Creatine vs Pre-Workout

Determining Which Supplement Fits Your Training Needs

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: August 12, 2023

Creatine and pre-workout are two of the most popular supplements among weightlifters. While they offer some similar benefits, they’re also very different.

So what makes these supplements unique? And how should you use them to reach your fitness goals?

In this article, I break down creatine vs pre-workout. So you can get the best results from your supplements without wasting money.

Creatine vs Pre-Workout

Creatine vs Pre-Workout

Creatine and pre-workout are sports supplements aimed at improving workout performance. Most people use them to increase muscle and strength gains.

Despite their similarities, creatine and pre-workout have different functions. So let me explain exactly what each one is.

What Is Creatine?

Creatine is a molecule produced by the liver and found in red meat and other foods. It is a critical component of the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) energy pathway used during resistance training.

During weight lifting, muscles use up ATP within seconds, causing fatigue. However, after a few minutes, ATP regenerates, and you can perform another set.

Creatine supplements help regenerate ATP faster, allowing for longer and harder training.

Creatine

What Is Pre-Workout?

Pre-workout is a multi-ingredient supplement usually containing a stimulant like caffeine plus certain amino acids for increased blood flow and delayed fatigue.

Sometimes, pre-workout supplements also contain creatine to combine the benefit of both supplements. But the type and dose of creatine used in pre-workout may not work as well as a standalone supplement, which I’ll explain later.

Pre Workout

Benefits of Creatine vs Pre-Workout

From a high-level view, creatine and pre-workout improve your workouts. As you zoom in, however, the specific benefits provided by each supplement come into focus.

In this section, I’ll compare the effects of creatine vs. pre-workout concerning energy, blood flow, performance, and muscle gain.

Energy

Both creatine and pre-workout supplements boost energy for a workout but in different ways. Creatine is a fuel source by providing phosphate to the ATP energy pathway during exercise.

On the other hand, pre-workout supplements contain caffeine, a stimulant that inhibits the degradation of intracellular cyclic AMP (cAMP), delaying fatigue. In other words, it doesn’t directly give you energy but makes you feel less tired.

Creatine Phosphagen System

An illustration of how creatine phosphate (CP) contributes to the phosphagen system by donating its phosphate molecule to turn adenosine diphosphate back into adenosine triphosphate.

Blood Flow

Pre-workout supplements often include l-arginine or l-citrulline, amino acids that relax blood vessels and increase blood flow. This effect is beneficial for delivering more oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles during exercise.

On the other hand, creatine is not typically associated with increased blood flow, though one study suggests it may improve blood flow to limbs during resistance training1.

Performance

A third common ingredient in pre-workouts is beta-alanine, an amino acid that delays fatigue by buffering pH levels in the presence of lactic acid. Studies show that supplementing with beta-alanine significantly increases exercise capacity2, allowing longer workouts.

However, studies on whether pre-workout supplements improve power output and force generated during resistance training are mixed.

Creatine also increases performance by delaying fatigue, but not in the same way as beta-alanine. Again, creatine works by increasing the available pool of muscle cellular energy.

And this effect is directly related to resistance training. In a 2012 meta-analysis, researchers concluded that creatine supplementation significantly affected short-duration, anaerobic exercises3.

Muscle Gain

With increased energy, blood flow, and performance should come increased muscle hypertrophy (growth). However, studies involving pre-workout supplements are hit or miss regarding significant muscle gain.

The reason for the lack of concrete data could be the differences in pre-workout formulation, exercise routine, and participants. As well as the relatively short duration of the studies. Many of which only last 1-4 weeks.

On the other hand, studies demonstrating the muscle growth benefit of creatine are not hard to come by. One particular study showed that creatine results in significantly greater total body lean mass gains compared to a placebo4.

Creatine vs Pre-Workout Benefits

Which Is Better?

I understand the desire to compare creatine and pre-workout supplements since they both boost weightlifting performance. However, choosing between them depends on your situation and goals, and both could be useful for many people.

Who Should Take Creatine

Creatine is better than pre-workout for gaining muscle and strength. So it’s ideal for those following a bulking, lean bulking, or body recomposition plan. Or powerlifters and strength athletes.

Taking creatine before or after workouts is much debated. But timing isn’t as critical as the amount of creatine in your body’s stores. Like a savings account, the total balance determines how much you can withdraw, not when the last deposit was made.

However, studies suggest taking creatine with dextrose (carbs) can significantly increase whole-body creatine retention5. For this reason, I recommend taking it with your post-workout meal or shake since it usually contains high glycemic carbs.

