Working out naturally depletes your body’s stores of energy. However, when lack of energy interferes with your ability to perform, it’s time to do something.
Creatine is one of the most researched supplements. In countless clinical trials it has shown to be both safe and effective. Supplementing with creatine helps your muscles regenerate and recover more quickly. In addition, it increases the capacity for your muscles to store energy that can be used when you work out.
But how should you take creatine? Taking creatine before or after workouts is a hotly debated topic among bodybuilders.
The Case for Before
Since creatine increases energy levels and allows muscles to work out harder, it makes sense that you would want to harness this benefit before a workout, right? That way you can do even more reps and sets so your muscles grow bigger, faster.
Advocates for creatine supplementation before a workout believe it is most effective when taken about an hour prior to activity. Doing so allows you to absorb the creatine from a supplement and use that to replenish any natural creatine decrease in your muscles.
The Downside: While creatine continues to be a safe supplement to use, it may cause discomfort when taken prior to working out. Some users report higher incidences of nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, and increased blood pressure. As you might imagine, these side effects may severely limit your workouts.
Another reason taking creatine before workouts may not be ideal is because it can encourage your muscles to take water from the rest of your body. While your muscles will look bigger, you may also experience dehydration. Regardless of when you take creatine, be sure to drink plenty of water.
The Case for After
Many creatine supplements are designed to be taken after workouts. In such products, the creatine is combined with other ingredients that are most effective when taken after working out. However, let’s evaluate the use of creatine alone after workouts.
Your muscles may be able to absorb creatine and use it more easily after a workout. Since the creatine stores in your muscles have been depleted they are primed to accept the nutrients from a supplement. In addition, creatine after workouts can help your muscles to recover more quickly.
You can further improve the effects of creatine after a workout by taking it with your post-workout meal. If you’re consuming foods that increase your energy levels and spike insulin, your body will absorb more creatine. Why? Because insulin facilitates the absorption of creatine into your cells.
You will lose most of the benefits of taking creatine after your workout routine if you wait more than five hours. So be sure to take a creatine supplement immediately upon finishing your last set. When you take creatine right after your workout, your muscles will store it so you’re ready to perform your best the next time you hit the gym.
The Downside: You may still experience some of the side effects of creatine use, but they will likely be milder and won’t interfere with your workout. Again, be sure to drink plenty of water while taking creatine to avoid dehydration and prevent muscle cramps.
So… What’s Best?
If you choose to creatine “load”, then the “before or after” dilemma isn’t really a dilemma at all because you will be taking creatine both before and after your workout. But after your loading phase is complete and your muscles are fully saturated with creatine, when is the best time to take creatine?
Always look at the instructions on the supplement label to see the recommendation. Especially if your supplement has more than just creatine, following the instructions will likely help you to achieve the best results.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that creatine not be used pre-exercise, especially in “high doses.” This is in part because of the potential side effects that can limit your ability to perform. This recommendation, combined with the science, leads us to our conclusion…
When taking creatine alone or when the instructions are not clear, the best time take creatine it is after your workouts.