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Should You Take Creatine on Empty Stomach or After Food?

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: August 16, 2021

If you regularly take creatine supplements, you know how effective they can support your workout routine.

But one thing we always get asked by clients is whether they have got the timing right when it comes to taking creatine on an empty stomach.

Should you take it before or after breakfast?

And what about taking it after a workout without food?

These are all important questions, and we teamed up with a nutritionist to see what’s best for your digestion and muscles.

Should You Take Creatine On An Empty Stomach?

pills on the hand of a man

Generally speaking, we recommend that you take creatine on an empty stomach, based on the evidence we’ve seen from research studies and with clients.

The main reason is that your stomach may absorb the creatine a lot faster when it’s empty.

It’s like the creatine has no competition for attention from your digestive system.

And faster absorption generally means that it gets to your muscles faster.

When you do this first thing in the morning before breakfast, then you might find it helps with muscle performance for a fasted training strategy.

Most people also tend not to eat food immediately before or after their workout sessions.

That means that planning your intake based on an empty stomach may give you quite a lot more flexibility.

On the downside, people who have sensitive stomachs might feel nauseated when taking creatine without food. In that case, we suggest just having a slice of toast rather than big meals.

And, there is some anecdotal evidence that it might cause an insulin spike with diabetics, so keep that in mind.

Pros
  • Faster absorption and delivery to muscles
  • Ideal for timing creatine uptake around workouts
  • Provides more flexibility for fasted exercising
Cons
  • May impact the body’s insulin response
  • Can cause some stomach upset

3 Different Types Of Creatine

powder scoop in a glass, jar filled with pills

1. Creatine monohydrate

Creatine monohydrate is the one you’ll find most often in workout supplements. It’s one of the cheapest options, and we haven’t seen any reduced effects from it on muscle recovery compared to other types.

2. Creatine Malate

Some people say that this type of creatine is more stable, making it more suitable for performance supplements. However, we haven’t been able to find any studies that confirm this.

3. Creatine Citrate

This is also a relatively cheap form, but our experience has been that it's several times more likely to cause stomach upset and gas.

Not ideal for your time at the gym.

“Creatine bloating is a phenomenon that most often occurs during the loading phase when beginning to supplement with creatine.” -  Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD.

See the best creatine brands

What Are The Side Effects?

woman on the bed having insomnia

Side effects are possible with any type of workout supplement, but the FDA has classified creatine to be generally safe.

Many sports nutrition organizations say that anything up to 30 grams per day is safe [1].

Larger doses may also cause some stomach upset, but we would recommend breaking it down into smaller doses and taking creatine several times a day.

The other thing we have noted is that some people who take creatine late in the day may find that it affects their sleep.

And with sleep being an important part of your recovery, that’s not something you want to encounter.

Is Creatine Less Effective When Taken With Food?

woman eating food in the kitchen

We’ve had some readers ask about supplement products like creatine and pre-workout and if they lose some of their effectiveness when taken with a meal.

The simple answer is no.

But, there’s always a but.

When you take any type of protein with or after a meal, then your stomach will take longer to fully absorb it all.

Depending on how large your meal is, this could then take more than an hour or two.

However, all the creatine will eventually make it into your muscles, but it could delay the workout recovery process.

Should You Take Creatine Every Day?

close up image of woman putting a pill inside her mouth

Unlike a pre-workout supplement, we haven’t found that exercise performance suffers after a while of taking creatine daily.

Once you’ve gone through a few weeks, your body will retain certain creatine levels.

And because your body needs a constant supply of creatine, we haven’t found any issues with daily creatine supplementation.

If anything, it might ensure that your muscle mass improves at a more consistent pace to get you to your body composition goals.

Depending on how large your meal is, this could then take more than an hour or two.

However, all the creatine will eventually make it into your muscles, but it could delay the workout recovery process.

Getting Your Creatine Intake Right

scooped powder and a glass

Here are the three tips we got from a nutritionist when it comes to getting the most out of your creatine plans.

1. The Best Timing

Unless you have sensitive bowels, we think the best time to take creatine is on an empty stomach just before or after a resistance training workout.

It has given us the most consistent results, as your stomach may be able to process amino acids faster.

2. The Right Dosage

Unless you’re heading into a loading phase, nutritionists generally recommend that you take 3 to 5 grams of creatine per day mixed with 8 ounces of water [2]. Anything more than that won’t get to your muscles and would just be flushed out through your kidneys.

3. Off-Cycles

This is always a hot topic, and with some protein and pre-workout products, it’s a good idea.

However, we haven’t found any research that suggests a creatine off-cycle is necessary, and that probably comes down to this fact.

Your body needs creatine for muscle strength and recovery and will always try to fill reserves as much as possible.

How Are You Going To Approach Your Creatine Timing?

So, if you don’t tend to suffer from upset bowels due to protein doses, then the best option is to take creatine on an empty stomach.

Take it with enough water to fully dilute the powder, even with capsules, and stick to the recommended daily amount of 5 grams.

This should provide the best muscle strength and recovery results without major issues like weight gain and water retention.


References:

  1. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z
    http://www.schwarzenegger.com/fitness/post/creatine-how-much-should-you-be-taking

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