Creatine vs Carnitine: Do You Need Both? Differences Explained

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If you hope to take your performance or physique to the next level, you may wonder whether creatine or carnitine would be most beneficial. As a nutrition coach, it’s my job to educate clients on which supplements to take and how to include them, so I’ll explain everything you need to know about creatine and carnitine to help you decide which is best.

Key Takeaways

  • Creatine supports energy production and improves exercise performance at high intensities (i.e., weight training and sprinting). Carnitine promotes fat oxidation, with studies suggesting it may support weight loss, endurance performance, and recovery between sessions.
  • Both compounds have been studied extensively for decades and are safe when taken in the recommended doses. Research is conclusive regarding creatine’s positive effects on athletic performance and muscle recovery, but findings are somewhat mixed on carnitine’s benefits.
  • Creatine is more advantageous for traditional gym-goers and those interested in strength and explosiveness. In contrast, carnitine may benefit those in a calorie deficit for weight loss or seeking improved endurance.

Comparison Chart

creatine vs. carnitine comparison chart

What Is Creatine?

what is creatine

Creatine is an organic compound produced in the body from three amino acids (methionine, glycine, and arginine) found in certain foods like red meat, poultry, and fish.

Most creatine is stored in skeletal muscle, with up to five percent found in the brain, liver, kidneys, and pancreas.

Creatine plays an essential role in energy production and is shown to improve athletic performance. Creatine boosts phosphocreatine levels, which fuels high-intensity exercise, allowing trainees to work out harder and recover slightly quicker between bouts of physical activity:

“Creatine supplementation may speed up recovery time between bouts of intense exercise by mitigating muscle damage and promoting the faster recovery of lost force-production potential.”

Journal of Nutrients.

For instance, if someone can lift a specific weight for six reps without creatine, they may be able to do eight or even nine reps with creatine supplementation. That slight difference could result in more significant training volumes and superior adaptations (strength, muscle gain, endurance, etc.).

To maximize the benefits of creatine, you must saturate your cells beyond what is possible through your body’s natural production or by eating foods containing creatine. For this reason, creatine supplementation is one of the most valuable supplements for performance.

What Is Carnitine?

what is carnitine

Carnitine (or L-carnitine) is a naturally occurring compound produced in the body from the amino acids lysine and methionine. It’s necessary for brain function, muscle contractions, and turning body fat into usable energy (i.e., improving fat-burning).

Carnitine is an essential ‘carrier,’ transporting long-chain fatty acids into the mitochondria (the power generators) of cells to be broken down and converted to ATP molecules (the body’s primary fuel source) for energy. 

In other words, carnitine helps break down fat for energy.

Carnitine’s ability to help burn fat for fuel has made it a popular supplement among the fitness community, as it is believed that its fat-burning properties are amplified with supplementation.

While the research is mixed, this meta-analysis on the impact of L-carnitine supplementation on weight loss and body composition concluded that:

“L-carnitine supplementation provides a modest reducing effect on body weight, BMI and fat mass, especially among adults with overweight/obesity.”

Therefore, those pursuing fat loss seek out L-carnitine supplements marketed as “fat burners” to help them achieve their goals.

Some studies suggest that carnitine’s ability to shift the fuel source from glycogen (carbs) to fatty acids (fat) improves performance. 

Carnitine supplementation also had an ergogenic effect and was shown to increase work output by 11% in a performance trial with a fixed duration of 30 min. The ergogenic effect was explained by the dual role of carnitine – glycogen sparing at low intensities and reduced muscle lactate accumulation at high intensities.

Journal of Physiology.

Lastly, L-carnitine also has antioxidant functions, protecting healthy cells from stress, which can lead to numerous health issues.

Because of these antioxidant functions, carnitine may also limit exercise-induced muscle damage, allowing trainees to work harder and more often by reducing excessive soreness.

