Protein Powder vs. Creatine

Whether your goal is to gain muscle, improve athletic performance, or simply stay healthy, protein and creatine are two of the most popular supplements among fitness enthusiasts.

Protein Powder vs. Creatine

But what exactly are the differences between whey protein powder and creatine? When should you take each one? And what benefits can you expect from adding them to your daily routine?

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound that supplies energy to your muscles and other cells in your body. It plays a key role in producing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which provides the immediate energy your muscles need to contract. By increasing the availability of cellular energy, creatine can boost high-intensity exercise capacity and workload.

About 95% of the creatine in your body is stored in your skeletal muscle tissue. The remaining 5% is concentrated in your brain, liver, kidneys, and testes. In addition to naturally occurring creatine, you can also get this nutrient from foods like red meat and seafood. Supplemental forms help maximize creatine stores beyond what you'd obtain from diet alone.

Creatine monohydrate is the most common supplemental form and has been extensively studied. When taken consistently, creatine monohydrate can increase muscle creatine concentrations by 10 to 40%.

How Creatine Works

During very intense exercise, like heavy weight lifting or sprints, your muscles use ATP faster than it can be replenished. As ATP stores become depleted, you experience fatigue, reduced power output, and have to stop exercising. This is where supplemental creatine steps in to save the day.

By increasing your muscle creatine stores, you can produce more ATP energy to fuel those all-out muscle contractions. This ATP energy system can also minimize muscle damage and protein breakdown. In simple terms, creatine provides a boost in available energy so you can lift more weight, sprint faster, jump higher, and work out longer before hitting fatigue.

Over time, this increased capacity for high-intensity output signals your body to adapt by getting stronger and building more muscle mass. That said, the effects of creatine work best when combined with resistance training that pushes your muscles to fatigue.

Benefits of Taking Creatine

Decades of research substantiate numerous performance and physique enhancing benefits from creatine supplementation when paired with proper strength training:

  • Increases Muscle Strength and Power Output - Studies show supplementing with creatine can improve bench press strength by up to 43% and power output by 14% compared to training alone. Effects are amplified when doing sets of high-intensity exercise like heavy squats or sprints.
  • Enhances Muscle Growth - By providing extra energy to push through more reps and lift more weight, creatine enhances the muscle protein synthesis and adaptations that lead to increased lean muscle mass over time. Effects are heightened if you’re new to training or carry less muscle.
  • Speeds Post-Workout Recovery - Creatine supports faster muscle recovery by increasing satellite cell signaling for repair and minimizing exercise-induced muscle damage. This allows you to bounce back faster for your next intense training bout.
  • Improves Anaerobic Endurance - Studies confirm creatine heightens power output and delays neuromuscular fatigue during any type of high-intensity anaerobic exercise lasting up to 6 minutes. This includes resistance training, sprints, and sports like hockey, basketball, lacrosse, and soccer.
  • Hydrates Muscle Cells - Creatine pulls water into your muscle cells, creating a volumizing effect. This intracellular hydration keeps muscles fuller,larger, and anabolic while protecting against catabolism and muscle loss when dieting.
  • Supports Cognitive Health - Research shows creatine may also boost short-term memory, intelligence, reasoning, and problem solving tasks. It’s also being studied for beneficial effects on depression, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and more.

What is Protein Powder?

Now that you know what creatine is and how it works, let’s switch gears and talk about protein supplements. Protein powder is precisely what it sounds like—a supplemental form of concentrated protein from various food sources.

These protein-rich powders are made by isolating the protein component of foods like:

  • Whey and casein (milk proteins)
  • Eggs, beef, chicken
  • Peas, rice, hemp
  • Soybeans and more

Of all proteins, whey is considered the gold standard in supplements because it:

  • Has all the essential amino acids needed to stimulate muscle growth
  • Is quickly and easily digested and absorbed
  • Contains higher amounts of leucine, a key trigger for muscle protein synthesis

When mixed with water or milk and consumed post-workout, whey gives your muscles the right amino acid building blocks to maximize repair, recovery and growth of new muscle tissue.

