Creatine Monohydrate – A study on its benefits. When is it best to consume: pre or post workout?

[icon name=”user” class=”” unprefixed_class=””]  Suchitra Chari

What is Body Composition?

Body composition is a ratio of the body’s fat to its fat-free mass. Body fat comprises of essential fats like lipids and non essential fats like storage fat in adipose tissue. Essential fats are those found in bone marrow, internal organs and central nervous system. Fat-free mass comprises of the weight of muscles, organs, bones, water and everything in the body that is not fat. Hence a person with a high percentage of fat-free mass has a healthier body composition.

How is Body Composition Calculated?

One very precise method to calculate body composition is called the BOD-POD which is actually an Air Displacement Plethysmograph (ADP). (A plethysmograph is an instrument for measuring changes in volume within an organ or whole body (usually resulting from fluctuations in the amount of blood or air it contains) – this is a definition from Wikipedia). Therefore the BOD-POD calculates the density (mass/volume) of a subject by calculating the body mass and the volume of the chamber.

Lean body mass and Fat-free mass

The lean body mass (LBM) is further differentiated from fat-free mass in that the LBM comprises of the essential fats whereas the fat-free mass does not contain essential fats. Hence the LBM is calculated by subtracting the body fat weight from the total body weight. Then to calculate the fat-free mass, we separate the weight of the essential fat from LBM. When we measure LBM in exercising we are making sure the body loses only the fat and not the muscle which is highly undesirable.

What is resistance training?

In bodybuilding, trainers use a method called ‘resistance training’ to develop the person’s musculature. Resistance training is so called since we use a force or resistance while exercising. This resistance can be the weight of one’s own body (like squats, push-ups and crunches) or free weights (dumbbells) or weight machines (bench press, leg press and shoulder press). A person who uses this method of progressive resistance training is known as a bodybuilder.

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a substance that supplies energy to the skeletal muscle. In fact 95% of all the creatine in the human body is in the skeletal muscles. Creatine monohydrate is the most extensively studied nutritional supplement that is known to increase high-intensity exercise capacity and LBM during training. There have been studies done earlier which have proved positive results with intake of creative monohydrate. For example, rugby union football players took creatine monohydrate for 8 weeks and saw an increase in lean tissue and decrease in fat mass and also performed better in bench and leg press tests. Also, consumption of creatine ethyl ester and creatine monohydrate produce a more or less equal increase in serum and muscle creatine. Creatine also increases myosin heavy chain synthesis.

Does Creatine help with training?

Creatine monohydrate supplementation (25 g/day) consumed orally for one week enhanced muscular performance during repeated sets of bench press and jump squat exercise and increased the body weight by 1.4 kg compared to a placebo group. It has been concluded that creatine supplementation along with resistance training in creatine subjects increased type 1, type 2a and type 2ab muscle fiber cross sectional areas compared to placebo subjects.7 The same study also observed that muscle creatine levels in creatine subjects were higher after week 1 and continued until week 12 compared to placebo subjects.

When should creatine be consumed for best effects

The above studies did not monitor the timing of supplement consumption, that is, if there would be any difference in consuming creatine around the time of workout rather than at other times of the day. Thus in a particular study, one group (PRE-POST) of resistance trained males consumed a supplement of protein/creatine/glucose before and after training whereas the other group (MOR-EVE) had the supplement in the morning and late evening for a period of 10 weeks. The results showed that the PRE-POST group had a greater increase in LBM and one repetition maximum (1-RM) strength, an increase in type 2 muscle fiber cross sectional area and also higher muscle creatine and glycogen values. 1-RM testing has been considered the goal standard among fitness trainers. It tells you how much weight the participant can lift in this study while doing an exercise like the bench press.

Thus intake of protein or creatine around the time of workout is more beneficial in increasing muscle mass and strength than intake at other times of the day. This may possibly because of increased blood flow and therefore increased transport of amino acids and creatine to skeletal muscle. 

So, some studies have concluded that consuming creatine and other supplements like amino acids or protein-carbohydrate-creatine around the time of exercise produces more effect in terms of increased muscle fibre and strength and enhanced exercise performance. But to be more precise, is there a difference between consuming creatine before (pre) and after (post) the exercise? This is what a study by Jose Antonio and Victoria Ciccone at the Exercise and Sports Sciences, Nova Southeastern University at Davie, Florida aimed to find out.

