The Never Ending Debate about Creatine and Caffeine Interactions: Don’t Put Down the Coffee!

Research has shown that relatively moderate caffeine consumption (the equivalent of 2-3 cups a day) fully negates the physical benefits typically afforded by creatine.

I’m going out on a limb here and taking a slightly different approach to the subject of creatine and caffeine that most of my fitness peers aren’t going to say.  If you are wondering does creatine work, rest assured it does indeed but some things like caffeine might interfere with the full benefits.

The majority either gets their information from two previous studies and will tell you to stop using caffeine if you want the full benefits derived from creatine.  The other half will say it’s not a big deal, don’t worry about it, point out the flawed studies and tell you to keep at it.

My option, they are both right and they are both wrong.  Here’s why.

the controversy over creatine and caffeine interaction

Almost anybody I know drinks coffee. And when you start to consider using creatine monohydrate, you will run into the creatine and caffeine debates. Should you stop drinking coffee entirely when using creatine? That is a scary thought! Here’s some facts to help you make a better decision.



Dr. Craig Sale of Nottingham Trend University and Roger Harris set out to re-evaluate and discover if caffeine and creatine interfere with each other.  Many people (bodybuilders, fitness enthusiasts, health seekers) including top athletes take creatine to enhance their athletic performance making the question of creatine and caffeine important.

Creatine and Caffeine the Combo That Scares Some People

Would you believe some people avoid taking creatine because they drink coffee and believe the link between the two will make creatine less effective?

The primary reason for using caffeine for training (the cup of coffee before your workout) is that  may help somebody train harder if they don’t get as tired as fast.  Caffeine delays fatigue which helps when you are doing things like lifting weights that tend to fatigue you.

Where the Facts About Creatine and Caffeine All Began

Two of the most prolific studies in 1996 and 2002 seemed to suggest the creatine was counteracted by caffeine.  These 2 studies are where people get the idea that creatine and caffeine don’t mix.

But if you read into the studies, it may have involved subjects that were going thru caffeine withdrawal symptoms.  This would make the results unreliable.

For anybody who is a consumer of coffee, if you quit taking it for a week, there’s things that happen in that week that make any conclusions suspect.

But like any good scientist, they setup a new trial using the same high levels of caffeine.  This new study showed that when using creatine supplementation by itself, strength in knee extension exercises increased by 10% but the gains were cancelled out by adding caffeine.  They used 5mg per kg of body weight.

Again, many of the subject reported upset stomachs by the high doses of caffeine.  This could have easily influenced the results.  Every tried doing a new personal record on the squats or any exercise with a rumbling, upset stomach?  Not the best of situations.  For somebody who weighted 70kg, a does of 5mg/kg  is about 350mg of caffeine.  A typical cup of coffee is 50-100mg.  If you aren’t used to it, having that much caffeine in a short time period can be quite an experience.

The subjects consume caffeine at the same time of one of their 4 doses of creatine.

For comparison (anecdotal evidence only) I recall finishing off a cup of Starbucks Grande coffee and then having a pre-workout drink that was loaded with caffeine.  Within 20 minutes into my squats, I had to quit.  I mean stop working out as I felt nauseous.  I drink a lot of coffee but even I have my limits.

In this instance at the moment, I do think high doses of caffeine at the time of a workout will negate the workout benefits offered by creatine.

caffeine content of drinks

So Are You Really Going to Quite Drinking Coffee Because of Some Creatine and Caffeine Controversy?

If you hear “creatine and caffeine” void each other out, that’s not true at face value.  If you hear, ” don’t worry about it and keep drinking your coffee” that’s not really the best answer either.

Chronic caffeine use is much more counterproductive than an occasional cup of coffee, especially when examining the ability of creatine to assist in the performance of explosive bursts of intense exercise.

It’s not correct to use the 1996 and 2002 studies to draw a conclusion that creatine and caffeine use negate the effectiveness of creatine.  However, you can start to wonder if taking creatine and caffeine at different times, staggering the use, would cause less potential interference.  What isn’t known is what habitual caffeine use has any effect on the enhancement of physical performance, stamina, or recovery offered by creatine.