How Protein Works

Resistance exercise causes small tears in your muscle fibers. To rebuild them bigger and stronger than before, the body needs protein to manufacture new muscle protein. The amino acids from protein act as the raw construction materials for this muscle building process.

Unlike fat and carbs, your body doesn’t store protein for later use. So you need a steady daily supply from food or supplements. Getting the right protein at the right times ensures your muscles always have ample amino acids to facilitate recovery and growth after intense training sessions.

Key Benefits of Protein Powder

  • Aids Muscle Repair, Recovery and Hypertrophy - Whey protein after workouts provides muscles with amino acids to repair damage and stimulate growth of new muscle tissue over time. Effects are further enhanced alongside proper resistance training.
  • Increases Strength - Research shows adding whey protein to your post-workout routine leads to significantly greater increases in muscle strength compared to exercise alone.
  • Preserves Muscle Mass While Dieting - Higher protein intakes help minimize loss of metabolically active lean muscle when cutting calories to lose fat. This leads to better body composition.
  • Improves Satiety - Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, meaning it keeps you feeling fuller longer compared to eating the same number of carbs or fat. This leads to reduced hunger and easier weight management.
  • Supports Immunity - Whey protein contains nutrients like glutathione and immunoglobulins that strengthen your immune defenses against bacteria and viruses to keep you healthy.

Key Takeaway: Creatine provides instant energy to fuel better workouts and muscle growth. Whey protein gives muscles the right materials for repair, recovery and new muscle protein synthesis after training.

Creatine vs. Protein Powder: Key Differences

Now that you understand the basics of creatine and protein powder, let’s recap some of the key differences:

  • Composition - Creatine is made of amino acids while whey protein contains long chains of hundreds of amino acids.
  • How They Work - Creatine boosts the availability of cellular energy (ATP) while protein provides amino acid building blocks that stimulate muscle growth.
  • Main Benefits - Creatine primarily enhances athletic performance and muscle mass. Protein aids workout recovery, muscle building, weight loss and immunity.
  • Timing - Take 3-5 grams of creatine powder once daily. Consume 20-25 grams of whey protein following workouts. Creatine can be taken any time but whey protein is most effective immediately post-exercise.
  • Ideal Users - Creatine gives a performance boost to power and strength trainees. Whey protein facilitates long-term muscle gains best paired with bodybuilding or resistance style training.
  • Potential Side Effects - Minor side effects are possible with both but generally rare if directions are followed. Creatine may cause water retention or upset stomach. Too much protein can trigger digestive issues.

Should You Take Creatine or Whey Protein?

As you can see, creatine and whey work well individually but they accomplish different things. Creatine fuels your workouts while whey protein supports muscle growth. Rather than debating creatine or whey protein powder, many fitness enthusiasts use both to get the unique benefits of each.

Including one or both comes down to your individual goals and needs:

  • New trainees will notice substantial strength and muscle improvements from creatine or whey protein alone when combined with a proper novice lifting routine. Beginners may choose one or the other.
  • Intermediate and advanced lifters taking their training to the next level often use creatine AND whey protein to further enhance performance, recovery and muscle gains.
  • Athletes in explosive power sports (like sprinting or HIIT training) tend to benefit most from creatine. Endurance athletes gravitate more towards extra protein intake. Though both can provide advantages.
  • Anyone struggling to eat enough high protein whole foods will benefit from adding a quality whey protein supplement.
  • Vegans and vegetarians can take plant-based protein powders to meet daily protein needs, but may benefit even more from creatine because they obtain less from meat-free diets.

