By Victor Prisk, M.D.
Creatine monohydrate is one of the greatest contributions of the supplement industry to sports performance. It was discovered as early as the 1900s that consuming creatine could boost muscle levels, but its role in muscle metabolism wasn’t appreciated until much later.1 Creatine is found in muscle as creatine phosphate, which acts as an energy buffer during high-intensity bouts of exercise. Creatine phosphate donates its phosphate to ADP to create ATP, which is used as the energy source for muscle contraction. The more creatine phosphate available, the longer those high-intensity contractions can be fueled by the new ATP,
and thus power your reps on the bench.
Before or After Workouts?
Dr. Jose (Joey) Antonio of the International Society of Sports Nutrition sought to answer the question, “Should we consume our creatine before or after our workouts?”9 To do so, he recruited 19 male recreational bodybuilders who were on average 23 years old and had been training regularly for over one year. For four weeks, the subjects were not allowed to use any other nutritional supplements before starting the study. After pre-participation testing, the subjects were divided into two groups; one received five grams of creatine monohydrate immediately before training (PRE-SUPP group) and the other supplemented five grams immediately after their training (POST-SUPP group). They underwent a rigorous training schedule consisting of a periodized, split-routine bodybuilding regimen designed to build muscle. The training included rotating body parts five days per week for 60-minute workouts. After this program, the subjects were evaluated for changes in body composition and strength. On off-training days, the subjects still consumed five grams of creatine, but at their convenience.
The results, albeit not robust in statistical significance, suggested that consuming your creatine POST-workout is more beneficial for building muscle and strength than consuming it before your workout. This makes some sense with regard to the increased uptake of nutrients that seems to be inherent in exercised muscle. Additionally, many bodybuilders like to take advantage of the responsiveness of their muscle to carbohydrates post-workout by adding carbs to their post-workout protein shake. Since simple carbohydrates seem to boost muscle uptake of creatine, it makes sense to add it to your post-workout shake.
In essence, based on the excellent absorption behavior and preferential muscle storage of creatine, I’m not sure this data really means a whole lot at this point. Besides, the differences between groups were so small that it could be just due to a lack of adequate sample size to appreciate any differences. Unless there is another biological mechanism through which creatine acts to increase muscle growth that we are unaware of, it does not seem that one would need to “time” the consumption of creatine around a workout. However, there have been a number of other theories on how creatine acts to build muscle and strength beyond increasing ATP and pH buffering, so this can’t be ruled out yet.
Why not just play it safe and have some before and after your workout? Creatine monohydrate is pretty cheap and is just as well tolerated as many other forms of creatine, despite popular belief. I often suggest popping about three grams of creatine chews before your workout and another three grams after your workout with your whey protein shake.
Dr. Victor Prisk is a board certified orthopaedic surgeon and IFBB professional bodybuilder in Pittsburgh, PA. Dr. Prisk is an active member of the GNC Medical Advisory Board and creator of the “G.A.I.N. Plan.” He is an NCAA All-American gymnast, champion swing dancer and NPC Welterweight National Champion.
Folin O, Denis W. Protein metabolism from the standpoint of blood and tissue analysis: third paper. Further absorption experiments especial reference to the behavior of creatine and creatinine and to formation of urea. The Journal of Biological Chemistry. July 1, 1912; 12:141-162.
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 2013; Aug 6;10(1):36.
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Effects of beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) on exercise performance and body composition across varying levels of age, sex, and training experience: A review. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2008; Jan 3;5:1.
Wilson JM, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB). J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2013; Feb 2;10(1):6.
Stout JR, et al. Effect of calcium beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (CaHMB) with and without resistance training in men and women 65+yrs: A randomized, double-blind pilot trial. Exp Gerontol 2013; Aug 24. pii: S0531-5565(13)00270-2. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2013.08.007. [E-pub, ahead of print]