Creatine has been a staple in the fitness and bodybuilding community for decades now. This natural supplement is known to help boost strength and lean muscle mass, which explains all the hype it receives.
As a result, there are numerous types of creatine on the market as the most popular forms pair creatine with monohydrate and hydrochloride (HCL).
Logically, this leads to a very heated debate: creatine monohydrate vs HCL – which will help you get stronger?
Relevant scientific data shows that both creatine monohydrate and creatine HCL are equally effective at improving muscle strength and performance.
The same research shows that using lower doses (3g/day) of CHCL (creatine hydrochloride) doesn’t produce better results than higher doses (20g/day) of CM (creatine monohydrate).
Nonetheless, a certain comparative study from 2010 published in the Journal of dietary supplements found that the HCL form of creatine was 38 times more soluble than the monohydrate one.
However, this is the only study to suggest that HCL might have superior absorption and there’s a clear lack of sufficient published human experiments regarding creatine HCL.
Obviously, there is some sorting out that needs to be done on this front.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what these forms of creatine really are, how they work, how they’re used, what studies say about their effectiveness, and more!
Creatine monohydrate is the most common and widespread form of creatine in existence. It’s the oldest type of creatine and also the most researched form as evident by relevant studies.
Typically creatine mono consists of a creatine molecule and a water molecule, although it can be processed in several different ways depending on the manufacturer.
Thus, some creatine monohydrate supplements rely on micronized creatine that’s meant to improve the solubility of the supplement. While in others the water molecule is removed, resulting in 100% creatine content a.k.a. creatine anhydrous.
To put things into perspective, creatine anhydrous is 100% creatine by weight as opposed to monohydrates’ 90%.
However, creatine anhydrous is also more expensive due to the manufacturing process.
Creatine monohydrate is also known to pull water into the muscle cells, which is impacted by the method of using this supplement i.e. with or without a loading phase.
The loading phase stands for using higher doses during the first few days of taking creatine mono to quickly saturate the muscles with the supplement. But this isn’t necessary and you can feel the benefits even without utilizing a loading phase.
Overall, creatine monohydrate is affordable, effective, and generally safe, making it the gold standard of creatine supplements.
According to the ISSN, going for a loading phase during which you take 5 grams of CM 4 times a day (20g/daily) for 5 to 7 days is ideal for saturating the muscle stores quickly. After that you continue by following a maintenance dose of 2 to 10 grams of CM per day.
Note that the exact amount might vary depending on your weight. To figure out exactly how much CM you need to be taking during the loading phase, multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.3. Here’s an example:
However, you can also opt for a loading phase-free approach by simply taking 3 grams each day for 28 days to reach proper saturation.
Regardless of the approach, check the recommended dosage found on the product label of your creatine monohydrate supplement.
Creatine HCL or creatine hydrochloride is a relatively newer form of creatine that has gained quite a bit of popularity over the last couple of years.
It consists of a creatine molecule attached to the hydrochloride group that reduces the pH of the creatine, thus making it more acidic. The theory is that by replacing the water molecule with hydrochloride, the creatine will have superior absorption levels and water solubility.
This led to speculations that even lower doses of creatine HCL can be just as effective, while also lowering the chance to encounter typical creatine side effects such as an upset stomach.
The supposedly quicker absorption should also lead to little or no water retention that’s usually associated with creatine monohydrate.
Another claim is that the attached hydrochloride group makes the creatine molecule more stable. Thus, you should potentially see the same results even without utilizing the loading phase associated with CM use.
Most creatine HCL products out there call for a daily dose of 750 mg per 100 pounds of body weight. However, you may also come across 3g/day creatine HCL doses so it really depends on the particular brand.
Still, the daily doses of creatine hydrochloride are usually much smaller than their monohydrate counterparts.
There’s no need to do a loading phase with creatine HCL due to the supposedly superior absorption. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll see results any faster.
Proper muscle cell saturation with creatine takes time and you can expect to wait a full week before you start noticing any effects.
Generally though, you’ll usually be taking around 750 to 1,500 mg of creatine HCL per day on both training and non-training days, even if you’re a bigger person.
There’s an obvious void between creatine monohydrate and creatine HCL when it comes to the number of relevant studies and clinical trials.
CM has much more research done on it, while the HCL form barely has any human trials to back the supposed claims about improved absorption.
Nonetheless, let’s take a closer look at what specific research done about each form says:
Creatine monohydrate is well-studied and has plenty of human studies that support its effectiveness.
A 2015 systematic review and meta-analyses published in the Sports Medicine journal found that creatine monohydrate is effective at increasing strength and performance in relation to upper and lower body exercises.
Note that these effects have almost exclusively been observed only when the monohydrate form of creatine was used in studies.
In addition to increasing strength and exercise performance, another well-documented effect of creatine monohydrate is an increase in the water content in muscle cells.
