Creatine vs Whey Protein: Which is Better for You?

UK Fitness Pro
UK Fitness Pro
· 12 min read
Bags of creatine and whey protein

People usually use protein powder as it increases muscle protein synthesis (1), which refers to the incorporation of amino acids into muscle cells and promotes muscle growth and muscle repair. On the other hand, creatine increases the availability of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a crucial energy source that plays an important role in muscle contractions. Therefore, people typically use creatine supplements to increase energy levels and strength, enabling them to train more effectively. 

Below, we explore the benefits of creatine vs whey protein in relation to developing skeletal muscle tissue, strength gains, recovery, fat loss, and athletic performance. 

What is Creatine Monohydrate?

Creatine monohydrate is an organic compound that enhances energy production by increasing the availability of creatine phosphate, which provides a phosphate group for the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) from adenosine diphosphate (ADP). By bolstering creatine stores in the muscle, creatine supplementation allows for more rapid regeneration of ATP during high-intensity activities, thereby improving exercise capacity and performance. 

A bag of creatine monohydrate

A bag of creatine monohydrate powder from Myprotein

You can find out more about why creatine monohydrate is considered the "best creatine" in our article comparing creatine and BCAAs. In short, there's more evidence supporting creatine monohydrate than there is for alternative forms, such as creatine hydrochloride (HCl), creatine ethyl ester, and buffered creatine. 

What is Whey Protein Powder?

Whey is a fast-digesting protein (2) created as part of the cheese production process. It's considered a complete protein (3) because it contains all the essential amino acids required by the body (Figure 1). These amino acids act as the building blocks of protein, crucial for muscle repair, recovery, and growth. 

Figure 1. Grams of Essential Amino Acids in 100 Grams of Whey Protein Powder

Graph showing essential amino acid concentrations in whey protein

While whey protein is often considered a particularly high-quality protein, there are many other excellent protein supplements. To learn how these compare to whey, check out our articles comparing casein protein and whey protein and hemp protein and whey protein

Although a protein shake or two is a convenient way of increasing your protein intake, you could look at alternative protein sources, like protein bars, if you'd like some variation. 

Table 1. The Calories and Macronutrients in Grenade's Milk-Based Protein Bars 

Supplement TypeCalories per 100gProtein (g per 100g)Carbs (g per 100g)Fats (g per 100g)
Oreo Protein Bar389353417
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bar353343413
Peanut Butter and Jelly Bar384343317
Fudged Up Protein Bar387342917
White Chocolate Salted Peanut Bar403333220

How Much Protein Do You Need?

According to the Mayo Clinic, those undertaking intense exercise (e.g., weight lifting, strength training) should aim for 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilo of body weight per day (or 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight per day). Therefore, if you weighed 85 kilos, you would need between 102 and 145 grams per day to get enough protein. 

For individuals not undertaking high-intensity exercise, the recommended dietary allowance put forward by the NHS is 1 gram per kilo of body weight per day. 

Table 2. Grams of Macronutrients and Calories in 100 Grams of Whey Proteins From Myprotein (MP) and Bodybuilding Warehouse (BW)

 ProteinCarbsFatCalories
MP whey concentrate778.37.1405
MP whey isolate814.61.1359
BW whey concentrate804.75.7375
BW whey isolate901.01.0374

As shown in the table, whey protein supplements usually provide about 80 grams of protein per 100 grams. 

Therefore, 200 grams per day would provide more than enough for an 85-kilo individual engaged in regular resistance training. As a scoop usually contains 30 grams, such an individual would require 6–7 scoops per day if completely reliant on whey for their protein.

However, as suggested in the whole foods section below, a lot of your protein should come from food sources. 

What is the Best Time to Take Whey Protein?

A review published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests that the timing of whey protein supplementation, either immediately before and after resistance exercise or at any other time of the day, does not significantly affect muscle strength or size. It emphasises that total daily protein intake is more important for muscle hypertrophy and strength gains than the timing of protein intake relative to the exercise session. Therefore, to maximize muscle growth, individuals should focus on meeting their total daily protein requirements through a balanced diet, including whey protein, rather than stressing about the specific timing of protein supplementation (4).

Muscle Gain

It's well-established that whey protein can assist with muscle building, but it's less clear whether creatine supplementation has a direct effect on muscle gain...

Whey Protein

One study showed that after 12 weeks of resistance training and 19 grams of whey protein isolate per day, participants experienced significant increases in total body mass and lean body mass, indicating that whey protein can cause muscle growth in untrained individuals (5).

