Creatine is one of the extensively researched and most-loved sports performance enhancers on the market, and for a good reason!
It can help increase physical performance in successive bursts of short-term, high-intensity exercise, and so much more. But does it really matter when to take creatine?
First things first, here’s an introduction to creatine monohydrate. Feel free to skip this bit if you’re already creatine-clued up!
We already have creatine in our bodies, most of which can be found in our skeletal muscles (~95%).1
Foods like seafood and red meat also contain creatine, with a pound of salmon or uncooked beef providing around 1-2g of creatine.2
It’s generally recommended that we replenish our bodies with around 1-3g of creatine per day to maintain normal creatine stores.3
Maintaining optimal creatine levels in the body allows us to create more adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an organic compound that helps us create energy in the body.
When you perform high-intensity training, like weightlifting, ATP gets broken down very quickly to provide you with that explosive burst of energy, e.g., standing back up after completing a barbell squat. That’s why creatine is linked with weight gain, such as bodybuilding.
Supplementing with creatine has been shown to increase the creatine in our muscles, allowing the powerful ATP to be restored quickly.
This will depend entirely on how often you take the supplements and if you’re following a strict creatine cycle. However, studies suggest it could take 7 – 28 days to see energy effects, depending on how much creatine you already have in your body
It’s also worth noting that responses could decrease after your body has adapted to the supplement, which can occur after around six weeks.
There are three phases:
Taking 10-20g of creatine per day for 5-7 days, with the goal of rapidly increasing muscle creatine levels.
However, it must be noted that dosage requirements may vary based on the individual’s needs due to potential digestive complaints.
If this is the case, you can lower the dose, slow down the loading (with the timeframe extended), or you may want to skip straight to the maintenance phase.
The second phase lasts 4-8 weeks and ensures creatine stores remain full, with 3-5g usually sufficient for most people.
Dependent on muscle mass, dosage may need to be adjusted.
Some suggest this phase lasts from 2-4 weeks without taking supplementation before starting the cycle again, while others believe it only results in the loss of potential gains.
The creatine cycle is a source of debate, with many deeming it ineffective while others believe it necessary, so we’d recommend seeing what works for you.
Handpicked content: Finding the best creatine for you
To make the most of the creatine you’re taking, it’s been suggested there are optimum times to take it.
When is the best time to take creatine?
There is still debate in the fitness world about how much creatine you should consume daily for optimal results. The jury is also still out on when to take creatine.
Let’s look at what the research says, shall we?
Much research focuses on how much creatine you should take throughout the day depending on the creatine you ingest through your regular diet and the training you do, rather than when.
Some research has even reported that there is seemingly no difference between taking it after or before exercising.4
For people following a diet that contains 1-2g a day of creatine, the most effective way to increase muscle creatine stores to their full potential is to take 5g of creatine four times a day for 5-7 days.5
This is also known as ‘creatine loading’.
Once your muscles have been ‘refilled’ and reached their saturation points after this period, you should maintain your replenished creatine store by ingesting 3-5g of creatine daily.6
Because dietary creatine is only found in animal products, it is suggested that vegans and vegetarians may have to initially supplement more to reach their muscle creatine saturation point.
For example, taking an additional 1-2g of creatine on top of the recommended 5g of creatine four times a day (making it 6-7g – 4 times a day).7
Then, once you’ve reached healthy levels of creatine in your muscles, you can apply the same logic to your maintenance creatine intake by adding 1-2g of creatine to the recommended 3-5g of creatine every day8 (making it 4-7g a day).
As larger athletes have a higher muscle mass, they may need to ingest as much as 5-10g per day to maintain their muscle creatine stores.9
How about taking creatine after a workout? Does that have any extra benefits?
One 4-week study followed adult men who weight-trained 5 days a week and took 5g of creatine before or after they exercised.
Results showed that the group that took creatine after exercising experienced a greater increase in lean mass and greater decrease in fat mass.10,11
Ideally, you’re aiming for around 30 minutes to an hour.
Creatine stores in the body can deplete rapidly, so you must ensure you have enough to reap maximum benefits from your workout.
You may wonder if you can buy a creatine pre-workout to kill two birds with one stone. The answer is yes – but if your creatine cycle means you should be taking a large amount of creatine per day, ensure your pre-workout has enough creatine included.
You absolutely can, but it depends on your approach to taking creatine – for example, if your cycling, loading, and maintenance routine requires a certain amount, even on rest days.
If not, it can still help muscle recovery and keep your levels elevated.
Some even suggest splitting your dose between workout phases to receive the benefits of both!
The evidence seems to point towards the theory that it doesn’t really matter when you take your creatine supplement.
Evidence suggests that taking creatine when cutting could be beneficial for protecting muscle fibres from damage. For example, a study found that using a creatine supplement for 4 weeks of intense training during the cutting phase not only improved body fat percent but also enhanced muscle strength and power performance.
We've rounded up 3 of the best creatine types, along with our very own product recommendations.
Creatine powder is one of the best ways to take the supplement as it means you can add it to pre-workout shakes, smoothies, juice or other drinks.
Research suggests that creatine can be more effective if it is taken with carbs and protein, so you can easily achieve this with powder – just add it to your meals or drinks!
Don’t want all the faff of preparing a drink? Pop one of these pills instead to get your creatine fix.
These creatine capsules are also great for when you are travelling or lead a busy lifestyle as you can simply pop them in your bag – no shaker needed!
Super convenient and refreshing, these mint-flavoured chews are great for taking while you’re out and about, or even while you’re in the gym!
They taste great and offer an alternative option for those who don’t like the taste of the powders or swallowing capsules.
Yep! In fact, as most creatine powders leave little to be desired in the flavour department, mixing in creatine with your usual pre-workout could be a great way to take it. But, of course, it might help you to remember to take it, too.
Your creatine levels will drop, and you may experience decreased strength in some activities if you are used to training with a creatine supplement.
Creatine is generally considered safe, with evidence showing that it’s one of the few nutritional supplements on the market with consistent ergogenic (physical performance enhancement) benefits.12
However, some studies have seen links between creatine and gastrointestinal complaints.13
As with any new supplement, consulting with a healthcare professional is advised.
You’re now equipped with all the knowledge you need, including when to take creatine, the different varieties you can try, information about the creatine cycle, and creatine FAQs. Find the best creatine supplement for you from our extensive selection online.
Last updated: 11 August 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019
Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry
Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.
After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.