Under many circumstances there is a good time and a bad time to take creatine. In this article find out when YOU should take it!
Should I take Creatine before or after my workout?
Seems like such an easy question - but as with most things, nothing is ever that easy. The answer that is right most of the time is - before your workout. However, the form of creatine (powder, liquid, gum, etc.) you use affects the answer. In addition if you are taking a supplement that has other ingredients in addition to the creatine - that can also play into the answer. So - let's look at some more detail...
What do the scientific studies say about when to take creatine?
Most of the studies involved giving volunteers powder creatine monohydrate before a workout. If they were doing a loading phase it was split into 4 servings (5 grams each) and these were given throughout the day. Still other studies split the dosage even in the maintenance phase and give half the creatine before a workout and the other half after.
This all sounds confusing - but it points to two facts. First, very few studies have been done with taking creatine only after a workout. Second,the exact timing of when you take the creatine may not be critical. As long as you have creatine available to your muscles - it will be effective.
How long does creatine stay in the blood stream?
When you take creatine in powder form - it is in your blood stream for about 1 - 1.5 hours. For muscle growth the creatine must be absorbed into the muscles. So, if you are working out and deplete your creatine supply in your muscles AND you have creatine available in the blood stream, your muscles can replenish their creatine supply from the creatine in your blood.
Here is the important point - if your muscles are fully saturated with creatine and you are not working out ( so you are not depleting your creatine stores) then after 1.5 hours the creatine in your blood will be converted into creatinine and excreted.
So, with Creatine powder - should I take it before my workout or after?
Here is our advice - take the powder about 1 hour before your workout. Here is our reasoning...
It can take about 1 hour for the creatine to be absorbed into the bloodstream - and from that point you have about 1.5 hours to use the creatine or lose it. So, let's say you workout at 10am - here is our logic. At 9am you take the creatine powder. By 10am the creatine is in the blood stream. Your muscles are probably mostly saturated with creatine from the supplement you took the day before. So, some of the creatine you took at 9am may be absorbed into the muscles - but the rest is still in the blood. At 10am you start working out and depleting the creatine in your muscles. Your muscles then replenish their creatine supply from the creatine in the blood stream. Your workout ends at 11am (you really should not workout more than 1 hour - but that is a topic for a different day). Remember, you took creatine at 9am - but it was not absorbed into the blood stream until 10am. This means it will stay there until 11:30am (1.5 hours). So, now you have another 1/2 hour where your muscles can replenish their creatine supply if depleted. In a way you are getting the best of all worlds - you have creatine available before, during and after your workout.
You will hear other theories - but that is what we have found to be most effective. Since creatine supplies us with energy when working out - it is important we have creatine available during our workout. Creatine as a recovery agent is much less clear, so taking it after a workout to help with recovery is not proven.
Why does my bottle say take it after a workout?
Good question - there are a few reasons for that. The first is that they have a different opinion than us on how creatine works. If this is the case, I would call and ask them to explain exactly why they think after a workout is better. A second reason is that your supplement has other ingredients besides creatine. Many companies have tried to improve on creatine by adding all types of other supplements. It may be that some of those other supplements do much better if taken after a workout. After a workout is a great time to take a protein supplement because your body is in a growth phase (anabolic). Taking creatine after a workout is not a terrible idea - it is a great time to get the creatine absorbed into the muscles. We just feel, it is important to have creatine available to the muscles during your workout if their creatine supply is depleted. Again, if the manufacturer can provide a clear explanation of why to take it after a workout - fine.
What if I have been taking creatine after my workout?
Don't worry you have still been getting most the benefits of creatine. What is probably happening is the creatine you take after your workout on Monday is what your body will use during your workout on Tuesday. I know - we said creatine only lasts 1.5 hours in the blood stream. However, creatine can last for days once it is trapped within your muscles. So, the creatine you take after your Monday workout is pulled into the depleted muscles where it will stay for days until you use it up. The only problem is that if you deplete your creatine stores during a workout you will not have any other creatine available. This is why we think taking it before a workout is better.
What about liquid, serum, effervescent or creatine gum?
The body absorbs these forms of creatine more quickly. For this reason, we still recommend taking them before a workout - but only about 20 minutes before a workout. Again, the creatine will stay in the blood stream for up to 1.5 hours - but it will only take 20 minutes for the creatine to get into the blood stream.
Should I take creatine on my off days?
Seems like a simple question - but it is very hard to get a straight answer on this one. There is some evidence that indicates that creatine can help with muscle recovery. If this is true, then taking creatine on your off days is a good idea. Our feeling is that more research needs to be done before anyone can conclusively say that creatine helps with recovery. This research may not come anytime soon so you are left to make your own decision. If you feel that creatine is helping with muscle recovery, then yes take it on your off days. If you are not convinced that creatine helps with recovery, then you do not need to take it on off days.
Many people believe that you need to take creatine everyday to keep your creatine levels topped off. We do not see the research that proves this to be true. If you are taking creatine for the muscular boost in energy, that taking it just on workout days should be fine.
Want more facts to make this questions more confusing? A University of Kentucky study shows that use of creatine could help the brain recover from concussions and other injuries commonly suffered by professional and amateur athletes (the study was published in the Annals of Neurology - 11/2000). Brain damage was reduced 21% when creatine was given to mice three days before injury and 36% when given five days ahead of time. Rats given a diet with creatine for four weeks had 50% less brain damage than rats that did not receive creatine. This may explain why pro football players can recover so quickly from concussions - they take creatine.
So, if you play a contact sport you may want to take creatine everyday for the possible prevention of brain damage. Of course, more research needs to be done - but just another factor to consider when you decide if you should use creatine on your off days.