How and When to Take Creatine for The Best Results According to Research

Posted on May 1, 2017 By

Creatine is probably the most researched and scientifically-backed product on the market. However, there are many things you can do regarding to taking your creatine in order to maximize its effects.

“How and when to take creatine are the two most important factors you need to consider in order to enhance its absorption in the body.”

Throughout this article we will go through the how it works, why you may not respond to it, what type is best, when and what to take it with, loading/cycling protocols, and if you should stack it with anything.

If you would rather watch a video summary about the topic, take a look at my Youtube video below:

How Creatine Works

As many of you may know, ATP is the main energy source for our muscles. When we lift weights and contract our muscles we use up ATP for energy by converting it to ADP. Eventually we deplete our ATP stores to the point where we fatigue and this is part of what prevents us from performing more reps after we reach our point of exhaustion. This is where creatine acts as an ergogenic aid.

Creatine is a nonessential dietary compound that naturally occurs in the body and is also found in a variety of dietary sources such as fish or meat. It’s responsible for resynthesizing ATP by donating a high energy phosphate group to ADP. When we supplement with creatine, we enhance our ability to regenerate ADP by elevating our muscle creatine content by up to 16 to 50%. This allows our ATP stores to be better maintained during short term, intense exercise and enables us to perform that extra rep or two when we’re lifting weights, leading to better strength improvements.

Why Does it Work for Some People but not For Others?

creatine responders

I’ve always personally wondered why some people respond well to creatine while others seem to not respond to it at all. One study I came across during my research indicated that responders typically had a high percentage of type 2 muscle fibers and a low initial muscle creatine content. On the other hand, non-responders had a lower percentage of type 2 muscle fibers and a higher initial muscle creatine content. The findings of this study seem to indicate that there is an upper limit with regards to muscle creatine content, since further increasing creatine content was not beneficial for non-responders.

What Type of Creatine is Best?

Throughout my research I came across several studies comparing creatine monohydrate with other forms of creatine. Many of the other forms of creatine claim to enhance absorption of creatine via various mechanisms. But most of the studies concluded that creatine monohydrate was able to enhance muscle creatine stores, or improve strength, just as much as the other forms of creatine. One such study compared creatine monohydrate with creatine ethyl ester, which has been marketed as being able to by-pass the creatine transporter due to improved sarcolemmal permeability towards creatine. The study found that creatine ethyl ester was not as effective as creatine monohydrate in increasing muscle creatine content and offered no additional benefit for improving body composition, muscle mass, strength, and power.

However, one study I found that was quite interesting looked at polyethylene glycosylated creatine (creatine monohydrate bound to polyethylene glycol). The researchers found that the molecule was able to provide the same increase in muscle creatine content and strength as creation monohydrate. But the creatine dose needed to create these effects was only 75% than that of creatine monohydrate, indicating that this molecule may be better absorbed by the body (Herda et al., 2009). As with many things, more research is needed before a definitive recommendation can be reached.

What Should You Take Creatine With?

Studies seem to support that taking creatine with carbohydrates or a mixture of carbohydrates and protein helps increase the absorption of creatine. One study reported that taking creatine with 93g of carbohydrates, or an equivalent of 47g of carbs and 50g of protein, increased total muscle creatine up to 60% more than just taking creatine with water and showed in some cases that ingesting creatine with protein led to a slightly better improvement in muscle hypertrophy and 1 rep max strength.

Additionally, research towards ingesting creatine with carbs and protein seems more promising than carbohydrates alone. So I think the best and most convenient option is to take your creatine with a post workout meal, that will likely provide close to the 47 g of carbs and 50g of protein suggested within studies to provide a more enhanced absorption. Another option is to take creatine with your post workout shake (especially if you use milk) as this will provide a decent level of carbs and protein and will likely enhance its absorption as opposed to taking it with just water, not to mention it’s probably the most convenient way to take it in my opinion.

When Should You Take Your Creatine?

Based on the findings from my previous point, it may be best to take creatine after your workout if you tend to have a big meal. One very recent study actually compared taking creatine pre-workout versus post-workout with nineteen healthy recreational male bodybuilders. Researchers concluded that taking creatine post-workout provided slightly better results in changes in body composition and strength than taking creatine pre-workout. This may have been due to the fact that bodybuilders tend to have larger post-workout meals. So it seems that your best bet for when to take your creatine would be post-workout.

Dosage, Loading & Cycling?

loading creatine

Loading requires you to ingest around 0.3g/kg/day (which often comes out to around 20g/day) for 5-7 days and then you ingest 3-5 grams/day after that (however 3 grams is likely sufficient enough to maintain the elevated creatine stores but you can always do 5g to be safe). Additional research has reported that the loading protocol only needs to be 2-3 days in length to be beneficial, particularly if the ingestion coincides with carbohydrates and/or protein. On the other hand, doing it with no loading phase involves just taking 3-5 g of creatine everyday right from the start.

Research shows that the two methods are equally effective in raising muscle creatine levels, but the loading protocol is able to provide faster initial effects than without a loading phase. Cycling protocols involve the consumption of “loading” doses for 3-5 days every 3 to 4 weeks. These cycling protocols appear to be effective in increasing and maintaining muscle creatine content before a drop to baseline values, which occurs at about 4-6 weeks. However, the effectiveness of cycling is not yet clear.

Stacking Creatine

Recent studies have suggested that adding beta alanine to creatine appears to create a synergistic effect and may produce greater effects than creatine alone. One study actually showed significant improvements in both strength and changes in lean body mass when taking creatine and beta alanine together, compared to just taking creatine alone or a placebo. You can implement this by adding 3 grams of beta alanine to your daily creatine intake.

Summary/Conclusion

So to some up the article, here are some main points for you to keep in mind:

  1. Use creatine monohydrate, as it is the cheapest and most effective product on the market at the moment.
  2. Take creatine with a post-workout meal (ideally 47g of carbs and 50g of protein) for enhanced absorption.
  3. Taking creatine post-workout may be more beneficial than taking it pre-workout for a reason other than enhanced absorption from taking it with your meal.
  4. The loading protocol will provide faster initial effects but same long-term effect as non-loading protocol. Research towards cycling protocols seems unclear at the moment, but may help maintain elevated muscle creatine content.
  5. Take creatine with 3g of beta alanine for possible enhanced benefits

I hope this article is helpful to you and clears up questions you have regarding how and when to take creatine. Simply follow the conclusion points I listed above and you will be able to fully maximize the effects of creatine.

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