Among the many sports nutrition supplements you might find in any athlete or gym-goer’s bag, creatine, and pre-workout are definitely among the most common. Both creatine supplements and pre-workout are used to stay energized and increase the intensity of your exercise performance — and thus, build those muscles. Here’s what you should know about the similarities and differences when comparing creatine vs pre-workout supplements.
Creatine is an amino acid that is stored in your muscles over time and can be used for energy and muscle recovery. It can be taken either before or after a workout.
Pre-workout is specifically meant to be taken before a workout and contains a mixture of ergogenic aids like caffeine and beta-alanine for instant energy and endurance.
You can add creatine to your pre-workout, or you can buy a pre-workout that already contains creatine.
Adding too much creatine on top of a pre-workout that already contains it can lead to stomach problems and even serious kidney and liver issues.
What is creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid. Your body naturally produces some creatine, but you can also increase your creatine levels through certain food and supplements. When you do this, that creatine is then stored in your muscles as phosphocreatine, a molecule that your muscles then use for energy.
Creatine is not strictly a pre-workout since it can also be taken after your workout is over. However, creatine is also included in many pre-workout formulas, and you can also use it individually as a creatine tablet or creatine powder.
In addition, the actual creatine in a supplement can also come in different chemical forms like creatine monohydrate or creatine ethyl esters. However, creatine monohydrate is the most well-researched and may be the most effective form as well.
Benefits of creatine
So is creatine worth it? If you are using it to take your workout to the next level, the evidence suggests that it absolutely is.
Creatine benefits for women and men include:
- Performance. One of the most compelling reasons to take creatine is that it can help you maintain a high energy level throughout your workout! Creatine supplementation has been found to increase endurance strength and physical performance.
- Muscle strength and size. Studies have shown that creatine supplementation can help spur muscle growth as well.
Is creatine good for losing weight?
You might also be wondering if creatine can help you with your weight loss goals. There isn’t much evidence that creatine itself can directly affect weight loss; however, some researchers do believe that creatine supplementation can boost weight loss by increasing your performance during a workout and building lean muscle mass, both of which may translate to more calories lost.
What is pre-workout?
Pre-workout is an ergogenic supplement taken prior to exercise. Pre-workout is filled with a variety of ingredients that are meant to increase your energy and boost your performance during your workout. Pre-workout is good for running, weightlifting, HIIT, and many other workouts that benefit from a boost of mental and physical energy.
Common ingredients found in pre-workout supplements include:
- Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs);
- Arginine or Citrulline.
Ingredients found in pre-workout vary based on the manufacturer. For example, you can find pre-workout without creatine or pre-workout without beta-alanine. It’s important to note that pre-workout without creatine is still effective for short-term energy and muscle recovery, but it may not give the same level of endurance.
And how long before a workout should you take pre-workout? Generally, you should aim to take your pre-workout about 15–30 minutes prior to exercise to allow the caffeine and other ingredients to enter your system.
Benefits of pre-workout
Here are the key benefits of taking a pre-workout:
- Increases energy and endurance. The biggest benefit of using pre-workout is that it can give you a temporary increase in energy due to caffeine. In addition, beta-alanine reduces muscle fatigue, while arginine or citrulline can make blood flow more efficient which also makes for better performance.
- Assists with muscle recovery. Depending on the ingredients that are in your pre-workout, it may also help your body recover after the workout is over. For example, BCAAs can help with muscle recovery and growth.
Can you add creatine to your pre-workout?
Yes, you can add creatine to your pre-workout, but there are some precautions to keep in mind.
Both creatine and pre-workout are considered ergogenic aids that boost your exercise performance. Many supplements already contain creatine in pre-workout. So if your pre already contains creatine, you might run the risk of stomach discomfort like diarrhea at 10 grams of creatine or more. High levels can even be dangerous over a long period of time, with links to liver and renal complications.
But even more pertinently: there’s no real reason to add more creatine since your body can only store so much creatine at a time and excretes the rest through your urine. Ultimately, this means that adding more creatine to your pre-workout may be a waste of money.
So, you can add creatine into your pre-workout if it doesn’t already contain it, but it’s not worth going overboard.
What are pre-workout alternatives?
If you’re not sure that pre-workout or creatine supplements are for you, there are still other ways you can increase your energy for a workout.
- A healthy diet. Getting enough nutrients from your food is first and foremost the best way to sustain healthy and natural energy during your workout. Eat plenty of complex carbohydrates for energy, especially when doing high-intensity exercises. Animal-based protein sources like meat, fish, and poultry also naturally contain creatine, BCAAs, and beta-alanine to aid with muscle recovery afterward.
- Coffee. If all you’re after is a quick burst of energy, a naturally caffeinated drink like coffee or green tea may be a better option. Note: coffee can lead to minor gastrointestinal discomfort for some people, so make sure to use wisely.
Creatine and pre-workout both help increase your energy levels during a workout, albeit in different ways. Many pre-workouts already contain creatine, but you can feel free to add creatine to pre-workout otherwise as long as you aren’t taking too high of a dose (and if your pre-workout does not already have adequate creatine).
Can I take creatine with a pre-workout?
Yes, you can take creatine and pre-workout together (in fact, many pre-workouts already contain some creatine). However, you’ll want to watch the dosage, especially if your pre-workout already has some creatine in it, since too much creatine can lead to stomach discomfort and even liver and kidney complications over time.
What is the best pre-workout for beginners?
Some good pre-workouts for beginners include Essential Amino Energy and C4 Sport since they both have more moderate caffeine contents than some other alternatives. Important note: if you are new to pre-workout and/or do not have a high caffeine tolerance, start with a half dose before progressing to the recommended dosage listed by the manufacturer.
Is creatine effective for losing weight?
Creatine supplementation doesn’t seem to have a direct effect on weight loss, but it can improve metabolism by helping you increase your lean muscle mass when paired with the right resistance training regimen. It also can indirectly help by increasing your exercise performance and endurance, which can ultimately translate to a more effective calorie burn for weight loss.
- National Library of Medicine International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition The effects of creatine ethyl ester supplementation combined with heavy resistance training on body composition, muscle performance, and serum and muscle creatine levels
- National Library of Medicine Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update
- National Library of Medicine Creatine supplementation elicits greater muscle hypertrophy in upper than lower limbs and trunk in resistance-trained men
- National Library of Medicine Changes in Fat Mass Following Creatine Supplementation and Resistance Training in Adults ≥50 Years of Age: A Meta-Analysis
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- National Library Of Medicine Effects of Citrulline Supplementation on Exercise Performance in Humans: A Review of the Current Literature