Within the dietary supplement industry, creatine and pre-workouts are two of the most commonly purchased, used, and researched supplements. Creatine is arguably the most well-researched ingredient in sports nutrition.
Based on the abundance of scientific literature, it’s clear that creatine monohydrate should be on your radar if you want to build muscle, increase power, strength, and endurance, lose fat, or experience some cognitive benefits. 
Creatine is a fairly straightforward supplement since it’s a single-ingredient product, and there are only a few different forms on the market. Creatine monohydrate is the most studied form, which is why it’s also the most recommended form.
When it comes to pre-workout formulas, things get a little more unclear because there are so many different types, dosages of ingredients, forms, etc. A multi-ingredient pre-workout supplement can be high-stim, moderate stim, low stim, or even stimulant-free.
Some will even contain creatine, while others may leave it out. What’s more, the research on multi-ingredient pre-workouts is fairly scarce. So we don’t completely understand how different ingredients may interact.
Since the cost of creatine is much higher than it used to be, and you should take creatine daily for optimal results, it’s becoming more common for supplement companies to omit it from their pre-workouts and to offer it alone. Additionally, some evidence suggests that mixing creatine with caffeine, which the vast majority of pre-workouts contain, may be counterproductive.
The question that keeps popping up is, “can you mix creatine with pre-workout?” In this article, we are going to answer that question along with some other commonly asked questions about creatine supplementation and pre-workout supplements!
Can you mix creatine with pre-workout?
Based on the current body of literature, it’s completely fine to mix creatine with pre-workout supplements, especially if you’re using a non-stimulant pre-workout. It’s also important to note that if your pre-workout already contains 3-5 grams of creatine, there’s no need to add more.
Since creatine should be taken daily for optimal results, having a separate creatine powder is ideal because you can use it on your rest days and either add it to your pre-workout supplements on training days or take it post-workout.
There are a few instances in which it may be better to take the dietary supplement creatine and your pre-workout at separate times.
Keep reading to discover why taking a creatine supplement combined with pre-workout may not be ideal.
What’s the best time to take creatine?
A few studies suggest that consuming caffeine concurrently with creatine may reduce the ergogenic benefits that creatine has to offer. Other studies suggest that taking creatine post-workout is actually more beneficial than pre-workout in regards to improving body composition and strength.
While it seems that a pharmacokinetic interaction between caffeine and creatine is highly unlikely, the potential reduction in creatine’s ergogenic benefits may be due to gastrointestinal issues or opposing effects on muscle relaxation time.
At the time of writing this article, more research is needed to find out if there really is a significant interaction between creatine and caffeine; however, the gastrointestinal issue theory may be logical and depend on the person. Consuming a large amount of pre-workout along with creatine is much more likely to cause gastrointestinal issues, such as cramping, bloating, stomach pain, etc.
If you find that taking creatine along with your pre-workout causes any GI issues, it’s best to take them at separate times, even if there isn’t a negative interaction between creatine and caffeine.
If there may be a slight chance for caffeine to negatively interact with creatine when taken at the same time. Another study found that post-workout is ideal, and it makes sense to take creatine post-workout as opposed to pre-workout.
What’s the best form of creatine?
The three the most common types of creatine supplements on the market are:
- Creatine HCL – a creatine molecule bound to hydrochloride
- Creatine MagnaPower® – a creatine molecule bound to magnesium
- Creatine Monohydrate – creatine with one molecule of water bonded to it
Nearly all of the research that’s been conducted thus far uses creatine monohydrate. It’s well accepted that 3-5 grams per day of creatine are all you need to reap the benefits of creatine. Unless you’re prepping for a competition, creatine loading, which consists of taking 20 grams of creatine per day, is unnecessary.
So far, no other form of creatine has been found to be more effective than creatine monohydrate. You can also explore micronized creatine monohydrate, which may mix better in solution.
What is creatine, and what does it do?
Creatine is a molecule naturally produced in the body using three amino acids – methionine, arginine, and glycine. Creatine is also present in various foods, mainly seafood and red meat. So if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, supplementing with creatine is a good idea because you’re likely not getting any from your diet.
Most of the creatine present in your body is found in the brain and skeletal muscle. Creatine is often stored as phosphocreatine, also known as creatine phosphate. As the name suggests, phosphocreatine consists of a creatine molecule bound to a phosphate group.
Optimal creatine stores are advantageous for high-intensity activities, such as resistance training, because as your body breaks down adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for energy into creatine adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Since ADP cannot be used for energy, the phosphocreatine can donate its phosphate group to convert ADP back into ATP. Therefore, your body has a quick replenishment of energy, which it needs in order to perform at a high level.
Although creatine is often touted for its physical performance benefits and ability to enhance lean mass, an increasing amount of research has found that creatine also positively affects the brain. A 2018 systematic review found that creatine supplementation improved short-term memory as well as intelligence and reasoning in healthy adults. Many argue that everyone should supplement with creatine, regardless of whether they do resistance training or not.
How long does it take creatine to work?
To notice the benefits of creatine, it can take anywhere from 1-4 weeks, depending on how much you’re supplementing with and how much creatine you already have in your body. This is also why adding creatine to pre-workout supplements is starting to become less popular. When you take a pre workout supplement you want to notice the effects in minutes not weeks.
Once creatine stores are full, 3-5 grams per day will keep your stores at a sufficient level. A few years ago it was pretty popular to perform muscle creatine loading, which means taking 20-30 grams per day for about 7 days; however, that’s not necessary and may lead to GI issues.
After a few weeks of taking creatine daily, you may notice an increase in strength, power, cognition, and muscle mass. With that said, some people are non-responders to creatine, which means they don’t see any benefits from creatine supplementation.
More likely than not, creatine supplement non-responders already have a sufficient amount of creatine, so they don’t notice anything different from adding more. For those that do respond well to creatine supplementation, there’s no need to cycle off either!
Before the price of creatine increased, it was common to see an efficacious dose of creatine in a pre-workout. Since creatine is the most well-researched ingredient in the sports nutrition industry, an increasing number of consumers are looking for that ingredient in various products.
However, some would argue that having creatine in your pre-workout doesn’t serve the customer because it takes up space, doesn’t offer any acute benefits, and should actually be taken daily. Therefore, they use other ingredients in their pre-workout instead and offer creatine as a commodity.
With the conflicting research surrounding the interactions between creatine and caffeine and some evidence showing that post-workout is the best time to take creatine, if you want to optimize your creatine supplementation, take creatine and pre-workout at separate times.
Nonetheless, creatine has been shown time and again to be effective and safe. The most researched form is creatine monohydrate, so that’s what we recommend. You can always try out other forms of creatine to see if they give you additional benefits. Regardless of what form you take, always buy creatine and pre-workout from a reputable supplement company.
- Antonio, J. et al. “Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show?” Journal of the Internation Society of Sports Nutrition, vol. 18, 13. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w
- Trexler, E. and Smith-Ryan, A. 2015 Creatine and Caffeine: Considerations for Concurrent Supplementation.” International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, vol. 25(6): 607-623. https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijsnem/25/6/article-p607.xml
- Antonio, J. et al. “The effects of pre versus post-workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, vol. 10, article number: 13. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-10-36
- Avgerinos, K. et al. July 2018. “Effects of creatine supplementation on cognitive function of healthy individuals: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials.” Exp Gerontol. vol. 108:166-173. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6093191/