6 Differences Between Creatine vs Carnitine

The following table provides a glimpse at creatine and carnitine and how the two compounds compare in several key categories:

Primary RoleSupports energy production during high-intensity exerciseTransports fatty acids into mitochondria
Mechanism of ActionIncreases ATP availability for energy in skeletal muscleSupports the breakdown of fatty acids for energy (ATP)
Best ForStrength athletes, bodybuilders, and sprintersIndividuals looking to enhance fat-burning
Key BenefitsSupports muscle growth, strength, and exercise performancePromotes fat loss and improves mitochondrial function
Athletic PerformanceParticularly beneficial for short bursts of high-intensity activitiesIt may enhance endurance and recovery times
Recommended Dosage3-5 grams daily0.5-2 grams daily
Possible Side EffectsBloating; minor GI discomfortNausea, vomiting, GI discomfort, and fishy body odor
Scientific SupportExtensive research supporting benefitsResearch is mixed; some support for benefits
Timing ConsiderationDoesn’t matterShortly before training or having a meal seems ideal

1. Mechanism of Action


Most creatine in the body is stored as phosphocreatine or PCr. During physical activity, the body breaks down ATP molecules more quickly (up to 1000 faster).

The more intense the activity is (think a 100-meter sprint or a 5-rep max set of squats), the more quickly you burn through the available ATP, which leads to fatigue.

Creatine comes into the picture to lend a phosphate group, allowing the body to convert ADP (the molecule with less available energy) to ATP (the body’s primary fuel source) more quickly. 

The result is slightly better athletic performance (particularly intense activities like weight training) and quicker recovery between sets.


Carnitine can carry long-chain fatty acids to cell mitochondria to be broken down for energy and converted to ATP. Its involvement in burning fat for fuel encourages weight loss when combined with a calorie deficit.

Additionally, research suggests that carnitine may improve cardio performance thanks to its ability to stimulate fat-burning; fats are an important energy source during less intense activities where ATP synthesis doesn’t have to happen as quickly.

2. Associated Benefits


Creatine’s benefits are more pronounced at higher intensities. For instance, in one review, researchers looked at 22 studies and concluded that creatine supplementation led to an average strength increase eight percent greater when compared to placebo.

However, the increases ranged significantly. Subjects saw a bench press strength increase from 16 to 43 percent.

Creatine supplementation can also improve overall cognitive function and memory. A likely explanation is that it supports energy production, which the brain needs. For reference, the brain accounts for roughly 20 percent of the body’s total energy consumption.


Carnitine supplementation supports fat loss and may improve performance at lower intensities. 

A 2016 meta-analysis of nine studies on the effect of carnitine supplementation on weight loss concluded, “Study participants who took carnitine supplements lost an average of 1.33 kg more weight than those who took a placebo, regardless of the study duration or L-carnitine dose.”

In one 9-week study, the carnitine group saw significant improvements in bench press and leg press volumes and reduced blood lactate levels and markers of oxidative stress following training.

Research also suggests that carnitine can improve oxygen consumption at rest and lengthen the duration of training sessions.

3. Natural Sources


Creatine occurs naturally in fish (herring, salmon, tuna, cod, etc.) and meat (beef, pork, lamb, chicken breast, rabbit, etc.


Carnitine is also found in meat and fish and occurs naturally in milk and cheese.

4. Storage in the Body


Approximately 95 percent of creatine is found in skeletal muscle, with trace amounts stored in the brain, liver, kidneys, and pancreas.


Carnitine is also primarily stored in the muscles and heart. Small amounts are also found in the liver, kidneys, and blood plasma.

5. Research Support


Creatine research dates back to the early 1970s. Hundreds of studies have shown its efficacy in improving performance during intense bursts of physical activity, such as weight training and sprinting. 

Meta-analyses show that supplementation is a safe and effective way to increase muscle creatine concentrations, promoting the associated benefits.

Some research also looks at creatine’s potential benefits on cognitive function and bone health. While there is promise, we need more data to conclude.


Despite being researched extensively, the findings surrounding carnitine and its benefits are mixed, with some studies showing athletic improvements and others showing no significant improvements. 

Research findings are more convincing about carnitine’s positive impact on fat oxidation and improvements in blood lipid profiles.

6. Side Effects


Some potential side effects of creatine include dizziness, diarrhea, high blood pressure, and muscle cramps.

