What's the Difference Between Creatine and Protein?

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    Creatine and protein are two popular supplements for improving fitness. But what is the difference between them? We’ll break down everything you need to know.

    Creatine and protein are among the most popular nutritional supplements for improving physical health and enhancing muscle mass. Both are great tools for supporting muscle growth and recovery, but they work in different ways and offer unique benefits.

    Understanding the similarities and differences between creatine and protein can help you make the best decision about which supplement to incorporate into your routine. In this article, we’ll dive into the benefits of both creatine and protein, as well as their similarities and differences, to help you determine which is right for you!

    What is Protein?

    Protein is an essential macronutrient required for numerous body processes. Proteins are composed of 20 chemical building blocks, called amino acids. These building blocks promote the growth, repair, and maintenance of all of the body’s tissues and organs. These amino acids are necessary for proper bodily functions, however the body is not able to produce all of them on its own (known as essential amino acids). Therefore, it's important to consume protein-rich foods or supplements regularly.

    Protein is found throughout the body, including in muscle, bone, skin, hair, and virtually every other body part or tissue. Proteins even serve as enzymes and hormones. This makes this nutrient a critical component of a healthy diet, especially for individuals who lead active lifestyles or participate in regular exercise.

    Benefits of Protein

    One of the most important benefits of protein is its ability to repair and build cells. Without adequate protein intake, the body may struggle to repair damaged cells or produce new ones. This is why adequate protein intake is critical for muscle growth and recovery. When we exercise, our muscle fibers experience small tears and damage. However, these small tears also stimulate the muscles to repair and rebuild themselves, which leads to muscle growth and improved strength over time. This is where protein comes in! Consuming protein after exercise provides the body with the necessary amino acids to synthesize new muscle fibers and repair the damage caused by exercise.

    Additionally, protein is particularly important for growth and development in children, teens, and pregnant women.

    When to take protein

    Protein should be consumed throughout the day as part of a healthy diet. The National Academy of Medicine recommends that adults get a minimum of 0.8 g/kg of body weight per day, or just over 7 grams for every 20 pounds of body weight. However, optimal protein requirements for each individual may vary depending on factors such as activity level, age, illness, and gender.

    One of the best ways to meet daily protein requirements is by consuming an array of protein-rich foods. Some good examples of these include lean meats, tofu, legumes, low-fat dairy products, and nuts. Additionally, protein powders, such as whey protein can be an effective and convenient way to increase protein intake, especially for individuals who have higher protein needs or those who struggle to get enough protein from their diet alone.

    What is Creatine?

    Creatine is an amino acid that is naturally located in the body’s muscles, as well as in the brain. While our liver, pancreas, and kidneys produce about 1 gram of creatine per day, we primarily obtain the required amount of creatine through our diet. Rich sources of creatine include seafood and red meat, and it can also be consumed in the form of supplements.

    Creatine is also involved in the production of ATP in the body. ATP is the primary source of energy for muscle contractions during exercise. Creatine is a necessary component for regenerating ATP during high-intensity exercise.

    Benefits of Creatine

    Creatine has impressive benefits when it comes to fitness performance. When consumed, creatine is transported to the skeletal muscles, where it’s stored as phosphocreatine, a high-energy molecule that serves as a rapid energy source during intense exercises, such as sprinting or lifting.

    During intense exercise, your cells convert phosphocreatine into ATP, which provides an immediate burst of energy. This allows individuals to perform at higher intensities for longer periods.

    When the body depletes its creatine stores, muscle fatigue and soreness kick in. This is why supplementing with creatine can increase the amount of phosphocreatine available to provide muscle energy, which can delay fatigue and enhance workouts.

    When to take creatine

    Creatine can be taken at any time of the day, but many individuals choose to use it as a pre-workout, during a workout, or recovery supplement. Some people prefer to take it before exercise to help boost energy levels and performance during the workout. Others may opt to take it while working out to enhance their endurance and reduce fatigue. Taking creatine post-workout can help to speed up the recovery process and support muscle growth.


    Creatine and protein share one important similarity: they are both composed of amino acids. Creatine is a type of amino acid, whereas protein is made up of a combination of different amino acids. Both should be consumed regularly for optimal results.


    Protein and creatine are both crucial for muscular function and recovery, but they are different in terms of their particular advantages and modes of action. Creatine primarily increases exercise capacity and helps to improve athletic performance by providing the muscles with a readily available source of energy. This increased energy allows the muscles to be better equipped to withstand the demands of intense exercise.

    In contrast, protein supports muscle protein synthesis, which is the process by which the body builds and repairs muscle tissue. Protein provides the essential amino acids that the body needs to grow new muscle, repair damaged tissue, and maintain total muscle mass.

    Which Should be Used For Muscle Gain?

    When it comes to building muscle, both creatine and protein can be beneficial. However, research suggests that creatine may be better suited for lean muscle gains when combined with resistance training. For instance, one study discovered that athletes who used creatine supplements saw larger increases in lean muscle mass than those who did not. This may be partially explained by creatine's propensity to boost exercise capacity and enhance muscular function, which can result in greater improvements in muscle mass and power.

    While protein is necessary for both muscle growth and recovery, it may be more effective at maintaining current muscle mass than fostering the development of new muscle. So, if your objective is to increase your lean muscle mass, creatine could be a better supplement to add to your regimen.

    Can You Take Them Together?

    Yes, you can certainly take creatine and protein supplements together. It’s safe and effective to combine the two to support your workout goals. In fact, many people take both supplements together to enhance their performance. Combining creatine and protein can provide a synergistic effect, as creatine helps to increase exercise capacity and provide energy to the muscles, while protein provides the essential amino acids that the body needs to build and repair muscle tissue.

    The Bottom Line

    Both creatine and protein are excellent supplements that can assist in muscle gain and overall physical fitness. Creatine is well known for its ability to provide muscles with sustained energy for rapid bursts of movement and to support lean muscle gains.

    Meanwhile, protein is an essential macronutrient that supports muscle protein synthesis, helps repair and rebuild muscle tissues, and aids in recovery. While they both have unique roles on their own, they can be combined or taken together to further enhance performance. Ultimately, the choice of whether to take creatine or protein or both depends on an individual's fitness goals and personal preferences. It is always important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the optimal supplement strategy for you.

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
    Jordana Tobelem, RD
    Freelance Contributor
    Jordana Tobelem is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys helping others become the best versions of themselves through proper nutrition education. Jordana is passionate about promoting lifestyle changes through nutrition, physical activity, and behavior to create a superior quality of life. She uses her experience in the clinical field of dietetics to provide consulting services to an array of healthcare brands and companies. Jordana loves finding the most current research in nutrition to create meaningful content to share with her clients. Jordana has been a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics since 2018 and also holds certifications in both Personal Training and Health Coaching.