Creatine is an organic compound found naturally in many foods including red meat, chicken, and fish.
Some vegetables contain amino acids that are necessary for the body's natural production for creatine including arginine, glycine, and methionine (1).
In addition to getting creatine from one's diet, many athletes, exercise enthusiasts, body builders, and those interested in fitness choose to take a high quality creatine supplement to be certain that they consistently have a high enough level of creatine in their bodies.
To understand when you should be taking creatine, we must first understand how creatine works. Creatine can take anywhere from 7 to 30 days to fully saturate creatine in your muscles. The exact time frame depends on creatine supplement dosing, exercise level, diet, and other factors. 30 days is a common period of time to expect (2). As time goes on, muscles will begin to retain more water. Your muscle’s ability to retain water is the entire point of creatine, and allows you to lift for more reps, sets, and experience less fatigue.
Seeing results is a slow process with creatine. After that first 30 days your muscles are finally saturated, so it will likely be another month or two before you start seeing the results of strength and mass gains from creatine. You should, however, feel the lifting endurance results within that first 60 days. If you were previously doing 15 reps of an exercise, try doing 20, and continue to push yourself. Creatine won’t magically make you strong, but it gives you the recovery and muscle endurance to get strong.
Building up creatine in your body is a slow process. It’s not like a narcotic that works within an hour. That’s why we expect to start seeing results from creatine within 30 to 60 days. With that in mind, we can understand why the time of day, or relation to our workouts, playing sports, or other athletic activities, wouldn’t matter when we consume creatine (3).
The creatine you take today won’t be working for you today, or tomorrow. It will slowly build in your muscles over time. That’s why it’s best to not try to time your creatine intake with a specific time, but instead, a time that works for you. For example, if you drink a protein shake after every workout, mix your creatine in the protein shake. If you do a breakfast shake, that’s a perfect time. The key to creatine is consistency. Take creatine whenever you will remember to take it every day.
If your creatine reserves are low, some research suggests that a creatine loading phase may help get your creatine levels up to speed quicker. For example, if you’re low on creatine, and your planned daily dose is 5g, you may want to take 10g daily for the first two weeks, just to get your body up to levels quicker. Some research suggests that the average body can only make use of around 5g creatine per day, so anything over that amount would be wasted (4).
Consistency is still the key here. Rather than doing a loading phase, most research suggests that you’re better off setting a consistent routine of daily creatine intake, and continuing to work out. Be it 5g daily or 10g daily, your body will become saturated with creatine. In summary, it doesn’t matter when you take creatine, just make sure you remember to take it.
Since creatine is not a hormonal supplement, it generally works the same on men as it does women. Some people report bloating from water retention from creatine, but this can happen during the first few weeks of creatine use regardless of gender. Women have lower testosterone levels than men, and therefore less muscle endurance and have a more difficult time building strength and muscle.
Creatine is a great option for women looking to take that extra step to level the playing field. Aside from weight lifting, creatine and also help women with sports related movements like running, jumping, throwing, and more (5).
The main safety concern that people have with creatine is the potential of kidney damage or liver failure. While both of these are extremely rare, it’s good to consider why these two issues can happen. The main reason is dehydration. Creatine causes the body’s muscle to be able to retain more water, which increases the muscle’s ability to function properly. If there isn’t enough water in the body, this can cause an unnecessary strain on the kidneys and liver (6).
So is creatine as safe for teens just as it is for adults? Assuming a teen or adult is generally healthy, or doesn’t have underlying kidney or liver issues, they should have no problem with taking creatine as long as they’re remembering to stay hydrated (7). While taking creatine it’s generally a good idea to consume more water than you normally would while not taking creatine. A gallon of water per day might sounds like a lot, but if you're working out and taking creatine, that's what your body needs to function at its maximum potential.