Many of us who are chasing a fitness goal or looking to improve our strength, physique and health have come across heaps of supplements, views on health and nutrition as well as how to train. Well, I’m here to help clear all that up.
You may have heard someone down at the gym talking about Caffeine and Creatine and how they don’t work together. Well, lets look at the actual facts and discuss if this fear of Creatine and Caffeine is actually warranted. First, if you aren’t sure about Creatine and you want to read about what it is, check out 'What does Creatine do' for an article that explains how Creatine can help everyday training and sports performance and then jump back here to where I delve into why Creatine and Caffeine are ok to use together.
Understanding which ingredients have what actions or reactions in the body will aid in determining what will best suit your style of training and your own goals. So if you’re training in the gym and trying to build some muscle mass then Creatine will aid in your strength and power output.
Over time this will result in faster muscle growth and performance.
Whereas Caffeine is used and shows primary benefits in endurance based exercises such as long steady state distance sports like running or cycling, as well as strength specific training like Powerlifting or Olympic Lifting, but has less of an effect on hypertrophy style training.
So, where did all this fear come from?
The fear that is touted when these two are spoken about is generally due to the perceived diuretic effect that coffee and in turn the caffeine can have on the body. Which when you consider Creatines osmotic effect of retaining more water within the cell, it is easy to see how they may have contraindicated effects on the body due to impeding on each ingredients function.
Let’s divert for a quick second
The diuretic effect of coffee and in turn the Caffeine is true, however, for this to occur it was reported that a single dose 600mg of Caffeine was necessary. Furthermore for those receiving 600mg of Caffeine, those with inconsistent coffee intake actually reported a higher diuretic effect than those that consumed coffee habitually (5). For those unaware of Caffeine use, 600mg of Caffeine in one dosage is much higher than what you will find recommended for achieving performance benefits. Whereas in a more recent study with better assessment characteristics, replicating a more realistic situation, actually found that there is little evidence of a diuretic effect from Caffeine at all (6).
Now, circling back to Creatine and Caffeine.
In a study out of Belgium, which looked at the comparison between Caffeine and Creatine use (1), some interesting but far from conclusive evidence was found. They tested 3 scenarios, which included:
- Creatine only
- Creatine + Caffeine
Of which all 3 supplemental scenarios were coupled with movement protocols in the legs to determine what benefits each had on performance.
What they found was that both Creatine, and Creatine + Caffeine improved the performance of participants after 6 weeks when compared to the placebo-controlled baseline. But what was interesting is that Creatine and Caffeine when combined didn’t outperform just the Creatine protocol. Now that doesn’t mean that using Creatine and Caffeine together is bad, nor does it show that Caffeine renders Creatine void, it simply means that there is no extra benefit to consuming them at the same time for acute performance benefits.
Instead what you can do is this.
If you’re using Creatine throughout the day to keep your intramuscular levels consistently high and then use Caffeine prior to training on its own, then you will notice an increased effect on your training intensity. Which, when we look at the benefits of Caffeine in males, those consuming caffeine prior have been shown to display both a higher VO2Max and a lower Rate of Perceived Exertion (basically your own measurement of how much the exercise fatigued you) during running (2).
So how can you set up your own protocol for supplementing both Creatine and Caffeine to get the best results?
Well firstly, ensure that you’re taking Creatine every day. Once your muscle is saturated, which takes anywhere from 10-20 days, you then need a daily dose of 2-5g to maintain complete muscle saturation. This equates to one heaped scoop of a Creatine Monohydrate a day every day.
- If you are previously sedentary and new to the gym aim for 2g per day
- If you have been training for greater than 6 months consistently aim for 5g per day
For optimal absorption, taking your daily serve of Creatine post exercise is best, as the body has a slightly higher partitioning potential of nutrients into the areas of the body that need it the most. This aids in recovery and you can use that to your advantage to replenish Creatine levels.
Taking an appropriate amount of Caffeine and timing it prior to your gym sessions will give you the best result. Currently research on Caffeine ranges from 2-10mg of Caffeine per kilogram of bodyweight (3) and a dose of 4-6mg/kg seems to have the best benefits for performance enhancement (3,4).
An 80kg male will benefit most from 320mg to 480mg of Caffeine prior to exercise.
I would highly recommend starting on the lower end of that calculation and testing your tolerance before building up to the higher dose, as it may not even be necessary. Taking this dose approximately 15-20 minutes prior to your training starts would allow for the best absorption and distribution of the Caffeine throughout your body to maximally influence your session.
Which supplements are most suited for this?
If you’re looking for a supplement recommendation which has the beneficial dosages of both Caffeine and Creatine then I would look out for Anabolix Freak3d and Genetix Pre FX. A single scoop of Anabolix Freak3d has 300mg of Caffeine and 2g of Creatine. That is a great way to start just under the recommended doses of both ingredients and then build upwards to your desired dose, or even adding in a single scoop of Creatine Monohydrate into your Freak3d powder for those who do not wish to increase their Caffeine dosage.
As always, starting on one serve of a pre-workout is a great way to gauge your tolerance of the ingredients and slowly increase the servings per workout to 2 scoops for maximum benefit out both Caffeine and Creatine for a product like Pre Fx.
So if you’re using both Creatine and Caffeine during a workout then don’t expect to have better results than just Creatine alone when it comes to power output, however, continue to use it if you’re looking to increase strength or endurance as neither of them cancel each others performance benefits out but instead are arguably synergistic.
Keep on lifting!
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8929583 - Caffeine counteracts the ergogenic action of muscle creatine loading. Vandenberghe K et al, J Appl Physiol (1985). 1996 Feb;80(2):452-7.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12439084 - Caffeine is ergogenic after supplementation of oral creatine monohydrate. Doherty M et al, Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002 Nov;34(11):1785-92.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7083737 - Caffeine disposition after oral doses. Bonati M et al, Clin Pharmacol Ther. 1982 Jul;32(1):98-106.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21157384 - The effect of caffeine ingestion on mood state and bench press performance to failure.Duncan MJ et al, J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Jan;25(1):178-85. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318201bddb.