Should You Be Taking Creatine? Creatine Before or After Workout

Article by Jemma Walsh, Blog Editor for Study Active.  

Disclaimer – this article will explore the concept of taking creatine supplements to help enhance both performance and physique. The article's content is scientific study and opinion-based only and is not intended as nutritional advice. Always consult with a healthcare professional before adding any new supplements to your routine to ensure they align with your individual health needs. 

In the realm of fitness and sports nutrition, few supplements have garnered as much attention and debate as creatine. Often hailed as ‘a powerhouse’ for enhancing muscle growth, strength, and performance, creatine has become a staple in the regimens of athletes and gym-goers alike! For this reason alone, I wanted to delve deeper into creatine as a whole trying to understand and answer the questions: Should I be taking creatine, Should I take creatine pre or post workout? and What does creatine do for women? Today I delve into the science behind creatine supplementation, digging deep into the depths of the internet, exploring the benefits, efficacy of creatine before or after workouts, and considerations for different types of individuals so that you can make an informed decision. Sounds good? Keep reading!  

What does creatine do? 

At Study Active we get asked this all the time! It seems that creatine is synonymous with muscle building these days, as we often see stacks of creatine behind the counter of gyms with heavily built body builders queuing up to get hold of more supplies! So, one would be forgiven in thinking that creatine is something we get from the gym and put in our smoothie, right? Well not exactly – yes, we can buy it as a supplement, but creatine is a natural substance found in muscle cells. I was intrigued to learn this and so started to research further and found that creatine plays a crucial role in energy metabolism in short-duration, high-intensity activities like weightlifting and sprinting (I was always good at these events at school, so I obviously have creatine to thank!). 

A bit more desk-based research courtesy of our good friends at Google Scholar and I can see that creatine functions by replenishing a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary energy currency of cells, allowing for increased work capacity and improved performance (yes please to that!). It is typically therefore effective for gym-goers who are training to weight lift and build muscle or endure cardio such as runners or other such athletic sports. So now I know why all gyms seem to stock it! 

Being a self-confessed science geek, I was curious to learn more and duly found that the body can synthesise creatine from amino acids and is then stored in your muscles and brain and used for energy (very clever!). Starting to consider where my next creatine fix may come from (and worrying that I may end up spending my hard-earned cash on a huge tub of creatine from my local gym!) I soon learned that creatine is also obtained through dietary sources like red meat and seafood (phew!) although it does seem though the levels from these alone may be lower than those synthetically made in supplements, so unless you want to be on a diet of only these two things (no thank you!) This is where the consideration of supplements may come in to be useful for some gym users. 

What Type of Creatine Should I Take? 

I spent some time researching different types of creatine as it seems that there are different forms of the supplement (which at first glance can be confusing, I must admit!). The main thing I learnt is that it's essential to understand that not all forms of creatine are created equal, so depending on its use will depend on which type you would be recommended to take. The most common form that most people tend to take, is called creatine monohydrate. It seems this has been extensively studied and is widely regarded as both effective and safe (which is music to our ears!). In the last couple of years, it seems that a few alternative forms such as creatine ethyl ester and buffered creatine have emerged claiming both superior absorption and reduced side effects. This can make it confusing to know which type is best for you so I looked into this further so we could find out just which one is the best and why! (Stay with me!) 

It turns out, for the average gym-goer, creatine monohydrate remains the gold standard due to its proven efficacy, affordability, and minimal risk of adverse effects. It has also been effectively studied over many years, meaning that it is not only more effective but more reliable for this reason too. Conversely, competitive athletes (for those sprinters out there) or individuals seeking rapid absorption (the body builders) may opt for micronised creatine or creatine hydrochloride, which boast faster uptake and potentially improved solubility. If you are unsure or feel like you sit somewhere in the middle of these two types of people then we always advise talking to a health care professional first to understand what it is you need them for, the differences between them and any additional side effects (just in case!) 

Do Creatine Tablets Work and What Does Taking Creatine Do? 

Good question! You’ll be pleased to know that I've read numerous scientific studies which have demonstrated the effectiveness of creatine supplementation in enhancing various aspects of physical performance, (the next chapter I dive into taking creatine pre or post workout and its effectiveness in both instances so we will come back to this later!) My favourite bit of information was a meta-analysis published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluding that creatine supplementation significantly increased strength and power during resistance training, leading to greater gains in muscle mass over time. If this is ,you and you are specifically looking to increase muscle then make sure to check out our other blogs; ‘How to gain muscle’ and ‘What supplements should you take to build muscle' too! 

