If there’s one supplement you should take to improve gym performance, it’s creatine. And experts agree – it can increase strength, exercise performance, and muscle mass.
In addition to athletic improvement, studies have consistently shown that creatine supplementation may reduce your risk of sports injury, speed up your recovery after exercise, and offer you spinal cord neuroprotection.
But what happens if you miss a day of creatine? Will it ruin any of your gains? If you stop taking creatine, what side effects will you experience?
You are going to find answers in this post. Below, I’ll go over everything you need to know about creatine, but let’s start with the basics.
You will find in this article:
- Creatine: What is it, and do I need it?
- Why take creatine supplements?
- Should you take creatine every day or only on workout days?
- What happens if you miss a day of creatine?
- Can you take too much creatine supplements?
- When should you stop with creatine?
- When to take creatine: before or after a workout?
Creatine: What is it, and Do I Need It?
Creatine is a naturally occurring non-protein amino acid compound found naturally in seafood and red meat. The majority (95%) of creatine is also found in skeletal muscle (or muscle cells) and small amounts in the testes and the brain.
This substance helps your muscles to produce energy during a high-intensity workout or a heavy lift. It has an outstanding safety profile and is considered one of its most tested supplements.
Why take creatine supplements?
Creatine is very popular among bodybuilders and athletes. They take it to improve exercise performance, enhance strength, gain muscle, and help their muscles recover more quickly during a workout.
Such a muscular boost may provide athletes the bursts of energy and speed, especially during short bounds of high-intensity activities, like sprinting or weight lifting.
Some people have creatine synthesis deficiencies, and they need dietary creatine intake. Increasing their intake maintains the body’s normal brain and muscle concentration of phosphocreatine (PCr). PCr comprises two-thirds of the intramuscular creatine.
Vegetarians have also been shown to have lower intramuscular creatine stores. Therefore, taking creatine is beneficial for maintaining capacity or optimal whole body creatine stores.
Still, creatine is pretty much like every other supplement. To work correctly, you need to take it the right way.
So, Should You Take Creatine Every day or Only on Workout Days?
Every day. You’re taking a creatine supplement in the first place to maintain your creatine reserves. And you can only achieve that by taking creatine every day even if you’re not working out.
What Happens if You Miss a Day of Creatine?
The answer depends if you’re in the loading phase of creatine or the maintenance phase.
Taking creatine in the loading phase
The loading phase is when you’re just starting to supplement with creatine. This phase involves taking high amounts of creatine – approximately 20 grams – for five to seven days so that the creatine content in your muscle quickly increases over several days.
Your muscles will have about a 20% increase in creatine content by the end of the creatine loading phase, so you can finally move on to the maintenance phase.
Missing creatine for one day in the loading phase can deplete your reserves, reducing the supplement’s effectiveness. Avoid it from happening as much as possible. You can stop taking creatine in the loading phase when you’re experiencing side effects or if you’d instead go off of the creatine supplement completely.
Taking creatine in the maintenance phase
The maintenance phase of creatine is the day after the five to seven days of the loading phase. To maximize creatine muscle stores, the maintenance dose of creatine is two to 10 grams per day.
Missing one day of creatine in the maintenance phase won’t be a problem because your muscles have already built up an inventory of creatine. This is especially true if you still eat meat in your diet, meaning you’re getting a good amount of creatine, BCAA, and protein already.
Your training progress won’t come to a halt. You won’t lose size.
These are because creatine remains in your system and takes time to move out. Just get back on track the soonest time possible once you have identified your mistake. The same applies to those in the loading phase.
Daily maintenance dose: what to do if you miss creatine for a day
Whether you’re in the loading or the maintenance phase of creatine and you miss one day of taking the supplement, it’s not yet the end. Just resume taking it usually the following day so that everything will eventually be back to normal in a few days.
And while you are supplementing with creatine, the amount of creatine stored in your muscles and the total serum creatine levels increase.
How many days can you miss creatine?
If you miss more than three days, it will take a couple of weeks to get your system back where it should have been to maximize benefit. The creatine levels in your muscle will also start to deplete two weeks after you stop taking the supplement.
Can you take too much creatine supplements?
Creatine is a safe sports supplement, but taking too much may cause stomach discomfort and bloat. Therefore, take only three to five grams daily to maintain the optimal muscle stores of creatine.
And since such an amount is already enough to keep a good amount of creatine in the muscles, taking more than the recommended dose can cause your body to excrete the excess creatine through urine.