Creatine Retention

Creatine uptake is increased when consumed with high glycemic carbs. Adapted from R Jäger et al.

Who Should Take Pre-Workout

Pre-workout supplements are better than creatine if you need an extra jolt of energy to get to the gym and complete your workouts. While studies show they are relatively safe for most individuals6, you may get jittery if you’re sensitive to stimulants.

In addition, pre-workout supplements are suitable for any fitness goal, from fat loss to muscle gain. But remember that these supplements don’t directly build muscle or burn fat on their own. That is simply a potential byproduct of training harder.

Best Creatine vs Pre-Workout Supplements

This section guides you to get your money’s worth if you’re ready to pull the trigger on creatine, pre-workout, or both.

Buying Creatine

When buying a creatine supplement, you will be bombarded by buzzwords. And new variants are constantly popping up, like creatine HCL, AKG, and ethyl ester.

But don’t fall for flashy marketing. All you need is plain old creatine monohydrate. Anything else is supplement companies trying to sell you creatine at a marked-up price.

I’m currently taking Nutricost Creatine Monohydrate. But other good brands include Bulk Supplements, Hard Rhino, and Optimum Nutrition.

Nutritcost Creatine vs Pre-Workout

Buying Pre-Workout

The effectiveness of a pre-workout supplement is highly dependent on its formulation. While certain ingredients are proven to work, they may not be present in the effective dosage.

A quality pre-workout supplement should contain at least 5 grams of either l-arginine or citrulline. As well as a minimum of 3 grams of beta-alanine. The caffeine content is a matter of personal preference.

Again I like Nutricost’s Pre-Workout because it has all the right ingredients and amounts with nothing you don’t need. Plus, it costs significantly less than popular brands with worse formulations.

Related: Best Cheap Pre-Workouts (That Are Effective Too)

Nutritcost Creatine vs Pre-Workout

You might also be considering taking a pre-workout supplement that contains creatine. And there’s nothing wrong with this approach as long as you look at the label.

Many pre-workouts with creatine as an ingredient contain tiny amounts. So look for a supplement that has at least 5 grams of creatine.

In a quick Amazon search, I found nothing with 5g of creatine and the effective dosage of the other ingredients. This is one reason I started making DIY pre-workout supplements in 2012. 

Mix Your Own Pre-Workout

All you need to do is buy l-citrulline and beta-alanine in 300-500-gram containers. And you can experiment with other ingredients like creatine or BCAAs if you’d like.

Then measure those ingredients with a scoop or teaspoon and mix them with your pre-workout coffee or protein shake.

This approach might not be as convenient as buying pre-mixed supplements. But it saves you up to $28 per month, and you get an average of 85% more of the key ingredients.

Check Out These Homemade Pre-Workout Recipes

workouts mobile

Custom Nutrition & Workout Plan

Don’t forget that supplements are a small piece of the fitness puzzle. Specialized nutrition and training are far more important to reach your goal!

Get a personalized meal plan designed to fit your body and lifestyle. With a custom workout routine built around your schedule and fitness goals.

All this for just $19.99! Click here to choose your plan.

More Supplement Guides

It’s important to realize that creatine vs pre-workout is not an apples-to-apples comparison. Which is better for you depends on what you need to reach your fitness goals.

Creatine is more effective as an actual fuel source for gaining strength and building muscle. In contrast, pre-workouts are more of an immediate stimulant to get you through your workout.

Each supplement has its place. And there’s nothing wrong with taking both creatine and pre-workout supplements at the same time! Just be sure you’re looking at labels to know what’s actually in them.

For more helpful supplement guides, be sure to check out the related articles below:

BCAA vs Pre-Workout Comparison

Can Pre-Workout Cause Anxiety? How to Reduce Side Effects

Signs You’re Addicted to Pre-Workout Supplements

5 Best Post-Workout Supplements for Recovery & Gains

Turkesterone – B.S. or Better Than Steroids?

Everything You Need To Know About Yohimbine for Weight Loss

Does Creatine Make You Gain Weight?

Creatine Dose Calculator by Bodyweight

If you’re ready to switch things up, I offer informative and entertaining content on all aspects of fitness, including exercises, workouts, supplements, and bodybuilding news.

How To Calculate Net Carbs

Counting net carbs can be confusing. Learn how to calculate net carbs with an easy formula. And try the net carb calculator.

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By |August 12, 2023|Supplements|0 Comments
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