Creatine has also been proven to not only in case muscle, but improve anaerobic performance, such as sprinting and jumping (although I'm not sure how many people jump professionally!) This happens by enhancing the replenishment of ATP during high-intensity bursts of activity (cool right?). So, you may ask do athletes take creatine? Yes, they absolutely do! This can be particularly beneficial for athletes participating in sports that require short bursts of maximal effort, such as football, basketball, and sprinting events. 

Creatine Before or After Workout 

During my research, I found that one of the longstanding debates surrounding creatine supplementation is about the timing of intake. Should we take creatine pre workout or is it more effective to take creatine post workout? (This is the big question!) I have found that while both creatine before workout and creatine after workout have their proponents, most of the current evidence suggests that timing may not be as critical as we once thought! 

Firstly, its’ interesting to read that it’s been proven (many times) that taking creatine pre workout sessions may help saturate muscle stores of creatine and phosphocreatine, potentially enhancing performance during the session (which is great news for us!). This means that the creatine will provide you with more energy and allow you to work harder in your training sessions, building overall muscle this way (seems like a win-win in that case?) 

On the other hand, consuming creatine post workout is also equally as effective as this will capitalise on the muscle's heightened sensitivity to nutrient uptake, facilitating faster absorption and uptake into muscle cells. Although you may not have been able to endure as long as you would on the supplements, you will feel the effects in the coming days as you gradually increase the creatine post workout levels in your body. So basically, if you don’t want to work as hard in the gym but still grow muscle then this is a great option for you! 

Ultimately, the most important factor here is consistency! Creatine levels in muscle cells accumulate over time with regular intake so as long as you are taking your supplements regularly and at the same time (pre or post workout) then they will start to work in no time at all! My research suggests that splitting the dosage throughout the day or taking it at a convenient time that ensures compliance actually may be more crucial than strict adherence to a specific timing protocol, so you can rest assured that this is simply all you need to do!  

I also have a top tip for you that you should also take creatine on rest days! This will make sure that your creatine stores can be maintained when not training, however this does not need to be every single day - this can depend on how many rest days you allow in your training week just aim to take it most days and the odd day won’t make too much of a difference. 

What Does Creatine Do For Women? 

As a woman I am particularly interested in this section as we so often get overlooked or missed out of supplementation! Typically, we know that supplements pose different benefits to men and women, it’s also important to remember that these can have different side effects due to different body compositions and age, so make sure to speak to a health care professional and read the advice on the type of creatine you are consuming before doing so. I have found that the physiological mechanisms of creatine surprisingly remain consistent across sexes! However variations in muscle mass, hormonal profiles, and training goals may warrant different approaches to the taking of creatine. For this reason, it's always best to assess why you are considering creatine; whether that be to build muscle, increase cardio performance or lose weight and take it from there. We have already touched on building muscle and increasing cardio performance so if you are looking to lose weight, then taking creatine will help to reduce fat mass through better, more effective workouts and additional muscle building which helps to burn overall calories (sounds great right?) 

So what does creatine do for women? For female gym-goers seeking to improve strength, endurance, and muscle tone, we are happy to let you know that just the same as men, creatine supplementation can offer valuable support, particularly when incorporated into a well-rounded training program. Interestingly it has also been proven to be particularly effective in post-menopausal women! We also have a great blog ‘Strength training exercises for women over 50’ if you are looking for specific training methods for women in this category. 

Summary of the question ‘Should I be Taking Creatine?’ 

So, the question still poses, should I be taking creatine? It is important to remember that the decision is entirely yours whether to incorporate creatine supplementation into your fitness regimen. This should be based on individual goals, preferences, and considerations and only after extensive research and speaking to a health professional should you start on a supplement journey to make sure you are effectively incorporating this into your fitness schedule. Trust us, it doesn’t hurt to ask the question to someone in the know! They will also help you to effectively incorporate creatine into your fitness regime and if you ask, work on a diet plan depending on your goals too! My research proves that scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the efficacy of creatine in enhancing muscle growth, strength, and performance across a wide range of activities for both men and women alike (I hear all the women cheer!) 

When it comes to timing, it has been proven that taking creatine pre or post workout are both as effective methods depending on what it is you want to achieve – (a higher intensity workout for the hardcore gym-goers or the more relaxed approach for the others). The key to taking creatine is consistency in supplementation to ensure optimal muscle saturation and adaptation over time. While various forms of creatine exist, it remains the most well-researched and cost-effective option for most individuals (which is exactly what our empty bank account needs to hear!) 

Ultimately, creatine supplementation should be viewed as a complementary strategy to support training adaptations and performance goals, rather than a panacea for success. When combined with proper nutrition, hydration, and training, creatine can be a valuable tool in maximising your gains and unlocking your full potential in the gym or on the field.


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