A bag of whey protein

A bag of Myprotein's whey protein concentrate

Creatine Monohydrate

In a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, 18 male participants underwent a 42-day strength training programme and were divided into a creatine group (3 grams per day) and a placebo group. While the placebo group did not experience increases in body mass, the creatine group experienced a 2-kg increase. However, this was at least partially attributable to greater water retention (6). 

If you're interested in how protein powder can help with building muscle, you might also like our article comparing whey and egg protein, which looks at how their different amino acids can contribute to different fitness goals. Additionally, if you're interested in developing lean muscle mass, you could check out our article on the best protein supplements for weight loss, which provides insights into which supplements to use if you're trying to limit your calorie intake. 

Muscle Strength

Many studies provide evidence that supplementing with whey protein or creatine monohydrate can increase strength...

Whey Protein

One study found that recreational bodybuilders who took 1.5 grams of whey protein per kilo of body weight per day over the course of a 10-week resistance training programme experienced significant increases in strength as assessed by one-rep max on bench press, squats, and cable pull-downs (7). 

Creatine Monohydrate

In a study published in Nutrition Research, seasoned powerlifters performed leg extensions and deadlifts prior to and following a five-day period of consuming either 9 grams of creatine per day or a placebo. Compared to those who took the placebo, the individuals who received creatine exhibited more significant enhancements in both the peak torque and average power during leg extensions, along with an increase in their maximum one-repetition deadlift. These results indicate that even relatively small amounts of creatine can have a meaningful impact on muscular strength (8). 

If you're interested in how supplements like whey protein and creatine can promote strength in skeletal muscles, you might also like the following articles:

Muscle Recovery

Both whey protein and creatine monohydrate have been linked to improved muscle recovery...

Whey Protein

A systematic review and meta-analysis published in Nutrients assessed the impact of whey protein supplementation on recovery of muscle contractility following resistance training. The analysis incorporated 13 randomised control trials (RCTs) and found a small to medium positive effect of whey supplementation on the restoration of contractile function from less than 24 hours to 96 hours post-exercise, compared to control treatments (9). 

A scoop of Myprotein's whey protein concentrate

Creatine Monohydrate

In a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, participants who supplemented with 0.3 grams of creatine per kilo of body weight per day (in combination with carbohydrates) demonstrated a 10% increase in isokinetic knee extension strength and a 21% increase in isometric strength during recovery, compared to a carbohydrate-only group. Additionally, the creatine group showed a substantial reduction in plasma creatine kinase activity, indicating less muscle damage, at several time points post-exercise (48, 72, 96 hours, and 7 days) compared to the control group (10).

If you're interested in supplements that can reduce muscle fatigue, you could also check out our article on the benefits of BCAAs for different athletes

Weight Loss

There's evidence that whey protein and creatine monohydrate can facilitate weight loss via reductions in fat...

Whey Protein

In the aforementioned study on whey protein and muscle strength, those taking whey protein (1.5 grams per kilo of body weight per day over a 10-week resistance training programme) also experienced significant reductions in fat (7). 

Creatine Monohydrate

A meta-analysis of studies focused on adults over 50 found that participants who took creatine while engaging in resistance training saw a greater reduction in body fat percentage (by 0.55%) than those who did not supplement with creatine. Although the difference was not statistically significant, the creatine group lost approximately 0.5 kg more fat mass than the placebo group, suggesting a potential role for creatine in enhancing fat loss during resistance training (11).

A bottle of creatine capsules

Myprotein's creatine monohydrate capsules.

Athletic Performance

Whey protein and creatine monohydrate have been linked to enhanced sports performance...

Whey Protein

A study with 12 elite male track runners indicated that 5 weeks of whey protein supplementation led to significantly lower levels of muscle damage indicators and improved endurance, as shown by better results in a twelve-minute walk/run test. This suggests that whey protein is not only beneficial for resistance training but can also enhance recovery and performance in aerobic exercises such as long-distance running (12).

Creatine Monohydrate

One systematic review found that football players who took creatine instead of a placebo experienced notable enhancements in their performance on the Wingate test (a test of anaerobic powder), which underscores creatine's ability to boost anaerobic metabolism (13).

There's also evidence that creatine supplementation may enhance exercise performance in the context of martial arts, rugby, swimming, powerlifting, cycling, and running

Additional Benefits

Here are just some of the other benefits of whey protein and creatine monohydrate...

Whey Protein

  • High-protein foods like whey protein can help you to feel full (14), which is useful if you'd like to reduce how much you eat each day.
  • As discussed in our article on the best supplements for diabetics, whey protein can stabilise blood sugar levels, so that you experience fewer dips in energy levels (15).

