Creatine is probably the most popular supplement in the fitness community. It shows a strong evidence and can help you both building muscle and mantaining it. However, there are still some uncertainties regarding its use. In this post; what's the best time to take creatine?
To answer this question, we'll give you a brief introduction to creatine and how it's taken to later discuss different protocols and which one is the best one. Are you ready?
INTRODUCTION TO CREATINE
Creatine is an organic non-protein compound found naturally in nature. Its main role in metabolism is by being involved in the phosphagen energy system (study).
Creatine provides a phosphoryl group to ADP to form ATP, main metabolic energy currency (study). However, phosphocreatine, which is the form giving away the phosphoryl group, is rapidly depleted during intense exercise, with almost complete depletion after 3min (study).
Creatine supplementation, on its hand, has been proved to increase muscle creatine (study). Therefore, supplementing with creatine can enhance anaerobic energy production and consequently increase training performance and muscle fatigue (study)(study)
WHY TO TAKE CREATINE?
We know that creatine works. Thousands of studies have investigated the safety and evidence of creatine, concluding this substance to be a safety ergogenic aid with no severe side effects on the long term.
Creatine increases intramuscular creatine, improving anaerobic energy systems (study). This and the influence of creatine in upregulating anabolic pathways related to muscle hypertrophy (study) has led to the idea that creatine could improve muscle strength.
In this meta-analysis done with over 700 participants, the researchers found an increase in muscle strength in both upper and lower limbs on the group supplementing with creatine (study)
Increases Muscle Mass
Muscle hypertrophy is upregulated by creatine (study) Not only by improving anaerobic energy production and consequence training performance, but also by regulating different metabolic processes involved in muscle growth.
Prevents Muscle Loss
Lastly, it's noteworthy to discuss the role of creatine on anticatabolism of muscle. It downregulates muscle breakdown, thus being of interest on low-calorie seasons or circumstances involving high risk of muscle loss.
Creatine reduces increased oxidative stress after acute exercise (study). Excess oxidative stress, on its hand, has been associated with muscle protein breakdown and muscle loss by increasing gene expression of proteins involved in autophagy (study).
Not only that, but ROS species can also upregulate muscle breakdown by making myofibrilles more susceptible to catabolic markers and accelerating protein degradation (study)
In this review investigating the use of creatine to prevent muscle loss caused by inmobilization, it was found a significant difference on the muscle mass preserved of the supplementation group when compared to the placebo (study). However, the evidence regarding this topic is scarce, and we'll have to wait for more strong evidence to back it up consistently.
- Creatine is a safe and effective supplement
- Creatine improves muscle strength by increasing intramuscular phospocreatine and enhancing anerobic energy production
- Muscle hypertrophy is upregulated by creatine supplementation
- Creatine can be used to preserve muscle mass during inmobilization or circumstances of high risk of muscle loss.
HOW TO TAKE CREATINE
Creatine works by accumulation in the muscle cell. It needs of 21-28 days to increase muscle creatine by 20-40% and start see really ergogenic effects (study). Therefore, if you want to benefit from creatine, plan it ahead and keep supplementing daily.
In the studies known to date, there are two main protocols: linear and loading-phase.
Linear Dose Protocol
Here, subjects simply take 0.03-0.1g/kg daily creatine, showing increased muscle creatine after 20 days (study).
Once the muscle stores are filled up, you could drop creatine dose by 3-5g/kg, which has shown to mantain muscle creatine levels accomplished (study)
The advantages of this protocol is to not overwhelm your body with too much creatine. However, it takes longer than the loading-phase protocol to increase muscle creatine (study)
During the phase-loading protocol, subjects start by taking 20g/d creatine divided in 4 doses of 5g for 7 days. After, doses are dropped to 3-6g/kg/d to mantain muscle creatine stores (study).
This protocol, compared to the linear model, has shown to increase creatine store levels much more rapidly (study). However, the called creatine bloating may appear, leading to intestinal pain or non-severe head pains.
Both protocols lead to the same end-point; increas muscle creatine levels. The loading-phase model achieves the increase much faster than the non-loading phase, but big doses the first days may be a problem in terms of practicality and digestions for you. If that doesn't work out, drop the dose to 3-6g/kg and remember to do it everyday! (creatine works by accumulation)
BEST TIME TO TAKE CREATINE
Creatine is one of the most studied substances in the supplements industry. However, we don't know that much about its timing and what's the best time to take it.
