Creatine vs. Protein (Which Is Better?)


So, you are trying to enhance performance and gain muscle mass and have seen a lot of products on the market that claim to help you reach your goals. Two products, whey and creatine, are well-researched and shown to increase performance, build muscle, and more. But which is better to choose as a supplement: creatine vs protein?

The main difference between creatine and protein is creatine can help performance by increasing the availability of ATP, which means you can train harder and longer, and it also plays a role in recovery, hydration, and cognition. Proteins are the body’s building blocks and (amongst other things) help facilitate muscle protein synthesis (muscle building).

Let’s unpack the two popular supplement types and clarify what they do, if you should supplement them, and why.

What Is Creatine

Creatine is a non-protein amino acid compound found in meat and seafood [1, 2]. Depending on muscle mass, your body needs approximately 13 g of creatine per day to sustain normal creatine levels (without supplementation) [3].

Roughly half of this daily requirement is obtained from foods [4]. For instance, approximately 12 g of creatine can be obtained from a pound of uncooked beef or salmon [5].

The remaining portion of creatine is primarily made in the liver and kidneys from arginine and glycine (two amino acids) [6].

Creatine is a critical component in the body, primarily involved in energy metabolism and muscle function.

It helps to regenerate adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecules, the energy currency of cells, supporting short bursts of high-intensity activities.

Additionally, creatine contributes to muscle contractions and cellular hydration and may have neuroprotective properties.

It serves as stored energy in muscles, facilitating quick energy release during demanding physical exercise.

Creatine supplementation can help to enhance performance, promote recovery, and adapt to resistance training [3].

What Is Protein

Proteins are complex molecules made up of amino acids, which are the body’s basic building blocks. There are 20 different amino acids, and how these amino acids are arranged determines the specific role and function of each protein [7].

There are 9 essential amino acids, which are amino acids that cannot be made by the body: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine, each playing crucial roles in various physiological functions within the human body [8].

Protein is crucial for the growth, repair, and maintenance of muscles. The enzymes in your body are also proteins and help with digestion and various other metabolic processes.

In addition, protein plays a pivotal role in the immune system, producing antibodies that help the body defend itself against infections and illnesses.

Proteins also serve as carriers, transporting essential molecules such as oxygen (hemoglobin) and nutrients throughout the body.

Lastly, proteins provide structural support to cells and tissues. Collagen, for example, is a protein that gives strength and elasticity to our skin, bones, and connective tissues.

Creatine vs. Protein Differences

Building Muscle and Strength


Extensive evidence suggests that incorporating creatine supplementation boosts muscle creatine and phosphocreatine availability, thereby enhancing immediate exercise capacity and training outcomes in various people, from adolescents to the elderly [3].

These enhancements enable athletes to perform more effectively across sets or sprints, resulting in greater improvements in strength, muscle mass, and overall performance due to enhanced training quality [3].


Higher protein intakes can lead to increased muscle mass by leading to increased muscle protein synthesis (another term for building muscle) [9].

For example, one study reported that in athletes consuming daily protein intakes above 2.0 g/kg/d, which included protein intakes from both diet and supplements, a 22% and 42% increase in strength was noted in both the squat and bench press exercises during off-season conditioning in college football players compared to athletes that consumed only the recommended levels (1.61.8 g/kg/d) for strength/power athletes [10].

Findings from individual studies suggest that protein supplementation has a minor to moderate effect on strength development in both men and women.

However, a consistent pattern emerges when considering combined results from multiple studies through meta-analytic and systematic approaches.

Across various studies spanning 4 to 21 weeks and involving protein supplementation ranging from 15 to 25 g, there was a consistent increase in muscle mass and performance [11].

The impact of protein supplementation on increasing maximum strength with resistance training depends on various factors, such as the specifics of the resistance-training program (like how intense and progressive it is), the duration of the program, the participants’ training level, the energy intake in their diet, and the quality and amount of protein they consume, with a focus on the leucine content.

Additionally, taking other dietary substances like creatine can positively influence strength outcomes.



Creatine can help improve recovery by enhancing muscle glycogen loading, decreasing inflammation after workouts, tolerating higher training volumes, and preventing overreaching and overtraining [3].


Protein is vital for post-exercise recovery as it repairs and builds muscles, reduces muscle soreness, and supports immune function [12].

Combined with carbohydrates, protein helps replenish glycogen after workouts [13]. Its role in nutrient transport enhances tissue recovery, especially during injury healing [14].


Creatine vs Protein Which Is Better


The exact timing of creatine does not matter as much as taking creatine consistently every day, even on rest days.

While there are theoretical explanations for the potential importance of creatine timing around workouts, the existing studies on athletes are insufficient to confirm its significance or benefits [15].

The varying results in these studies likely result from differences in supplementation and training protocols, diverse participant groups, and varying statistical approaches.

Consequently, there is insufficient evidence to provide definitive recommendations regarding creatine timing.

It’s advisable to focus on consistently taking creatine at recommended daily doses. If incorporating it around workouts or with other supplements makes it more convenient, feel free to take creatine before or after a workout.


Think of meals as an opportunity to “deposit” protein, almost like a bank account. Muscle growth occurs primarily during the fed state (when you have eaten).

