How Are Creatine & Whey Protein Different from One Another?
The world's seeing a changing image in the mirror - healthier bodies, zero-fat with muscles, and a great definition. And no matter how much effort a gym enthusiast or a cardio bunny puts in, solely relying on exercise and food control doesn't cut it anymore.
When hours are spent working out, and the results don’t show, there has to be something more that’s needed! Health, wellness, and fitness enthusiasts (for the most part) swear by supplements, in the form of muscle-modulating powders as just the catalysts needed for effective bodybuilding and getting that right muscle mass. Creatine and whey protein are the two supplement powders most often used for this purpose. The purpose of this article is to answer the age-old question - how are creatine and whey protein different from one another?
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Is One Better or More Preferable Than the Other?
As you read this article, you will learn that there shouldn’t even be a debate about whether creatine or whey protein is more effective. They both are important, and they both work very differently to help achieve the desired goal.
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is a non-protein amino acid compound found in red meat and seafood, as well as our own muscles. It plays a major role in helping regenerate ATP (adenosine triphosphate)—the “energy currency” of our muscles. The absence of creatine (and therefore ATP stores) can cause muscle fatigue quickly in heavy exercisers.
The most commonly used supplemental form of creatine is creatine monohydrate. It is also the form of creatine used most often in human studies—and these studies have consistently shown that this popular ergogenic supplement increases muscular creatine concentrations. In turn, this helps explain the observed improvements in high-intensity exercise performance leading to greater training adaptations, including increased muscle mass and strength improvements. In addition to athletic and exercise improvement, research has shown that creatine supplementation may enhance post-exercise recovery, injury prevention, thermoregulation, rehabilitation, and neuroprotection. [i]
So how does creatine actually help with improving muscle mass? Research has demonstrated that the presence of creatine in the muscle seems to act as an anabolic signal for muscle building, whereby creatine acts as the chemical signal coupling increased muscular activity and increased production of muscular tissue. Likewise, the presence of creatine in the muscle also temporarily increases the water content of the muscle, giving it a “pumped” appearance. Of course, the increase in water does not constitute an actual increase in muscle tissue [ii] [iii], but many like the look.
What Is Whey Protein?
Whey is a byproduct of cheese manufacturing. Whey protein is derived from whey and tends to provide a higher concentration of essential amino acids than other protein sources. [iv] These are the main reasons why weight lifters and people looking to bulk up on muscles turn to whey for lean muscle:
- It's rich in BCAA (Branched Chain Amino Acids), typically containing 24%.[v]
- Whey protein (particularly whey protein isolate) has the highest biological value among other proteins tested.
- Multiple studies demonstrate its effectiveness in building lean muscle mass as part of a training program. [vi] [vii] [viii]
Clinical research shows that taking whey protein isolate daily in combination with strength training for 6-10 weeks increased lean body mass, strength, and muscle hypertrophy compared to placebo.[ix] [x] [xi] In one double-blind study [xii], recreational bodybuilders supplemented their normal diet with whey protein isolate or casein (another milk protein) for 10 weeks. The results were that the whey protein isolate group experienced a significant gain in lean mass compared to the other protein group (11 lbs vs. 1.76 lbs) and a significant reduction in fat mass compared to the other protein group (-3.3 lbs vs. +0.44 lbs). The bodybuilders also achieved significant improvements in strength.
Whey protein isolate supplementation has also resulted in higher blood amino acid concentrations compared to some other protein sources. This results in greater stimulation of protein synthesis [xiii], thus providing the foundations for the preservation and production of muscle mass. Several studies involving supplementation with whey protein have been shown to be effective in augmenting the effects of resistance exercise, particularly when supplementation occurs in the hours surrounding the exercise training. [xiv]
How Does Creatine Work?
Once creatine enters the body, it binds with a phosphate molecule to form creatine phosphate. It then donates its phosphate group to ADP (that comes from ATP hydrolysis) to convert it into ATP, the energy source for the body. More ATP production means more energy, which in turn lets you work out harder and longer.
Creatine aids in muscle growth by enabling more workout, improving cell signaling, increasing anabolic hormones, reducing protein breakdown to increase total muscle mass, and increasing cell hydration.
How Does Whey Protein Work?
Whey protein works by providing protein and amino acids to the body, increasing muscle growth. They increase the release of anabolic hormones that stimulate muscle growth, such as insulin. Whey protein contains the amino acid leucine, which can stimulate muscle protein synthesis at the molecular and genetic levels, thus assisting in muscle growth.
What are the Benefits of Taking Creatine?
Creatine offers a lot of health benefits by:
- Increasing muscle mass
- Boosting the formation of proteins that create new muscle fibers
- Reducing the level of myostatin, a molecule responsible for stunting muscle growth, for better muscle building
- Improving high-intensity exercise performance, muscle endurance, resistance to fatigue, strength, and recovery
- Lowering blood sugar levels and improving cognitive function
What are the Benefits of Whey Protein?
Whey proteins benefit health by:
- Supplying nutrients such as lactoferrin, beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, and immunoglobulins
- Lowering blood pressure and blood sugar
- Reducing the symptoms of stress and depression
- Protecting against cancer and improving immune function in HIV patients
- Reducing symptoms of hepatitis
- Increasing bone mineral density
Does Creatine Build Muscle Faster than Whey Protein?
