If you take supplements before or after you train, you probably have a very clear goal in mind — make your workouts as effective as possible. Supplement stacking is a common practice among strength and physique athletes. That is, you’ll strategically combine supplements as wide-ranging as protein, antioxidants, BCCAs, and even caffeine and creatine.
When building your stack, you’ll want to consider how each ingredient interacts with the others. For example, you’d want to separate taking caffeine before your workout and melatonin in a sleep-aid supplement. One is meant to energize you, while the other is meant to soothe your body. But in some cases, the potential interaction of your supplements is less straightforward.
In the case of creatine and caffeine, both are meant to give your workout an edge via extra boosts of energy. But do creatine and caffeine cancel each other out? Here’s everything you need to know about how creatine interacts with caffeine — and whether (and when) you should take both at the same time.
- How Does Creatine Impact Your Workout?
- How Does Caffeine Impact Your Workout?
- Do Creatine and Caffeine Cancel Each Other Out?
- Do Creatine and Caffeine Enhance Each Other?
- Your Takeaways
Creatine is more than just a supplement. It’s an amino acid formed by the synthesis of three simpler amino acids: glycine, L-arginine, and L-methionine. Your body produces it on its own, and it’s found in both skeletal muscles and the brain. (1)
The reason creatine is so popular with strength athletes is the way it contributes to energy production. Creatine gets stored as creatine phosphate (aka phosphocreatine). In this form, it’s able to “donate” a high-energy phosphate group to an ADP molecule (aka adenosine diphosphate). This combination creates an ATP (adenosine triphosphate) molecule.
ATP is what your body breaks down when it needs energy. If you’re going to be lifting with a high intensity, you’re going to “spend” a lot of ATP very quickly. Enter creatine, which can increase your ATP levels — and therefore, increase the energy available to your muscles. (2)
That energy can go a long way during training. Creatine supplementation may help increase overall strength, including leg press and chest press strength. (3) In addition to increasing strength, creatine can also help athletes pack on lean muscle mass. (4)(5)
Even after your workout, creatine seems to continue working for you. These supplements may help restore your glycogen levels after tough workouts, which can help you recover faster. (7)(1) This recovery-enhancing effect seems to be most effective when you have carbs alongside your creatine, so toss a banana into your pre-workout shake to give yourself that extra boost. (1)
How Much Creatine Should You Take?
Your body does generally produce about one gram of creatine each day. (8) However, research suggests that cisgender women may be able to store less creatine than cisgender men. (9) Still, when it comes to building more muscle, athletes seem to benefit from creatine supplementation regardless of gender. (9)
In terms of supplementation, optimal intake seems to be between three and five grams per day. (8) For best results, research suggests that taking creatine alongside carbs before your workout may most effectively improve post-exercise recovery. (7)(1)
When Should You Take Creatine?
Alongside a serving of carbohydrates, try taking creatine supplements around 20 to 30 minutes before your training session. While it might make logical sense to take creatine post-workout if you’re looking to improve recovery, research suggests that recovery is best supported by taking creatine before your workout. (7)(1)
Sources of Creatine
Vegans are out of luck in terms of food sources of creatine. This amino acid is readily available from animal-based sources rather than plant-based sources.
However, vegan synthetic creatine supplements are available — these will be the best way for athletes following a plant-based diet to get extra doses of creatine.
If you do eat meat, you might want to include some of these creatine-rich foods into your diet:
A common addition to pre-workout, many strength athletes turn to caffeine to provide enhanced focus and energy boosts to their training sessions. Research suggests that there’s science behind this logic.
Caffeine may have a positive impact on muscle strength, jump height, and endurance during training. (10) Cisgender men may also receive a boost of max upper body strength and power from caffeine. (11)(12) There have not been many studies on people of other genders with caffeine and strength training. (11)
Some evidence suggests that caffeine may have more of an impact on upper body strength and endurance — specifically in the bench press — than it does on lower body exercises like the leg press. (12) Still, other research failed to demonstrate a difference between caffeinated and non-caffeinated workouts on one-rep max performance over a four-week bench press strength program. (13)
Dosing with five milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight may decrease cis male athletes’ rate of perceived exertion (RPE) and increase the number of reps completed before reaching failure. (14)
How Much Caffeine Should You Take?
Taking two to three milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight seems to be more effective than taking higher doses (like six milligrams per body weight). (16) For reference, one to two milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight is roughly equal to one to two cups of coffee for most people. (17)
If you’re getting your pre-workout caffeine from supplements, pay attention to the label to see how much caffeine is included in each serving. Remember to take your non-supplement caffeine intake into account, too. Ingesting even more caffeine — closer to nine milligrams per kilogram of body weight — may increase side effects like insomnia. (18)
If you prefer to take as little caffeine as possible — while still enhancing your training — research suggests that the minimum effective dose may be 1.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. (16)
It’s worth noting that some evidence suggests that caffeine might raise blood pressure, so people prone to high blood pressure might want to skip the cup of joe. (18)
Additionally, most studies on the effects of caffeine focus on cisgender men, so people of other genders may want to proceed with caution regarding the research-based recommendations on dosing. (18)
However, one study of people who menstruate suggests that taking four milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight an hour before working out may help increase strength, power, and muscular endurance during and in the week following one’s period. (19)
When Should You Take Caffeine?
