Creatine vs. Pre-Workout: Which is Better for Your Goals?

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: December 5, 2023
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Getting your body in shape can be a tough job, and it's not uncommon to hit a plateau or for bulking or weight loss efforts to slow down.

And that's where people often turn to either creatine or pre-workout supplements. But which one should you choose for your goals?

It's a tough question.

So, I teamed up with my fellow personal trainers to put together this guide on choosing between creatine supplements and pre-workouts.

Quick Summary

  • Choosing between creatine and pre-workout depends on your goals and training intensity, with the option to stack both for maximum benefits.
  • Creatine supplements enhance muscle strength and protein synthesis for faster recovery and muscle growth.
  • Studies show creatine can improve muscle function and performance by up to 20%.
  • Personally, I find combining both creatine and pre-workout supplements offers the best balance for intensive training sessions.

2 Differences Between Creatine And Pre-Workouts

couple working out in the gym

It can be confusing at a supplement store when you see creatine and a pre-workout supplement beside each other.

But it's important to understand that they both serve quite different purposes.

1. Mass And Strength Building

From my experience, regular creatine supplementation significantly improved my strength gains, especially noticeable during the creatine loading phase.

I initially thought creatine would boost my strength during workouts, but I learned it's more about post-workout muscle development.

While it may help with your workout performance, it's more down to what creatine does when your workout is finished, and your muscles develop new and stronger fibers through more effective protein synthesis.

2. Energy And Endurance

This is where pre-workouts come into play to give you a natural and small boost of power and endurance. The main goal is to boost your exercise performance by making more ATP available in your muscles.

You can lift a bit more and push fatigue and muscle failure out just a bit further.

Over the weeks and months, those small gains add up to a considerable amount.

What Do Creatine Supplements Do?

close up image of white pills and powder

Creatine supplements enhance muscle recovery and mass. During the loading phase, a higher dose for 7-10 days increases creatine stores.

“In addition to athletic and exercise improvement, research has shown that creatine supplementation may enhance post-exercise recovery, injury prevention, thermoregulation, rehabilitation, and concussion and/or spinal cord neuroprotection.”

- Richard B. Kreider, Researcher at Department of Health & Kinesiology, Texas A&M University

One study found that creatine improved muscle function and performance by up to 20% [1].

That may make a significant difference for athletes on a daily training schedule, but it's important to remember that creatine shouldn't replace your post-workout protein shake.

See the best creatine supplements.

What Do Pre-Workout Supplements Do?

pills and powder on spoons

Pre-workouts boost energy for enhanced gym performance by increasing ATP for muscle fiber during intense workouts.

Pre-workouts also reduce muscle fatigue, allowing longer workouts. Unlike creatine, it's advisable to cycle pre-workouts to maintain their effectiveness.

Pay Attention To Ingredients Lists

different types of powder ingredients on a stack of spoons

When you're trying to decide on whether to choose a creatine or pre-workout supplement, it's important to look at the details on the nutritional label.

And here's why.

We have encountered a few pre-workouts that already include some creatine, sometimes added for boosted brain function and focus.

The other thing that you might encounter is a creatine supplement that includes some caffeine.

This is also a common ingredient in pre-workouts, and you could end up getting jittery from too many stimulants [2]. It's an especially common effect among people with caffeine sensitivity.

It's such overlapping ingredients in different workout supplements that tend to be the most common cause of side effects. Regardless of whether your pre-workout contains creatine, consider going for stim-free ones to further minimize negative experiences.

Choosing The Right Supplement For Your Needs

Stacking creatine and pre-workouts is beneficial for high-performance athletes training over four days weekly. Quality pre-workouts can increase training intensity by 5%.

And the creatine will help you transform that hard work into bigger muscle bulk.

However, if you just train at the gym casually, then I would recommend that you focus on creatine first.

A more effective recovery time from creatine may improve your form at the gym the next time, more than a pre-workout might do.

Long-Term Effects of Pre-Workouts and Creatine

Understanding the long-term effects of pre-workouts and creatine is essential for maintaining health and optimizing performance.

Regular use of creatine has been shown to aid in muscle repair and growth, contributing to sustained muscle health.

However, it's important to be aware of the potential for tolerance and dependency with prolonged use of pre-workouts. Over time, the body may become accustomed to these supplements, potentially diminishing their effectiveness and necessitating careful management to avoid dependency.

A well-chosen pre-workout supplement with creatine can improve your workouts a lot and bring you closer to your goals.


What is the Recommended Dosage of Creatine?

The recommended creatine dosage is 5g daily, up to 20g during loading phases.

What Common Ingredients Are Found in Pre-Workout Supplements?

Common ingredients in pre-workout supplements include caffeine, BCAAs, beta-alanine, and sometimes creatine.


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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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