The simple answer is yes, you should take creatine on rest days when you are not working out. The purpose of taking creatine on your non-workout days is to maintain a high level of creatine reserves in your muscle cells. It doesn’t matter what time you take creatine on your off days. Take 5 grams of creatine per day for best results.
When Should You Take Creatine?
As the most popular and the most heavily studied muscle-building supplement on earth, it’s a no-brainer that you should be taking a creatine supplement to build muscle mass and fuel your weight training workouts. Creatine supplements will replenish your ATP energy levels to allow you to get out those crucial final reps that can make all the difference.
One of the effects of creatine also pushes water into your muscles to make them appear fuller.
There is little debate about whether or not you should take creatine, but quite a lot a differing of opinions when it comes to when it should be taken. The debate usually relates to your workout days and comes down to 3 options:
- Take it any time you feel like
- Take it just before your workout
- Take it just after your workout
Not surprisingly, there have been studies to assess what is the best time of day to take creatine. In one study, the question under focus was should creatine be taken immediately before or immediately after a workout. It involved two groups of experienced weight trainers. The first group took 5 g of creatine 20 minutes before their workout, while the other took it 20 minutes after their training session.
When the results were analyzed, it was shown that the after-workout group had slightly better results in terms of lean mass gains and strength increase than those who took it pre-workout. However, some other studies indicated that there was no significant difference based on whether creatine was supplemented before or after training.
While it seems that it doesn’t make much difference whether you take creatine just before or just after your workout, there is some evidence that taking it in the vicinity of your training is a better idea than taking it either hour before or hours after.
A study had participants divided into two groups. The first took creatine around their workouts, while the third took the supplement several hours either before or after their training session.
Increases in strength and muscle size were significantly greater in the group that had a creatine intake close to their workout.
So, the research evidence makes it pretty clear that you should take creatine around your workout. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you take it before or after. If taken before heading to the gym, however, I recommend doing so about 20 minutes ahead of time. Taking it seconds before you begin your first set may cause stomach upset.
What About Taking Creatine on Rest Days?
You should take a creatine supplement even on the days that you are not planning to have a workout. This will allow you to maintain your storage levels of creatine in the muscle cells. On these days, it doesn’t make any difference what time of day you take the supplement.
The next question that needs to be addressed is whether you should take creatine on an empty stomach or with food. There are even studies out there that have addressed this query.
The research consensus is that taking protein along with creatine will increase the uptake of creatine into the muscle cells. That makes it a good idea to consume your creatine along with your pre or post protein workout shake. One study even showed that the amino acid profile in protein foods helps to retain creatine within the muscle cell.
Simply sprinkle 5 grams of creatine powder into the mix and you’ll be able to benefit from the greater uptake.
When it comes to combining creatine with carbs, the research is mixed. While some studies show a slightly increased creatine uptake in the muscles, others show no difference. Of course, even if taking creatine with carbs does lead to a slight increase in creatine absorption, you don’t want to take in unnecessary carbs which may lead to fat gain for that added benefit.
The bottom line here seems to be that you are better off taking creatine with a portion of protein than taking it on an empty stomach.
Can You Overdose on Creatine?
As we have already identified, the recommended daily dosage of creatine is 3-5 grams. There is no need to rake more than that, though the question of creatine loading during the first week of your supplementation is an open question. This involves taking 20 grams per day for 5 days and then dropping to a maintenance phase of 5 grams per day.
If you do decide to take a higher amount than the recommended dose, you may experience the following minor side effects:
- Stomach bloating
That bloated stomach feeling is the result of water retention. So any added weight that you gain is likely to be water weight. You are less likely to suffer from stomach bloating by avoiding the creatine loading phase protocol and keeping your maintenance dose to 5 grams or under.
Studies have shown that when you take under 5 grams of creatine per day, you will also avoid the adverse effects of stomach discomfort, diarrhea, and constipation.
If your goal is to create muscle growth and get stronger, you should definitely supplement with creatine. Take it both on your training day and your rest day to maintain a constant store in your muscle cells. On your training days, take creatine about 20 minutes before or after your workout with protein. On your non-training days, you can take your creatine any time, but should also consume it with protein.
Frequently Asked Questions
What supplements should be taken to build muscle?
The first and most important supplement to take is creatine as described in this article. You should also take a whey protein powder that you can mix up as a pre or post-workout shake. After that, you might consider also taking branch chain amino acids (BCAAs), glutamine, beta-alanine, and fish oil.