If you are building an effective workout routine, you need to be able to fuel yourself. This is where workout supplements, such as protein shakes, really have an impact on your performance. This is the same with creatine, a very popular supplement which can also help to enhance your workouts and help you to meet your goals.
But when two different supplements can have similar effects on your performance, can you mix them together to give yourself superhuman strength?
The short answer is: Mixing two supplements will not give you superhuman anything, although you might notice some improvements, depending on what those supplements are. This article will look at mixing creatine into your protein shake, and whether there are any benefits to doing so. We’ll also explore whether there might be any detrimental effects to watch out for.
What is Creatine and what does it do?
Creatine is a naturally occurring compound which is produced in your muscle cells. It is considered to be one of the top performing supplements for performance, and is often used by people who are looking to build muscle, or improve their stamina in training. When you find it in supplement form it is synthetically created, and its most common synthetic form is creatine monohydrate.
Creatine helps to provide the body with more energy during high intensity workouts by increasing the levels of phosphocreatine stored in your muscles (Cooper et al., 2012).
When you work out, especially in high intensity training, your body needs to use a source of energy. The most basic source of energy in our cells is ATP, or Adenosine Triphosphate. Our bodies have the ability to store enough ATP for around 10 seconds of high intensity exercise, such as sprinting at full speed. After this, your body cannot produce ATP fast enough to maintain that level of exercise.
Phosphocreatine is used to produce new ATP in your cells during high intensity workouts, so by supplementing with creatine, you can help your body store more energy that can be used to enhance your stamina and boost your ability to develop muscle mass (Casey and Greenhaff, 2000).
What are the benefits of mixing creatine with protein powder?
Creatine and Protein powder have different chemical structures, so they work differently within the body and target different areas, whilst offering similar overall effects. Both promote muscle gain, but whilst protein powders work to enhance muscle protein synthesis and recovery after exercise, creatine increases your capacity for exercise, which can also lead to better recovery and muscle growth.
Both supplements can help to increase muscle mass, and improve performance during exercise, but creatine does have some extra benefits too. For example, taking creatine supplements can help the muscle cells to retain small amounts of water that would otherwise be lost to sweat, which increases our capacity to exercise in hotter temperatures (Kreider et al.,2017).
Creatine may also help to increase muscle mass and trigger the creation of proteins within our muscles, by increasing the levels of IGF-1 in the body. IGF-1 is a hormone which plays a role in the growth of lean muscle mass (Burke et al., 2008).
However, mixing the two substances into one shaker doesn’t imbue us with magical muscle building powers, and studies have shown that taking the two together may not necessarily enhance your performance overall, especially in older people (Bemben et al., 2009). Current studies suggest that there is little difference between using protein powder or creatine alone and mixing them together, with some studies showing a negligible difference between those who mixed the two, and those who relied on protein powder alone (Outlaw et al., 2013). Whilst research is ongoing into the benefits of taking creatine and protein powder together, many people may continue to do so for convenience (Burke et al., 2001).
Whether you choose to mix creatine with protein powder is also dependent on what you want to achieve as an individual. If you prefer going to the gym to maintain your current levels of fitness, or to improve your fitness over a longer period of time, then protein powder alone might give you the extra support you need. However, if you’re trying to maximise your physical strength and build heavy muscle, then adding creatine into your workout routine might show improved results.
Are there downsides?
Mixing protein powder and creatine is generally considered to be safe. However, some people claim that creatine itself can cause certain side effects such as weight gain, bloating and even muscle cramps and dehydration.
There are also some suggestions that creatine is an anabolic steroid and can only be used by certain groups of people. This is not a true claim, and creatine has been found to be an extremely safe and effective supplement (Kreider et al., 2017), especially if you buy from a reputable company which has its products third party tested for contaminants, making sure that you're getting the best supplements for your body.
As ever, if you have any queries regarding the introduction of a new supplement into your routine, speak to your healthcare provider for advice.
Kreider, R.B., Kalman, D.S., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T.N., Wildman, R., Collins, R., Candow, D.G., Kleiner, S.M., Almada, A.L. and Lopez, H.L. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, [online] 14(1). doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z.
Cooper, R., Naclerio, F., Allgrove, J. and Jimenez, A. (2012). Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, [online] 9(1). doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-33.
Burke, D.G., Chilibeck, P.D., Davison, K.S., Candow, D.C., Farthing, J. and Smith-Palmer, T. (2001). The Effect of Whey Protein Supplementation with and Without Creatine Monohydrate Combined with Resistance Training on Lean Tissue Mass and Muscle Strength. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 11(3), pp.349–364. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.11.3.349.
Bemben, M.G., Witten, M.S., Carter, J.M., Eliot, K.A., Knehans, A.W. and Bemben, D.A. (2009). The effects of supplementation with creatine and protein on muscle strength following a traditional resistance training program in middle-aged and older men. The journal of nutrition, health & aging, [online] 14(2), pp.155–159. doi:10.1007/s12603-009-0124-8.
Casey, A. and Greenhaff, P.L. (2000). Does dietary creatine supplementation play a role in skeletal muscle metabolism and performance? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 72(2), pp.607S617S. doi:10.1093/ajcn/72.2.607s.
Burke, D.G., Candow, D.G., Chilibeck, P.D., MacNeil, L.G., Roy, B.D., Tarnopolsky, M.A. and Ziegenfuss, T. (2008). Effect of Creatine Supplementation and Resistance-Exercise Training on Muscle Insulin-Like Growth Factor in Young Adults. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 18(4), pp.389–398. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.18.4.389.