Whey protein and creatine are the two most popular supplements in the world of fitness and bodybuilding.
Both of them have been proven to enhance workout performance and muscle growth.
But which one is better for bodybuilding: creatine or whey?
While creatine enables longer and more intense workouts by boosting readily available energy stores, whey protein offers you all the essential amino acids needed for building and strengthening your muscles.
Whether creatine or whey is better for you, or if it’s best to take them together, depends on your diet and fitness regimen.
Understanding more about creatine and whey protein powder, their mechanism, differences, and benefits will help you make an informed choice to get the best out of bodybuilding supplements and achieve your fitness goals.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is an organic compound that is made of three amino acids, methionine, arginine, and glycine. It is naturally produced in our body and is located mostly in the muscles (1).
Creatine works by increasing the phosphocreatine store in the muscle that helps regenerate ATP (adenosine triphosphate) – the “energy currency” of our muscles (2). It aids in energy production used for short-duration muscle contraction and boosts overall athletic performance. Therefore, the absence of creatine can cause muscle fatigue in heavy exercisers (3).
Creatine is mainly found in animal proteins such as red meat and seafood mainly saltwater fish (4). However, vegetarians and vegans receive limited creatine from their food and taking creatine supplements fill in the nutritional gap.
The most common creatine supplement is creatine monohydrate.
Clinical studies have observed that these supplements used in conjunction with the appropriate training regimen can improve sprinting abilities, weightlifting capacity, and athlete’s vertical jumps (5). Creatine increases the production of muscular tissue and temporarily increases the water content of the muscle, giving it a “pumped appearance”.
Additionally, creatine supplementation increases muscle mass and strength, enhances post-exercise recovery and injury prevention.
Summary: Creatine is produced by our body as well as obtained from food and supplements. It helps increase energy molecules in our muscles that boost your athletic quality by increasing muscle mass and strength.
What is Whey Protein Powder?
Whey protein is the liquid that is left behind after the milk is curdled and strained. It is full of high-quality proteins that are readily absorbed in the body and have proven to be a perfect way of supplementing your diet (6).
The powdered form of whey is the whey protein supplement and contains all the 9 essential amino acids that are needed for the proper functioning of the body. The body can’t produce these amino acids and they should be obtained from food (7).
This is one of the reasons that weight lifters and people looking to bulk up on muscles prefer whey for lean muscle.
The protein that was originally seen as a by-product of cheese production, is now the supplement that is used by millions of people across the world. It’s rich in BCAA (Branched-chain amino acids), has the highest biological value among other proteins tested, and highly effective in helping to build lean muscle (8).
Clinical studies had confirmed that intake of whey protein isolates daily in combination with strength training for 6-10 weeks increased lean body mass, strength, and muscle hypertrophy as compared to the group taking placebo (9).
Whey protein is highly effective in augmenting the effects of resistance exercise, particularly when supplementation occurs in the hours surrounding the exercise training (10).
Summary: Whey protein is a dairy protein that has all the 9 essential amino acids that together help in muscle protein synthesis. This high-quality protein boosts muscle hypertrophy and increases muscle strength.
Creatine vs Whey Protein
Creatine and whey protein, are similar in some regards and different in others. Even though they both aid in muscle growth and are performance boosters, they work in different ways. Some of the main differences are:
- Amino acids that they are made of: Creatine is made of three amino acids- methionine, arginine, and glycine and is produced naturally by the body. Whey protein contains all the nine essential amino acids that need to be obtained from food or supplement and the body can’t make.
- Muscle synthesis: Creatine works by increasing your body’s store of ATP (energy currency) that delivers more energy to the muscles giving more fuel for growth. In comparison, whey protein induces an anabolic reaction in the muscles, stimulating increased muscle protein synthesis.
- Muscle gain: Both creatine and whey protein promotes muscle gain. However, the mechanism is different. Creatine boosts strength and muscle mass by increasing the capacity to exercise whereas whey protein stimulates increased muscle synthesis that results in muscle gain.
- Workout benefits: Creatine enables longer and harder physical training sessions, quicker muscle growth, and regeneration. The water retention in muscles by creatine gives a fuller, swollen look. Whey enables quicker support of muscle growth and repair of torn fibers, and therefore brings quicker relief and recovery from DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness).
- Timing: When you are taking supplements, timing is very important. The best time to consume creatine is 30 minutes before you start your workout. That fuels your exercise and gives you the spurt of energy. Whey protein on the other hand is best as a post-workout supplement because it stimulates the repair of muscle tissues that leads to quicker recovery and muscle growth.
Summary: Both creatine and whey protein increase our capacity to work out and increase muscle mass. Creatine provides us the energy to perform and whey helps us recover faster by boosting muscle synthesis.
Can You Take Whey and Creatine at the Same Time?
Whey protein and creatine monohydrate can definitely be supplemented together to produce a more dynamic way of producing greater muscle mass when combined with resistance exercise. Together, they can support your goals better.
Those who are training at the gym, should take 1-2 g of protein per kg of body weight, split across the day, ideally every 2-3 hours in your meals or snacks. 20 grams of protein after exercise is recommended as an optimal dose of protein to support the development and growth of muscle tissue. 3 g of creatine should be taken daily along with this.
