Although it may not be marketed as such, creatine is a popular supplement often used as a pre-workout. Research has found creatine can boost exercise performance and is therefore found in many pre-workout products or taken on its own to boost energy pre-workout.
However, creatine doesn’t have to be taken as a pre-workout to provide beneficial effects on performance.
In fact, creatine can be taken post-workout as well. Some may even prefer to take it both pre and post-workout if they are in a loading phase.
Key Takeaways: Creatine as a Pre-Workout
- Creatine can be a pre-workout or not. Creatine helps boost performance and may be found in many pre-workout supplements or used as a pre-workout but it doesn’t have to be.
- Creatine works by providing energy to your muscles. Creatine increases phosphocreatine stores in your muscles which boosts ATP and provides more energy to perform high-intensity exercise.
- Creatine is different from a pre-workout. Creatine is a common additive to pre-workout supplements but the ingredients, timing you have to take them, and how they work differ from creatine.
- Taking creatine pre- or post-workout may not be that important. Research suggests that taking creatine close to a workout is more important than if it is taken right before or right after.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a popular performance-enhancing supplement found naturally in your muscle cells. Creatine helps to produce energy in your muscles for intense exercise. It is also essential for the production of the amino acids glycine and arginine.
Your body produces creatine from your liver and kidneys however, you can also get it from diet. A typical diet provides roughly half of our creatine stores from protein foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.
How Does Creatine Work in the Body?
Most of our body’s creatine can be found in our muscle cells in the form of phosphocreatine which is essential for producing adenosine triphosphate (ATP) .
ATP is our body’s main energy source which we use for muscle contraction. When we increase creatine levels, such as with supplementation, we increase phosphocreatine stores which boosts ATP and provides more energy for our muscles to perform high-intensity exercise.
How Does Creatine Benefit Training Performance?
Creatine boosts ATP in your muscles. If you have more ATP, you have more energy for muscle contraction to perform high-intensity exercises for longer before getting fatigued. This translates to performing more reps with higher weight before exhaustion.
With performance improvements, you will also see improved muscle gains because you can do more. Numerous studies support using creatine to boost exercise performance and increase muscle mass .
Taking Creatine Pre-Workout: Does it Help?
Creatine can provide benefits toward exercise performance regardless of whether it is taken as a pre-workout supplement or a post-workout supplement.
While creatine is not considered on its own a pre-workout, it is often used as such. Whether taken right before exercise or combined with a pre-workout supplement, creatine can be equally effective in boosting performance.
Creatine vs Pre-Workout: What are the Differences?
While creatine can be used as a pre-workout supplement to boost performance, it is different from traditional pre-workout supplements in many ways. Below are some of the main differences between the two.
One of the biggest differences between creatine and pre-workout supplements is the ingredients.
While creatine is a common ingredient in many pre-workout supplements, these products also often contain stimulants such as caffeine to boost energy and non-essential amino acids such as beta-alanine, citrulline, tyrosine, and taurine which may provide an acute stimulant response of boost exercise performance in other ways .
To get the most out of a pre-workout supplement, you must consume it right before exercise, This is typically around 20-30 minutes before starting your sweat session. However, creatine can be taken at any time.
Some individuals find creatine to be helpful to include in their pre-workout or take it by itself right before exercise but this is not required. In fact, some prefer to take creatine post-workout.
While there are no current guidelines for the best time to take creatine, many researchers agree that taking it close to when you exercise is likely most beneficial. This can be either right before or right after your workout .
You may also wish to take creatine on rest days and timing on these days is likely less important than on exercise days.
Lastly, the ingredients in pre-workout supplements will differ in their potential benefits compared to creatine supplements.
For example, creatine is a helpful pre-workout supplement because it can boost ATP levels in your muscles for improved performance. Ingredients commonly found in pre-workout supplements, such as caffeine, work by boosting energy levels to increase strength, endurance, and power .
Other ingredients such as specific non-essential amino acids like beta-alanine, can elevate carnosine production in the muscles which can help break down glucose for fuel during high-intensity exercise and reduce acid levels which reduces fatigue post-workout .
