Both creatine and protein powder are supplements that people can use before or after exercise. Both supplements may aid in muscle recovery and enhance exercise performance.

Protein and creatine have different functions and may benefit some people. However, for best results, people need to take the correct dosage at the right time.

Creatine, an amino acid found in muscles, provides energy for various cell functions. It is most beneficial for shorter, high intensity workouts.

Protein powder is an easy way for people to quickly consume enough protein after workouts. Taking leucine-rich protein, such as whey protein, after exercise can help muscle recovery.

Read more to learn about the differences between creatine and protein, their benefits, and which one to take after working out.

A comparison of creatine and protein powder.Share on Pinterest
Illustration by Bailey Mariner

Creatine and protein powder are two supplements that people can take for exercise performance and recovery.


Creatine is an amino acid that is naturally present in muscles. The body makes it from the amino acids arginine, glycine, and methionine. Additionally, people can get it by eating red meat, fish, and taking supplements.

During high intensity exercise, creatine provides energy and produces adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is an energy-storing compound that lives in body cells. Its breakdown provides energy for various cell functions, such as muscle contractions.

Some people who do high intensity exercise choose to take creatine as a supplement. It comes in different forms, with creatine monohydrate being the most common.

In the nutritional supplement market, people can find other forms, including:

  • creatine citrate
  • creatine hydrochloride
  • creatine pyruvate
  • creatine malate
  • sodium creatine phosphate


Protein is a macronutrient that plays an important role in muscle growth and development. Most people consume their protein through food sources, such as:

Supplements are an easy way to increase protein intake, but they are not a replacement for food sources. However, they are a convenient form of high quality protein, especially if a person has a busy schedule.

Protein supplements usually come in powder form. A person can mix the powder with water or milk to make a protein shake, blend in smoothies or shakes, and add to cereals and baked goods.

There are multiple types of protein powder, including:

  • whey
  • casein
  • egg

Plant-based types include:

  • soy
  • pea
  • hemp
  • brown rice

Many athletes use creatine supplements for sports performance and exercise recovery. People can also use protein powder after workouts to promote muscle recovery.


Research has shown that creatine can increase lean muscle mass and exercise capacity, which is a person’s maximum athletic ability. It works best when used with short, high intensity workouts.

Creatine can help improve specific aspects of exercise, so it may be useful for athletes in certain sports. For example, it may improve muscle recovery after performing a maximum-weight squat exercise. It can also improve power in anaerobic exercise and aid recovery after workouts.


Some people may also take protein powder after a workout to support muscle growth and recovery.

Research supports that taking quick digesting leucine-rich protein, such as whey protein, can optimize the production of proteins in the working muscles. Leucine is an essential amino acid that is important for protein synthesis.

Experts suggest that people who exercise regularly have higher protein requirements. Therefore, people who participate in regular physical activity may benefit from supplementing their diet with protein powder.

Both creatine and protein powder can help with muscle gain if combined with adequate training and a calorie surplus.

Complex training, which involves heavy-resistance exercises, is an effective method for developing muscle strength and power. However, they are also very strenuous, and a person can tire quickly.

Fatigue recovery is an important factor that affects exercise performance. Studies have shown that different creatine supplementation regimens may help lower muscle fatigue. Taking creatine after working out seems to be more beneficial than taking it before exercise.

Additionally, consuming protein after a workout can help recovery and muscle growth.

Some experts suggest that people who exercise for more than 3 months eat more protein. However, they also recommend resorting to supplements only if a person is not getting enough protein from their usual diet.

Taking low doses of creatine daily for 28–30 days may help increase the amount of this amino acid found in the muscles.

In a 2021 study, participants took 3 gram (g) of creatine every day for 28 days. The researchers report that this regimen improved exercise performance. Experts also demonstrated that taking 20 g of creatine for 5–7 days leads to a similar increase in the amount of this amino acid in the muscles.

Other experts report benefits of taking a larger dose of creatine to start, followed by a lower dose.

An example of this regimen is taking 20 g per day for a short time, followed by a 5 g dose for 28 to 30 days. Most experts advise splitting the larger 20 g dose into multiple smaller doses.

Protein is an essential macronutrient, but people who exercise regularly need more than the recommended dietary allowance (RDA). The RDA for protein is 0.8 g per kilogram of body weight per day. Current evidence suggests that people who exercise for more than 5 months need between 1.5–2 times more protein than the RDA.

For optimal muscle protein synthesis after workouts, people should aim to consume 20–25 g in the form of food or protein powder. Most commercial protein powders have about this amount in one scoop.

Creatine and protein supplementation may provide specific benefits that support certain types of training. In clinical studies, creatine may help people who practice heavy-resistance training.

People who exercise regularly require more protein than the recommended dietary allowance suggests. Before a person begins taking supplements, it is advisable to contact a doctor or registered dietitian.