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Pre Workout vs Creatine: Which One Is Better For Boosting Athletic Performance?

creatine vs pre workout: which one is better?

Throughout your fitness journey, I’m sure you’ve heard of creatine and pre workout. In fact, these two supplements are the most popular and researched supplements in the fitness industry. So, which is better when it comes to pre workout vs creatine?

The truth is both these supplements have shown to have positive impacts in individual performance but in DIFFERENT ways.

Creatine is for the long run that stores energy to increase muscular strength, power, and endurance whereas pre workout increase focus and delays fatigue for a short period of time.

Hence, it really depends on what your goals are to decide which one is better for you.

In this article, we will go through the differences between creatine and pre-workout supplements as well as their benefits and downsides in detail.

Let’s get it started with creatine!

What is creatine?

So, you’ve heard the word “creatine” multiple times at the gym, but you aren’t sure what it actually is and why people take it.

Creatine is a natural molecule produced in the body from amino acids. It helps our muscles produce more energy during high intensity training.  

Essentially, creatine stores high energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine. These phosphate groups help increase our ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production. Now, what’s ATP?

Well, think of ATP as the body’s energy currency. ATP is molecule that produces energy and transfer it within cells. When performing high intensity training, ATP breaks down to provide energy for muscular contractions.

To put it simply, the more ATP you have, the better your performance would be during high intensity training.

However, studies have proven that our body can only store ATP for a short period of time, typically just 8-10 seconds of high intensity training.  After this, the body needs to produce more ATP, to assist with training that requires maximum intensity.

This is why us gym enthusiasts take creatine! By creatine supplementation, our body is able to produce more energy during exercise that is used in short, intense bursts of activity. For example, squats, bench press, and deadlifts.

Overall, creatine increases our body’s ability to replenish and produce more ATP which enhance performance throughout high intense workouts.

These characteristics make it easier to answer the question: pre workout vs creatine? We will talk more about this later in the article.

How creatine works?

To compare pre workout with creatine, lets take a look at how creatine works.

Firstly, 95% of our body’s creatine stores are found in the skeletal muscles with the remaining 5% distributed in the brain.

Our body naturally breaks down 1-2% of creatine per day. Because of this, our body produces creatine from amino acids plus we can source it through our diets. Meat and fish being the primary natural sources of creatine.

However, the natural production of creatine and dietary sources are NOT enough to maximise creatine sources in our muscles. That’s why we use creatine supplements, the best being creatine monohydrate.  

But what does creatine actually do in your body?

Well, in simple terms, creatine draws water to your muscle cells. Your muscles, essentially, keep this water and as a result, your muscles will look bigger and puffier. This increase in water in your muscles causes a cell volumization effect that directly contributes to muscle growth.

Key benefits of creatine

Creatine is one of the most studied supplements in the sporting industry and it has scientific evidence to prove key benefits. Creatine has shown to increase muscle mass, speeds recovery and, improve brain function.

Let’s look at each benefit in more detail.

1. Increase muscle mass

Our muscles need creatine to increase ATP production to enhance our performance in high intensity training.

Without sufficient creatine, the rate of ATP resynthesis reduces our ability to perform at maximum intensity. This is because it takes time for our body to regenerate ATP.

Hence, FULLY saturating our muscles with creatine will allow you to perform longer and harder during your workout sessions. In fact, studies have proven that supplementing creatine into your diet will increase you performance in high intensity training by 10 – 20%.

This will result in lifting more weight, progressively overloading, and finishing that last rep.

You will also be able to maximise your performance in high intensity exercises like bench press, squats, and dead lifts which are proven to be key for muscle growth and strength.

Overtime, these improvements will result in greater muscle mass and strength.

2. Speeds muscle growth & recovery

Once your muscles are completely saturated with creatine, the benefits will shock you!

Another key benefit is effective muscle growth and quicker recovery.

Studies have shown that creatine supplementation has anti-inflammatory and anti-catabolic properties that may help with muscle recovery.

3. Improves brain function

Did you know, our brain needs a significant amount of ATP to improve cognitive processing and recognition memory. In fact, research has shown that “mental training has been shown to elevate brain creatine levels”.

By supplementing with creatine, you are increasing phosphocreatine stores in your brain which can significantly help against neurological diseases.

It can reduce mental fatigue and protect brain cells from damage and degeneration.