It’s quite possible that caffeine interferes with the contraction of muscle.  The theory is that caffeine interferes with the ability of muscle to efficiently generate force.

If you are 100% serious about using creatine for the maximum effectiveness especially when it comes to your workouts, you should consider:

  • Avoiding heavy caffeine and alcohol use during periods of creatine supplementation, especially before exercise.

I see no reason to stop consuming caffeine but if at all possible I do think you want to time your intakes better so that the caffeine isn’t the major player in your workouts.  This is a somewhat difficult subject as science doesn’t say one way or the other at the moment with 100% certainty.  There’s just room for debate and further studies.   Drinking regular coffee during the day especially upon waking and a cup or two before a workout is not something I’d be worried about.  Drinking lots of highly caffeinated beverages, several times a day, pre and post workout .. is something I’d attempt to modify.

[qna_elements style=”qa-text” columns=”2″][question question=”I heard caffeine doesn’t complement creatine on account that it’s a diuretic. Is this true?”]

It seems to make sense right?  Coffee is a diuretic and creatine wants to hold water.  But these opposing things have nothing to do with creatine’s overall effectiveness on the body.  There’s some sites that still say caffeine interferes with the effects of creatine by preventing muscle water retention, a process known as muscle volumizing.  But that assume that muscle volumizing is what makes creatine work. Creatine works by allowing for more ATP to be made.  The two do not negate each other but it does raise the need to be properly hydrated for creatine to have it’s full effects.  This makes drinking enough water the upmost of importance when supplementing with creatine.

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Creatine and Caffeine Nutritional Considerations:

Caffeine and Creatine,  M Tarnopolsky

Vandenberghe, K. et al. (1996) Caffeine counteracts the ergogenic action of muscle creatine
loading. J Appl Physiol, Volume 80(2), pages 452-457.

Hespel, P. et al. (2002) Opposite actions of caffeine and creatine on muscle relaxation time
in humans. J Appl Physiol, Volume 92, pages 513-518.

Doherty, M. et al. (2002) Caffeine is ergogenic after supplementation of oral creatine
monohydrate. Med Sci Sports Exerc, Volume 34, pages 1785-1792.

If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below.  I’ll update this post and I might be able to include your question in the Q & A section above.

Comments

  1. Good artical,

    I switched my cup of coffee for green tea. It has less caffeine than coffee and also helps me stay hydrated during the day. It’s a myth that coffee or tea dehydrate you. The caffeine certainly does however the benefit of the water in your choice of beverage outweighs the dehydrating effect. I workout during the week and stick to my green tea but on weekends I might have a cup of coffee with breakfast or stop for a coffee on the go. It’s a simple case of moderation. I also drink water during the day, eat healthy, workout and try to go to bed before late night TV. It’s always important to stay hydrated if your taking creatine or not. If your pee is a strong yellow color you’re not getting enough water in your diet and no it does not have to be clear, you want to look for a pale yellow.

  2. For weight lifters the creatine/caffeine debate is an open ended question at the moment. But there is a cautionary tale from Parkinson’s disease studies about caffeine and creatine. In a prior study creatine and coq10 showed to be a synergistic combination and slowed the progress of that dreaded disease. In another study entitled,

    Caffeine and Progression of Parkinson Disease: A Deleterious Interaction With Creatine.

    “Caffeine intake was not associated with the rate of progression of PD in the main analysis, but higher caffeine intake was associated with significantly faster progression among subjects taking creatine.”

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26366971

    Clearly more studies need to be done on a healthy population to see if there is a ‘deleterious effect’ when taking creatine and caffeine.

  3. In all cases, too much caffeine will not do anything good to your body so better limit it to a moderate amount. Whatever the truth is, whether it negates the effect of creatine or not, I’m glad I’m not fond of coffee. I’m happy with a cup of tea in the morning and one in the evening. Great article btw!

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