IF YOU'RE DEDICATED to fitness, you’ve probably heard about creatine. It has a following among athletes, bodybuilders, and even endurance athletes. Creatine is most studied supplement on the market, after all—and its benefits are proven. So then comes the question: What time of day should you be taking creatine for it to have the best effect?
“Creatine is a natural compound made up of three amino acids: methionine, arginine, and glycine. About half of our requirement for creatine is obtained from foods such as meat, seafood, and poultry (vegan diets are very low in creatine); the other half is synthesized by the body,” says Robert Iafelice, M.S., R.D.N., nutrition expert at SETFORSET. “Supplemental creatine is used to enhance muscle mass, strength, and power. It is ideally suited for sports that feature brief, high-intensity effort such as weightlifting and sprinting."
As Iafelice also points out, creatine supplements may also be used by older adults to help maintain muscle mass and strength. This is increasingly important as you age, as sarcopenia, or the loss of muscle mass and strength, is common.
Despite being able to make creatine naturally in your body and obtain it from dietary sources, creatine is widely discussed as a popular supplement. Creatine supplements have been studied for decades and have been found "to improve strength, enhance recovery, and increase stores of lean muscle mass,” says Kylene Bogden, M.S., R.D.N., sports performance dietitian for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Pureboost.
It's clear creatine will help you crush new PRs, sculpt a more chiseled physique, or simply enhance your overall fitness. Iafelice recommends supplementing with three to five grams of creatine monohydrate a day (see our favorites here). Then looms the obvious question: when is the best time to take your creatine? Experts answer that, and other creatine-related questions, below.
What Is Creatine?
As discussed, creatine doesn’t only come doled out in scoop form from a container. Creatine is an amino acid found that is sourced through the foods we eat. Most potent in creatine is animal protein, says Bogden.
“Specifically, when ingested, creatine links with phosphorus to form phosphocreatine and is stored in muscle cells. Phosphocreatine is then used to regenerate energy (in the form of ATP) to fuel muscles during all-out exertion,” says Iafelice. This process is known as the phosphagen energy system.
Our bodies create about one to two grams per day. Supplements can increase creatine levels up to 40 percent in athletes, says Iafelice. Creatine supplementation has been shown to gain better performance in the gym via increased weight and/or more reps, resulting in greater muscle gains. It can also help improve speed in cardiovascular training.
Creatine has been shown to improve memory and cognitive function, says Iafelice. “Apart from reducing mental fatigue, creatine has antioxidant and neuroprotective properties,” he says.
Should I Take Creatine?
According to Bogden, a high-quality creatine supplement is suitable for most individuals. Still, it's important to double-check with your physician or a trusted healthcare professional like a dietitian before adding it to your routine
“We are finding more and more in the research that creatine can benefit everyone from those simply looking to gain muscle mass, to those who are trying to recover from a concussion, older women, and aging adults in general who are hoping to better fight the natural decline of lean mass,” she says.
Bogden also points out that in some cases, plant-based athletes will see a greater response to creatine supplementation because their diet does not contain much creatine as creatine is found predominantly in animal sources.
“If you are a vegan, or even vegetarian, I would absolutely take creatine because you are not getting enough in the diet to meet requirements,” says Iafelice. "Older adults with a family history of dementia should give it a try. Nothing to lose, much to potentially gain,” he comments.
When Is the Best Time to Take Creatine?
Your deepest creatine question, finally answered. You're probably wondering if it's better to take creatine pre- or post-workout, similar to how you should ingest protein post-pumping iron.
“When digging into this topic, you may come across conflicting research with most of it recommending taking creatine right before exercise or immediately after,” offers Bogden. “However, at the end of the day, consistency is key. It is significantly more important to focus on not missing your daily supplement of creatine vs. focusing on when to take it. In a nutshell, regular consumption is what leads to increased muscle stores."
Iafelice agrees that timing is a matter of “personal choice”, but he does advise taking creatine about 15 to 30 minutes before or after a workout. Plus, it doesn't hurt that it's particularly convenient to add to a post-workout protein shake.
For certain people, post-workout creatine may provide some kind of edge: “The benefit of taking creatine post-workout is that muscle cells have a greater affinity for uptake of creatine after exercise,” says Iafelice. “In other words, exercise causes muscle cells to have a heightened sensitivity for nutrients, including creatine. The supplemental creatine is thus stored for use at the next workout.”
The Bottom Line:
If you’re taking creatine, take it regularly, and don’t worry too much about when you take it. Overall, it works regardless of when you take it.
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