What’s the Best Way to Take Creatine?

By: Shannan Bergtholdt, MS Ed, RD

Are you looking to gain muscle and get stronger? Sometimes supplements can help you reach your goals, and creatine could be the right one for the job.

Creatine isn’t just another protein powder — it’s one of the most widely used supplements for muscle gain and sports performance. There are decades of science to support creatine’s ability to improve athletic performance for short, high-intensity activities.

In this article, we will discuss:

  • What creatine is
  • The benefits of using creatine for these goals
  • The best way to take creatine
  • How creatine loading works
Continue reading if you want to explore the best way to take creatine to maximize the benefits for your fitness.

What is Creatine?

Creatine is an amino acid that exists naturally in animal-based foods such as milk, meat, fish and eggs. Eating an omnivore diet that includes animal-based protein can provide 1 to 2 grams of creatine per day.1,2

The liver, along with the kidneys and pancreas, can produce creatine, but at levels below what you can get from a creatine supplement. The body stores creatine in muscles as a quick energy source during exercise.

Creatine molecule

How Creatine Works in the Body

Supplementing with creatine is a way to dramatically increase the amount of creatine stored in muscles. Studies have shown that muscle creatine can increase by 10 to 40% after supplementing.1

Increasing the amount of creatine in the muscles translates to having more energy available for high power exercises. Increased muscle creatine can mean more ability to lift heavier weights, sprint faster and gain muscle.1,2

Man deadlifting weight

What Are the Benefits of Creatine?

Creatine plays a role in the body’s anaerobic energy system. Anaerobic means without oxygen, so the types of exercises that use creatine as fuel are very quick, lasting only 8 to 10 seconds. 

Creatine supplement works best for the following types of anaerobic activities:1,5,6,8,9

  • Powerlifting
  • Weight lifting
  • Sprinting
  • Explosive activities (e.g., swinging a baseball bat or a golf club)

Creatine isn’t right for every type of exercise. It has not been shown to improve endurance for longer activities such as running, cycling or swimming.8,9

Basic krebs cycle


The Best Form of Creatine to Take

There are multiple types of creatine that can be taken supplementally, including creatine pyruvate, creatine citrate, and creatine monohydrate. 

Creatine pyruvate has a higher bioavailability for absorption than creatine monohydrate, but has not demonstrated the same performance benefits.6 Creatine monohydrate is the only form that consistently shows improvement in athletic performance. 

Creatine is most commonly found in crystalline form and on its own is tasteless, but can be easily mixed into water.9

What’s The Best Way to Take Creatine?

To get the most benefit from creatine supplementation, take it directly after a workout.2 Making a creatine shake after a workout with creatine monohydrate can be a simple way to supplement.

Should I Take Creatine Before or After a Workout?

Several studies suggest that taking creatine directly after a workout shows the greatest positive effects for improving strength and for gaining muscle.2,6

After a workout, there is increased blood flow to the muscles, providing greater opportunity for creatine to get into the muscles.

Can Carbohydrates Increase Creatine Absorption?

Taking a creatine supplement with carbohydrates during the initial creatine loading phase can increase the amount of creatine absorbed.

Carbohydrates create an insulin response in the body. The body produces insulin to help get glucose into the muscles. Insulin helps encourage creatine to move into the muscles as well.

One study demonstrated that a dose of nearly 100 grams of simple carbohydrates resulted in 60% more muscle creatine accumulation.8

However, 100 grams of carbohydrates is no small amount. For example, you would have to eat nearly two and a quarter cups of rice to get 100 grams of carbohydrates. The additional calories may be counterproductive to your fitness goals.

It seems that the benefits of taking carbohydrates with creatine may decrease rapidly after the first day, so it may not be a good long-term solution.8

Should I Take Creatine with Foods?

Knowing that insulin can help increase the amount of creatine absorbed, there is evidence to suggest that taking creatine with food could help with absorption.8

You can decide what works best for your routine because there doesn’t seem to be a dramatic difference over time for taking creatine with or without food.1

Potential Side Effects Of Creatine

Any type of nutritional supplementation carries some risk. Thankfully, the side effects of creatine supplementation are generally mild and temporary.3,4,7

Most side effects can be eliminated by changing the timing and dosage of creatine.7 It is not uncommon to experience weight gain while supplementing with creatine because it is stored in the muscles with water. This weight gain may also feel like bloating or a puffy feeling in the muscles.

