Does Creatine Work?
Creatine supplementation in conjunction with resistance training (RT) augments gains in lean tissue mass and strength in aging adults; however, there is a large amount of heterogeneity between individual studies that may be related to creatine ingestion strategies. Therefore, the purpose of this review was to perform updated meta-analyses comparing creatine vs. placebo (independent of dosage and frequency of ingestion) during a resistance training program on measures of lean tissue mass and strength, perform meta-analyses examining the effects of different creatine dosing strategies (lower: ≤5 g/day and higher: >5 g/day), with and without a creatine-loading phase (≥20 g/day for 5–7 days), and perform meta-analyses determining whether creatine supplementation only on resistance training days influences measures of lean tissue mass and strength. Overall, creatine (independent of dosing strategy) augments lean tissue mass and strength increase from RT vs. placebo. Subanalyses showed that creatine-loading followed by lower-dose creatine (≤5 g/day) increased chest press strength vs. placebo. Higher-dose creatine (>5 g/day), with and without a creatine-loading phase, produced significant gains in leg press strength vs. placebo. However, when studies involving a creatine-loading phase were excluded from the analyses, creatine had no greater effect on chest press or leg press strength vs. placebo. Finally, creatine supplementation only on resistance training days significantly increased measures of lean tissue mass and strength vs. placebo (source).
Do You Need To Load Creatine?
A creatine “loading phase” is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of taking the standard five-gram dosage or creatine monohydrate per day (whether mixed into your protein shake or ingested on its own), the idea behind loading aims at rapidly accumulating sufficient amounts of creatine in your muscles to aid performance.
What the Science Says
Most loading protocols last between five and seven days and require you to ingest 20 to 25 grams of creatine in total, broken up across several servings. After you’ve “caught up”, you’d return to a standard five-to-seven-gram single-serving dosage.
Alternatively, bulk dosing can be based on your body’s weight, with a loading phase dosage set around 0.3 grams per kilogram of body weight per day and reduced to 0.1 gram per kilogram of body weight per day.
Most literature agrees that loading your creatine in bulk isn’t strictly necessary for it to take effect long-term. That said, it could be useful in certain conditions, such as if your baseline creatine levels are extremely low, or you take too little on a daily basis.
Creatine Before or After Workout?
Contrary to popular belief, there are no clear advantages to taking creatine at any specific time, whether it be prior to, during, or after a workout. Caffeine intake might reduce the ergogenic effects of creatine, so if you caffeinate before you hit the gym, it might be best to take your creatine after your workout (and you could reap the added benefit of enhanced glycogen replenishment.)
On the other hand, taking creatine about two hours before your workout could potentially enhance its uptake rate. When it comes to performance and gains, however, the results are far more similar than they are different regardless of timing, so it’s probably best to simply take your creatine at whatever time is convenient and consistent.