The concentration of essential amino acids (EAA) in the blood regulates muscle protein synthesis at rest and after exercise.

The body’s muscle-building response to eating is strong but brief. Within 1-4 hours after a meal, muscle protein synthesis increases, leading to a positive muscle protein balance.

In contrast, when you are not eating, the rate of muscle protein synthesis decreases, and muscle protein balance becomes negative.

That is why it is important to distribute your protein evenly throughout the day, with a source of protein approximately every 3 4 hours, with a recommended amount of 20 50g per meal, depending on your daily protein target [9, 11].


Recent research indicates that supplementing with protein and carbohydrates after intense endurance and resistance can increase muscle protein synthesis [16]. This is why people often refer to the period after a workout as the “anabolic window.”

However, the anabolic window is likely much larger than previously believed, with the muscles staying responsive to protein for up to 24 hours after a workout [17].

Eating protein after exercise, especially when carbohydrate intake is below optimal levels (<1.2 g/kg/day), can enhance the recovery of muscle glycogen and potentially reduce post-workout muscle damage[11].

During workouts

Although having protein during workouts has not been shown to improve performance, it has been demonstrated to reduce post-workout markers of muscle damage within 12 24 hours and less muscle soreness after exercise [18, 19,20].

It is recommended that athletes take about 0.25 g of protein per kg of bodyweight per hour of training [19].

Pre-bed snack

Numerous studies have reported that having 20 30 g of protein 30 90 minutes before bed can enhance muscle protein synthesis without causing fat gain [20, 21,22].

Fat Loss


Although many athletes have a misconception that creatine can make you gain weight, no studies show an increase in fat mass when using creatine.

In healthy, resistance-training men who followed the standard loading protocol (20 g/day for 7 days) followed by a maintenance protocol of 5 g/d for 11 weeks, there was an increase in fat-free mass (muscle mass) but no changes in fat mass [23].

No increases in fat mass could be found in older men (about 70 years) taking creatine for 12 weeks while doing resistance training [24]. Similar results were seen when older females took creatine for 24 weeks [25].

Some populations have shown fat loss, namely children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia [26] and older adults [27].


Apart from gaining lean body mass, elevating daily protein intake through a mix of food and supplements above the recommended daily allowance (RDA) (RDA 0.8 g/kg/day, increasing to 1.22.4 g/kg/day for endurance and strength/power athletes) while reducing overall calorie intake (by 3040%) has been shown to optimize fat loss while preserving lean body mass [28, 29].

Protein is the most satiating nutrient, meaning it makes you feel fuller for longer, leading to fewer calories being taken in and, ultimately, weight loss [30].



  • The fastest way to boost muscle creatine stores involves consuming approximately 0.3 g/kg/day of creatine monohydrate for 57 days.
  • After the initial loading phase, a maintenance dosage of 35 g/day is recommended to sustain elevated creatine stores.
  • Alternatively, starting with smaller daily amounts (e.g., 35 g/day) over 34 weeks gradually increases muscle creatine stores.
  • It’s important to note that the performance effects of this gradual supplementation method are less strongly supported initially.


  • The current recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein stands at 0.8 g/kg/day, but evidence suggests it is inadequate for meeting the needs of a training athlete.
  • Past suggestions proposed a daily intake of 1.21.3 g/kg/day as suitable, but much of this research relied on the nitrogen balance technique, which tends to underestimate protein requirements.
  • The daily and per-dose protein needs depend on various factors, including exercise volume, age, body composition, total energy intake, and the athlete’s training status.
  • Daily intakes ranging from 1.4 to 2.0 g/kg/day are considered the minimum recommended amounts, and higher quantities may be necessary for individuals restricting energy intake while preserving fat-free mass.
  • Recommendations on the optimal protein intake per serving for athletes to maximize muscle protein synthesis (MPS) vary and hinge on factors like age and recent resistance exercise. Generally, consuming 0.25 g of high-quality protein per kg of body weight or an absolute dose of 2040 g is advised.
  • Higher doses (around 40 g) may be required to maximize MPS responses in older individuals, while even greater amounts (approximately 70 g) seem necessary to effectively reduce muscle protein breakdown.

Should You Take Creatine And Protein?

Should You Take Creatine And Protein

A significant difference between creatine and protein is that you can only saturate 60-80% of your muscle creatine stores with creatine from food, and supplementing can boost your muscle creatine stores with 40 100%, which leads to performance and body composition enhancements [31, 32].

Vegetarians and vegans get even less creatine from their diet and can benefit greatly from creatine supplementation [33].

You can get all your protein needs from your diet, whether vegetarian or vegan [34].

While it is possible, supplementation can be a practical way to meet your protein goals, especially if you are trying to be in a deficit or doing high volumes of training [11].

The choice to supplement with protein depends on your ability to get enough protein-rich foods like meat, dairy, eggs, nuts, and legumes, your budget, and your personal preferences.


Both creatine and protein play a role in muscle building, health, and performance, but in different ways. Creatine can help you train harder and longer, while protein provides the building blocks to build muscle.

When choosing between creatine and protein as a supplement, it is worth considering that you can get all your protein needs with whole foods, but not all your creatine needs.

That said, protein supplements can be a convenient way to meet your protein goals, so adding protein to your supplement routine will depend on your budget and preference.


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