By Noam Ben Simon, Website Manager
There are many questions that gym-goers often face: “Do treadmill runs count towards a PR?” “Should you go for slightly better form at a lower weight?” and “Is he on gear or did he get cheated on?” Some questions, however, have more serious ramifications. One such question regards the popularly contradictory research behind caffeine and the potential nullification it causes to creatine’s ergogenic (performance-enhancing) effects.
First, it is essential to review the identity and function of creatine. Creatine is an amino acid in the human brain and muscles. Creatine monohydrate is a dietary supplement that offers multiple potential benefits to users, including increased muscle recovery, a boost in ATP production, and muscle growth. Creatine monohydrate (generally called “creatine”) is a popular natural supplement athletes use for its many benefits, ease of access, and relative lack of side effects.
Before considering how caffeine affects creatine, let’s evaluate the properties of caffeine. Caffeine (1,3,7-trimethylxanthine) is a drug that stimulates the brain and nervous system activity. This stimulant is found naturally in many fruits and plants and artificially in soda and candy. If caffeine were to counteract the effects of creatine, then athletes would have to become more aware and cautious around other caffeine-high consumables, including but not limited to pre-workout, protein bars, energy drinks, and tea.
Knowing what these two compounds are – what, if any, is the relationship between them? Furthermore, is the effect of one counteracted or reduced by the other? More specifically, does concurrent supplementation of caffeine and creatine impact creatine’s ergogenic (performance-specific, not muscle-building) effects? Some research proposes that the two work completely independently of one another. However, other articles quote the opposite, that caffeine seems to interfere with the physiological effects of creatine.
Researchers in support of the supplemental “crash” speculate that the cause of this blunting effect could be due to the compounds’ two separate effects on muscle relaxation time.
While some sources are against the concurrent use of the two compounds, other, and interestingly, newer research studies do not follow this trend. One such article stated increased anabolic performance when taking both caffeine and creatine. Similarly, another experiment showed that taking a pre-workout supplement containing both caffeine and creatine – as well as amino acids and vitamins – delayed fatigue while improving reaction time and muscle endurance.
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer. Modern research considers the two taken concurrently as unproblematic, but previous studies have shown stubbed effects. However, this is only regarding creatine’s ergogenic effects, while muscle growth and ATP production do not seem to be affected.
If one is taking creatine for the sole purpose of its ergogenic properties, it would be prudent to break from caffeine while using it, especially if one wishes to have a pure “loading” phase for creatine (a period where creatine intake is increased to anywhere between 2x or even 5x the daily recommendation to regulate the body to creatine consumption and begin experiencing the effects of creatine sooner). For creatine’s other uses, there does not seem to be any hindrance due to caffeine consumption. Some people even report no benefits of using creatine, regardless of caffeine intake. Regardless, one should always consider their own experience and recommendations from their doctors when choosing supplement use.