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Powder Struggle: Protein Powder vs. Creatine

Whether you’re a bodybuilder, fitness enthusiast, or just trying to pack on muscle and strength, you’ve probably heard of protein powder and creatine. Both are popular supplements used by people looking to build muscle and reach their performance goals. Although their effects have some overlap, they also have important differences in their chemical makeup. The good news is you may not need to choose between protein and creatine if you wanna fuel muscle growth and increase performance. Continue reading as we break down the similarities and differences between protein powder and creatine so that you can tailor your routine for max benefits. Share on Pinterest Guille Faingold/Stocksy United

Where protein powder packs a punch Protein powders are popular because they’re an easy and convenient way to get the full range of amino acids your body needs to support muscle growth. There are tons of different protein powders on the market, including whey, casein, soy, pea, and hemp. But peeps looking to bulk up may prefer whey protein, as it contains all nine essential amino acids that your body needs for healthy functioning. Because your bod cannot produce these amino acids, you need to obtain them from your diet. So why do you need protein? It’s a nutrient, and you need it to get ripped. Pushing through punishing reps and increasing weight loads puts your muscles through the wringer, and after a workout, your body needs protein to rebuild and grow. Also, if you don’t have enough protein in your diet, your body may break down muscle for energy, which is called “catabolism,” and it’s the last thing you want if you’re trying to bulk up. Taking whey protein can help you with gains. Research suggests that consuming whey protein after working out can enhance recovery and increase muscle mass. In addition, other studies have confirmed that taking daily whey protein isolates in combo with strength training can increase lean body mass, strength, and gains. Protein provides the amino acids your body needs for muscle protein synthesis, and you should aim for around 25 grams to max your efforts. Protein powder has other health benefits too. For example, one early study from 2010 showed that whey protein supplements might significantly reduce blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammatory markers. It’s super easy and convenient to use protein powder. Simply mix with water, milk of choice, or juice and chug away. Or, if you prefer, you can add it to baked goods, pancakes, waffles, or oatmeal.

Where creatine crushes it Creatine is a compound made up of three amino acids that muscle cells naturally produce. That’s why foods like red meat and fish are rich sources. When you consume creatine, your blood transports it to the skeletal muscles, where it’s stored as a high energy molecule called phosphocreatine. During intense exercise like sprinting or lifting, your cells convert phosphocreatine into ATP for an immediate energy burst. If you run out of creatine, you’ll experience muscle fatigue. Usually, creatine supplements are in the form of creatine monohydrate. Research shows that combining these supplements with an appropriate training regime can boost exercise performance, including sprinting abilities, weightlifting capacity, and vertical jumps. Earlier research from 2003 found that when athletes added creatine to their training, their strength increased by 8 percent. Also, their bench press performance increased by up to 43 percent compared to training alone. These improvements are because creatine helps your body produce ATP. Normally, you’ve got a few seconds of high intensity activity before your cells are depleted of ATP, but creatine allows you to go harder for longer. Creatine turns lean muscles into mean muscles Besides enhancing exercise performance, creatine also helps to increase lean muscle mass and strength by opening specific cellular pathways. It improves satellite cell signaling, which can help with muscle repair and growth and may also reduce myostatin levels, a protein that can negatively impact new muscle growth. Lastly, creatine can increase cell volumization, meaning the water content of your muscles. The higher the water, the more swole and pumped they appear. As with protein powder, creatine supplements are easy to take. You can dissolve the powder in water, juice, or tea or buy it in capsules or chewable tablets.

Protein and creatine head-to-head comparison Protein Creatine What is it? an organic compound composed of amino acids that are found throughout the body an amino acid produced in the body by the liver, kidney, and pancreas Why you need it stimulates muscle protein synthesis and increases gains to deliver more energy to the muscles for increased exercise capacity, and for better recovery and muscle growth How much to take 1–2 scoops of whey protein (around 25–50 grams) daily. Other protein may differ. First, load with 20–25 grams, divided into 4–5 equal doses for 5–7 days. Then take 3–5 grams daily. When to take it after working out before working out So, to review, creatine and protein supplements are both designed to help you reach your fitness goals, but they do so in different ways. Creatine occurs naturally in your body and consists of three amino acids — methionine, arginine, and glycine. Conversely, whey protein contains nine essential amino acids that your body can’t make. Both products can increase muscle mass alongside resistance exercise. Creatine increases capacity during high intensity exercise, leading to better recovery and muscle growth. While consuming whey protein in combo with exercise stimulates and enhances muscle protein synthesis, and over time, you should notice increased muscle gains. The two differ regarding timing. It’s best to take creatine around 30 minutes before hitting the gym to fuel your exercise. On the other hand, save your protein shake for post-workout recovery to stimulate muscle repair and growth. Some peeps may take their supplements together because they believe the benefits can be synergistic. However, studies show it’s probably not true. In one study from 2013, the 42 male participants found no additional training benefits in taking the supplements together compared to taking them separately. Though there doesn’t seem to be a traceable benefit to taking the supplements together, there are likely no negative effects either.

Is one better than the other? There’s no right or wrong answer here. Because both protein powder and creatine have unique health benefits, the best option for you will depend on your goals. Creatine helps your muscles hold water which makes them look bigger. It also provides them with more energy for longer and more intense workouts. On the flip side, protein is chock-full of the essential amino acids that muscles need for growth and recovery. If you’re looking for a convenient way to get all the essential amino acids your body needs, protein powder is the way to go. If you’re focused on boosting energy levels and exercise performance, creatine may give you the edge. Generally, you’ll get the maximum results and benefits by taking whey protein and creatine together. So, the real winner here is you!