Not necessarily because they have completely different functions. Essentially, creatine helps send the signal to the body that it's time to increase muscle protein synthesis, while whey protein provides the raw building material to be used in the actual production of that tissue. So, using both in a combination looks like a more logical choice than choosing one over the other.
Can Whey Protein and Creatine Be Taken Together?
Ideally, yes. In fact, research suggests that whey protein and creatine can be taken together to achieve a better result! In a six-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled study [xv] published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, men on a strength training program were divided into three groups and supplemented with whey protein alone, whey protein plus creatine monohydrate, or a placebo. The results were significant. The men using the whey/creatine combination gained more lean muscle tissue (8.8 lbs) compared to whey protein alone (5.06 lbs) or placebo (1.98 lbs). In addition, the men using the whey/creatine combination had a greater increase in bench press strength (17%) compared to whey protein alone or placebo (7-8%). Another study [xvi] comparing whey protein, creatine monohydrate, and the combination showed similar results.
What's the Best Time to Take Creatine?
Some people like to take creatine as a pre-workout supplement. However, according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition [xvii], the most effective way to increase muscle creatine stores is to ingest creatine monohydrate four times daily. This is consistent with the aforementioned research [xviii] where creatine and whey protein were used together, and subjects were instructed to consume their supplement dosage in four equal servings across the day by mixing their powder with a beverage.
What's the Best Time to Take Whey Protein?
There has been a great deal of research examining the best time to supplement with whey protein, and protein in general, in conjunction with exercise. The studies seem to indicate that there are advantages to the consumption of whey protein, both pre-workout and post-workout. Some research even suggests benefits if taken during workouts. The bottom line is that whey protein should be taken as close as possible to workout time—about 30 minutes—whether pre- or post-workout.
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[i]Kreider RB, Kalman DS, Antonio J, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. JISSN. 2017;14:18.
[ii]Fry D, Morales M. A reexamination of the effects of creatine on muscle protein synthesis in tissue culture. J Cell Biol. 1980; 84(2): 294-297.
[iii]Ingwall JS, Weiner CD, Morales ED, Stockdale FE. Specificity of creatine in the control of muscle protein synthesis. J Cell Biol. 1974;62(1): 145-151.
[iv]Cribb PJ, Wiliams AD, Carey MF, Hayes A. The effect of whey isolate and resistance training on strength, body composition, and plasma glutamine. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2006;16:494-509.
[v]Whey Protein monograph. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Retrieved February 24, 2009 from http://www.naturaldatabase.com/(S(t5ddowevmyxg3m2naxm45n55))/nd/Search.aspx?cs=&s=ND&pt=100&id=833&fs=ND&searchid=13583810.
[vi]Cribb PJ, Wiliams AD, Carey MF, Hayes A. The effect of whey isolate and resistance training on strength, body composition, and plasma glutamine. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2006;16:494-509.
[vii]Cribb PJ, Williams AD, Stathis CG, et al. Effects of whey isolate, creatine, and resistance training on muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2007;39:298-307.
[viii]Candow DG, Burke NC, Smith-Palmer T, Burke DG. Effect of whey and soy protein supplementation combined with resistance training in young adults. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2006;16:233-44.
[ix]Cribb PJ, Wiliams AD, Carey MF, Hayes A. The effect of whey isolate and resistance training on strength, body composition, and plasma glutamine. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2006;16:494-509.
[x]Cribb PJ, Williams AD, Stathis CG, et al. Effects of whey isolate, creatine, and resistance training on muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2007;39:298-307.
[xi]Candow DG, Burke NC, Smith-Palmer T, Burke DG. Effect of whey and soy protein supplementation combined with resistance training in young adults. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2006;16:233-44.
[xii]Cribb PJ, Williams AD, Carey MF, Hayes A. The effect of whey isolate and resistance training on strength, body composition, and plasma glutamine. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2006;16(5):494-509.
[xiii]Cribb PJ, Wiliams AD, Carey MF, Hayes A. The effect of whey isolate and resistance training on strength, body composition, and plasma glutamine. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2006;16:494-509.
[xiv]Hayes A, Cribb PJ. Effect of whey protein isolate on strength, body composition and muscle hypertrophy during resistance training. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2008;11(1):40-4.
[xv]Burke DG, Chilibeck PD, Davison KS, et al. The effect of whey protein supplementation with and without creatine monohydrate combined with resistance training on lean tissue mass and muscle strength. Int J Sport Nutr Exer Metab. 2001;11:349-64.
[xvi]Cribb PJ, Williams AD, Stathis CG, Carey MF, Hayes A. Effects of whey isolate, creatine, and resistance training on muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 Feb;39(2):298-307.
[xvii]Kreider RB, Kalman DS, Antonio J, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. JISSN. 2017;14:18.
[xviii]Burke DG, Chilibeck PD, Davison KS, et al. The effect of whey protein supplementation with and without creatine monohydrate combined with resistance training on lean tissue mass and muscle strength. Int J Sport Nutr Exer Metab. 2001;11:349-64.