Design of the study

Nineteen participants, all who had been undergoing resistance training for over a year, with an average age of 23, height of 166 cm and weight of 80, were chosen to participate in this study. They were divided into 2 categories, PRE-SUPP and POST-SUPP. Both the groups were given 5 mg of Creatine Monohydrate, the only difference being, the PRE-SUPP group consumed it prior to the workout and the POST-SUPP group consumed it after. Resistance training was carried out for 5 days a week for a total of 4 weeks. The remaining 2 days of the week were rest days and creatine monohydrate was consumed at random times as per the will of the participant. The exercises conducted involved the chest, shoulder, legs, hip, back, biceps and triceps.

Parameters measured during the study

On one random day of each week, participants were asked to recall their 24-hour dietary intake and were measured using a windows software. Body composition was assessed by a method called BOD POD (mentioned earlier) and the parameters that were measured included body weight, % body fat, fat free mass and fat mass. Exercise performance was assessed using the 1-RM technique.

Nutrients consumed during study

Both groups consumed the same amount of macronutrient (40% carbohydrate, 26% protein and 35% fat and 1.9 gms of protein per kg body weight). Consuming such high protein amounts made sure that dietary factors did not affect the results of the response to supplementation and exercise. Though, the fact that these participants were already consuming a lot of protein (implying that they had a lot of creatine stored in their muscles) could have skewed the results to some extent.

Results of the study

Coming to the results of the present study, none of the 5 parameters (body weight (BW), fat free mass (FFM), fat mass (FM), % body fat and 1-RM bench press (1-RM BP) were significantly different between the 2 groups (PRE-SUPP and POST-SUPP) when baseline measurements were taken, that is, measurements taken at the start of the training program. When the same measurements were taking post-workout, there was a significant difference between the 2 groups in 2 of the parameters, that is, FFM and 1-RM BP but no difference in FM or BW.

Magnitude-based inference is a new and improved statistical method in sport science in which they compare the means of the 2 groups. Using this method they were able to inference that there was possible beneficial effect in body composition and performance in the POST-SUPP group with regards to the FFM and FM parameter, a likely benefit in the 1-RM BP parameter and a trivial effect in the BW parameter. Also evident was the fact that everyone in the POST-SUPP group improved in FFM which was not the case with the PRE-SUPP group.

In this first of its kind study regarding the time of consumption of creatine monohydrate, this study can conclude that intake of creatine after exercise results in gains in FFM (except for 1 person in POSTSUPP group and 3 in the PRESUPP group showed a decrease in FFM) and muscular strength (except for 2 persons in the PRESUPP group and 1 person in the POSTSUPP group who showed no change in strength while recording the 1-RM bench press performance) compared to intake before exercise.

Essential amino acids work better before exercise

A similar study done earlier with an oral essential amino acid-carbohydrate supplement (EAC) showed that there was a greater response of net muscle protein synthesis when the EAC solution was consumed immediately before resistance training than after the exercise. The results showed an increased delivery of amino acids to the leg thereby causing an increase in muscle synthesis.

Timing of supplement consumption is important

Another study has been done to validate that timing of a supplement is important for the effects. In elderly men subjected to resistance training, consuming an oral protein supplement right after the exercise resulted in an increase in the cross sectional area of the quadriceps femoris muscle and mean fibre area compared to those who took the supplement 2 hours later. Therefore consuming the supplement immediately following exercise is important for skeletal muscle hypertrophy.

Thus in the current study, we can conclude that 4 weeks of resistance training with creatine supplement after the workout may cause superior gains in FFM and strength rather than consuming the supplement before the workout. There are a few advantages and limitations in this study. The advantage is that this study used recreational bodybuilders as opposed to highly trained individuals. It would have been difficult to see an increase in FFM or muscular strength in the latter group. However even among recreational bodybuilders around 3-4 of them did not experience any increase. The first major limitation is the small sample size. This could have been the main reason for the change in body composition and muscular strength between the 2 groups. The duration of the study is another limitation. Also, since this study did not involve protein, carbohydrate or amino acids, we cannot ascertain that the timing of creatine is the sole factor that caused the differences.

The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength

Jose Antonio* and Victoria Ciccone

Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2013, 10:36

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