When to Take Creatine: A Brief Guide to Timing & Cycling

Written by Carl Lombard

Taking Creatine to Maximize Benefits

If you are trying to put in the necessary effort into your workout routine to get incredible and long-lasting results in record time, then you probably have already put some thought into how helpful the right supplements can be. Creatine is a common workout supplement that people take to help improve the effects of their workout, and knowing the right time to take it is key to maximizing the effects of your efforts. First, before talking about the best way to get the most out of your creatine supplement, it’s a good idea to understand the purpose of the supplement and what you can hope to accomplish with it.


Benefits of Creatine

Creatine increases your body’s muscular storage of a type of energy known as creatine phosphate, which holds an important function in producing energy for quick exercise sessions of high intensity. In simple terms, the addition of creatine as a supplement when you go through your workout routine results in muscular stores of creatine phosphate becoming increased. This aids the body by feeding the ATP-PC energy system—the primary energy system we access during gym workouts while training in near maximum power and weight exercises.

Another benefit of creatine is increasing the amount of energy you have. When the muscles’ creatine phosphate is depleted, the result is an increase in muscular fatigue. What this means, however, is that an increase in creatine can help restore those levels, allowing you to achieve a better workout and not get tired as quickly or easily.

In simple terms, the benefits of taking creatine supplements to improve your workout include better levels of creatine stored in your body’s muscles, resulting in more energy to be used in high-intensity exercise without as much depletion, and in those creatine levels being more quickly regenerated. This brings about better recovery, as well as enhanced creatine storage for the next time you use your body’s natural creatine.

Check out these studies:

When to Take Creatine

Knowing when to take creatine can help you achieve the maximum effects. For best results, it is recommended that you take most of your supplements either before and after your workout. Creatine is different. The reason creatine is different is the method through which it works. Creatine is a naturally-produced chemical inside your body. Taking a creatine supplement is intended to raise up the stores of creatine in your body in order to maximize what can be used during your workout. Creatine isn’t like protein ord carbs that cycle through your body in a matter of hours. It often takes weeks to build up to a max store of creatine (just like it often takes weeks for those stores to be depleted or return to normal after stopping supplementation). That means that taking your creatine in your pre-workout is NOT necessary. Is it OK? Sure. The truth is that iot just doesn’t matter when you take it nearly as much as protein or pre-workout.

So, in the end, just make sure you take it regularly (daily) and you’ll be OK.

What is Creatine Loading

In addition to taking creatine regularly, many sources will recommend creatine loading. This refers to the process of taking 10, 15, or 20g of creatine per day when you first start taking creatine. This higher-than normal dosage would typically be taken for the first 5 days of using creatine, followed by a “maintenance” phase of 4-5g daily. Numbers here may vary based on the individual and the type of creatine you are taking (for example, Creatine HCL claims to not require a load phase and then doses daily at about 2g)

Do I Need to Load Creatine?

While many consider creatine loading to be a standard practice for beginning to use the supplement in the workout process, much new research suggests that it is not necessary to load creatine at all. While it may help you see benefits faster, in the long run, your progress will be about the same either way. I would argue that for someone that is cycling creatine, a load phase is probably a good idea. If you plan on taking creatine consistently without cycling, then loading may not be as impactful.

Do I Need to Cycle Creatine?

Creatine cycling refers to adding a phase into your workout routine in which you do not take creatine for certain periods of time in order to allow your body to function naturally and take a break from the substance. However, there is not necessarily any scientific data to prove that this is a necessary part of taking a creatine supplement to get the most out of your workout routine. As there are little to no harmful side effects from taking creatine, there shouldn’t be any reason to fear supplementing your body with the substance full-time.

Some users fear that if they do not give their body a break from creatine supplements, it will forget how to make it on its own. With no data to support this theory, however, it is not necessary to practice creatine cycling. However, there is nothing wrong with erring on the side of caution. I’ve seen several studies recently that disprove this theory completely and one that supported it to a small degree, but showed that completely normal creatine production started up again within a week or two.

Personally, I prefer to cycle all of my supplements. Creatine, caffeine, the pre-workouts (beta alanine, citrulline, etc), and so on. I don’t have any particular science-backed reasoning for it except that anytime I start back on a cycle, I feel like I get an increased benefit for the first few weeks.

As a side note, the idea of cycling any kind of supplement probably came from steroid use where a user can stop producing testosterone completely if supplemented by artificial testosterone. This, however, doesn’t apply to any of the supplements I mentioned above and certainly does not apply to creatine.

How Long to Take Creatine

Most people use creatine for around 1.5 to 3 months, then repeat the process after taking a break from it for about a month. Of course, no data shows that the break is a necessary part of the process. If you are wondering how long to take creatine, but are not interested in cycling your use of the product, then you can take it as long as you are looking to reap the benefits from it.

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Carl Lombard

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