Q It seems like everyone I know is using creatine these days, but not everybody takes it at the same time. Recently, I heard post-workout is better. What's the lowdown?
I will start this Ask the Supplement Guru by noting that I have recommended taking creatine both before and after workouts for more than a decade. It simply works the best in the gym, and research also backs up this practice. However, debate is still raging among other experts on whether it is best to take creatine pre- or post-workout.
Well, for people who only want to take creatine once a day, a recent study by a colleague and friend of mine, Dr. Jose Antonio, may have the answer for you … or not.
Researchers gave recreational male bodybuilders—basically guys like you and me—either 5 grams of creatine monohydrate immediately before they worked out for four weeks, or 5 g of creatine monohydrate immediately after they worked out. On non-training days the subjects were allowed to take the creatine whenever they desired.
Antonio and co-author Victoria Ciccone reported in a 2013 issue of The Journal of The International Society of Nutrition that there wasn't any significant difference between the two groups for lean mass gains, body fat, or muscle strength. However, when they ran some much weaker statistical correlations, there was evidence that taking creatine post-workout was more effective on lean muscle gains and muscle strength.
Predictably, a bunch of magazines, websites, and pseudo-scientist bodybuilding "experts" took this as conclusive proof that taking creatine post-workout is far superior than taking it pre-workout. My message to them is: not so fast.
The Case for Pre and Post
I want to be clear that I am not bashing Dr. Jose Antonio or his research. I consider him a very smart person, and he correctly stated in the paper that there were no significant differences between taking creatine pre-workout or post-workout. It was only when they used what's called "magnitude-based inference" that there was any evidence that post-workout might be better than pre-workout.
Unfortunately, there has yet to be a study published that compares taking creatine both pre- and post-workout to taking it just pre-workout or just post-workout. But the real-world results I have seen in thousands of people switching to taking creatine at both ends of working out are significant, and there's some research to support making the switch.
A 2006 study done by Australian researchers reported that weight-trained subjects taking a protein, carbohydrate, and creatine shake immediately pre- and post-workout for 10 weeks experienced an 80 percent greater increase in lean muscle mass and about a 30 percent greater increase in muscle strength than subjects taking the same supplements in the morning and at night. The pre-and-post group also lost body fat, whereas the morning-and-night group didn't. The pre-and-post group also showed significantly higher muscle glycogen levels, which is critical for performance and muscle growth.
Many people would argue that because the subjects were taking a protein shake and fast-digesting carbs (glucose/dextrose), the results don't truly reveal how effective the creatine was. While it's true that it is hard to tweeze out exactly what benefits were due to creatine versus the protein and carbs, I would reply that this is precisely the way you want to take creatine. Taking creatine alone is not half as effective as when you take it with protein and carbs.
In fact, the recent ISSN study comparing pre-workout to post-workout creatine supplementation had subjects take just creatine and nothing else. I argue that since that is an ineffective way to take creatine, it compromises any findings in the study. But since there weren't any conclusive findings, it doesn't really matter.
Stay Ahead of the Curve
The new study has been making the rounds in online forums and gym-chatter, and I've already seen far too many people stating conclusively that taking creatine post-workout is far superior to taking it pre-workout.
When you hear them, you can have a laugh knowing that a) they didn't actually read the study in its entirety, b) they don't know what they're talking about, and c) you're way ahead of them on this one.
My advice to you is to do what works best when it comes to supplementing with creatine: Take it both pre-workout and post-workout, in your pre- and post-workout shakes. Creatine is cheap and effective, and this is an easy way to get more out of your training.
If you use creatine monohydrate or most other forms of creatine, then go with 5 grams both pre- and post-workout.
- Antonio, J. and Ciccine, C. The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. Journal of The International Society of Nutrition 10:36, 2013.
- Cribb, P. J. and Hayes, A. Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006 Nov; 38(11):1918-25.