Which Is Better for Muscle Gain, Protein or Creatine?

Creatine and protein both occur naturally and can be effective in promoting muscle growth when combined with strength training. Creatine and protein affect muscles in different ways and can be even more beneficial for your muscles when you take them together. They're available in a variety of foods and supplements. However, it's always a good idea to consult a doctor before taking dietary supplements.

Protein Vs. Creatine for Muscle Gain (Image: Martin Novak/Moment/GettyImages)

Benefits of Protein

Protein supports the growth and repair of body tissues and is important in rebuilding muscles and making them stronger. According to a study published in 2016 by Nutrients, whey protein — a milk-based protein popular among bodybuilders — is absorbed quickly by the body and can enhance athletic performance by providing the body with branched chain amino acids, which are metabolized directly into muscle tissue. These amino acids are the first used during exercise and strength training. Leucine, which is also provided by whey protein, helps promote protein synthesis and muscle growth.

Casein protein is another milk-based protein that is often consumed by athletes to help increase muscle bulk and strength. Unlike whey, which is absorbed within one hour of consumption, casein is absorbed more slowly by the body, taking up to two hours to digest. A 2016 study suggests that milk-based proteins are more effective for building muscle than soy-based proteins.

Benefits of Creatine

While the benefits of protein for muscle building are well known, studies regarding the benefits of creatine have yielded mixed results. However, according to a study published in 2013 by Current Sports Medicine Reports, creatine has been shown to improve performance with resistance training of short duration and maximum intensity. The body converts creatine into creatine phosphate, which is stored in the muscles and used as energy. During weight lifting and other forms of exercise, creatine phosphate is converted into adenosine triphosphate or ATP, a major energy source for your body.

A study published in 2018 by the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness indicates that creatine supplementation can increase muscle strength in as little as two weeks when used with a resistance training program.

Creatine and Protein

Although creatine and protein can both promote muscle growth independently, they can affect your muscle growth even more when you combine the two. When you consume creatine with protein and carbohydrates — such as fruit juice — you increase the amount of creatine your muscles absorb when compared to taking creatine alone. Carbohydrates are very important to helping you absorb creatine, but when you add protein to the mix, you only need about half the amount of sugar in order to absorb the creatine.

Sources of Creatine and Protein

Both creatine and protein are available through red meat and fish, but creatine is also produced by amino acids in the liver, kidneys and pancreas. Protein has more whole food dietary sources than creatine, including dairy products, nuts and legumes. However, it might not always be convenient to consume whole food sources of these nutrients. Creatine and protein are also available in a variety of supplements, including powders, bars, liquids and bottled drinks.

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