It’s widely acknowledged that creatine can boost performance, but the question remains: is it best taken before or after a workout?
Although there are various theories and hypotheses about the significance of timing in creatine consumption, only a handful of studies have explored this topic.
The existing data present some contradictions, and there is currently not enough conclusive evidence to establish clear guidelines for creatine timing around workouts.
We’ll delve into the existing research and considerations to help you decide when to incorporate creatine into your fitness regimen for optimal results.
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Creatine Before Or After A Workout?
While skeletal muscles seem particularly receptive to creatine supplementation, long-term exercise seems to amplify this response.
However, it remains uncertain whether the timing of supplementation around exercise leads to varying effects on muscle creatine uptake and, therefore, performance improvements .
There are hypothetical mechanisms whereby creatine timing can be beneficial, and we will explore them in the following sections.
However, it is important to note that these hypotheses have not been tested in intervention studies , nor has there been sufficient conclusive evidence to confirm that the timing of creatine leads to increased creatine in the muscle or improved performance.
Benefits Of Taking Creatine Before A Workout
There are two hypotheses for why taking creatine before a workout can be beneficial, although intervention studies have not yet confirmed these mechanisms .
The first hypothesis is blood flow during exercise . In theory, improved blood circulation to the muscle could potentially result in a higher supply of creatine to the muscle, consequently boosting its absorption and storage. This effect would mainly apply to the muscles that have been actively exercised .
Creatine levels peak under two hours after consumption and stay elevated for approximately four hours. In contrast, blood flow may return to its baseline within 30 minutes post-exercise.
Considering these mechanisms, taking creatine before exercise might be more effective . However, this effect has not yet been confirmed with intervention studies.
The second hypothesis is that exercise changes how our muscles’ sodium-potassium (Na+/K+) pump works.
When you take creatine at the right time, matching it with when the pump is working its hardest, it can help your muscles absorb more creatine.
The Na+/K+ pump is like a gatekeeper for nutrients in our muscle cells, and making sure it’s active when you take creatine can boost how much your muscles get .
A third, very valid, argument for pre-workout creatine intake is that combining creatine with carbohydrates, or a combination of carbohydrates and protein, can offer greater benefits than using creatine alone [5, 6, 7].
Since the timing of these nutrients has been shown to be crucial before workouts, it suggests that the timing of creatine intake may also be influenced by other macronutrients taken alongside it .
Benefits Of Taking Creatine After A Workout
A meta-analysis of 3 studies indicated that supplementation after exercise may lead to a more significant increase in muscle mass, though not necessarily in strength, compared to giving creatine before exercising . This is often used as an argument for taking creatine post-workout.
However, it should be noted that although these studies have looked at creatine timing around workouts, and although one of the studies has shown promise that there can be benefits to taking creatine post-workout, there were also flaws in how the studies were done and very different population groups were used.
Furthermore, relying on just three studies is insufficient to advise on creatine’s timing, even when presented as a meta-analysis.
The first study  looked at nineteen healthy recreational bodybuilders randomly divided into two groups: one group consumed 5 g of creatine just before their workout, while the other group took 5 g of creatine right after their workout.
Although the authors concluded that creatine intake post-workout led to improved body composition and strength, their analysis method (or statistical method) was criticized [10,11], and the importance of these results was unclear .
In the second study  in the analysis, which is the most extensive study to date, 39 healthy older adults participated in a 32-week study. They were divided into 3 groups: One group took creatine before training, one after training, and one took a placebo.
Both creatine groups saw similar improvements in strengths, which were greater than the placebo group.
Therefore, there was no evidence in this study that taking creatine before or after training is more beneficial.
Because there was no comparison to taking creatine at other times of day, we can’t make any conclusions on whether taking creatine close to training is more beneficial based on this study.
The third study  examined 22 healthy, non-exercising older adults (50 – 64 years). Participants were divided into two groups: One group taking creatine before training and one taking creatine after training.
Similar muscle and strength gains were found independent of the timing of creatine. A drawback of this study is that there was no placebo group to compare the effects of resistance training alone vs creatine.
Best Time To Take Creatine
As seen above, there is not enough evidence to say that taking creatine before or after workouts is better. The most important consideration when taking creatine is that you must take it every day, even on rest days, to see results.
It may be easier to incorporate creatine into your daily routine by taking it before or after workouts, and it may be especially beneficial to take with carbohydrates or carbohydrate-protein combination products.
However, the specific time frames for optimal creatine consumption have yet to be definitively established. If you take creatine outside of training consistently, you will still see strength and muscle gain results.
While there are theoretical reasons why creatine timing around workouts can be important, there is only a limited number of studies done on athletes to decisively affirm its significance or benefits.
The available studies have presented conflicting results, likely stemming from variations in supplementation and training protocols, diverse participant groups, and differing statistical approaches.
Consequently, there isn’t sufficient evidence to offer firm recommendations on creatine timing. Focus on taking your creatine at recommended doses every day.
If you take other supplements with carbohydrates and protein around workouts, or if it makes it easier for you to make creatine intake a habit, you can take your creatine before or after a workout.
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