Creatine is one of the most researched ergogenic aids in the world of sports supplementation. It gained its popularity after 100-meter gold medalist Linford Christie said he used it during his Olympic games training that took place in Barcelona back in 1992 (1).
It is produced in our body, with 95% stored in muscles, and can naturally be found in red meat and sea food, with the highest content found in herrings (2). During the day, 1-3g of creatine is degraded to its inactive form (creatinine) which is then excreted in urine. Therefore, our body needs to restore this amount of creatine via food or food supplements (3).
Various factors can affect how much creatine our muscles absorb from food supplements, with exercise being one of them. Two studies have shown that exercise improves creatine muscle uptake. In these studies, participants took a creatine supplement and performed cycling exercise for 1h, but only with one leg, while the other leg rested. When the concentration of creatine was measured in both legs, the results showed that there is higher concentration of creatine in the muscle of the leg that was exercised in comparison to the other one (4,5).
There are two possible mechanisms via which exercise can increase the uptake of creatine in muscles:
- Increased blood perfusion to the exercised muscle: muscle blood flow increases within one second of the workout and exercise can increase it up to 100 times when compared to the blood flow at rest (6). So, if this is the mechanism behind increased creatine uptake, greater muscle blood flow can increase the delivery of creatine to the muscles and in this way increase its uptake.
- Increased activity of the pump (Na+-K+ pump) that allows creatine to enter the muscle cells during and after exercise. Animal studies show that the activity of this pump increases with exercise. So, if this is also true for humans, taking creatine around exercise may increase its muscle retention via increased activity of the pump that allows creatine to enter muscles. However, the activity of this pump is increased for 48 hours following the exercise, and is continuously stimulated in persons who exercise regularly (7).
So, the influence of exercise on the uptake of creatine is obvious, but does timing of supplementation matter as well?
CreGAAtine Timing: What Scientists Say
An important factor to consider when thinking about when to take CreGAAtine is how long it takes for CreGAAtine to get in blood and reach its peak concentration once you take it. When you take CreGAAtine, it takes about 60 minutes creatine reaches peak concentration in plasma and about 90 minutes for GAA (8).
It is also important to give your body enough time to metabolize CreGAAtine and allow conversion of GAA into creatine. That is the reason why you should make an 8 hours gap between the two sachets of CreGAAtine. So, you take one sachet in the morning and the other one you want to take around exercise in the afternoon (or vice versa), but you are not sure should you take it before, after or during your workout. To get a more clear picture regarding this matter, let’s see what the current scientific evidence says about the timing of supplementation.
CreGAAtine Before or After Workout, scientific evidence
There are a few studies that analyzed the effect of timing of creatine supplementation on different outcomes. The first study that analyzed the effect of supplementing creatine before or after exercise was published in 2013. The researchers examined its effect on body composition and muscle strength before or after resistance training. The results of the study showed better body composition and strength gain in the group that took creatine after workout (9).
A year later, in 2014, the second study regarding timing of creatine supplementation was conducted. The study lasted 12 weeks, with 11 participants taking creatine before workout and 11 participants taking it after workout. The scientists concluded that changes in muscle mass and strength were similar in groups that took it pre or post workout (10).
Another larger study has yielded similar results for the population aged 50 to 71. The groups had a 3-times-a-week program of 10-RM. After a 32-week resistance training, there were no significant differences between the groups who took creatine before and the one that took it after training regarding muscle strength gain, with a slight advantage in the group that took it afterwards (11).
Can You Take It During A Workout?
There is only one study so far that tried to examine if it is better to take creatine while you exercise. Twenty-two participants took creatine supplement or placebo (maltodextrin in this case) between the sets for 6 weeks with a 5-days-a-week training program. Their muscle thickness, 1-RM and endurance were determined before starting the program and after it. Leg press, chest press and endurance improved in the group who took creatine during exercise compared to the placebo group. However, this group did not have a third group of participants who took creatine before or after the workout, so it is not possible to draw a conclusion whether intra-set creatine supplementation is superior to pre- or post-exercise supplementation (12).
As presented, current scientific evidence is still not clear enough to say if it is better to take creatine before, during or after exercise (7). So, it is up to you to decideif it is more convenient to take one sachet of creatine before or after workout (and the other one with an 8 hours gap regardless of the training schedule). An important thing to bear in mind when taking CreGAAtine is that your ultimate aim is to increase the reservoir of total creatine in your body in the long term, that will increase your exercise capacity, and thereby, your performance and strength. That is why continuous supplementation is crucial. Another thing is that you must know that supplementation without exercise would not give you expected results. So, do your workout, take your CreGAAtine and get your desired results.
- AP NEWS. (May 8, 1993), Creatine Said to Boost Performance – And It’s Legal. https://apnews.com/article/ea59b25346d362d22d4beaf673af66fe
- Buford, T.W., Kreider, R.B., Stout, J.R. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 4, 6 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-4-6
- Balsom PD, Söderlund K, Ekblom B. Creatine in humans with special reference to creatine supplementation. Sports Med. 1994;18(4):268-280. doi:10.2165/00007256-199418040-00005
- Robinson TM, Sewell DA, Hultman E, Greenhaff PL. Role of submaximal exercise in promoting creatine and glycogen accumulation in human skeletal muscle. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1999;87(2):598-604. doi:10.1152/jappl.1922.214.171.1248
- Harris RC, Söderlund K, Hultman E. Elevation of creatine in resting and exercised muscle of normal subjects by creatine supplementation. Clin Sci (Lond). 1992;83(3):367-374. doi:10.1042/cs0830367
- Joyner MJ, Casey DP. Regulation of increased blood flow (hyperemia) to muscles during exercise: a hierarchy of competing physiological needs. Physiol Rev. 2015;95(2):549-601. doi:10.1152/physrev.00035.2013
- Ribeiro F, Longobardi I, Perim P, et al. Timing of Creatine Supplementation around Exercise: A Real Concern?. Nutrients. 2021;13(8):2844. Published 2021 Aug 19. doi:10.3390/nu13082844
- Ostojic SM, Vojvodic-Ostojic A. Single-dose oral guanidinoacetic acid exhibits dose-dependent pharmacokinetics in healthy volunteers. Nutr Res. 2015;35(3):198-205. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2014.12.010
- Antonio, J., Ciccone, V. The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 10, 36 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-10-36
- Candow DG, Zello GA, Ling B, et al. Comparison of creatine supplementation before versus after supervised resistance training in healthy older adults. Res Sports Med. 2014;22(1):61-74. doi:10.1080/15438627.2013.852088
- Candow DG, Vogt E, Johannsmeyer S, Forbes SC, Farthing JP. Strategic creatine supplementation and resistance training in healthy older adults. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2015;40(7):689-694. doi:10.1139/apnm-2014-0498
- Mills S, Candow DG, Forbes SC, Neary JP, Ormsbee MJ, Antonio J. Effects of Creatine Supplementation during Resistance Training Sessions in Physically Active Young Adults. Nutrients. 2020;12(6):1880. Published 2020 Jun 24. doi:10.3390/nu12061880