There are literally thousands of supplements out there suggesting to do much of the same thing -- get you strong, muscular, and lean as hell.
And two of the most common are Creatine and Beta-Alanine.
In fact, both of these compounds appear in a multitude of different pre-workout supplements because research indicates that they are both effective.
Which begs the question -- do you really need them both, or is one better than the other?
Creatine and Beta-alanine: What are they?
To work out whether one of these common supplements is better than the other, it is first important to gain an understanding of what they actually are.
And first up is creatine.
Creatine is a compound found naturally occurring in the human body, where it is synthesised from small protein molecules called “amino acids”. Most of the creatine found in your body is stored within your muscle tissue. It is then released during exercise to produce energy during short, explosive efforts.
One thing to note is that the amount of energy you can produce via creatine is limited, because it is dictated by the amount of creatine you have stored in your muscle tissue -- which is exactly where creatine supplements enter the equation.
By increasing the amount of creatine you have stored in your muscle, they increase the amount of energy you can produce during intense exercise. This can lead to a couple of extra reps per set at a given weight, which has obvious benefits in the gym environment.
Pretty cool, right?
Next up we have beta-alanine.
Beta-alanine is a unique amino acid that is naturally found in your muscles and brain. Under normal circumstances, it combines with another amino acid called “histidine” to form a compound called carnosine.
And this is important, because carnosine helps reduce the accumulation of lactic acid in your muscles during exercise, which staves off fatigue.
But much like creatine, the amount of beta-alanine stored in your muscle tissue is relatively small compared to the amount of histidine. This limits the production of carnosine, and puts a ceiling on your ability to buffer lactic acid during exercise.
As a result, supplementing with beta-alanine can cause an immediate increase in carnosine production, which improves your fatigue resistance during exercise.
Creatine and Beta-alanine: What are their benefits?
So, we have two very different compounds that impact your body in two very different ways. Which really makes you wonder -- what are their benefits when it comes to boosting the results of your training?
The Benefits of Creatine
I mentioned above that creatine supplements ultimately saturate your muscle cells with creatine, which improves your energy production capabilities. I also went on to suggest that this could improve your gym performance acutely by allowing you to list more weight.
Well, the research indicates that this is completely true.
Evidence has repeatedly shown that supplementing with creatine can cause vast improvements in strength during your gym sessions  -- and while lifting more weight is cool itself, this has further benefits when taking a longer term perspective.
Over the duration of a long term training program, lifting more weight every single session will place your muscular and nervous systems under more mechanical load. This stimulates greater training adaptations, leading to improvements in strength.
In fact, in one study, individuals who supplement with creatine saw improvements in strength that were 8% greater than people not taking creatine -- despite performing the exact same training program .
Moreover, this was just a short term study. When we extrapolate these effects over years of training, the results become astronomically larger.
But wait, there's more.
Because creatine allows you to lift more weight, it causes an immediate increase in the amount of total volume you lift per session (think of volume as sets x reps x load). This is important, because training volume has been shown to be one of the largest predictors of muscle growth.
As a result (and much like strength), combining creatine supplementation with a longer term training program has been shown to cause larger improvements in muscle size than simply training alone .
The Benefits of Beta-alanine
Now, as discussed above, beta-alanine works in a very different manner to creatine, where it increases the production of carnosine within your muscle tissue. This, in turn, directly limits the build of lactic acid during exercise.
As a result, it has been shown to improve muscular and aerobic endurance, while limiting fatigue during training .While having more energy during training is unquestionably a good thing, you should understand that the implications of this are quite large.
Let's say that you can normally perform 3 sets of 8 repetitions on the bench press at 80kgs -- but, when you supplement with beta-alanine, you can do 3 sets of 10 reps.
This can also cause large increases in volume load across the duration of a training session. In fact, it is for this reason that beta-alanine supplementation has been shown to enhance muscle growth and fat loss significantly when combined with training .
Do Creatine and Beta-alanine Have any Side Effects?
OK, so they both offer some pretty positive benefits -- but do they have any side effects?
To keep consistent with the theme of this article, we will kick off creatine.
If you have been around the traps for a while then it is highly likely that you have heard some anecdotal reports that creatine can cause some nasty side effects, including kidney damage, muscle cramps, dehydration, and even diarrhea.
However, evidence would suggest that this is not really the case .
A previous study in athletes has shown that up to 5 years of creatine supplementation does not have any adverse effects on renal function. Now, I must admit that while we do not have any idea what happens after 5 years of supplementation, it is likely to be pretty safe. Nonetheless, we encourage you to check with your medical practitioner before supplementing with creatine.
Moreover, while some people may experience some symptoms of dry mouth and increased thirst during the first week or so, that tends to disappear pretty quickly.
In short, creatine is one of the safest supplements on the planet.
Well, much like creatine it appears to be very well tolerated in humans.
In fact, the only notable side effect that people experience is something called “paraesthesia”, which describes the “tingling” sensation that occurs on the face, neck and back of the hands after taking beta-alanine .
While this may be slightly odd, it is something that normally disappears pretty quickly, and only occurs with higher dosages.
Creatine VS Beta-Alanine: Who Wins?
And the winner is.... *drumroll please*... both and neither.
Evidence has shown time and time again that both of these compounds have the ability to improve the results of your training. However, because they work through very different mechanisms, they are hard to compare directly.
I mean, creatine helps you lift more weight, and beta-alanine helps you perform more reps -- both of which will improve muscle growth and strength development in a big way.
In fact, because they do improve gym performance by two very different mechanisms, I would argue that they both complement each other perfectly. As a result, it is probably in your best interest to take both of them if you want to optimise the results of your training.
And look, no one is saying that you can only have one -- so why not take both?
Both creatine and beta-alanine are some of the safest supplements that you can get your hands on. And given that they have both been shown to help improve muscle strength and size, they both deserve a place in your supplement regime.
So what are you waiting for? Give them a go and let us know what you think.
- Mills S, Candow DG, Forbes SC, Neary JP, Ormsbee MJ, Antonio J. Effects of Creatine Supplementation during Resistance Training Sessions in Physically Active Young Adults. Nutrients. 2020;12(6):1880.
- Rawson ES, Volek JS. Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2003;17(4):822-831.
- Cooper R, Naclerio F, Allgrove J, Jimenez A. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9(1):33.
- Hobson, R. M., Saunders, B., Ball, G., Harris, R. C., & Sale, C. (2012). Effects of ?-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino acids, 43(1), 25-37.
- Kern, B. D., & Robinson, T. L. (2011). Effects of ?-alanine supplementation on performance and body composition in collegiate wrestlers and football players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(7), 1804-1815.
- Poortmans, Jacques R., and Marc Francaux. "Adverse effects of creatine supplementation." Sports Medicine 30.3 (2000): 155-170.
- Trexler, Eric T., et al. "International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine." Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 12.1 (2015): 1-14.