GymStreak 5

An Intelligent workout planner with nutrition tracking

Try Now

Should You Mix Creatine with Caffeine?

Mix creatine with caffeine: yes or no? Find out if these two are BFFs or mortal enemies here, so you make the most of your supplements.

Woman working out with weights in the gym

Creatine is one of the few evidence-based (read: it works!) supplements, falling second perhaps only to trusty protein shakes.

For all its clear-cut benefits—from its availability to low cost to mixability to effectiveness—though, we might have missed out on a subtlety on the way we should be consuming creatine.

Now, just so we’re clear … no, it has nothing to do with dosage or timing.

But, instead, what we’re drinking it with.

More specifically: as it turns out, despite its incredible dissolvability in nearly everything, mixing creatine with our daily morning pick-me-up, caffeine, is a Very Bad Idea.

Why’s that so? And what should you do about it? Well, you know the drill—keep reading to find out!

What does creatine do?

First, though, here's a brief recap on what creatine is and what it could do for you:

? What is creatine? Creatine is a type of amino acid your body naturally produces in your liver, pancreas, and kidneys—then stores in your muscle tissues. It's also readily available in red meat and fish (i.e., easily obtainable through your diet, unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan).

? What are the benefits of creatine? Your body adds a phosphate group to creatine to form phosphocreatine. Without diving into the technicalities, phosphocreatine helps replenish your muscles’ storage of ATP—cellular energy—enabling them to do more "work" quickly. So, the benefits of creatine include athletic performance enhancement (especially for high-intensity activities), body composition improvement, and strength gains.

Learn more about creatine supplementation (including the type of creatine to take, the best loading protocol to use, and potential side effects) here:

Ultimate Guide To Creatine And Its Benefits
Wondering if creatine is worth your money? Here’s everything you need to need about it - including its benefits, dosage, and side effects - before buying.

Is it a good idea to mix creatine with caffeine?

When it comes to creatine supplementation, timing doesn’t matter.

So long as you eventually saturate your muscles with creatine (typically achieved within 3 to 4 weeks regardless of loading protocol), you’re grand.

And this, unfortunately, played a role in our belief that we could mix creatine with anything—and still reap its benefits. Sadly, this is one belief research shows has been naïve and misguided all along.

The research in question: a recent 2021 paper published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements analyzed by Dr. Eric Trexler, a renowned sports nutrition researcher.

Dr. Eric selected 5 studies that studied the relationship between creatine, caffeine, and various resistance training outcomes (e.g., strength, endurance, body composition)—and found the following:

  1. In 4 of the 5 studies, creatine alone worked to produce the desired training outcomes (i.e., improved strength and muscle growth) in participants.
  2. However, the above performance benefits disappeared once researchers went ahead to mix creatine with an equivalent of 2 to 3 cups of coffee worth of caffeine (even though the participants’ muscle saturation levels of creatine were higher!)

Does that mean caffeine inhibits creatine?

Okay, so it’s a bad idea to mix creatine with caffeine—but why? What’s the explanation?

Here's the confusing bit: while there have been numerous proposed theories (from caffeine withdrawal to muscle relaxation time interference to caffeine's diuretic effects), none of them have any solid evidence.

Perhaps even more confusing, research also shows that caffeine ingestion neither alters creatine's pharmacokinetic properties nor its muscle saturation levels.

That said, several researchers have begun theorizing that the incompatibility of creatine with caffeine may not come down to any complicated chemical reactions—but, instead, it is simply a matter of gastrointestinal discomfort.

Promisingly, there are several studies supporting this hypothesis:

  • 2005 study: 4 out of 10 participants who completed the study complained of gastrointestinal discomfort, which was notably more prevalent when they’d consumed caffeine and creatine together than the latter alone.
  • 2013 study: 3 out of 7 participants in this study complained of a similar gastrointestinal discomfort when mixing creatine consumption with caffeine.

How to have your cake and eat it too

No matter the underlying mechanism, the truth remains that if you mix creatine with caffeine, you’ll likely fail to experience all its benefits. And what a shame that’ll be.

Then again, though, how do you choose between the two? It's almost like choosing between your mom and your significant other (unless you hate either or both of them, that is).

Don’t worry. Here are 3 suggestions:

1️⃣ Just ignore the available data: Uninterested in changing how you consume your caffeine or creatine? Then this approach may fit you. Admittedly, the body of research on the relationship between mixing creatine and caffeine (while growing) is still small. You're all set if you feel okay with the potential trade-offs so long as you still get to mix creatine with caffeine.

2️⃣ “Mix” can mean different things: Um, what? All this is saying is that you could consume your caffeine and creatine at different times of the day. E.g., take your caffeine in the morning, then take your creatine in the afternoon.