A randomized controlled trial from 2008 published in the Physiological Genomics journal suggests that the water retention inside the muscle cells may have a positive impact on muscle growth. That’s because having more water in muscle cells may send signals related to cell swelling, which can trigger muscle growth.
In fact, water retention associated with creatine monohydrate use is often misunderstood. Although extracellular water retention (under the skin) is a possibility with creatine mono, it’s still mostly absorbed by muscle cells.
The water retention inside the muscles may help you look a bit bigger while using CM, but don’t expect any crazy results.
Proper training and diet are still the main factors when it comes to muscle growth.
Creatine monohydrate’s tested and proven effectiveness in clinical trials is further solidified by a 2011 scientific review published in the Amino Acids journal. In this study, researchers state that creatine monohydrate has a clearly defined efficacy and safety, while other forms of creatine have less clear benefits and safety protocols.
Despite the circulating theory that creatine HCL boasts superior water solubility and absorption rate than creatine mono, there’s a real lack of clinical trials to support these claims.
The only actual research that people often cite when highlighting creatine HCL’s supposedly better effectiveness is a 2010 comparative study published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements.
This specific study found that creatine HCL is 38 times more soluble than creatine monohydrate.
Great, but this research didn’t include any human participants. It was conducted in a lab environment and it only observed the chemical characteristics of creatine HCL and what it’s water solubility was like.
Without evidence from proper human experiments regarding this form of creatine, it’s hard to crown it as the best form of creatine.
Especially when its monohydrate counterpart has huge amounts of scientific data supporting its effectiveness.
These are the main differences between the two forms of creatine that you want to know about:
Both forms of creatine claim to boost muscle strength, increase the ability to build muscle, and improve exercise performance. But creatine HCL supposedly offers better results as in theory, your body should absorb more of it.
However, studies on creatine HCL’s effectiveness are scarce, especially in human trials.
Still, there’s a study from 2020 published in the Science & Sports journal that compared the impact of CM and CHCL on testosterone, cortisol and athletic performance in 36 healthy subjects.
It’s worth pointing out that hormones like testosterone that can be stimulated by natural testosterone boosters were used as evaluation tools for physical performance of the participants in this study, as part of research methods used to determine the effectiveness of CM and CHCL.
What researchers found was that the results of the study didn’t show a significant difference between the effects of these 2 forms of creatine.
This would imply that your results should be the same, regardless of whether you’re taking creatine mono or the hydrochloride form. But hold on for a second!
Consider the amount of research data that CM has and compare it to the tiny scientific data related to CHCL.
In this case, the safest bet would be creatine monohydrate as there is simply more evidence that it works and that it’s safe to use.
Creatine monohydrate is the form with the highest amount of research to support its long-term safety.
Although creatine HCL should be just as safe on paper as it contains the same main ingredient (creatine), it still lacks the scientific data to support such safety claims.
A randomized controlled trial from 2008 published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that long-term creatine supplementation (3 months) is safe for healthy sedentary males.
Although side effects are usually rare, the most typical involve cramping or an upset stomach.
However, according to a clinical trial published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, you can relieve these unwanted reactions by simply taking several smaller doses throughout the day, instead of one large dose.
In this case, we can assume that both CM and CHCL are probably equally safe. But feel free to take this with a grain of salt as only creatine mono has sufficient research data that supports its safety.
Taking creatine HCL is more convenient as it has only a single daily dose, without loading phases or such.
Whereas creatine monohydrate might include several smaller doses spread throughout the day, especially if you’re doing the loading phase.
And while you’ll be taking around 750-1,500 mg of CHCL per day, you’ll be using at least 5 grams daily of CM and up to 15-20 grams during the loading phase.
But creatine HCL’s seemingly greater convenience relies on the theory that it’s absorbed more easily by your intestines.
And this theory requires more research data to be considered valid.
Creatine monohydrate is dirt cheap and definitely more affordable than creatine HCL.
CM offers a lower per-serving price and generally more servings per container, making it a real bargain.
While the newer and more modern creatine hydrochloride is more expensive to buy and would typically have fewer doses.
So if you’re on a tight budget, then look no further than the classic CM.
Creatine monohydrate is the most effective and recommended form of creatine, according to scientific evidence.
The strong evidence-based research of CM helps to cement its effectiveness and safety as the best among all forms of creatine.
Whereas the other types of creatine have very limited or non-existent human trials to support any claims about supposedly superior effectiveness and absorption.
Creatine monohydrate and creatine hydrochloride are some of the most popular forms of creatine nowadays.
Both contain the same primary ingredient – creatine that has positive effects on muscle strength, size and exercise performance.
However, creatine monohydrate is still the most science-backed form of creatine that’s also relatively cheap and widely available.
Some research suggests that creatine HCL might be just as effective, although more scientific information is required before it can compete successfully with creatine mono.
In summary, creatine monohydrate should probably help you get stronger more than creatine HCL would, at least judging by the amount of available scientific evidence.