Taking creatine supplements before and after a tough workout may speed up muscle recovery, new research shows.

Inactive young men who used the supplement regained their strength faster after doing a series of leg presses, curls and extensions, Dr. Matthew B. Cooke of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and colleagues found.

Creatine is a key component of muscle tissue. There have been more than 200 studies of its ability to improve muscle strength, but just a handful of researchers have looked at the supplement's effects on muscle damage and recovery, Cooke and his team write in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

They assigned 14 young, non-exercising men to take creatine and carbohydrate or carbohydrate only for five days before and 14 days after a punishing exercise session.

Study participants were instructed to take small doses of the supplement mixed with water throughout the day before the workout. The dosage equaled about 21 grams of creatine a day for a man weighing 70 kilograms. After the workout, the men took a single dose daily.

During the exercise session, the men worked out on leg press, legg extension and leg flexion machines. They did 40 repetitions of each exercise at 120 percent of their 1-repetition maximum capacity.

At 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours and 96 hours after the exercise session, the men who had been taking creatine had lower reductions in their isometric knee extension strength than the men in the control group.

While all the men had increases in their blood levels of creatine kinase, a creatine breakdown byproduct, those who were taking creatine had smaller increases at two, three, four and seven days after the exercise session. Their increases in lactate dehydrogenase also were smaller.

"It is evident from the current study that creatine supplementation prior to, and during recovery from, an eccentric exercise training session, provides faster recovery in muscle strength," Cooke and colleagues say.

AST Sports Sciences Pty Ltd provided the creatine used in the study and funded the research, but the research team state that their analysis and interpretation of the findings was independent of the funding source and "do not constitute endorsement by the authors and/or their institutions concerning nutrients investigated."