3️⃣ Split up your creatine dosage: Even on its own, creatine can cause gastrointestinal distress when you take more than 5 grams of it in a single serving. Thus, a smarter move to make is to split your servings equally over the day—while also making sure to avoid the time frame you're also taking caffeine. So, say you're using the loading protocol and have to take 20 grams of creatine daily. You'd want to split it into 4 servings of 5 grams each, every 2 to 3 hours.

Supplements belong to the top of the pyramid

After all this talk on creatine, caffeine, and performance-enhancing strategies, it’s probably important to remind you that you need to picture your fitness journey as something like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Training hard (and smart), eating well, and recovering adequately, form the foundations of your journey—while supplements are parked near the top.

Check out our past articles for more step-by-step guidance on the above:

Take Care Of These For Maximum Muscle Growth (Non-Lifting Related!)
Other than training hard, there are a few factors you need to take care of to ensure you gain muscle mass as fast as possible. Find out what they are here.
How to Minimize Cardio and Strength Training Interference
Sometimes, it’s impossible to do your cardio and lifting on separate days. Here’s how you can minimize the interference effect for maximum gains.
Which Recovery Techniques Should You Use for Sore Muscles?
Struggling with sore muscles? Here are 4 of the best, science-backed recovery techniques that’ll help you get back to the grind ASAP.
Maximizing Muscle Growth: How Hard Should You Be Training?
How hard should you be training – really, for optimal muscle growth? Get the answer in this article, plus understand the signs of overtraining.

You can’t use supplements to “hack” your way to the top.

So … if you’re still struggling to get the basics right, you might want to give GymStreak a shot. Just input your fitness goals, equipment availability, and ideal training frequency, and our smart AI-powered personal trainer app will do the rest.

You just need to show up and do your best. How about that?

This Way To Programming That Just Makes Sense

It's time to—finally—achieve your fitness goals.

References

Melvin, M. N., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Wingfield, H. L., Ryan, E. D., Trexler, E. T., & Roelofs, E. J. (2014). Muscle Characteristics and Body Composition of NCAA Division I Football Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(12), 3320–3329. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000000651

Modification Of The Ergogenic Effects Of Creatine Loading By Caffeine: 1835 2:30 PM -2:45 PM. (n.d.). Retrieved May 16, 2022, from https://oce.ovid.com/article/00005768-200505001-01834/HTML

Pakulak, A., Candow, D. G., Totosy de Zepetnek, J., Forbes, S. C., & Basta, D. (2021). Effects of Creatine and Caffeine Supplementation During Resistance Training on Body Composition, Strength, Endurance, Rating of Perceived Exertion and Fatigue in Trained Young Adults. Journal of Dietary Supplements, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/19390211.2021.1904085

Quesada, T., & Gillum, T. (2013). Effect of Acute Creatine Supplementation and Subsequent Caffeine Ingestion on Ventilatory Anaerobic Threshold. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online, 16, 112–120.

Trexler, E., Smith-Ryan, A., Roelofs, E., & Hirsch, K. (2015). Body Composition, Muscle Quality and Scoliosis in Female Collegiate Gymnasts: A Pilot Study. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 36(13), 1087–1092. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0035-1555781

Trexler, E. T., & Smith-Ryan, A. E. (2015). Creatine and Caffeine: Considerations for Concurrent Supplementation. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 25(6), 607–623. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2014-0193

Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Melvin, M. N., Roelofs, E. J., & Wingfield, H. L. (2014). Effects of pomegranate extract on blood flow and running time to exhaustion. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 39(9), 1038–1042. https://doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2014-0137

Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., & Norton, L. E. (2014). Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: Implications for the athlete. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 7. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-11-7

Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Roelofs, E. J., Hirsch, K. R., & Mock, M. G. (2016). Effects of coffee and caffeine anhydrous on strength and sprint performance. European Journal of Sport Science, 16(6), 702–710. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2015.1085097

Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Roelofs, E. J., Hirsch, K. R., Persky, A. M., & Mock, M. G. (2016). Effects of Coffee and Caffeine Anhydrous Intake During Creatine Loading. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(5), 1438–1446. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000001223

Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Stout, J. R., Hoffman, J. R., Wilborn, C. D., Sale, C., Kreider, R. B., Jäger, R., Earnest, C. P., Bannock, L., Campbell, B., Kalman, D., Ziegenfuss, T. N., & Antonio, J. (2015). International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(1), 30. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-015-0090-y

Wingfield, H. L., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Melvin, M. N., Roelofs, E. J., Trexler, E. T., Hackney, A. C., Weaver, M. A., & Ryan, E. D. (2015). The acute effect of exercise modality and nutrition manipulations on post-exercise resting energy expenditure and respiratory exchange ratio in women: A randomized trial. Sports Medicine - Open, 1(1), 11. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-015-0010-3