Creatine is among the most popular sports supplements, but research keeps refining our knowledge about how to maximize its use — except when it doesn’t. One recent study got a lot of attention for finding that creatine works better when taken after workouts. Unfortunately, that’s not the entire story.
The study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, divided a small group of male recreational bodybuilders into two groups. One took 5 grams of creatine right before weight-training workouts, and the other took 5 grams right after weight-training workouts. Both groups followed the same diet protocol and took another 5 grams of creatine on rest days.
After four weeks, researchers found little difference between the two groups. However, after applying some fancy statistics to the results, they claimed that it was possible that taking creatine after workouts could yield significant results in muscle growth and strength as compared to before workouts. Guess which “result” was reported.
The problem is not just that the study was small (only 19 participants) or that it was short in duration (only four weeks) but also that the protocol was flawed. Subjects were given creatine monohydrate, which requires an insulin spike for optimal uptake into muscle tissue. Unfortunately, the subjects took their creatine alone, without the protein and carbs required to create the best environment for it to do its job.
Ultimately, this study serves as a reminder to be wary. Scientific research about supplements is a critical tool for helping us understand how supplements work, but sometimes studies aren’t designed well or their findings aren’t reported well, and the end result is more confusion.
As for creatine, however, we’re not confused — take 3 to 5 grams of creatine monohydrate with shakes before and after workouts.