Creatine Vs Pre-Workout – Which Is Best For Lifting?

Whether you use a home or a public gym, the right supplements, diet, and routine will see the best results.

Whether you wish to improve physical performance, achieve an active lifestyle or be able to run high intensity sprints, supplements can help.

With so many workout supplements on the market, though, how do you know which ones to take, what to avoid, and which ones work best for you?

In this guide, we will compare and rate creatine vs pre-workout to find out what the differences are and which one (if any) is best for your lifting goals.

Creatine supplementation has been shown to increase lean muscle mass and strength. [1]

Pre-workout supplements and mixes are designed to give you a boost of energy and motivation. Which one is better for you? Let's find out.

Mass And Strength Building

A creatine supplement is the clear winner in this category since muscle mass and strength building are what it is made for.

Creatine is a natural compound in the body known as phosphocreatine, or creatine phosphate.

Taking it as a supplement offers benefits like muscle recovery and allowing you to have the energy for muscle contractions.

man doing weights for Strength Building

Pre-workouts don't provide more benefits in the way of actually building stronger muscles.

However, they provide the energy you might need to increase gym performance.

Generally speaking, though, a solid pre-workout will provide health benefits and help your overall energy levels and mental focus to get you started in the first place.

Related Article - What Are The Side Effects Of Creatine?

Workout Energy And Endurance

For workout energy, pre-workout supplements are the ideal supplement.

By utilizing caffeine and other natural ingredients, you get a rush and a boost at the beginning of your workout that can last for hours.

With this additional boost, you will improve performance benefits of motivation and desire to start your routine, push through the warm-ups and start your sets.

You will also have the energy and motivation to push through to the end of your workout and may even push an extra rep or two.

Creatine, on the other hand, helps the muscles recover after a lift. It can also help them stay hydrated during a workout to prevent fatigue.

However, creatine on its own does little to boost your athletic performance and energy levels.

Read Also - How Long Does Pre-Workout Last?

Cost Comparisons

Cost is a big concern for many gym-goers, and anyone that has worked out for any length of time knows how those costs can add up.

Creatine is relatively affordable and can come in powder or pill form.

While proper dosing is required, a typical $25 to $50 bottle of creatine (in most creatine stores) can last about a month.

Pre-workouts are a bit more expensive because they are sold by volume.

Mostly you will find pre-workouts in a powder form to mix with water or as a single-use, premix drink.

Similar to a protein shake, single-use drinks typically cost a couple of bucks, but one a day for a month can cost over $100.

The creatine powder mix is usually a more economical way to go. The small jars can last about 3 to 4 weeks and will range between $20 and $40 on average.

pre workout pills

Creatine: Overview And What It Does For Training?

Creatine is one of the most studied and evaluated supplements on the market today.

Types of Creatine

The main issue with creatine supplements is that there are several different types you can consume.

Not all of them have proven benefits, and some are avoided by the workout community as a whole.

Creatine monohydrate

Creatine monohydrate is easily the most popular (and most well researched) form of creatine out there.

Considered the better creatine, some studies have even proven that long-term consumption of the supplement (30g per day for 5 years) is safe for healthy individuals. [2]

You can find creatine monohydrate in pill form or in powder form to mix with water.

Creatine monohydrate is shown to increase muscle mass, raise endurance, and can boost performance in both your aerobic and anaerobic workout program.

For a seasoned athlete looking at gaining muscle mass, reducing muscle breakdown, and reducing overall body fat, creatine monohydrate is the go-to option.

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Creatine ethyl ester

The ethyl ester form of creatine supplements is fairly new to the market.

There has not been much in the way of testing on it yet. What we do know is that it is easily absorbed by the body and is much more concentrated.

Because of these facts, you can take less creatine ethyl ester compared to creatine monohydrate.

In fact, it is recommended that you only need 2 or 3 grams per day compared to 20 - 30 grams of monohydrate.

The major downside, though, is the lack of testing. As of now, we aren’t sure if creatine ethyl ester is safe to consume long-term on a daily basis.

Creatine hydrochloride

Creatine hydrochloride, or creatine HCl, is another form of creatine that is formulated for easy absorption and no ill effects.

One of the biggest side effects of creatine, especially early on in the cycle, is that you can retain water.

While not many studies have been conducted on large groups, some smaller studies have found that creatine monohydrate and creatine HCl have the same effects on muscle gain and strength increases, but only HCl prevented the group from retaining water. [3]

While this is promising, the lack of long-term research can be cause for concern, and it is recommended to only take HCl on an irregular basis for now, if at all.

Until we know the long-term effects of daily consumption, it is better to be safe.

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Liquid Creatine

Liquid creatine is an attempt to make creatine consumption easier and more beneficial.

Taken as a shot or in a full can, liquid creatine is supposed to be more readily absorbed by the body (because it is already a liquid) and prevents the need to carry large buckets or bags of powder around with you.

However, these studies have not been substantiated, and the claims go unproven.

While the idea behind it is simplicity and ease of use, liquid creatine is often ignored and avoided by the fitness industry and the fitness community as a whole.

creatine pills and powder

Benefits Of Taking Creatine (Pros)

  • May improve brain activity (cognitive function)
  • Improves intense workout performance
  • Helps muscles recover faster
  • Might lower blood sugar
  • Increases muscle growth
  • Affordable
  • Creatine loading times are low
  • Can be taken as a pre-, during, or even post-workout supplement.

Downsides Of Taking Creatine (Cons)

  • Can cause stomach pain
  • May cause bloating or swelling
  • Increases water retention
  • Creatine stores may not carry the best brands

Pre-Workout: Overview And What It Does For Training?