If you’re an athlete that prefers to pop your caffeine in a capsule rather than down a cold brew, research suggests that the optimal time for you to take your capsule is between 30 and 60 minutes before your workout. (16) If caffeine gums or gels are more your speed, you can take them a mere 10 minutes before starting your training. (16)
You might be concerned that drinking coffee as a regular part of your morning might decrease the effectiveness of the caffeine in your pre-workout. If your body is used to caffeine, it’s reasonable to wonder if it will still be effective at giving your workout a boost.
Some research suggests that you needn’t worry — having caffeine habitually doesn’t seem to take away the acute effects of taking caffeine deliberately as part of your pre-workout. (20) Still, pay attention to how much caffeine you’re ingesting overall to protect from side effects like insomnia or even exacerbating hypertension. (18)
Sources of Caffeine
Coffee is the first thing that comes to mind for many athletes when thinking about where to get caffeine into your diet. But coffee — which typically includes between 60 and 95 milligrams of caffeine per eight-ounce cup — is not the only place to get your caffeine.
Here are some popular sources of caffeine:
You want the sharp focus from caffeine. You want the extra energy from creatine. But does taking one caffeine with creatine cancel out the benefits?
Some research does suggest that while creatine supplementation on its own can help increase muscle phosphocreatine levels and performance in high-intensity exercise, taking creatine with caffeine may negate these benefits. (21)
Creatine loading before caffeine intake doesn’t seem to negatively affect workout performance. (22)(23) But some research suggests that consistently supplementing with caffeine during creatine loading may negate the positive impacts of creatine on its own. (22)
This potential cancellation in effectiveness might lie in the possibility of unwanted gastrointestinal side effects of taking both supplements together. (22)(24) Some research also suggests that possible interference effects with caffeine and creatine might come from opposite impacts on muscle relaxation time. (22)(25) Creatine may help muscles relax faster while caffeine seems to increase relaxation time. (25)
Sure, some research suggests that caffeine and creatine might not be an ideal pre-workout match. But other research says that the mix works just fine.
However, other research has examined the impacts of taking a pre-workout including creatine, caffeine, and other ingredients like B vitamins and beta-alanine. This research suggested that the pre-workout mix did indeed improve muscular endurance and increased perceived energy during the workout. (26)
Similarly, research on a pre-workout mix of creatine, caffeine, and amino acids suggested that the mix effectively helped improve anaerobic performance. (27) Another study on sprinters suggested that five days of creatine loading followed by taking six milligrams per body weight of caffeine may enhance peak power production more than creatine alone. (28)
Combining caffeine with creatine may decrease an athlete’s RPE when they’re running to the point of exhaustion — meaning they may be able to run longer, harder — when compared to taking creatine without caffeine. (29)
As you head to your shaker bottle to prepare your next pre-workout, here are the key points for you to keep in mind.
- Creatine Alone: For increased energy, recovery, muscle mass, and mental sharpness, consider supplementing with between three and five grams of creatine per day, taken between 20 and 30 minutes before your workout.
- Caffeine Alone: For optimal energy, strength, and endurance benefits, consider supplementing with between two and three milligrams of caffeine per body weight, taken between 10 and 60 minutes before your workout (depending on the method of consumption).
- Creatine Plus Caffeine Cons: Some research suggests that caffeine may negate the impacts of creatine, potentially because they have opposite effects on muscle relaxation time.
- Creatine Plus Caffeine Pros: Other research suggests that creatine and caffeine can co-exist effectively in a pre-workout without having negative effects, and that caffeine may even enhance peak power production and endurance compared to taking creatine alone.
- Creatine Plus Caffeine Caution: If you are prone to high blood pressure or have a sensitive stomach, you may want to avoid caffeine. And combining caffeine with creatine may make gastrointestinal issues worse.
More About Supplements
There you have it — creatine and caffeine may be a dream team. Caffeine may, in some contexts, cancel out creatine’s benefits. To be on the safe side, consider creatine loading a few days before introducing caffeine into your stack.
If you have pre-hypertension, hypertension, or a sensitive stomach, you may want to avoid caffeine supplements altogether. As always, consulting a doctor is your best bet. Otherwise, the pre-workout world may well work out just fine when creatine and caffeine are both in the mix.
Now that you’re all fired up about your pre-workout, check out these other BarBend articles on supplements that can help take your training to the next level.
- Nutrition for Athletes — How to Eat for Muscle and Performance
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