Drinking plenty of water and avoiding large doses of creatine on non-workout days can help eliminate the bloating problem.7

How Creatine Loading Works

Creatine loading is a term used for taking increased amounts of creatine over a short period of time to quickly raise the amount of stored creatine in the muscles. Creatine loading can increase the stored creatine in the muscles by approximately 20%.5,6

Creatine loading begins with a higher dose of creatine, followed by a maintenance phase of a lower creatine dose.5,6

Creatine Loading Phase

The creatine loading phase takes place over 5 to 7 days. During that time, supplement with 20 to 25 grams of creatine per day. The 20 to 25 grams is divided into 4 doses per day. 

A typical creatine loading phase day would generally include 5 grams of creatine, taken 4 times per day. 

Find your individual creatine loading dose with the following formula:6

Individual creatine loading dose (body weight in pounds) * (0.14 grams of creatine) = daily dose of creatine split into 4 doses per day.

(Explore more: Do you need to load creatine to bulk up?)

Creatine Maintenance Phase

The creatine maintenance phase follows the creatine loading phase. This phase typically lasts much longer and depends on your goals. 

For example, a creatine maintenance phase could last for 28 days if you are looking to complete a short creatine cycle to achieve fast strength gains. It is possible to continue a creatine maintenance phase for months, or even years as long as it is meeting your goals. 

The dosage of creatine decreases to a single dose 3 to 5 grams per day for maintenance. 

To calculate your individual creatine maintenance dose, the formula is.04 grams of creatine per pound of body weight per day.6

Here’s the formula: 

Individual creatine loading dose (body weight in pounds) * (0.04 grams creatine) = daily dose of creatine

Gradual Creatine Loading

It is possible to achieve a similar effect of creatine loading over a more gradual period of time. If you are concerned about potential side effects or want to take a more conservative approach to creatine supplementation, gradual creatine loading is a good option.  

Use a 3-5 gram daily dose of creatine monohydrate over a period of 28 days to slowly increase muscle creatine stores. 

Gradual creatine loading is a more conservative way to get the same benefits of creatine loading over a longer period of time. There are several options to safely supplement with creatine to help meet your fitness goals.


1. Hall, Matthew DO; Trojian, Thomas H. MD, FACSM Creatine Supplementation, Curr Sports Med Rep. July/August 2013; 12(4): 240-244. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e31829cdff2

2. Antonio, J., & Ciccone, V. The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2013; 10(1), 1-8. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-36 

3. De Guingand, D. L., Palmer, K. R., Snow, R. J., Davies-Tuck, M. L., & Ellery, S. J. Risk of adverse outcomes in females taking oral creatine monohydrate: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrients. 2020; 12(6): 1780. doi:2072-6643/12/6/1780

4. Creatine Supplement: The Basics. The Department of Defense Dietary Supplement Resource: Operation Supplement Safety. Accessed on May 2, 2022. https://www.opss.org/article/creatine-supplements-basics

5. Law, Yu Li Lydia1; Ong, Wee Sian2; GillianYap, Tsien Lin3; Lim, Su Ching Joselin1; Chia, Ee Von1 Effects of Two and Five Days of Creatine Loading on Muscular Strength and Anaerobic Power in Trained Athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2009; 23(3): 906-914. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181a06c59

6. Naderi, A., de Oliveira, E. P., Ziegenfuss, T. N., & Willems, M. T. (2016). Timing, Optimal Dose and Intake Duration of Dietary Supplements with Evidence-Based Use in Sports Nutrition. J Exer Nutr & Biochem. 2016; 20(4): 1–12. doi:10.20463/jenb.2016.0031

7. Dietary Supplements for Exercise and Athletic Performance. Office of Dietary Supplements, NIH. Accessed May 2, 2022. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ExerciseAndAthleticPerformance-HealthProfessional/

8. Theodorou, A. S., Paradisis, G., Smpokos, E., Chatzinikolaou, A., Fatouros, I., King, R., & Cooke, C. B. The effect of combined supplementation of carbohydrates and creatine on anaerobic performance. Biol Sport. 2017; 34(2): 169–175. doi:10.5114/biolsport.2017.65336 

9. Butts J, Jacobs B, Silvis M. Creatine Use in Sports. Sports Health. 2018 Jan/Feb;10(1):31-34. doi: 10.1177/1941738117737248. 

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