You can’t question the fact that pre-workouts and creatine are two of the most widely consumed workout supplements around. For anyone looking to boost performance, gain muscle, and shed fat, they’re pretty much non-negotiable.
But if you look at any serious athlete or bodybuilder’s supplement shelf, you’ll probably notice that creatine is found on its own as pure creatine monohydrate.
Don’t be tricked into thinking that creatine can’t be included in your pre-workout, but there are some perks to consuming it on the side.
Keep reading to find out more.
What is Pre-Workout?
As we said, pre-workout supplements are some of the most widely used of all workout supplements. They’re specific formulas designed to enhance your performance and maximize results.
Pre-workout supplements usually combine several ingredients to provide a wicked energy-boost and drive your athletic performance through the roof.
They are designed to be taken before workouts, hence the PRE-workout, and typically contain ingredients that improve acute performance and may augment long-term training adaptations 1.
What You’ll Find In a Pre-Workout Supplement
Of course, not all pre-workouts are designed with the same ingredients, but there are some you’ll generally see across the board 1-4:
- Caffeine—As a potent nervous system stimulator, caffeine is added to pre-workouts to get your body revved up to train. It enhances performance during endurance, power, and resistance exercise, as well as improving cognitive function.
- BCAA—The branched-chain amino acids comprise leucine, isoleucine, and valine, and are added to pre-workouts, or sometimes taken on their own, to increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis, reduce muscle protein breakdown, reduce exercise-induced muscle damage, and decrease the extent to which you experience DOMS.
- Beta-alanine—That tingly feeling you get from taking a pre-workout, that’s beta-alanine. Its job is to enhance performance by increasing exercise capacity and decreasing muscle fatigue. It does this by acting as an intramuscular buffering protein to increase carnosine levels, which helps to buffer acid from the muscles, reduce lactic acid buildup, and thus enables you to work longer and harder without hitting the wall of fatigue.
- Creatine—We’ll talk more about creatine below, but it’s a common ingredient in pre-workout supplements because of its ability to increase intramuscular phosphocreatine levels, which ultimately enhances physical performance by boosting available ATP and improving muscle morphology.
What is Creatine and Why Take It?
Creatine is a molecule that’s naturally produced in the body, in the liver and kidneys specifically, from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine, and also formed when you eat foods containing these amino acids (i.e. meat).
It’s one of the most popular ergogenic aids used by gym-goers because of its ability to increase intramuscular creatine concentrations and enhance work capacity.
The reason creatine is so popular for people looking to gain mass is because of its role in energy availability. ATP is the form of energy your body uses to fuel virtually every body process, and without it, your body can’t run.
Muscle contractions are powered through the use of ATP, or adenosine triphosphate. When one molecule of ATP is used, it is then hydrolyzed into ADP and inorganic phosphate (Pi).
Because the muscles’ limited supply of ATP is burned through quickly during high-intensity exercise, there is an increased need to regenerate ATP.
This ATP supply can be regenerated using creatine phosphate, or phosphocreatine. When your body can’t keep up with demand, however, due to insufficient phosphocreatine, your max effort isn’t quite at the same level as it was when you started your workout and you’ll see your performance decline.
However, supplying your body with creatine can help to boost muscle levels of phosphocreatine and thus provide your body with another pool to draw on to produce ATP.
Things to Consider With Creatine in Pre-Workouts
As we’ve alluded, having creatine as part of your pre-workout is excellent, but there are a couple of things to consider:
Caffeine May Inhibit Creatine Absorption
The combination of caffeine and creatine is something you see a lot—but there may be a problem with it.
When you consume caffeine and creatine together, you may not be absorbing as much creatine as you think, and because of this, your performance and your results may not be reaching their full potential.
While there are no pharmacokinetic interactions between the two substances, and they both elicit benefits on their own pathways, there may be some absorption issues. Thus, caffeine may blunt some ergogenic effects of creatine loading.
However, keep in mind that this notion is deduced from a single study on the effects of caffeine intake on creatine action. It looked at levels of muscle phosphocreatine (PCr) and performance between oral creatine supplementation only and a creatine supplement combined with caffeine.
Results showed that despite differing conditions, muscle ATP concentrations remained the same. Still, torque production, on the other hand, was not altered by the combination of creatine and caffeine but increased with creatine alone 5.
The results of this study showed that creatine supplementation alone can improve performance during intense intermittent exercise, but the effects may be slightly blunted by taking caffeine.
Your Pre-Workout May Not Contain Enough Creatine
This one is a biggie.
If you look at a bottle of pre-workout that contains creatine, you’ll probably see anywhere from 1 to 2g per serving.
While that’s a great start, the amount in these supplements may not be enough to elicit the results you’re looking for.
Most of the studies done on the efficacy of creatine suggest a dosage of minimum 5g daily for maintenance levels, with some people needing up to 10g to maintain optimal creatine stores, and up to 20g daily for periods of creatine loading 6, 7.
So, relying solely on the amount of creatine in your pre-workout may not always be enough.
Can You Take Creatine With Pre-Workout?
The quick answer to this isn’t a straight yes or no—it depends on the type of pre-workout you’re taking and the results you’re looking for.
If you’re taking something like Performance Lab Pre that is a stim-free blend, it’s useful to contain creatine because there are no compounds that may inhibit absorption and blunt the effects.
But if you’re taking a pre-workout that’s loaded with stimulants—caffeine, green tea extract, green coffee bean, etc.—it’s best to separate your creatine supplementation because it may not actually be as effective as you want.
On the other hand, it’s also important to consider that recent research suggests that creatine supplementation may be more effective taken post-workout.
A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that creatine supplementation combined with resistance training can increase fat-free mass and boost strength.
Still, consuming creatine immediately post-workout may be superior to pre-workout for improving body composition and strength 8.
With all of that said, when you take your creatine is down to preference. If you’re looking to boost performance and prevent fatigue, pre-workout might be ideal, whereas if you’re looking to enhance and speed up recovery, post-workout is likely better.
- PS Harty, HA Zabriskie, JL Erickson, PE Molling, CM Kersick, AR Jagim. Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements, safety implications, and performance outcomes: a brief review. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 2018 Aug; 15(41).
- RR Wolfe. Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Aug; 14: 30.
- RM Hobson, B Saunders, G Ball, RC Harris, C Sale. Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino Acids. 2012; 43(1): 25-37.
- R Cooper, F Naclerio, J Allgrove, A Jimenez. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012; 9(1): 33.
- K Vandenberghe, N Gillis, M Van Leemputte, P Van Hecke, F Vanstapel, P Hespel. Caffeine counteracts the ergogenic action of muscle creatine loading. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1996 Feb; 80(2): 452-7.
- RB Kreider, DS Kalman, J Antonio, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017; 14: 18.
- AM Persky, GA Brazeau. Clinical pharmacology of the dietary supplement creatine monohydrate. Pharmacol Rev. 2001 Jun; 53(2): 161-76.
- J Antonio, V Ciccone. The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Aug; 10(36).