The online debate over whether creatine is most effective before or after workouts rages on. Just doing an online search yields hundreds of compelling and convincing arguments from both camps. Most of the chatter on this particular topic is found in comments sections and question and answer type sites, instead of more reliable sources. There is so much of it that it can be somewhat confusing.
According to Wikipedia , creatine is a naturally occurring acid in our bodies that helps to make adenosine triphosphate (ATP). So, what is ATP, then? ATP is an energy storing molecule that allows us to contract our muscles. Depending on various factors, ATP levels may be high or low. Obviously, if they are too low, an effective workout would be difficult.
Those who argue for taking creatine pre-workout claim it boosts performance. Their thinking seems to follow logical lines; creatine boosts ATP which, in turn, boosts cellular energy. While this is indeed logical, it is too simplistic and neglects other biological processes. One of the things that creatine is known for is pulling water away from the rest of the body and into the muscle cells. This increases the potential for dehydration. Also, taking creatine before exercise does not allow enough time for it to actually be stored in the muscles, which is when it is available for use by the body. Many people in online forums swear by taking the stuff before workouts, but they are most likely experiencing a placebo effect.
Proponents of post-workout dosing believe that after a workout, muscles are depleted of creatine (or actually, ATP) and ready to soak the stuff up. They also point repeatedly to one of the few studies on the topic that was published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition . Just reading the abstract leads us to believe that this way is best. But, when the whole article is read, it becomes apparent that the difference is negligible. The authors suspect this way could be better, but more studies are needed to find out for sure.
The truth is that there has not been a lot of research done on the topic of creatine before versus after exercise. There has, however, been quite a bit on creatine in general. It does have positive effects on strength, ability to recover, and lean muscle mass, so it is undoubtedly a valuable supplement. The jury is still out on the best time to take it. Until we learn more, creatine should be taken whenever the consumer feels they are getting the most benefit.