Creatine Monohydrate

  • One study found that creatine monohydrate increased time to exhaustion in elite rowers. Therefore, as well as benefitting strength athletes (8), creatine supplementation may benefit endurance athletes (16).
  • A systematic review of randomised controlled trials suggests that creatine supplementation can improve short-term memory and intelligence in healthy individuals (17).

Whole Foods

Protein

Rather than completely relying on supplements, you should aim to hit your protein targets by eating some high-protein foods. 

Table 3. Grams of Protein per 100 Grams of High-Protein Foods*

FoodGrams per 100 grams
Chicken breast31
Lean beef26
Peanut butter25
Tuna (canned in water)23
Almonds21
Eggs13
Cottage cheese11
Greek yoghurt10
Lentils9
Quinoa4.4

As suggested by the table, if you're on a plant-based diet, it can be a little harder to get enough protein. For instance, a plant-based 85-kilo person aiming to use lentils to get 1.7 grams of protein per kilo of body weight (145 grams) per day would need to eat 1.6 kilos of them–about eight cups! Therefore, they could consider using a vegan supplement to help them get more protein, such as a soy protein powder, a brown rice protein powder, a pea protein powder, a hemp protein powder, or a vegan blend protein powder.  

If you're vegan, you might like to try one of these plant-based protein snacks

Creatine 

Creatine is only found in animal products, such as red meat, fish, and, to a lesser extent, dairy products (18, 3). 

Table 4. Grams of Creatine per Kilogram of Different Foods

SourceGrams per Kilo
Milk0.1
Plaice2.0
Cod3.0
Tuna4.0
Beef4.5
Salmon4.5
Pork5.0
Herring6.5–10.0

In the study on creatine and strength mentioned above, the participants consumed 9 grams of creatine per day. (8). While it's good to get some of your creatine from real foods as they provide micronutrients that creatine supplements don't, you may have to eat multiple kilos of meat or fish to get to 9 grams of creatine! On the other hand, this amount could be obtained easily through a few small scoops of creatine powder, a handful of creatine gummies, or a few creatine tablets

Conclusion

Whey protein powder and creatine are among the most popular supplements for good reason. Each has its unique benefits, with the former best known for promoting muscle growth (as its amino acids can be used to create muscle proteins) and the latter best known for enhancing strength (as it increases the availability of ATP during physical activity). Which would help you the most, therefore, depends on your individual goals, though there's little doubt that anyone who enjoys intense workouts would benefit from one if not both supplements. 

You might also like our articles on:

About the Author

Dave Robinson, a co-founder of ukfitness.pro, has a background in psychology (BSc) and neuroscience (MSc, PhD). As well as strength training, he enjoys endurance challenges and has run ultramarathons, cycled across several countries, and completed the Three Peaks Challenge. When writing, he draws on scientific evidence to understand the pros and cons of different diets, supplements, and training regimes. 

The author on a bike

Foot Notes

*Data from the USDA National Nutrient Database.

References

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8. Rossouw, F., Krüger, P. E., & Rossouw, J. (2000). The effect of creatine monohydrate loading on maximal intermittent exercise and sport-specific strength in well trained power-lifters. Nutrition Research, 20(4), 505–514. 

9. Davies, R.W.; Carson, B.P.; Jakeman, P.M. The Effect of Whey Protein Supplementation on the Temporal Recovery of Muscle Function Following Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients 2018, 10, 221. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10020221 

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11. Forbes, S.C.; Candow, D.G.; Krentz, J.R.; Roberts, M.D.; Young, K.C. Changes in Fat Mass Following Creatine Supplementation and Resistance Training in Adults ≥50 Years of Age: A Meta-Analysis. J. Funct. Morphol. Kinesiol. 2019, 4, 62. https://doi.org/10.3390/jfmk4030062 

12. Huang, W. C., Chang, Y. C., Chen, Y. M., Hsu, Y. J., Huang, C. C., Kan, N. W., & Chen, S. S. (2017). Whey Protein Improves Marathon-Induced Injury and Exercise Performance in Elite Track Runners. International journal of medical sciences14(7), 648–654. https://doi.org/10.7150/ijms.19584 

13. Mielgo-ayuso, J., Calleja-gonzalez, J., & Marqu, D. (2019). Effects of creatine supplementation on athletic performance in soccer players: a systematic review. Nutrients, 11(757), 1–17. 

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18. Brosnan, M.E., Brosnan, J.T. The role of dietary creatine. Amino Acids 48, 1785–1791 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00726-016-2188-1