4. Other benefits of creatine

Increasing ATP production is the main benefit of creatine. Here are some other key benefits of increasing ATP in your muscles:

  • Delays muscular fatigue.
  • Develops muscular endurance.
  • Improves muscle and strength.
  • May help with the Parkinson’s disease.
  • Lower Blood Sugar Levels

Keep in mind that most of these benefits are shown once your muscles have reached maximum creatine saturation. You can expect to see benefits after 4 weeks of taking a daily dose of 3-5 grams of creatine supplement. Or you could do a loading phase to see FASTER RESULTS!

But before we dive into pre workout vs creatine, let’s have a look at the potential side effects of creatine.

Side – effects of creatine

With the countless benefits of creatine, there are some small side-effects that you should be aware off.

1. Weigh Gain

After a few days of supplementing creatine, you might have noticed the weight scale increase. But let me assure you, it’s not fat. Creatine does NOT make you fat!

Then what causes the increase in weight?

Creatine causes water weight or “water retention”. Essentially, creatine draws water towards your muscle cells. Your muscles keep this water causing your muscles to appear larger and resulting in weight gain.

So, creatine will make you look bigger but it’s all water weight.

Studies have shown that in the log run, body weight will increase for those who take creatine due to muscle growth, NOT fat.

Hence, weight gain is more of a benefit: (a) your muscle will look bigger and stronger; (b) you will build muscle overtime.

2. Digestive issues

Like almost every fitness supplement, taking a high dose at once can cause digestive issues. Creatine is no different.

Some people have reported gastrointestinal disturbances.  To avoid this, take the recommended dose of 3-5 grams per day.

If you want to creatine load, follow our 4-step process to get the best result and avoid any side effects.

How much creatine should you take? The correct dose.

Research has shown that creatine shows its optimal effects once our muscles are fully saturated with creatine.

You can expect to see benefits after 4 weeks of taking the recommended daily dose of 3-5 grams of creatine supplement.

Or you could do a loading phase to see FASTER RESULTS! In the loading phase, you take approximately 20 grams of creatine per day. Usually, it’s four equal doses of 5 grams split throughout the day.

This will give you creatine’s physical and mental benefits within 5-7 days.

However, is a loading phase safe? Should you do it? We have made a whole article about Creatine Loading which explains everything in more detail.

Now that we have covered the first part of the pre workout vs creatine topic, let’s move onto the second part.

What is pre workout?

As it says in the name, pre workout is a fitness supplement that is designed to be taken before your workout to enhance sporting performance.

It generally contains a variety of ingredients such as:

  • Caffeine
  • Beta-alanine
  • Taurine
  • L-citrulline
  • Electrolytes
  • BCAAs

The main goal of pre workout is to provide you with laser like focus, increase in energy, and delay muscular fatigue for a small period of time. This will maximise the intensity of your workout which can improve your performance.

This makes it easier to answer the question: pre workout vs creatine. Both supplements have completely different characteristics.

How does pre workout work?

With a unique blend of ingredients, pre workout will provide you with an energy boost that will help you perform better during your workout.

Also, if you don’t feel like going to the gym, a small scoop of pre workout will get you in the zone and ready for a workout session.

Generally, you should take your pre workout supplement 30 – 60 min before your workout for the ingredients to kick in.

Pre-Workout Ingredients and Benefits

Let’s look at some of these key ingredients and what they help with.

1. Caffeine

This is the key ingredient in all pre workout supplements. Caffeine is stimulant that will increase your alertness, improve your mood, and increase energy levels. This will maximise the effectiveness of your workout.

2. Beta-alanine

Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that reduces muscle fatigue and helps with endurance. Essentially, this ingredient increases carnosine levels which prevents the build-up of lactic acid in your muscles.

This allows our muscles to work harder for a greater duration.

3. Taurine

This is a non-essential amino acid that has shown to have positive effects in performance.

Taurine helps delay muscle fatigue and increases endurance by increase oxygen use during physical activity.

Further, taurine is powerful ingredient that helps our cardiovascular, cognitive, and immune function.

Studies have also shown that taurine helps our cardiovascular and heart health by reducing blood pressure, lowering cholesterol levels, and protect against coronary heart disease.

4. L-citrulline

L-citrulline is an amino acid that helps increase nitric oxide (NO) levels. This improves blood flow and can also lower blood pressure.

Research has shown that nitric oxide improves oxygen and nutrient delivery to our muscle cells which enhances athletic performance.

5. BCAAs

BCAAs (Branched-chain amino acids) are a group of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

These amino acids have shown to increase muscle growth, reduce muscle soreness, decrease skeletal muscle damage, and promote muscle recovery.

It should also be noted that many of our protein foods already contain BCAA’s.