In a study, published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, men on a strength training program were divided into three groups and supplemented with whey protein, whey plus creatine monohydrate or placebo (11).
It was seen that men using whey and creatine combination gained more lean muscle tissue compared to whey protein alone and placebo. The combination group also showed a greater increase in bench press strength (17%) compared to others. This result was significant in confirming that the protein and creatine mix had better results than the supplements alone.
Summary: Studies have confirmed that whey and creatine together combined with workout can help better muscle growth and strength than taking each individually.
Which is Better: Creatine or Whey Protein?
As mentioned earlier, it is best to take them both. However, if you really have to choose one, then creatine is recommended. Most people are capable of meeting their protein requirements each day through food.
However, creatine absorbed from food may be enough for the average person, but if you are into building muscles, you will definitely need more.
But, consuming 5g of creatine per day through diet is not that easy. Only if you are ready to have 1 kg of raw meat a day, it is achievable.
Summary: If you are into the middle of selecting between creatine and protein, you should go for the former, provided your diet has plenty of protein that should suffice your amino needs.
Creatine vs Mass Gainer
When it comes to increasing muscle mass and strength, creatine is the most effective supplement in the bodybuilding and fitness community.
Mass gainers in comparison is a supplement which in addition to protein contains varying amounts of macronutrients. They contain carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and sometimes creatine (14).
A mass gainer has low degrees of protein in contrast with sugars and fats. They are usually taken to build the calorie level in the body to induce muscle gain (15).
Mass gainers have higher calories than protein powders with the extra carbs. While carbs are an important energy source, it won’t gain muscles. Therefore, according to experts, mass gainer along with creatine is a much better option than only one of them.
Summary: Mass gainers with macronutrients and micronutrients give you extra calories and amino acids that increase muscle and weight. Creatine on the other hand helps increase muscle size and strength and together mixed in a mass gainer can help achieve both.
Creatine vs Whey Protein For Bodybuilding
Creatine for Bodybuilding
Creatine supplementation amongst bodybuilders increases muscle strength and size. It enhances recovery, improves performance, and enhances brain function.
As mentioned earlier, creatine as creatine phosphate is used to supply the type II B muscle fibers (fast-twitch, high-glycolytic, and the ones which get largest in size), with instant energy, which ensures that these muscles do not prematurely fatigue.
This strengthens the muscular contraction of these fibers and provides greater strength and muscle.
For bodybuilders, this specifically is of particular significance thereby increasing power output and muscle size.
Whey for BodyBuilding
Whey protein supplements are the best to use for the purpose of increasing muscle mass and strength. It is popular amongst bodybuilders, as it promotes muscle gain, provides proteins and amino acids which serve as a building block for increased muscle growth, and help increase hormones such as insulin that can stimulate muscle growth.
Whey is also high in BCAA (branched-chain amino acids) that stimulate muscle protein synthesis at the molecular and genetic level.
In addition to all these, whey protein is absorbed quicker than any other type of protein. It normally helps increase muscle growth when consumed right before, after, or during a workout.
For a bodybuilder, muscle recovery and development is very important. Whey is the right solution to heal the microtears after training.
Summary: Creatine enables your body to generate more force and power that impacts strength gain. The stronger you become, your capacity to lift weight increases and that can result in more muscle growth. However, in order for that muscle to grow, you need protein to build up new muscles that whey can provide.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is The Difference Between Creatine and Whey?
Both creatine and whey protein have been shown to increase muscle mass, they differ in the ways they work. While creatine increases strength and muscle mass by increasing exercise capacity, whey protein does so by stimulating increased muscle protein synthesis.
How can you Take Creatine With Protein?
Mix creatine with a protein shake and take this protein-creatine shake 30 minutes after finishing your workout. This will maximize the benefits of taking these supplements. You may also take creatine before the workout and then supplement with protein post-workout.
You may also choose to include a source of carbohydrate as this can make the shake easier to digest and improve the quality and benefits.
What is Better? Creatine Pill or Powder?
Creatine supplements come in both pill and powder form. In pill form, creatine must first be digested before it can be used by your body.
However, as a powder, it can be readily absorbed. This can be a major benefit in favor of powder for anyone taking several supplements regularly.
Either way, it is a good way to achieve the gains you are looking for.
Does Creatine Build Muscle Faster than Whey Protein?
That is not essentially true. Creatine helps send signals to the body that it’s time to increase protein synthesis in the muscles while whey protein provides the amino acids (raw building material) to be used in the production of that tissue.
Creatine gives the muscle the energy to optimize your workout, whereas whey gives you fuel to strengthen your muscles. Therefore, as mentioned above, taking them together gives the best result.
The Final Note
Creatine and whey, both have shown to increase muscle mass and exercise performance. However, their mechanism is very different from each other.
Creatine helps to generate more force and power which directly impacts your performance. Whey provides the support of its amino to build more muscle and help in faster recovery.
It is totally on the individual to choose the right supplement depending on the need and activity.
If taken together, their effects on the body complement each other which maximizes strength and muscle growth.