A pre-workout supplement is, as the name implies, a supplement you take before you work out.

With taking a good pre-workout, the hope is that you gain the benefits of motivation, energy, and blood flow to perform well and have the endurance to keep going.

What's In a Pre-workout Supplement?

Pre-workouts have a lot of varying ingredients depending on the brand and type you choose.

However, there are three main ingredients that are critical for pre-workout supplement success.

Caffeine

Stimulants are the backbone of pre-workout mixes. The most common one is caffeine, which can increase athletic performance.

Depending on the brand and type of mix, you can have the equivalent of 1 to 4 (or more) cups of coffee in a single dose.

The average pre-workout increases energy and muscle endurance by using between 100 and 400mg of caffeine.

Those sensitive to caffeine need to be aware of how much is included in the mix.

Alternatively, you can look for brands that use other stimulants instead of caffeine.

See Also - How Do Caffeine Supplements Effect Your Workouts?

Beta-alanine

Beta-alanine is an amino acid that is reported to improve exercise performance as well as give you a boost to your overall health.

It is for these reasons that it is quickly becoming one of the top ingredients for workout performance.

The main function is to block acid build-up in your muscles. Some reports show that beta-alanine can help reduce lactic acid build-up and delay muscle falls during a high-intensity workout. [4]

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)

The industry has promoted BCAAs for workout routines to help increase muscle growth, delay muscle fatigue and even decrease or eliminate muscle soreness due to resistance training.

BCAAs use a metabolic process called muscle protein synthesis (MPS) to evolve into bound skeletal muscle proteins.

These can increase muscle energy and speed recovery by also including nitric oxide like L-arginine to widen blood vessels and increase hormone production.

Amino acids are found in many workout supplements, including pre-workout mixes.

However, outside of the BCAAs production industry, there is not as much research to back these claims.

can you mix creatine with pre-workout

Benefits Of Pre-Workout (Pros)

  • Increase energy levels
  • Improve focus and strength
  • Provides a boost to fitness goals and performance
  • Can help muscle growth
  • Lasts up to 6 hours with a high-intensity workout

Downsides Of Pre-Workout (Cons)

  • Caffeine jitters can occur
  • Flushed or splotchy skin
  • Tingling feelings from niacin consumption
  • Can disrupt sleeping habits
  • Can increase the chances of dehydration
  • Proprietary blends don’t always show a full list of active ingredients

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Can Pre-Workout & Creatine Be Taken Together? (Can You Mix Them)

When shopping for the best brand of these two supplements, always read your labels.

Many pre-workout brands know the importance of creatine and add it to their mix.

If you take additional creatine, you may overextend the daily recommended levels.

Pre-workout mixes are typically not taken every day, while creatine is.

It is best to separate your pre-workout and creatine consumption (or loading phase), which has shown a significant difference and is overall more beneficial.

topless man with pre workout drink

How To Take Creatine & Pre-workout? (Timing Is Everything!)

It is important to always read the labels and follow directions.

If you are concerned, you should avoid the supplements completely or talk to your doctor before you begin consuming them.

Creatine

Creatine monohydrate is the most popular form and comes in both powder and pill form.

Following the recommended dosage instructions on the packaging is always best, but there is a question of when to take creatine.

One of the best loading phase methods is to split your daily dose into two parts. First, ¼ of the daily dose should be mixed in your water bottle to drink while working out.

The remaining ¾ dose should be mixed with water and taken within an hour of completing your workout.

Pre-Workout

Pre-workouts tell you exactly when you want to consume them, providing energy before your workout.

Ideally, you will mix the powder in water and drink it all 15 to 25 minutes before your workout begins.

The important factor here is that you have enough time to absorb the ingredients and let them take effect before you start lifting.

Because niacin can cause a temporary rash or tingling feeling, it is also advised to work up to the full amount over the course of a few weeks.


Frequently Asked Creatine Versus Pre-Workout Questions

Is creatine different from pre-workout?

Yes. Creatine is a stand-alone supplement that works to help repair and hydrate muscles. Pre-workouts provide an energy boost to get you through your workout and increase performance output. However, some pre-workouts do include creatine in their ingredients.

What pre-workouts do not contain creatine?

There are many pre-workout supplements that offer both creatine and caffeine or pre-workout without the additional creatine.

Even on brands that do mix creatine in their pre-workouts, they often have one without. Some of the most popular non-creatine pre-workout brands include Kaged, PreJym, Wrecked, Hooligan, and Sicario.

Should I take creatine or pre-workout first?

Pre-workouts should be taken first before your workout begins. Creatine is most effective during or after a workout. You should also note that pre-workouts are not consumed on off days, while creatine can be used daily.

Can creatine make you fat?

Creatine does not make you fat, but it can cause you to retain water and cause bloating. Because creatine promotes lean body mass, water weight is generally ignored.

How do BCAAs differ from creatine and pre-workout?

By design, BCAAs help build or rebuild lean muscle. Creatine, though, helps increase performance, hydrates muscles, and increases strength. A pre-workout, then, is made to boost energy levels and performance output during a workout.

Related Article - BCAAs Vs Pre-Workout


Conclusion

The debate will continue for creatine vs pre-workout.

However, the fact is that they both work well in tandem, and there is little reason to not use both of these popular supplements to reach your fitness goals.

You will want to use your pre-workout only on gym days and about 15 to 20 minutes before you begin.

Unlike pre-workout, creatine is best used during and up to an hour after your training session and as a supplement on strength training off days.

References:

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3407788/
2. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z
3. https://escipub.com/Articles/IJFNR/IJFNR-2019-05-2205.pdf
4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3374095/

Last Updated on September 23, 2022

Paul J