Side – effects of pre workout

With all of these benefits, pre workout supplements do have some side effects that you need to be aware of.

1. Caffeine tolerance

This is one of the key side effects of the pre workout supplement. Pre workout supplements have a significantly high dose of caffeine (around 150 – 300mg).

Consuming caffeine on a regular basis, your body becomes accustomed to it and will require a higher dose to gain the same effects. This is what we call “caffeine tolerance”.

As a result of this, you will need higher doses of pre workout to get that same energy boost and focus levels.

But you should NEVER keep increasing your pre workout dose since you are likely to experience serious side effects such as:

  • Headache
  • Muscle breakdown
  • Addiction
  • High blood pressure
  • Anxiety

Instead, cycle on and off pre workout to keep getting the same effects without developing caffeine tolerance.

Related reading: Why Isn’t My Pre-Workout Working?

2. Sleep Problems

What is your favourite time to workout? Is it at night? Well, if it is, then you need to be cautious when taking pre workout.

Caffeine is a stimulant that blocks the action of adenosine, a compound that promotes sleep. Adenosine levels gradually increase in the brain throughout the day and reaches it’s peak in the evening making you feel sleepy.

Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors by reversibly binding to them. This makes you feel awake.

Essentially, if you take pre workout at night, it will interfere with your sleep, making it hard for you to go to bed.

Research has proven that our muscles grow and recover while we are asleep. So, avoid taking pre workout supplements at night to get enough rest for your muscles to recover.

3. Digestive issues

For most people, pre workout does not cause an upset stomach or digestive issues. However, with numerous fitness supplement brands, some pre workout’s contain certain ingredients in large quantities that may cause digestive issues.

 The ingredients that may cause digestive upset include:

  • Magnesium
  • Caffeine
  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • Artificial flavours

Taking too much of these ingredients can cause digestive issues.

Take note that consuming a small amount of water with pre workout can also cause an upset stomach. Aim for 8–12 ounces (240–350 ml) of water with a serving of pre workout.

How much pre workout should you take? The correct dose.

The dose of pre workout depends on the caffeine content. Different pre workout supplements have different caffeine contents.

According to research, caffeine consumed in doses of 2-6 mg/kg is highly effective for workouts. However, make sure that you don’t exceed this amount. High doses of pre workout ingredients can have more side effects then benefits. Especially if you already have a cup or two of coffee per day.

Table Comparison: Pre Workout Vs Creatine

Pre WorkoutCreatine
Boost energy through stimulant (caffeine).Boost energy though ATP.
Increase in focus for a short period of time.Enhanced cognitive function for long periods.
Taken before a workout.Can be taken anytime.
Effects show within 30 min of consumption.Effects show only after muscles become fully saturated with creatine.
Boosts exercise performance.Builds muscle and size in the long run.
Cannot take it every day (cycle on and off required).Safe and effective to use everyday for a long period of time
Multi-ingredient.One ingredient.
This table shows the key differences between pre workout vs creatine.

Verdict: Pre Workout vs Creatine – Which One is Better?

Now that we know what creatine and pre workout are and how they work, which one is better?

Well, you can’t compare the two. They are both two separate supplements that provide different benefits.

Pre workout increases focus and energy for a short period of time to maximise performance. It helps decrease fatigue and increases endurance for the time of your workout. Hence, the effects are temporary.

Creatine, on the other hand, provides optimal results in muscles mass and cognitive function once our muscles reach maximum creatine stores. This may take a while. If you perform a loading phase, then it’s only a matter of 5 – 7 days. However, if you go with the recommended 3-5 grams per day dose, then it may take a month.

If you want the best results possible, try using both. But understand the benefits and side effects before diving right in. Also, if you have any digestive, kidney, or stomach issues, I will STRONGLY recommend you speak to a dietitian before including these supplements into your diet.

Key Takeaway

Both creatine and pre workout are popular fitness supplements among athletes. However, they have different characteristics and are used for different purposes.

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound that helps in ATP production which helps with high – intensity training. It has shown to increase muscle mass in the long run.

Pre workout is designed to increase energy, focus, and endurance because of the blend of different ingredients. The effects of pre workout only last for a short period of time and provide a temporary boost in energy and mental alertness.

We hope this article helped you choose which supplement fits your needs. Maybe you chose both!

As always, stay Fit & Healthy and I will see you guys’ next week!

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Hey, I'm Shalin

Welcome to Just Fit & Healthy. From the right nutrition to the best science based workouts, here is the one stop shop for ALL information. Let’s achieve goals together!

Shalin Anam

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