Caffeine, Creatine, and Curls

Today we will assess a question from one of our readers:
can you write about the effects of caffeine on creatine?
Any and all controversies that surround caffeine and creatine supplementation come from a study released in 1996. Just so you know 17 years is a very, very ,very long time ago in the exercise physiology community. This article produced by the Katholieke University in Leuven Belgium says that, although caffeine doesn't impact the increase in Phosphocreatine blood levels, the ergogenic effects were interesting. Force measured in a muscle was reduced between 10 and 23% in participants who supplemented with creatine and caffeine[1]. In 1998 a second study was conducted, which found that creatine alone did not improve aerobic or anaerobic performance but caffeine did for both[2]. We know now that creatine does improve performance, but does caffeine really inhibit its “improvements” on strength.
caffeine without the creatine

Let’s Start With Caffeine

I’ve written about the possibility of Caffeineimpairing recovery, and recently I’ve had a good friend of mine accidently overdose on caffeine and suffer very negative results. However, one study suggests that caffeine supplementation improves cellular recover with LOW INTENSITY exercise[3]. This is a loose study, which does not seem to be very well supported. Clinical research aside we need to establish what caffeine does.
It vasoconstrics [makes blood vessels narrow] which in turn increases blood pressure
It increases heart rate and the adrenaline hormones [epinephrine & norepinephrine]
It has been shown to improve aerobic performance by stimulating the central nervous system
A preworkout that has 3-5 g creatine mixed in per serving

Now Comes Creatine

Creatine is not bad for you. There, I said it. A lot of soccer moms will cover their kids eyes when they walk by a plastic jug of the stuff. It’s tough for people to understand that creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid compound that we need. Not to mention the fact that creatine is converted into phosphocreatine [PC] which is implemented in energy production. The simple fact that our bodies use creatine to function normally and resynthesize energy should tell us that creatine is good! I just wanted to spiel about creatine use.
I'm not going to sugar coat this, but they will. Sugar loaded creatine=notgood

Creatine Before Working Out

The main reason I believe people combine creatine and caffeine is for pre workout use. Although I do not condone pre workouts, I do condone creatine loaded pre workouts. The PC system works on a very balanced system. It has a set capacity that can be slowly increased over time. It is like a cup that can only be stretched when it is emptied, and then refilled. When the cup is full and you add more creatine, you are dumping excess into the system and it will be flushed out. This means that taking creatine before a workout is practically POINTLESS. This is where error in the original study appears. Caffeine has the potential to vasoconstrict and act as a diuretic. This will reduce absorption rates of anything. Adding creatine to a full cup through a reduced system should produce negative results. Increasing water levels in the blood stream would counteract this dilemma. Also inducing vasodialation by warming up or other aids will increase absorption rates. The study showed that on a micro level creatine levels increased. Therefore the macro output would be inhibited by other external sources. 

The biggest flaw to my logic is the fact that I could not find one article that showed caffeine did not reduce ergogenic effects of creatine. However creatine increases performance. Caffeine increases performance. Caffeine did not inhibit creatine absorption in the blood stream. You can take the data and self assess. 
perhaps taking both will result in big boy weights

So… What Now?

The study doesn't seem to have enough support. I live by a system of 3’s. If there are three witnesses to a conclusion, then the conclusion should be credible. [It's also an Old testament system] With one witness the system does not hold water. My advice is to take caffeine pre workout along with bountiful amounts of water. During your workout you should load up on 5-10 g creatine, and sip throughout training. Sipping throughout allows your cup to be refilled. You get the performance enhancement from caffeine, and the absorption and benefits from the creatine.

  1. Vandenberghe KGillis NVan Leemputte MVan Hecke PVanstapel FHespel P.(1996)Caffeine counteracts the ergogenic action of muscle creatine loading.
  2. Vanakoski JKosunen VMeririnne ESeppälä T (1998) Creatine and caffeine in anaerobic and aerobic exercise: effects on physical performance and pharmacokinetic considerations.
  3. da Costa Santos VBRuiz RJVettorato EDNakamura FYJuliani LCPolito MDSiqueira CPde Paula Ramos S.(2011) Effects of chronic caffeine intake and low-intensity exercise on skeletal muscle of Wistar rats.

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About Me

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BS, MS - exercise Physiology
EPC - Board Certified Exercise Physiologist

Published Thesis
The impact of three different forms of warm up on performance

Graduate from Midwestern State University, founder of Endunamoo Barbell Club, and Endunamoo Strength and Conditioning. Working to help athletes physically reach their goals and achieve scholarships while spiritually pouring into as many people as possible on all platforms.