Can you name a more iconic duo than Batman and Robin? Well, I can! Creatine and whey protein are hands down the two most common supplements in any bodybuilder's stack.
They have been so successful that you can find them in the remotest corners of the world, ranging from San Francisco to Svalbard.
Being a staple in every aspiring bodybuilder's gym bag comes with its downsides too.
I've frequently come across a popular misconception that creatine and whey serve the same purpose. That couldn't be any further from the truth!
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While these two supplements might seem alike on the surface, the fundamental mechanisms at their cores are vastly different from one other.
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Creatine vs. Whey Protein: A Quick Overview
As the name implies, whey protein is made from whey, a milk derivative.
Whey protein is an extra macronutrient in your diet. It is ideal for those who don't have much time to prepare something, waiting for it to digest and then working out. It is meant for those who need quick absorption and digestion of protein (1, 2).
Most of my clients consume it before and after their workout. Some people love to take another dose before going to bed. I would recommend a slower digesting protein for that, though, something like casein (which I will cover in another article).
Creatine, on the other hand, is a chemical naturally synthesized by the kidney and liver in our bodies.
Studies have demonstrated that it increases strength, muscle mass, and exercise performance (3, 4).
Moreover, it provides a plethora of other health benefits, such as guarding against neurological diseases (5, 6, 7, 8).
A creatine supplement elevates the level of the chemical which is already present in your body.
Creatine is insulin-mediated (9), which is why I prefer to take it with a pre-workout meal filled with carbohydrates. This will amp up your peak strength and endurance.
It is definitely one of the best pre-workout supplements out there.
How Are They Different?
Let's compare both supplements based on the real-world fitness parameters that matter to most of us:
Creatine improves the content of fat-free mass and all types of muscular fibers. According to one study, the improvement ranges from 2x to almost 6x when compared to a placebo group. The same participants significantly increased the amount of weight they could lift, especially on their bench presses and squats (10).
Another study demonstrated that people consuming creatine also increased their 1RM (1 Repetition Maximum), which is the maximum amount of weight that one can lift in a single repetition (11).
In the case of whey, a study compared the use of whey protein with casein protein. The latter is a protein supplement that is known for its slower absorption. The gains in strength turned out to be greater for the whey protein group (12).
Creatine acts as a catalyst for muscle growth, whereas whey protein is the actual building block from which muscles are formed.
When comparing 250 different types of supplements, a study showed that creatine was one of the only two capable of showing a significant increase in lean mass gain (13).
Along with being the longest-studied supplement of all time, creatine is also the one with the best results. There are many other studies confirming how beneficial it is for gains in the form of lean mass and muscle (14, 15, 16).
In the form of a protein shake after a workout, whey protein provided the best gains for muscle mass (17).
In contrast to casein, whey protein is capable of performing better for boosting hypertrophy (18, 19), the mechanism of building muscle.
The two most important parameters for choosing supplements are muscle and strength gains. This applies to creatine and whey protein as well.
Yet, there are proteins with varied functions in the body, and using them in different proportions will lead to different benefits. When combining these two, make sure you consider how their proportions play into your muscle growth. Informing yourself about what influence they will have on your body is always a good idea.
You will become stronger and endurant using creatine, which one study has already proven. We have also observed that it has the capacity to improve the brain's performance (20). Even people with a lot of stress in their life and lethargy can benefit from it. Increasing their creatine intake through supplementation will improve their cognitive capacity (21).
As if all those benefits were not enough, it also seems to be a protective supplement against brain disease (22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27).
I can't tell about you, but I'm definitely happier to know about these lesser-known bonuses! A supplement that I'm already using for other purposes also turns out to be superb for my brain! I love to study and learn new things every day, so it's a cheap addition considering all the physical and mental gains.
Everyone has experienced moments of stress, and they know how it sabotages productivity. Whey protein seems to provide a substantial increase in serotonin due to being rich in tryptophan. This means your mood gets uplifted! It also reduces the concentration of the stress hormone – the infamous cortisol (28).
The use of supplements is always surrounded by myths and facts. This is partly due to the culture of “bro science.” As the old adage goes, “everything in excess is bad.”
Let's start off with whey protein and see if there are any negative consequences of its use.
Any powder made out of multiple ingredients warrants an investigation for any possible allergies. Besides that, the overconsumption of industrialized products may lead to digestive discomfort.
Other than that, no study has brought up anything against the regular use of whey protein so far. When using a protein powder, make sure to calculate the exact amount required by your body every day!
Healthy people do not need to worry about it but people with problems with their kidneys do! They should consult a doctor to see if they can add more protein to their diet through a supplement or not.
Talking about creatine, a 2-year long study tried to figure out the consequences of long-term creatine consumption. They weren't able to find any side effects (29).
Changes in creatinine and total protein were negligible (30). It's important to note that these are the markers that commonly change in people with intense training programs.
Therefore, the only thing to worry about is the possibility of a condition or disease affecting your kidneys or liver. That demands approval from your doctor for anything you may take, even if those supplements are generally safe.