Each ingredient in pre-workout supplements will provide different benefits which is why you often find many different combinations of ingredients in these products.
Can You Mix Creatine With Pre Workout?
Creatine is already a common additive in many pre-workout supplements. If you don’t currently have a pre-workout that contains creatine, it is okay to add it to your current supplement. In fact, it may provide even further benefits to add it to the mix.
Can Creatine Itself Work as a Pre-Workout?
If you aren’t a fan of traditional pre-workout supplements, whether you haven’t noticed a significant benefit or are sensitive to stimulants such as caffeine, you can use creatine on its own as an effective pre-workout. Simply take creatine within 30 minutes of starting your regular exercise routine.
How Much Creatine Should I Take?
The recommended maintenance dose of creatine is between 3-5 grams per day however, many wish to begin with a loading phase to saturate their muscle creatine stores followed by a maintenance dose.
A loading phase is a short period, about 5-7 days, where you consume high amounts of creatine, 20-25 grams, each day. This is typically done throughout the day versus in one sitting.
For example, one may take a creatine supplement of 5 grams in the morning, before and after a workout, and in the evening for a total of 20 grams .
Once the loading phase is complete, you would then continue with the maintenance dose of 3-5 grams per day to keep up your muscle creatine stores.
A loading phase is not a required step in taking creatine to see benefits. Some prefer a loading phase while others wish to skip it.
If you do decide to complete a loading phase for creatine, be sure to stay hydrated as creatine is stored in your muscles with water. It can also be absorbed better if taken close to a meal that contains a good source of carbs and protein.
Those who partake in creatine loading often notice some side effects of water retention. While this may be disconcerting to some, others may not notice or mind. This typically resolves once the loading phase is completed but a small amount of water retention typically continues while taking creatine.
This is again because creatine pulls water into your muscles and, while it may appear as weight gain, is not associated with increased fat .
How Long Does Creatine Take to Work?
When you first begin creatine supplements, if you only take the maintenance dose of 3-5 grams per day it will take anywhere from two weeks up to a month to see a noticeable improvement in exercise performance.
However, those who participate in creatine loading may experience the benefits of creatine sooner, within roughly 5-7 days.
The reason those who complete a loading phase may notice improvements sooner is that creatine loading helps to saturate your muscle creatine stores quickly compared to taking only the maintenance dose.
The faster you can boost your creatine stores the faster you will see improvements in your performance.
Will Creatine Make Me Gain Weight?
A common myth when it comes to creatine supplementation is that it can cause weight gain. Those who are taking creatine, particularly during the loading phase, will notice an uptick in their weight however, this is due to water retention.
Creatine pulls water into your muscles which temporarily increases your weight. While this is most dramatic during a loading phase (between 2-5 pounds), it typically resolves or significantly improves once you go back to a maintenance dose. It will resolve completely when you stop taking creatine .
Does Creatine Give You Energy?
Creatine gives your muscles more energy to perform high-intensity exercise so you can push through short bursts of movement without getting fatigued as quickly. The creatine stored in our muscles is increased with supplementation and our body uses that to to draw out energy during exercise.
Keep in mind, however, that the energy we get during exercise when taking creatine is not the same as the energy we may get from stimulants such as caffeine that are often found in pre-workout supplements.
Creatine allows you to perform better but it doesn’t make you feel energized like many pre-workout supplements do.
Should I Take Creatine Before or After My Workout?
There are no current guidelines for the best time to take creatine however, many researchers agree that taking it close to when you exercise is likely most beneficial. This can be either right before or right after your workout .
Which one you choose will depend on a few different factors including the presence of a pre-workout supplement, if you are in a loading phase, and personal preference.
For example, if you are already taking a pre-workout supplement that doesn’t include creatine, you may wish to take creatine post-workout. If you are creatine loading, it’s easier to get the required dose of creatine per day by breaking it apart into 4 servings which may include a dose right before and right after exercise.
Lastly, personal preference plays a big role. Some just prefer to take it pre-workout while others may not care and may alternate between pre- and post-workout.
The most important factor is that you are getting your creatine in closely within the time you exercise as this is what is associated with the best results.