that the researchers concluded “it appears that consuming creatine immediately post-workout is superior to pre-workout (in relation to) body composition and strength.”
If you’re interested in changing body composition and gaining strength with the help of creatine, you should probably be taking it immediately after your workout. There may also be some merit in taking half your dose immediately before the workout and half directly after, but the fact many people were told to only take it prior to their workout now seems like shaky advice in retrospect. In terms of creatine consumption timing, here are some research-based rules to keep in mind:
- Taking it immediately after a workout is a great idea, especially when bundled with carbs and protein.
- Taking it both before and after a workout may have benefit, but it’s difficult to know if that’s the superior route compared to strictly post-workout consumption due to limited research.
- Taking it closer to the time you train seems to be better than taking it several hours ahead or after your workout.
- Taking it anytime is better than not taking it at all.
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