You will find in this article:
What is Creatine?
You may have heard about creatine before from your friends on the gym floor. It’s one of the most common supplements taken secondary to whey protein. Creatine is a nutritional ergogenic (performance enhancer), meaning it can give you a mental or physical edge whilst exercising.1 There’s plenty of research available to back up creatine’s use in the fitness world too.
More than 95% of creatine is found in our skeletal muscles in the form of phosphocreatine in intramuscular or free creatine in your brain, kidney, and liver. Every day, roughly 1-2% of intramuscular creatine gets broken down into its by-product creatinine and is excreted in our urine.1,2 Depending on your muscle mass, you usually require 1-3g of creatine daily to maintain pre-existing creatine stores and about half of this originates from our diets.
The main role creatine plays in our bodies is that it improves training performance by improving the availability of ATP (energy) for muscle contraction. This allows for more rapid muscle fibre hypertrophy and muscle gains.3 It has also been suggested that creatine may help enhance recovery following training and reduce the risk of injuries at a rapid rate.1,4
Why Take Creatine?
There are many reasons with valid scientific evidence to back up why you should consider creatine supplementation.
Enhanced recovery and reduced muscle damage
A study looking into creatine supplementation over a 4-week period combined with complex training found that muscle strength increased and muscle damage decreased significantly in the group supplementing creatine.4 One recent review paper concluded that creatine has well-established performance-enhancing effects and has multiple mechanisms that enhance muscle recovery from intensive exercise.
Peer-reviewed literature found athletes who take creatine report lower rates of injuries compared to those who do not supplement creatine in their diet.6,7
Enhanced tolerance to exercise in the heat
Creatine supplementation may also serve as an effective strategy to reduce the risk of heat-related illness for athletes training in hot and humid environments.6,7
Increase anaerobic threshold
There is also evidence to show that a combination of creatine (20g/day for 5-days and 3g/day for 9-days) and carbohydrate (6-12g/kg/day) loading can help to increase exercise intensity during high-intensity sprints.8
Potential Side Effects of Creatine
May cause weight gain
One thing to take into account when considering the supplement creatine is the increase of 1-2kg in body-mass following the loading-phase, most likely due to water retention that may be counteractive for individuals in endurance and weight-sensitive sports.9
Creatine Supplements Improve results for vegetarians
Vegetarians have been reported to have lower intramuscular creatine stores 90-110mmol/kg of dry muscle and therefore may observe greater gains in muscle creatine content from creatine supplementation.3
Creatine may improve symptoms of aging
It has also been suggested that creatine supplementation may have an important role in aging, muscle wasting, and insulin resistance.3 However, more research is needed in to investigate these claims.
The Best Time To Take Creatine
Taking Creatine Before a Workout
Creatine monohydrate is usually supplemented in a loading phase as this can lead to an enhanced level of creatine in muscle stores.9 It’s recommended to take 20g/day for 5-7 days before lowering to a maintenance dose.9
Taking Creatine After a Workout
It has been suggested that one of the best times to take creatine is after a workout as it can contribute to enhancing muscle recovery.6 Creatine is also thought to help increase glycogen stores in muscles alongside a carbohydrate in comparison to just taking carbohydrates on their own.6,10
Taking Creatine anytime
The best time to take creatine is all down to personal preference and convenience. There have been no studies showing any results to significantly favour taking creatine before or after a workout. However, one study did find that taking creatine close to exercise gained more muscle and strength than the group who took the supplement long before or after exercise.10 So, regardless of when you choose to take creatine, make sure it’s shortly before or after exercise.
The Best Way To Take Creatine – Which Form Should I Take?
Creatine is available in two main forms: powder and pills. There’s no research available to back up one being more effective than the other. At the end of the day, there are a few pro’s and con’s between both and it’s all down to personal preference.
These contain a higher dose due to their large volumes, meaning they can carry more in a single serving. They come unflavoured as well as in a variety of different flavours. Simply take some in a shaker to the gym with you, mix it with water, and take minutes before you begin your workout.
If you’re not a fan of flavoured drinks or sweet things, this may be a more suitable option for you. One of the main issues is that you tend to get less of a dose because of there being less volume in 1 pill in comparison to 1-2 scoops of powder. Nevertheless, it is a useful option for people on the go.
As suggested above, the absorption of creatine can be improved by including a carbohydrate-based meal as a result of insulin release.11 There have also been no studies showing any negative side-effects in healthy adults from taking creatine.
Take Home Message
So, now you know exactly what creatine is and how supplementing it can help improve your exercise performance and muscle strength.
Choosing between creatine pills or powders is all down to convenience and personal taste. If you’re looking to bulk up, you may want to consider supplementing with creatine.
Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.
1Thein, L., Thein, J., & Landry, G. (1995). Ergogenic Aids. Physical Therapy, 75(5), 426-439. doi: 10.1093/ptj/75.5.426.
2Balsom PD, Soderlund K, Ekblom B. Creatine in humans with special reference to creatine supplementation. Sports Med. 1994;18(4):268–80.
3Kraemer, W., Beeler, M., Post, E., Luk, H., Lombard, J., Dunn-Lewis, C., & Volek, J. (2019). Physiological Basis for Creatine Supplementation in Skeletal Muscle and the Central Nervous System. Nutrition And Enhanced Sports Performance, 581-594. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-813922-6.00049-7.
4Wang, C., Fang, C., Lee, Y., Yang, M., & Chan, K. (2018). Effects of 4-Week Creatine Supplementation Combined with Complex Training on Muscle Damage and Sport Performance. Nutrients, 10(11), 1640. doi: 10.3390/nu10111640.
5Heaton L.E., Davis, J.K., Rawson, E.S., Nuccio, R.P., Witard, O.C., Stein, K.W., Baker, L.B. (2017). Selected in season nutritional strategies to enhance recovery for team sport athletes. Sports Medicine47(11) 2201–2218.DOI 10.1007/s40279-017-0759-2.
6Kreider, R., Kalman, D., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T., Wildman, R., & Collins, R. et al. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal Of The International Society Of Sports Nutrition, 14(1). doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z.
7Dalbo VJ, et al. Putting to rest the myth of creatine supplementation leading to muscle cramps and dehydration. Br J Sports Med. 2008;42(7):567–73. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2007.042473.
8Tomcik, KA., Camera, D.M., Bone, J.L., Ross, M.L., Jeacocke, N.A., Tachtsis, B., Burke, L.M. (2018). Effects of creatine and carbohydrate loading on cycling time trial performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 50(1) 141–150. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001401.
9Buford, T.W., Kreider, R.B., Stout, J.R., Greenwood, M., Campbell, B., Spano, M., Antonio, J. (2007). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Creatine supplementation and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 46. PubMed doi:10.1186/1550-2783-4-6.
10Cribb, P., & Hayes, A. (2006). Effects of Supplement Timing and Resistance Exercise on Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy. Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, 38(11), 1918-1925. doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000233790.08788.3e
11Green, A., Simpson, E., Littlewood, J., Macdonald, I., & Greenhaff, P. (1996). Carbohydrate ingestion augments creatine retention during creatine feeding in humans. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 158(2), 195-202. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-201x.1996.528300000.x