Proper Dosing for Creatine and Protein Powder

As with any supplement, proper dosing is important to reap maximum results with minimal likelihood of side effects. Follow these science-backed serving guidelines:

Creatine Usage

  • Loading Phase (optional) - Take 0.3 grams of creatine per kg of body weight (or ~20-25 grams) split into 4 equal daily doses for 5-7 days to saturate muscles. Loading is not required but helps you reach optimal creatine concentrations faster.
  • Maintenance Phase - After loading, take 3-5 grams of creatine powder once per day with food or your post-workout protein shake. Stick with this long-term maintenance dose for continued effects. Cycling on and off is not necessary.

Whey Protein Usage

  • Dosage - Consume 0.6 to one gram of protein per pound of body weight (1.2 - 2 grams per kg) daily from whole foods and supplements combined. That’s 150 to 200 grams for a 200 pound lifter.
  • Timing - Ingest 20-25 grams of whey protein within 45 minutes after training for optimal muscle protein synthesis. Also spread out remaining daily protein evenly across all meals and snacks.
  • If new to training, err on the lower end of the dosage range (0.6 grams per lb) then increase gradually as needed. More experienced lifters use doses at the higher end (one gram per lb).

Can You Take Creatine and Whey Together?

Yes, it’s perfectly safe AND beneficial for most athletes to take creatine and whey protein together. One study comparing the effects of combining creatine with whey protein versus taking either supplement alone found:

  • The creatine + whey group gained significantly MORE muscle mass and strength than the creatine only or whey only groups after 12 weeks of resistance training.
  • Taking creatine and whey protein together led to a total 10 pound increase in lean body mass compared to approximately 5 pounds for those taking just one supplement.

Researchers concluded that consuming creatine and whey protein together in conjunction with strength training appears to have an additive effect.

Using both supplements together makes sense because creatine provides the energy to push harder during workouts while whey protein facilitates greater recovery and adaptations post-workout.


Is creatine or whey protein better?

Neither is necessarily "better" - they work differently to provide unique effects. Whey protein promotes long-term muscle growth while creatine provides immediate energy for better workouts. Many athletes use both simultaneously.

Should you take creatine everyday?

Yes, it's recommended to take 3-5 grams of creatine powder per day, everyday (after an initial loading phase if you choose to do one). Consistency is key to keep creatine concentrations elevated in muscle tissue.

When should you consume whey protein?

Research confirms taking 20-25 grams of whey protein after workouts (within 45 minutes) is optimal for stimulating muscle growth. But many also take a serving in the morning or between meals as a healthy, muscle preserving snack.

Can I take creatine and protein together at the same time?

Absolutely! Taking creatine and whey protein together is safe and research shows it may actually have synergistic effects - enhancing strength, endurance and lean mass gains more than taking either one alone.

Is creatine or whey protein better for muscle gain?

Progressive resistance training is ultimately what signals your body to build muscle. But many studies show creatine and whey protein can provide additive effects on muscle growth when combined with proper training. Using both is best.


Whether your goal is becoming bigger and stronger or performing better in your chosen sport, creatine and protein can get you there faster. Now that you understand the science behind these fitness favorites and how to implement them as part of your nutrition plan, you’ll be on your way to seeing and feeling results.

Within just weeks of adding creatine or whey protein powder (or both), you’ll recover quicker, increase weights pushed and reps achieved, sprint harder and outlast the competition. Most importantly, you’ll build the physique and performance edge you’re working so hard for. Now get out there, train hard and supplement smart.

Sarah Cortez
Sarah Cortez

My name is Sarah and I'm a baker who loves trying out new recipes and flavor combinations. I decided to challenge myself to use a new spice or ingredient powder in my baking each week for a year. Some successes were the cardamom sugar cookies, vivid turmeric cake, and beetroot chocolate cupcakes. Failures included the bitter neem brownies and overwhelmingly hot ghost pepper snickerdoodles. Through this experience I've discovered amazing additions to spice up desserts while learning how to balance strong flavors. Follow my journey as I push the boundaries of baking with unique powders!

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