However, research suggests that these side effects are uncommon. The most common side effect is stomach discomfort (typically in the form of bloating), especially during a loading phase, where people take 20-25 grams daily.

A simple way to avoid the issue is to take creatine with food, avoid loading phases, or take multiple smaller doses (3-5 grams) during a loading phase.


Common side effects linked to carnitine include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and fishy body odor. 

However, like creatine’s side effects, these are rare and affect very few people.

How To Pick Between Creatine vs Carnitine

Consider the following factors to decide between creatine and carnitine:

High-Intensity Performance

Creatine is ideal for people strictly interested in improving their performance in high-intensity activities (e.g., weight training, sprinting, etc.).

Thanks to its ability to promote ATP synthesis, athletes may experience a modest performance boost.

Muscle And Strength Gains

Creatine is again the better choice, given its positive impact on athletic performance.

Thanks to its benefits, trainees can accumulate greater training volumes, potentially creating more significant muscle disruptions for better growth and strength gain.

In one recent review of studies from 2012 to 2021, researchers concluded that creatine supplementation reliably supported muscle gain in young and healthy people.

Endurance Training

Carnitine may be the better choice for endurance athletes, as it promotes fat oxidation and the production of ATP. However, as mentioned above, the data is mixed.

In contrast, given its mechanisms, creatine doesn’t seem helpful for people looking to optimize their performance on less intense and longer-lasting activities like cycling and jogging.

Fat Metabolism And Weight Loss

Carnitine may be the superior compound for people interested in burning more fat and losing weight.

As discussed, one of its primary roles is to carry long-chain fatty acids to the mitochondria to be broken down for energy. In contrast, creatine doesn’t seem to support that or similar mechanisms.

However, it’s worth noting that carnitine alone does not lead to weight loss, as that requires a calorie deficit (eating fewer calories than you burn daily).

Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

Creatine and carnitine supplementation may benefit vegetarians and vegans. 

As mentioned earlier, both compounds occur naturally in animal products. Creatine and carnitine are found in meat and fish; carnitine is also found in cheese and milk.

Vegetarians may get some carnitine through dairy but don’t get any creatine from their diets. In this paper, researchers noted that creatine levels in the body decline steadily over a three-month period in women following a vegetarian diet.

The researchers also note that low doses of creatine (a gram daily) limit the decline.

Muscle Recovery

Creatine may help reduce markers of muscle damage and support ATP synthesis between bouts of exercise (rounds, sets, etc.).

For these reasons, supplementation may benefit folks looking to boost muscle recovery during training and between sessions.

Carnitine may also be helpful because of its antioxidant function, which could limit oxidative stress, aid muscle recovery, and limit soreness after training.

Age-Related Muscle Loss

Age-related muscle loss, or sarcopenia, is common and relatively preventable with sound nutritional practices and regular physical activity.

Data suggests that a high-protein intake coupled with some resistance training can rebuild lost muscle, boost strength, and improve functional fitness.

Creatine supplementation takes this a step further, as it has been shown that older adults who supplement with creatine and resistance train have better strength and muscle gain results than those who resistance train but do not take creatine.

Additionally, the cognitive benefits that creatine offers would be incredibly beneficial for the older population at risk of age-related muscle loss. 

In contrast, there is no research suggesting carnitine would be helpful for older adults, given that it is primarily used as a fat-burning agent rather than one that would help combat sarcopenia.

Related Article: Is Creatine Good For Older Adults?

Creatine 101: Mini Guide

How To Take Creatine

  • Dosage: 3-5 grams/day (you can do a 5 to 7-day loading phase of 20 grams/day)
  • How to mix: Add the powder to water, milk, or juice (100-200 ml), stir, and drink.

How Long To See Results?

If you do a loading phase, you can see results in as little as five to seven days.

However, if you simply take a dose of 3 to 5 grams daily, it may take 20 to 40 days to see a difference in performance and recovery.

Related Article: How Long For Creatine To Work?