I've Chosen Creatine: How Do I Take It?
For the past decade of my life, I've seen and tried all sorts of dosages and cycles. From my personal experience, I can confidently say that there was no significant difference between the results. That said, it's obvious that the most economical one is the best choice in this case.
The loading phase consists of consuming 20 grams of creatine for five days or up to a week. After that, the consumption is to be fixed at 5 grams per day as part of the “maintenance phase.” No studies have shown that this is the optimal way of loading creatine, and I haven't found any benefits myself either.
I chose not to dig through my creatine supply too quickly, so I started with the same 5g that I kept on for a few months. It may be quicker to utilize the loading phase, but I will leave that to your sole discretion.
Tip: Creatine is absorbed better when consumed with a meal full of carbohydrates (31, 32).
The reason why I stopped taking it often is due to my routine. Endurance competitions demand too much from my body. As creatine demands a much higher water intake, it poses a disadvantage during a race.
Always remember to at least double your water intake when using creatine. Creatine demands plenty of it, and your body's reservoirs need to stay topped up.
Usually, it's really difficult to individually test the differences in body shape to associate it with a particular supplement. Surprisingly in the case of creatine, the differences are obvious! There is absolutely no way to ignore the correlation!
I get bigger, my muscles feel denser, and people quickly notice how my clothes appear skintight when I'm loading creatine. Try it yourself and observe what changes in your physique and strength, as well as what happens after you stop taking it for a while.
I can tell you this much, the stark contrast creatine creates is mindblowing!
Last but not least, there are a few different forms of creatine, and knowing about all of them is very important:
Creatine Monohydrate – By far the most famous one and my prime choice. Most of the benefits indicated in this article refer to this form.
Creatine Citrate – This type of creatine is bound to citric acid to make it more soluble in water. There are no proven benefits in terms of absorption by the body.
Creatine Ethyl Ester – The industry tried to make a better product. They ended up with one that results in higher creatinine levels in the body but no improvements (33). Not recommended at all.
Liquid Creatine – Creatine suspended in solution is less effective than the powdered form (34).
Micronized Creatine – A powder with smaller particles, which makes it more soluble.
Creatine Nitrate – The creatine molecule is bound to a nitrate group which increases solubility, yet it has no proven advantages over the normal form.
Creatine Magnesium Chelate – In this form, creatine is bound to Magnesium. It seems to have no additional benefits (35).
Buffered Creatine – It has a higher pH level but also failed to prove to be better than the monohydrate variety (36).
Creatine Hydrochloride – As the name suggests, it is bound to hydrochloric acid. It is not proven to be more effective.
Creatine Malate – Creatine with malic acid, without any research to back any claims.
Creatine Pyruvate – Pyruvic Acid bound with creatine increases plasma levels of creatine. Ironically, it doesn't result in more muscle absorption or better performance (37).
If you ask me, I suggest you stick with Creatine Monohydrate. I tried to find facts and research supporting the other types, and out of all of them, it seems to be the best choice.
I've Chosen Whey Protein – How Do I Take It?
As an addition to the daily consumption of protein and amino acids, there is no “best time” to consume them. It is effective at any given the time of day, and your body will utilize it to recover and repair your muscles.
The dosage for common types of whey protein is scoops of 30g. They may range anywhere from 20 to 27g of protein per serving, and that should be enough for a meal for most people.
I like to exercise with amino acids flowing through my body and available for muscle repair. Therefore, when there is no time to digest a huge meal, my choice is whey protein.
When choosing your form of whey protein, keep in mind the differences:
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) – Regular type and one of the least expensive. It is simply perfect for adding to your daily consumption of protein. Look for those with nearly 80% of the protein content to justify their cost. It has lactose and some other nutrients due to being derived from milk.
Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) – A pure form that hits almost 95% of protein per serving. It has little or no lactose content and costs a bit more.
Hydrolyzed Whey Protein – Doesn't have much lactose and has anywhere from 80-90% protein. The protein comes in a micronized powdered form, optimizing absorption. It is ideal for those with a little more money to expand. Also, those willing to boost the amino acid levels in their blood as quickly as possible might want to shell out their money on this!
Choose one among these three, and make sure to read the labels and the ingredients to confirm the product is, in fact, authentic. Crazy Nutrition's TRI-PROTEIN combines all three whey protein types.
From my own experience and scientific studies, I can recommend creatine. It is great for both muscle building and strength gains. Let's not forget about the mental capacity boost that comes with it, which is a rather unknown bonus!
Whey protein may not be a super supplement like its rival, but it has nourishing properties. It is a great addition to your diet, for those who can spend extra money. Besides, it digests quicker than regular food or other proteins such as casein.
The best strategy for someone who loves sports or simply wants a better and stronger body is to use them both in tandem. I can completely assure you of their safety.
Analyze this article carefully again, if needed. Make the decision that suits your goals the best.
As always, I'm here for you if you need me. I'm just one comment away, so don't be shy.