The Creatine & Coffee Effect
A Potent Double Whammy to Boost Muscle Gains
Creatine monohydrate is one of the most extensively used supplements1, primarily because it potently enhances muscle size and strength. Many studies over the years have shown the effects of creatine supplementation on high-intensity exercise performance. This body of evidence clearly indicates that short-term creatine supplementation of 20-30 grams per day for a week can increase power output during intense exercise.2 Furthermore, creatine supplementation with heavy weight training has the potential to stimulate muscle hypertrophy.3 This unique capacity stems, in part, from creatine’s ability to function as a primary energy storage molecule that rapidly reverses the depletion of muscle cell energy (ATP) during muscular contraction— ultimately recharging energy levels within the muscle cell, prolonging muscular contraction for superior muscle growth and performance.4 Creatine also potently drives muscle growth, utilizing several different cellular mechanisms— including the stimulation of muscle cell formation5, increased muscle protein synthesis6 and by inhibiting the production of the muscle-depleting molecule myostatin.7
Creatine and Caffeine, the Perfect Mix?
Even though creatine is one of the most effective nutritional supplements ever to come to market, scientists searched for other compounds that could either complement creatine’s energy-producing capacity or boost its transport into the muscle cell in order to augment this already powerful compound.8 Initially, caffeine appeared to have several qualities that could enhance creatine— as caffeine triggers cellular energy production in a complementary way to creatine, while also driving creatine transport into the muscle cell.
Caffeine is best known as the active ingredient in coffee that stimulates the central nervous system, impeding drowsiness and restoring alertness. Yet, it also possesses the ability to boost exercise capacity. Another way that caffeine increases creatine transport is by stimulating the release of adrenaline, which boosts sodium levels outside the muscle cell.9,10 This increase in extracellular sodium concomitantly reduces sodium levels within the muscle cell, creating a need within the muscle cell for sodium. As a result, the muscle cell eventually begins taking in some of this extracellular sodium to replenish the loss of sodium.
Interestingly, muscle uptake of sodium also drives the creatine transport into the cell, leading to increased creatine within the muscle. As a result, one might conclude that the simultaneous consumption of caffeine with creatine should drive creatine uptake, improving muscle performance. Recent scientific evidence has demonstrated that altering the consumption routine of creatine and caffeine may prevent the antagonistic influence of caffeine on creatine— representing an excellent way to enhance the already-potent influence that creatine has on muscular size and performance.
Consuming Caffeine With Creatine Inhibits Creatine’s Ability to Boost Strength
Several initial studies found that creatine ingested with caffeine actually negated the positive effects of creatine.8,13 One of these studies by Vandenberghe et al. compared the effects of creatine to creatine plus caffeine supplementation on muscle performance. Before and after six days of creatine, or creatine plus caffeine consumption, muscle strength was measured. In the group receiving creatine, strength production increased by approximately 17 percent— but in the group consuming creatine and caffeine, there was no increase in strength. These results clearly show that creatine supplementation improves muscle performance when consumed alone, but creatine’s effect is completely eliminated by the co-ingestion of caffeine— conceivably by negating the transport of creatine into the cell as previously described.
Consuming Caffeine After Creatine Loading Boosts Muscle Power
Although the simultaneous consumption of creatine with caffeine for extended periods of time negates the performance-enhancing influence of creatine on muscle strength, a more recent study by Lee et al.17 indicates that creatine supplementation without caffeine (approximately 30 grams of creatine per day) for five days followed by a relatively high dose of caffeine (approximately 600 milligrams of caffeine) one hour before exercise drastically improved muscular power output during high-intensity exercise. The results of this study assert that the muscle-enhancing effects of creatine are not negatively influenced by acute caffeine ingestion, particularly when the ingestion of caffeine occurred after the creatine-loading phase.
The boost in muscle power when caffeine is consumed after creating loading is most likely because there was ample time for the muscle cell’s creatine transporter to transfer plenty of creatine into the muscle cell during the loading phase without being inhibited by caffeine. Then after the muscle cell is loaded with creatine and converts a considerable amount of creatine into the high-energy molecule creatine phosphate for improved ATP production and muscular performance, the acute ingestion of caffeine right before exercise may trigger further creatine transport into the muscle cell while boosting additional energy production, sustaining even greater muscular performance.