TL;DR Summary: How long does it take for creatine to kick in?
It takes about 1 week for creatine to kick in. Once ingested, it takes about an hour for creatine to reach your muscles, but you wont see noticeable improvements in strength or size for about a week after you start taking it. Following a loading phase of 20g per day can make creatine kick in faster.
Creatine is probably the single most widely consumed supplement in the world today after multivitamins. The number of vegan creatine supplements on sale has gone from a handful to hundreds over the years as a result of an explosion in the demand for this incredible performance-enhancing supplement.
Data from supplement companies suggests that creatine use is now even more prevalent than protein powder use among athletes and bodybuilders owing to the strength of the scientific evidence backing creatine up. Whether it’s by itself, as a meal replacement, or as part of a mass gainer shake, a huge segment of the physically active population is takin creatine on a daily basis.
But just how long do you need to take creatine in order to see benefits?
In other words, how long until the benefits of creatine kick in?
Let’s try to answer that question in some detail. To do so, we first need to look at what creatine is and how it works.
What is creatine?
Creatine is an organic compound found in the cells of all vertebrates. It is primarily responsible for the recycling of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the “energy currency” of your cells; the cycling of ATP back and forth into different molecules is how your cells release energy from available fuel (i.e. food).
As an essential nutrient for energy metabolism, creatine is made by the body. However, we also obtain creatine from food. As creatine is predominantly found in muscle and organ tissue, we can only really get appreciable amounts of creatine from meat. Smaller quantities are available from dairy.
Most of the creatine people consume as a supplement isn’t from meat though; it is usually synthetic creatine made in the lab.
How does creatine work?
Creatine works by increasing the rate at which you recycle ATP. In simple terms, having more creatine available means your body can turn over ATP faster, which in turn means your cells can release more energy faster.
This is why creatine makes people gain quickly in strength, particularly explosive strength.
When you do a big, explosive movement, like a max clean and jerk, your cells utilize every bit of creatine they have to release as much energy as possible. When you’ve finished the lift, it takes a little bit of time for your cells to change the end product back to creatine to start the cycle again.
By making more creatine available for your cells, your muscles can both exert more energy in the first place and recover quicker after a max lift.
Obviously, this has massive carryover benefits to your training. More heavy lifts completed means more stimulus for muscle growth, which mean more strength and size over the long term.
Creatine has another handy benefit for those of you who want to get bigger and stronger; as a salt, it pulls water into your muscles, increasing their size and making them appear fuller and rounder. This also helps you move more weight in the gym. As you get heavier, you can lift heavier weights: weight ultimately moves weight!
How long does it take for creatine to start working?
So clearly creatine has some pretty impressive benefits.
But how long after you start taking creatine should you start seeing these benefits?
How long does it take for creatine to actually start working?
Technically speaking, creatine starts working immediately. Any creatine you take shortly before working out will help you recover from heavy sets faster and help you release more power.
However, you will not see noticeable, meaningful results from creatine right away. To really start to see a significant improvement in your athletic performance – and your size – you need to take creatine on a daily basis for at last 7 days. This is typically how long it takes for creatine to ‘saturate’ your muscles and produce major increases in strength and power.
If your ultimate goal is building lean muscle mass, then of course creatine will take even longer to show results; creatine makes your training more effective, which speeds up muscle growth, but the process of building lean muscle mass still takes months.
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Pavel Sadovnik is a leading biochemical scientist with a PhD in biochemical engineering. He has spent decades working in industry as a chemist and pjharmaceutical consultant. He has extensive experience with the supplement industry, and specialises in supplement tsting and formulation consultancy. He is the Editor of NARSTO.