  • Boosts strength
  • Supports muscle gains
  • Improves high-intensity performance
  • Speeds up muscle recovery
  • Aids in ATP regeneration
  • It may support cognitive function


  • Some scale weight gain (due to water retention in the muscles)
  • Digestive discomfort (if you do a loading phase)
  • Requires daily supplementation

Creatine Recommendation: PEScience True Creatine+

PEScience True Creatine+

Most creatine monohydrates on the market do a good enough job, but I recommend PeScience True Creatine+ for two reasons:

First, it dissolves surprisingly well in liquids, which makes it far easier and more pleasant to consume. It doesn’t form clumps or have the typical ‘grainy’ texture when drinking it.

Second, the product is third-party tested, which means an independent organization reviews it for quality and to ensure that what’s listed on the nutritional label is found inside and nothing else is present.

Carnitine 101: Mini Guide

How To Take Carnitine 

  • Dosage: 0.5 to 2 grams daily.
  • Timing: Generally recommended to take before exercise or shortly before eating.
  • With meals: You can take it on an empty stomach, so long as it doesn’t lead to GI discomfort. Alternatively, take it before a meal to improve absorption.
  • How to mix: Add it to water, milk, juice, a sports drink (100-200 ml), or even your pre-workout supplement.

How Long To See Results?

Carnitine may have some acute benefits related to fat oxidation. However, there’s no clear consensus in the literature, and studies that find benefits do so following at least two weeks of daily supplementation (typically around 2 grams/day).

For instance, in this study, the participants took a gram of carnitine daily for six months and saw significant increases in total and free levels compared to placebo.


  • Boosts fat burning
  • Could support weight loss
  • Some research shows improvements in endurance performance
  • Could potentially reduce muscle soreness
  • It may help control blood glucose levels


  • Mixed findings for athletic benefits and weight loss
  • Fishy body odor (rare)
  • Minor risk of nausea in some people
  • Not shown to be beneficial for strength, power, and muscle growth
  • Requires daily supplementation

Carnitine Recommendation: Bulk Supplements L-Carnitine

Bulk Supplements L-Carnitine

Bulk Supplements L-Carnitine is a good option. It’s affordable, mixes well with liquids, and is unflavored. 

Customers report it’s almost tasteless and easy to consume when mixed with milk, water, or juice. 

Here’s what one reviewer wrote:

“This carnitine is a must-have in your daily routine. Provides energy, almost tasteless and at a great price.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Carnitine and Creatine Be Taken Together?

Yes, you can take carnitine and creatine together because they work through different pathways, offer unique benefits, and can complement one another. Creatine is more beneficial for energy production and high-intensity performance, whereas carnitine supports fat oxidation and could improve endurance performance.

Are Carnitine and Creatine Safe To Take Long Term?

Both compounds are shown to be safe for long-term use. However, it’s always best to consult a doctor, especially if you have concerns or a health condition.

Can Vegans & Vegetarians Benefit From Taking Carnitine and Creatine?

Yes, vegans and vegetarians can benefit from both compounds, even more so than people who regularly consume animal products. Creatine and carnitine are primarily found in meat, fish, and dairy, so it’s best to supplement with both compounds if you don’t eat them.

Is It Necessary To Cycle off Carnitine and Creatine?

It’s unnecessary to cycle off either compound. No research shows benefits to doing so, and neither compound leads to adverse health effects if taken continuously.

Are There Any Negative Interactions Between Carnitine and Creatine With Other Common Supplements?

There aren’t any known negative interactions between creatine and carnitine with other popular compounds like citrulline malate, beta-alanine, taurine, or caffeine. Assess how both compounds make you feel and find a supplementation schedule that provides the benefits without leading to GI discomfort.

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About The Author

Philip Stefanov

Philip Stefanov is a certified conditioning coach, personal trainer, and fitness instructor. With more than nine years of experience in the industry, he’s helped hundreds of clients improve their nutritional habits, become more consistent with exercise, lose weight in a sustainable way, and build muscle through strength training. He is passionate about writing and has published more than 500 articles on various topics related to healthy nutrition, dieting, calorie and macronutrient tracking, meal planning, fitness and health supplementation, best training practices, and muscle recovery.

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