When should you stop with creatine?
If it’s for a creatine cycle (to increase the supplement’s maximum effectiveness), you should stop taking the creatine supplement after eight weeks. The pause phase should last two to four weeks or more.
[See Related Post: Best Pre Workout Without Creatine]
Here’s a rundown of the creatine cycle for maximum effectiveness:
- Loading phase: 5-7 days; 10-20g of creatine every day
- Maintenance phase: 2 -6 week duration; 3-10g each serving (don’t exceed more than one serving per day)
- Pause phase – 2-4 week duration; no creatine supplementation
Who should not take creatine?
We do not recommend creatine for people with diabetes, kidney disease, or liver disease. Others who should avoid taking it are pregnant or nursing women and children under 18.
Your body returning to its pre-supplementation level
What happens, though, if you’ve been taking creatine and decided to go off the creatine supplement completely?
It would take a couple of weeks to over a month for your body to return to its pre-creatine supplementation level. During this time, expect to feel changes in your fitness or athletic performance as your body readjusts. You may also feel a decline in strength, loss in water weight, decreased creatine production and increased fatigue.
These changes vary on how much creatine was stored in the body before stopping it and your activity level.
A study proved the subsequent degradation of muscle creatine content to be actual. Thirty-one male subjects who consumed creatine in different quantities eventually stopped taking creatine. After two weeks, their muscle creatine decreased by 5%. And a whole month without creatine supplementation, the subjects were again back to the baseline.
How much weight will you lose if you stop taking creatine?
Some people lose up to five to seven pounds (2-3 kilograms) when they stop taking creatine because their muscles will no longer hold as much water as they still take creatine. This change can happen in the first week after they stop creatine supplementation.
Will you lose muscle gains if you stop taking creatine?
No. Creatine doesn’t create or build muscle but helps you train more. This is why the muscle you’ve gained while supplementing is still present. Stopping creatine supplementation will not reverse your gains.
Although you will experience a downturn in energy, endurance, and training capacity if you stop taking creatine supplementation:
- You can continue to grow the stronger base you’ve started without the use of creatine and
- You’re still better and stronger than before starting creatine supplementation.
You can be sure that if you avoid a significant training hiatus and hard nutritional deficit, your muscle gains will remain.
When to Take Creatine: Before or After Workout?
Nutrient timing is a popular topic, especially for people looking for an edge in the gym and among athletes. So, the important question is no longer when to take creatine but when to take it.
The answer is that you can take it before or after a workout. There are merits to both.
If you want more power available to your muscle during exercise, take it before training. That’s because your body can digest it fast enough and use it during training. If you want a more positive effect on improving muscular strength and increasing lean muscle mass, take it after a workout.
Some experts and fitness enthusiasts believe that taking creatine after a workout allows the body to be “primed” for an influx of nutrients after the muscles were depleted of nutrients after an exercise. Throw creatine there along with carbs and protein so that the body will receive all of the creatine’s benefits.
My advice is for you not to fear creatine or worry that you’re taking it the wrong way. Take the recommended daily maintenance dose before or after a workout (whatever works for you) and stick with that routine.
How should I take creatine pre-workout?
If taking creatine pre-workout suits your lifestyle, take it at least 30 minutes before your exercise because it helps short-term performance.
How should I take creatine post-workout?
If you take creatine post-workout, it’s best to combine it with protein and carbohydrate sources to improve muscle retention.
[See Related post: The Best Supplements for Skinny-Fat Guys]
Creatine is a safe sports supplement (even for long-term use) that can improve one’s athletic and fitness performance. There are also other health benefits that it can do, particularly to brain function.
If you’re in the maintenance phase, missing creatine for a day won’t be a problem (pass the five to seven days of the loading phase). Don’t worry if you skip a dose in the loading phase.
While it can mess up your progress (lower creatine levels in your muscles), you can just continue normally on your next scheduled dose.
Start again tomorrow. However, don’t use the extra creatine supplement to make up for the missed dose. With this knowledge about creatine, I hope you can stick to your creatine supplementation to reap maximum benefit.
If you found this article interesting and helpful, check out more fitness articles on ExpertFitness.org.
Nathan Lloyd, MSc
LICENSED PERSONAL TRAINER
I’m a personal trainer, based in Boulder, Colorado.
I service clients physically in the Boulder area, mainly in the ONE Boulder Fitness Gym, but am also available for online consulting and coaching.
If you’re interested in my personal coaching programs, please contact me via the contact page.