Since it works by accumulation, it's quite intuitive to think timing doesn't make any difference; as long as you remember to take it daily, it will work.
And this is true. The most important here is to take it everyday and don't forget it, but acute intakes could have potential benefits as well. So, what's the best time to take creatine?
Popular believes: Any Time Works
This is what all people think. Creatine supplementation shows to increase muscle creatine levels after prolonged supplementation (study).
This is because creatine works by accumulation. This is, the effects are not noticeable right after the ingestion. It's the prolonged and routine supplementation which increases muscle creatine levels (study).
If we look at it from a biochemical perspective, what we are achieving with creatine supplementation is to induce a positive creatine balance. Creatine supplementation increases creatine in our body while the retention of creatine is also improved. This leads to more "creatine in" than "creatine out".
Creatine around Exercise
Now we know what all people do. But is that the right thing? What if I take creatine during my workout, or before? What if I split the dose in two for my pre and post workout?
If you want to answer this questions, scroll down and find out what's the best time to take creatine.
Exercise has shown to improve muscle creatine levels. During this study (study), subjects performed a single-leg exercise while the other was resting. Creatine levels were higher on the leg that exercised compared to the resting leg, suggesting an upregulation of creatine metabolism due to the higher energy demands.
Exercise improves creatine metabolism through exercise hyperemia (increase in muscle blood flow during muscular contraction). The increased blood flow matches with the increased energy demands and improves nutrients and oxygen delivery to the muscle.
Exercise also improves Na+/K+ activity, leading to a higher creatine uptake through muscle cell membrane (study). Creatine transporter (CreaT) acts in Na+ gradient. Improved Na+/K+ flow leads to improved CreaT activity, and higher creatine uptake.
Creatine During Pre-Workout
The time it takes for creatine to reach its peak levels led to the idea of taking it pre-workout. Studies show creatine to reach its maximal plasma concentration in 2h (study), remaining elevated up to 4h post-ingestion (study).
In this study, bodybuilder were separated in two groups; one taking creatine close to exercise and the other far from exercise. The group close to exercise showed higher muscle creatine levels and a greater increase in muscle strength and muscle hypertrophy (study).
Although we don't quite known why this is, it seems like pre-workout creatine ingestion could benefits your gains. Creatine reaches maximal concentration during exercise, which can further increase creatine delivery an uptake by muscle cells.
Post-Workout Ingestion of Creatine
Now it's the debate. We know timing affects creatine supplementation, and taking it around exercise could improve our gains and creatine efficiency. But what's the best time to take creatine, before or after my workout?
After discussing the reasons why creatine before exercise could be benefitial, you may find this counterintuitive... but post-workout creatine seems to be more effective than pre-workout!! (study) (study).
However, the mechanisms explaining these results are unknown. Creatine peak levels don't match with increased blood flow during exercise. But creatine seems to play a role in glucose metabolism (study), which could explain why post-workout creatine shows better results.
Creatine improves glucose uptake by increasing levels of GLUT-4 (study). This can lead to a higher anabolic response and muscle recovery.
Creatine in your Intra-Workout
Last, but not least, we have the intra workout. Is creatine best to take it during your workout?
There's no clear evidence about intra-workout creatine supplementation. In this study we found (study), subjects were divided in two groups; one supplementing with creatine post set, and a placebo group. The Creatine group showed greater gains per time. In this other study (study), there were no difference between on-set supplementation or placebo groups.
However, intra-workout creatine supplementation could be a nice way of remembering to take your creatine. Prepping the intra-workout shake makes it automatic, making sure you don't forget.
Creatine is the most popular ergogenic aid used in the fitness community. It shows huge evidence and safety, making it one the most consumed substances.
In this post we gave a brief introduction to what creatine does and why it works. But the question to answer was: what's the best time to take creatine?
Both pre- and post-workout show to be effective at maximizing creatine supplementation. But, if I had to go for one, I would take it post-exercise. It's easy to remember, and the emerging evidence lines towards this protocol.
If you have doubts about the topic, leave it below in the comments section!!