What Happens When You Mix Caffeine and Creatine?

Most weight lifters are taking many supplements to enhance their ability to build muscle mass and develop strength.  One of the most commonly used supplements on the market is creatine, which is widely known for helping build muscle mass.

What is Creatine?  

healthline.com explains more about creatine:

Creatine is a substance that is found naturally in muscle cells. It helps your muscles produce energy during heavy lifting or high-intensity exercise. 

Taking creatine as a supplement is very popular among athletes and bodybuilders in order to gain muscle, enhance strength and improve exercise performance.

Chemically speaking, it shares many similarities with amino acids. The body can produce it out of the amino acids glycine and arginine.

Several factors affect your body's creatine stores, including meat intake, exercise, amount of muscle mass and levels of hormones like testosterone and IGF-1.

About 95% of the body's creatine is stored in muscles, in the form of phosphocreatine. The other 5% are stored in the brain, kidneys and liver.

When you supplement, you increase your stores of phosphocreatine. This is a form of stored energy in the cells, as it helps your body produce more of a high-energy molecule called ATP.  ATP is often called the body's energy currency. When you have more ATP, your body can perform better during exercise.

Creatine also alters several cellular processes that lead to increased muscle mass, strength and recovery.

Another common supplement people take is a pre-workout. Pre-workout drinks consist of various ingredients but most have one main ingredient: caffeine.  The purpose of caffeine in a pre-workout is to give you an extreme amount of energy for your upcoming workout.

musculardevelopment.com  explains how caffeine works:

Caffeine is best known as the active ingredient in coffee that stimulates the central nervous system (CNS), impeding drowsiness and restoring alertness. Yet, it also possesses the ability to boost exercise capacity. Another way that caffeine increases creatine transport is by stimulating the release of adrenaline, which boosts sodium levels outside the muscle cell.  This increase in extracellular sodium concomitantly reduces sodium levels within the muscle cell, creating a need within the muscle cell for sodium. As a result, the muscle cell eventually begins taking in some of this extracellular sodium to replenish the loss of sodium.

Since creatine is so effective at building muscle and strength AND caffeine is effective at stimulating your CNS, it would seem logical to combine to the two to maximize your results.  

Could your caffeine affect your body’s ability to utilize creatine?   

That is exactly what researchers in Belgium wanted to know. Venadenberghe, the head researcher, took 10 students (9 male and 1 female) and studied them for 25 weeks.  Their workouts and diet were monitored for the duration of the study. Double blind experiments were done to test before and after taking creatine and caffeine and placebos.    

What they found was interesting. The subjects which took caffeine and creatine had an increase of muscle contraction by .05%.  However when the subjects just took creatine without caffeine, they had an increase of muscular contraction by 10-20%.

Here was the final conclusion according to Venadenberghe:

The data shows that creatine supplementation elevated muscle phosopcreatine concentration and markedly improved performance during intense intermittent exercise.  This ergonomic effect, however is completely eliminated by caffeine intake.

Sustained caffeine intake over a three-day period negates the benefits of creatine.  

What Does This Mean?

You took creatine in order to build muscle mass and strength, but caffeine prevented your body from absorbing the creatine. In other words, the money you spent on creatine ultimately ended up as expensive urine.

How long is caffeine in your system?

American Academy of Sleep Medicine explains:

Caffeine’s half-life is up to five hours. Half-life is the amount of time it takes for a quantity of substance to be reduced to half the original amount.  So, if you’ve consumed 10mg of caffeine, after five hours, you’ll still have 5mg of caffeine in your body.

Sleepeducation.com explains:

Caffeine begins to affect your body very quickly. It reaches peak level in your blood within 30-60 minutes.   

Scientist at the University of Florida bought a 16oz cup of the same type of coffee from one shop for six straight days.  they analyzed each cup to determine how much caffeine it contained. They found a wide range of caffeine levels in the six cups of coffee.   The lowest was 259mg of caffene and the highest was 564mg.

One 8oz cup of brewed coffee should contain 96mg. Your 16oz energy drinks will range from 149-179mg.

I recommend that if you consume any caffeine prior to your workout, you should consume no more than 100mg. The purpose of caffeine is to give you a boost for the workout, not to be bouncing off the walls. If you need caffeine to get you motivated to work out, I would question if you are actually motivated to work out in the first place.  

What Should You Do?

Do not mix caffeine and creatine together, the caffeine will absorb it. If you need to use a pre-workout that contains caffeine, try to limit it your pre-workout to 100mg of caffeine. Take your pre-workout 30 minutes prior to your workout and ramp up the effort for a great 45-60 minute routine. When you finish your workout, take your creatine to help build your muscle mass, strength, etc.  If you consumed quite a bit of coffee in the morning and caffeine is still in your system in the afternoon, simply push back your consumption of creatine to the evening. While getting creatine in your system is most effective immediately after your workout, getting it in, no matter when, is more important than not consuming it or consuming it when caffeine is still present. Utilize both creatine and caffeine but be smart when consuming them.

Steven Zahn

ACE Certified Personal Trainer

NASM Certified Personal Trainer

Pre and Post Partum Certified

Dragondoor Publications: HKC Russian Kettlebell Certified

Youth & High School Football Coach

Health and Fitness writer for Goals.com

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