Does it Matter When You Take Creatine?

Creatine is one of the most well-researched, top-rated athletic supplements on the market. It helps to supply a steady flow of energy for muscle contraction, so you can do more during your workouts.

Creatine is believed to help improve exercise performance, particularly when it comes to high-intensity exercise. It’s also believed to boost strength and reduce post-exercise recovery time.

Our body already has its own creatine stores from what we can produce endogenously, along with what we consume through our diet. Creatine can be found in varying amounts in animal products, such as meat, fish, poultry dairy, and eggs.

However, most of us are not maximizing our creatine stores. Taking creatine supplements can help to increase how saturated our muscle tissues are with creatine, creating more energy for our workouts. This is why creatine supplements have become highly popular in the fitness industry.

Understanding Creatine Timing

A common question among those new to taking creatine is when is the best time to take it? To answer that, we need to consider how it works in the body.

Creatine Uptake

According to research, creatine monohydrate (one of the most well-studied forms of creatine), is absorbed in the digestive tract before it enters the bloodstream to be delivered to your muscle tissue. From there, it can take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours to reach peak concentration in the bloodstream and will likely remain elevated for up to 4 hours [1].

This tells us important information about how to potentially optimize creatine timing. It’s believed that when there is increased blood flow (such as during a workout) peak concentrations of creatine can enhance creatine uptake [1].

However, it’s important to note that there is limited evidence to support the importance of specific timing with creatine supplementation around exercise. While exercise does appear to enhance creatine accumulation in the muscle tissue, more research is warranted to better understand the complicated mechanism behind creatine supplementation, exercise, and timing [1].

The Argument for Pre vs. Post Workout

The argument for creatine timing always boils down to pre- versus post-workout. Some believe pre-workout creatine supplementation is superior because it provides fuel for your exercise before you start. Creatine can be a common additive to many pre-workout products because of this. If it’s believed to give you energy, why wouldn’t you take it right before exercise?

However, others feel strongly that creatine works best for post-exercise and that the increase in creatine stores occurs over time and not by providing a dose right before exercise. Some believe either way is fine as long as it aligns closely with your workout. So which one is it?

Studies and Evidence

While many opinions are circulating the internet about optimal creatine timing, let’s see what the research says.

Research on Timing

Unfortunately, the answer to the creatine timing debate remains unclear. However, researchers believe that it may be most beneficial to take creatine close to exercise versus not. 

This means taking creatine within 1-2 hours either before or after your workout appears to show more promising results than taking it several hours before or after [1, 2]. 

One study on men who took creatine either before or after exercise found that those who took it after showed greater increases in lean mass and strength [3].

However, other studies found no difference in results between the two and unfortunately studies on taking creatine pre-workout only are virtually non-existent  [4, 5].

One study did find a positive effect on strength and muscle growth when taking creatine before exercise; however, this also included other ingredients in the supplement blend, such as branched-chain amino acids and beta-alanine [6].

Another study found that taking creatine close to your workout may be more important than taking it several hours before or after so this remains the main recommendation for now [2]. 

Additionally, the time you take your creatine may be more important on workout days than rest days.

Benefits of Creatine

Creatine is known to provide several performance-enhancing benefits including increasing high-intensity exercise capacity, boosting strength, and improving post-exercise recovery.

High-Intensity Exercise Performance

Creatine helps to increase the available energy to be used for muscle contraction. When you take creatine supplements, you increase your muscle saturation of creatine which then provides a steady flow of energy to your muscle tissues for high-intensity exercise. This energy allows you to do more before getting fatigued, thus providing a boost in performance. 

Increased Strength

When your exercise performance is boosted, so are your results. Creatine can help you build strength in several different ways including by increasing exercise capacity.

Creatine is also hyperosmotic, which means it pulls water into your muscle cells, increasing physical size and protecting against muscle breakdown [7].

Creatine may also play a role in stimulating muscle-protein synthesis (MPS), which is the process of building new muscle tissue [8].

Improved Post-Exercise Recovery

By enhancing MPS and increasing the amount of water in your muscle cells, creatine can effectively boost post-exercise recovery by preventing exercise-associated muscle breakdown and damage [9]. 


While creatine is heavily researched, there is still no clear cut recommendation for the optimal timing to take creatine supplements on workout days. 

Based on the research that is available, it appears that taking creatine close to your workouts is most ideal, within 1-2 hours either before or after but the timing is less important on non-workout days. 

If you are new to taking creatine and aren’t sure what time is going to give you the best results, do what works best for you. If it’s easier to take your creatine right before you workout, or include it in your pre-workout then do that. If you prefer to take it right after then that works too. 

As long as you take it within 1-2 hours of exercise you are likely to experience the best benefits so don’t sweat the exact timing.