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

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: June 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.
  • Pre-workout supplements provide energy, endurance, and improved performance during workouts.

2 Differences Between Creatine And Pre-Workouts

couple working out in the gym

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

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

1. Mass And Strength Building

Creatine has been shown to improve your muscle's ability to build more strength when taking it as a regular supplement to achieve what is called creatine loading.

Many people mistake it as a supplement that will provide you with more strength during workouts and improve your performance.

While it may help with your workout performance, it's more down to what creatine does when your workout is finished, and your muscles start to 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.

The effect is that 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 boost muscle protein synthesis for faster recovery and support your body's muscle mass. In a loading phase, you take a larger dose for one week to 10 days to build up creatine stores in your body.

“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-workout supplements improve energy levels for better gym performance. They generally work by delivering more ATP- the energy muscle fibers use as fuel to other cellular processes, especially during high-intensity workouts.

The other benefit you may notice is that your muscles don't feel as fatigued during the workout, allowing you to push further.

And different from creatine, it's generally a good idea to cycle pre-workouts as your body might get used to the ingredients, and you could lose some of the effects.

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

If you're a high-performance athlete and train more than four days a week, then I would suggest stacking both creatine and pre-workout supplements.

A well-timed and high-quality pre-workout could allow bodybuilders to train 5% harder, based on data we've gathered from clients.

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.

Creatine or Pre Workout: Which Is Better?

There is no denying that a well-chosen pre-workout supplement with creatine can improve your workouts a lot and bring you closer to your goals.

With the above advice, you should now be in a much better position to decide which type of product you'll choose, or even if you should stack both of them.

Once you carefully check the content of suitable supplements, give them a try for a few weeks and report back to us how they worked out.


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