If you’re into health and fitness, you’ve probably heard of creatine—a popular supplement among athletes and bodybuilders. Whether you’re after strength, muscle growth, fat loss, or even endurance, creatine can be a helpful tool to help you achieve your fitness goal.
Now, creatine is a well-studied supplement and one of the most researched sports supplements today. It’s been around for more than two decades and has a long history of being used safely and effectively. But unless you spend your free time perusing scientific journals, it can be confusing to know just how to take it safely in a safe way while optimizing it for your goals.
One query that many creatine users have is around timing and dosage, particularly with regards to training days vs. rest days.
The short answer is, you should take creatine on both training and rest days for optimal benefits. The dosage should also remain the same.
How does creatine work?
Creatine is a nitrogenous organic compound that occurs naturally in the body and helps to supply energy to all cells, particularly muscle cells. It’s produced in the liver, kidneys, and to a lesser degree, the pancreas. Foods like red meat and fish also contain creatine, although you’ll have to eat a LOT of it to get the optimal dosage.
In the body, creatine plays a vital role in producing adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the body’s primary source of energy and is used for everything from brain function to the contraction of our muscles.
Creatine has been shown to increase muscle mass, strength, and power. It can also improve exercise performance and help with recovery from high-intensity training. Let’s use sprinting as an example. It’s a high-intensity activity that you can only do for a few seconds. That’s because when you sprint, your ATP supplies run out. When you take creatine, it increases your body’s storage of phosphocreatine. That gets converted to ATP so your body has more of it when you exercise, which can translate to better performance.
The optimal timing and dosage
The recommended dose of creatine is 3 to 5 grams per day, although the optimal dosage will depend from individual to individual. There is also the ‘loading’ approach, where you take 20 to 30 grams of creatine the first week to saturate your muscles, followed by a ‘maintenance’ dose of 3 to 5 grams per day. The logic behind it is that your muscles will ‘hold’ more creatine when they’re saturated. While this is a completely safe way to consume creatine, experts say you don’t necessarily need to take the loading approach to reap the benefits.
Now, the timing of creatine is less critical, but if you really want to maximize the benefits, it’s best to take creatine immediately before or after your workout. When you take creatine before or after a workout, you’re replenishing your ATP supply, which helps with performance and recovery.
However, if you’re only taking creatine once a day, it doesn’t really matter when you Obviously, if you’re not training that day, there’s no need to time your creatine around your workout. You can take it at any point during the day, with or without food. Some studies found that when your body releases insulin, it improves creatine absorption, so taking it with something like pure fruit juice could be a good option.
Why you should take creatine on rest days
On days when you’re not training, your muscles will still need ATP for energy. Creatine can help to meet this need. Additionally, taking creatine on rest days can improve exercise performance the following day (due to increased muscle glycogen synthesis).
Plus, when you’re not training, you have more time to absorb the supplement fully. So if you take it before bed, your muscles will be ‘topped up’ by the time you wake up and are ready to train again.
Potential side effects and non-responders
Creatine is a very safe supplement, but like anything, it’s best to take the recommended dose. There are no known adverse side effects of creatine at the recommended dosages, but if you experience any problems (such as nausea, stomach cramps, or diarrhea), stop taking it and consult your doctor.
Some people also experience digestion issues when taking creatine. This doesn’t necessarily make you intolerant of creatine, nor does it mean you have to miss out on the benefits. You might, however, experiment with spreading your dosage throughout the day rather than taking it all at once. You might also want to try consuming it with your meal.
It’s also worth noting that a small percentage of the population doesn’t respond to creatine. You might not know until after a few weeks of taking it. If you’re not seeing any effects on your recovery, performance, or strength at the gym, there is a chance that you might be a non-responder. However, consider that factors like your diet, sleep, and stress levels also play a crucial role. For example, if you’ve had several poor nights’ sleep, taking creatine isn’t going to cancel out the adverse effects of that.
For most of the population, creatine is an excellent supplement that can help you in achieving your fitness goals, provided that it’s combined with the proper programming, diet, and lifestyle conducive to what you’re trying to achieve. And to get the most benefits out of the supplement, it’s best to take it on rest and training days.