Why You Should You Be Using A Protein Powder

Protein Powders Are Worthwhile If You’re A Regular Gym Goer

Both the NHS and British Nutrition Foundation recommend 0.75g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day, but recent studies suggest these guidelines are too low, especially if you’re active. Research suggests that if you do more than 150 minutes of exercise per week, it could be worth eating 1.2 to 1.5g of protein per kg of bodyweight, while strength and endurance athletes will need even more. A protein powder is a simple and convenient way to pack in the protein, with one scoop providing around 20g, helping you on your way to your daily target in an easy-to-digest manner. Even if strength training isn’t your thing, your muscles tear during exercise (including during yoga and running) and require protein in order to repair and rebuild themselves. Protein is also worth considering following an injury, when the body is working hard to repair damaged tissues. As Paula Werrett, nutritional therapist says, “If you do a lot of training, are looking to enhance recovery from sports or are trying to lose weight, a protein powder can be useful. They can also help you build muscle, repair tissue, and can control appetite and blood sugar balance. There is evidence that increasing protein in the diet can be useful if you are trying to lose weight, too.”

The Benefits Extend Further Than Your Muscles

“There is a misconception protein is only for body builders, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Damian Soong, CEO of Form Nutrition . “Though protein is no doubt important to body builders, it’s a key macronutrient in the human diet that should be ingested daily by everyone to maximise the healthy functioning of the body. Protein plays a part in just about every bodily process you can think of – from cellular repair to hormone production, hair growth to immune system response.” Damian also says that not eating enough protein reduces lean body mass, muscle strength and function, and can cause muscle cramping, weakness and soreness. “When you don’t eat enough protein, your body will take protein from muscle tissue and use it as energy to support other vital body functions. This will eventually lead to muscle wasting and atrophy, which isn’t good if you’re looking to build a strong, resilient body.”

Using Protein Powder Won’t Make You Bulk Up

Many women worry that increasing their protein intake will make them bulk up and look more muscular than they may like, but the reality is it takes hours and hours and a specific type of training programme to even begin to build enough muscle to look like a body builder. Increasing your protein intake may well result in more defined muscles (if taken alongside regular training) but you are highly unlikely to start to look like a body builder any time soon.

If You’re Over 40, Consider It

Did you know that once you reach your forties, your body loses muscle mass at a rate of 1-2% every year? “This may not sound like a lot, but the side effects are far from desirable: weakness, fatigue and vulnerability to injury,” Damian says. “The body develops what is known as anabolic resistance with age. In layman’s terms, a 40-year-old body is less likely to make protein compared to a 20-year-old body, even if you eat the same amount of protein. This means that in order to have the same muscle mass as you did when you were younger, you should be increasing your protein intake.” If you are aged 40 and above, Damian says you should aim to eat 1-1.2g of protein per kilogram of your bodyweight. Again, a protein powder can help you on your way to this daily target.

Does Anyone Actually Need Protein Powder?

The fact that something called protein powder even exists tells you just how much people love protein. And for good reason: As a part of literally every cell in the human body, this macronutrient is integral to functions like our immune response and hormone production, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—as well as, most famously, building and repairing our body’s cells and tissues.

So yeah, it makes a certain amount of sense that people are forever concerned they need to get more of the stuff. (Also see: the golden age of protein bars, the rise of plant protein, and the existence of products like protein chips and protein water.)

Protein also seems to be the only macro that doesn’t regularly get shit on by diet trends. “Our food culture in the United States seems to be fascinated with high-protein diets and products,” Whitney Linsenmeyer, Ph.D., R.D., nutrition and dietetics instructor in the Doisy College of Health Sciences at Saint Louis University and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells SELF.

Maybe the clearest sign of our protein devotion is the belief that to properly and fully repair our muscles and maximize the benefits of our gym time, we need to supplement our diets with concentrated protein—not to mention the collective billions of dollars we shell out each year on protein powder.

But how well-founded is that assumption? How necessary is protein powder, actually?

Here’s how much protein most people need.

If you’re downing protein shakes, you’re most likely doing it because you think you need more protein in your life. So let’s first talk about how much protein you in fact need.

The amount of protein you should be getting each day varies based on factors like age, sex, health, and activity level, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. But for a baseline we can use the recommended daily allowance (RDA), which is based on the average amount of protein determined to meet the nutrient requirements of 97% to 98% of healthy individuals: 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. (That’s approximately 0.36 grams per pound. Don’t ask me why guidelines developed for people living in this country use the metric system! Because IDK.)

That means that a 150-pound person needs around 54 grams of protein per day, while a 200- pound person needs around 72 grams of protein a day. Based on those guidelines, most people already get enough protein from their diets, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine. If you have roughly zero idea how much protein you typically eat per day, here are a few examples of the amounts you can find in some common foods: a 4-ounce chicken breast has 27 grams, a cup of lentils has 17 grams, two large eggs have 12 grams, and two tablespoons of peanut butter have 7 grams.

But if muscle gains are your goal, here’s how much protein you need per day.

So we know how much protein most people need, but maybe you’re not most people. You’re you, and the optimal amount of protein for any one individual depends not only on their biology and lifestyle but what their goals are, Adam M. Gonzalez, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., assistant professor in the Department of Health Professions at Hofstra University, tells SELF.

Eric Carter

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