Sometimes your supplement stack can seem overwhelming. So many ingredients to balance with the foods you're eating and the exercise you're doing every day. Inevitably, you find yourself taking multiple supplements at the same time, but how do you know if that harms their effectiveness? Two products that elicit lots of questions are protein supplements and creatine. Let's talk about whether they work as well when taken together as they do when taken separately.
Protein supplements, be they whey, plant, meat, egg, or some other source, are a form of food. You use them to fill in gaps in your daily macro counts, and your body sees them the way it sees any other protein you eat. You can have a protein drink first thing in the morning as breakfast, right after a workout to maximize recovery, or even before bed to maintain muscle protein synthesis while you sleep. The point is, there's really no "wrong" time to have a protein shake. They're here to help you reach your goals.
Creatine works a little differently. It is not a macronutrient and it does not have a daily recommended intake. You can think of it simply as an energy source. When you engage in short-burst, high-intensity activities, your body uses a compound called phosphocreatine to create energy extremely quickly. These immediate energy stores have high mobility, but unfortunately, they only last long enough for other systems to kick in and take over. Creatine supplementation helps expand the amount of phosphocreatine stored in your muscle so you have a greater burst of energy to do things like lift heavy weights and conquer those sprint intervals.
Timing your creatine supplementation is more about the long game. To increase your muscle stores of phosphocreatine, you have to saturate your body over a period of days or weeks. There are two trusted protocols for this. Casual users should simply focus on taking 3-5 grams of creatine per day. Easy, right? Those looking to hit their saturation point more quickly can "load" creatine with 20-25 grams per day for the first week or so and then come back down to 3-5 grams per day to maintain.
As you can see, the two products accomplish different goals. Protein is used as a source of structural amino acids that cover a wide range of functions throughout the body and are used for energy only rarely under certain circumstances. Creatine is used exclusively for energy in high-intensity situations.
So, basically, it makes no difference whether you take the two products together or separately. In fact, if you throw 5 grams of creatine in with your protein shake, there's a high probability that you won't even taste it. Making a protein-and-creatine combo shake part of your daily routine will help you hit your protein macros as well as sustain your creatine saturation for maximum muscle growth and recovery over time.