When does it make sense to take creatine?

Creatine is one of the most commonly used supplements by both professional and amateur athletes with the purpose of improving their physical performance. While it is a substance that is naturally produced by our body, it may also be taken in the form of a supplement in order to increase strength and muscle mass. Research studies have now proven both its safety and efficacy when it comes to physical exercise and performance. Supplementing creatine can contribute to a 5 to 10 percent increase in strength when training with weights.
These benefits are owed to the role that creatine plays in the production of cellular energy.

Which sports benefit from creatine?

More specifically, creatine improves muscle endurance in explosive anaerobic workouts, such as weight lifting, and prevents fatigue from setting in. Additionally, it also proves beneficial for individuals that practice endurance sports, such as running, cycling, and other forms of training where endurance and strength play a role. Beyond that, some research studies have also highlighted the neurological benefits of creatine, such as an improvement in cognitive performance in the elderly. What often proves to be unclear to individuals that are using creatine-based supplements is how and when to take it (pre- or post-workout), as well as how long to take it for.

How and when to take creatine.

Currently, studies don’t point to one single universal answer to this question, though there are some useful observations to be made. Indeed, the matter of when to take creatine — be it right before or right after the training session, or at various intervals throughout the day far removed from the latter — is a commonly asked question. A 2013 study published in the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition” on the matter evaluated whether supplementing with five grams of creatine would yield better results prior to or following physical activity.
Over the course of the four-week study, the participants were split into two groups. Both groups engaged in weight training sessions five days per week, with one group consuming creatine prior to the workout and the other group consuming it immediately after.
Upon completion of the study, researchers noted significant enhancements in strength and muscle mass in the participants who supplemented creatine after their workouts. However, other research studies have shown that there are no significant differences, which points to multiple variables at play. One thing is certain, there is an abundance of evidence supporting the notion that supplementing with creatine in close temporal proximity to the workout is more advantageous than doing so long before or long after.

Continuous creatine supplementation for higher energy levels.

Another option is to continuously supplement creatine. In this case, creatine supplementation ought to be prescribed or advised by the physician, and it tends to follow a pattern that consists of a loading phase with relatively high doses for the first few days—which is necessary for a rapid boost in energy and to increase its concentration in the muscles—followed by a maintenance phase with a lower daily dosage, even on rest days.

Creatine and muscle recovery.

It is also true that creatine can fulfill its function even in specific moments in the life of an athlete, whether they are a professional or simply an amateur. A notable example is muscle recovery after the athlete has been forced to suspend training due to serious injury.
These cases can indeed result in a reduction of muscle mass and strength, and consequently the impairment of muscle metabolism.
During recovery, creatine allows for the reduction of muscle tears and the activation of cellular mechanisms such as myogenesis, i.e., the formation of new skeletal muscle tissue cells, and an increase in the synthesis of myosin, a key muscle protein.
The benefits in this case can be seen in the increase of muscle fiber thickness, which in turn leads to the athlete being able to resume their training faster, but also in the overall reduction of fatigue.


Proper supplementation and nutrition: carbohydrates and protein.

However, in all the use cases mentioned thus far, creatine is most effective when supplemented as part of a comprehensive and well-balanced diet. Studies have consistently shown that the most effective way for muscles to absorb creatine is when it is consumed alongside carbohydrates. In general, nutritionists recommend against increasing carbohydrate intake while taking creatine.
Instead, it is advised to take creatine supplements in close proximity to meals that are rich in carbohydrates.
A few good examples would be meals consisting of pasta or rice. During the recovery phase, it is also important not to forget about protein, as it also aids the body in retaining creatine more effectively.