Creatine is the most researched and effective supplement for muscle growth and performance on the market, without a doubt.
There are well over 500 peer-reviewed published pieces that attest to both the efficacy and safety of this mysterious white powder, which has worked its way into the supplement regime of trainees worldwide.
With this kind of reputation, the market has been flooded with brands and even types of creatine. All claim to be the best, but unfortunately, many of the claims are crap which is all too common.
However, there’s good news. There is a “best” and it’s simpler than you think.
In this paper, you’re going to learn:
I am a bit of a guru when it comes to human performance and sports nutrition. However, I have been working professionally in the fitness industry for the past 10 years and have worked in the USA, as well as throughout Asia. Over this time I have worked as a
Concerning my credentials, I currently hold:
I began taking creatine in the 90’s when the media hyped it as a steroid, so I have seen it’s transformation into the most widely used supplement today as well as witnessed the emergence of different versions. Since then, I have written and given lectures on creatine many times before and have read more research on the subject that I care to admit. I am also a member of the International Society of Sports Nutrition and have personal relationships with the smartest people there are in the supplement industry.
Creatine is a non-protogenic amino acid that is found naturally in the human body with 95% being stored within our muscles and 5% within our brain and testes. We either consume it through natural food sources (i.e. red meat and fish) or it is synthesized within the body from the amino acids arginine, glycine, and methionine.
Creatine’s primary function is the re-synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This begs the question; So what does ATP do? Well, a lot. ATP is known as the body’s “energy currency” and is required for a vast range of metabolic processes. A brief list includes:
Many people tend to think of caffeine when we talk about energy. These are stimulants. ATP is the true energy source at the cellular level.
What this means is that…
Creatine is constantly being used and resupplied throughout the day to help re-synthesize ATP (aka energy) throughout the day. There is a finite amount of creatine that our bodies can hold, yet your average person stores are only 60-80% full. And this is why we supplement, to fill those stores (and this is important to remember when looking at claims).
More Creatine→ More ATP → More Energy→ More Work→ More Gains
As you are probably aware, there are a ton of different creatine supplements that can be found on the market. Let’s briefly go over the top ones you’ll find.
Creatine monohydrate is your basic creatine and is found in the majority of products. It’s simply creatine with a water molecule attached and is approximately 90% pure. It’s very cheap and highly efficient, making it so popular.\
If you’re looking for a solid option, I like this one from Bulk Supplements.
Buffered creatine, or Kre-Alkaline, is creatine containing some sort of alkaline ingredient, usually bicarbonate. This reportedly helps prevent the breakdown of creatine in the stomach, which means your body absorbs a higher percentage of what you consume, thus decreasing the amount you need to consume.
Creatine hydrochloride (HCL) is basically a micronized version of creatine. This works by combining creatine with hydrochloric acid, making it “purer” and more soluble in water.
This means that you can take less creatine to see the same with less water which means better results and less water bloating (supposedly).
If you’re looking for a solid HCL option, this is a solid option.
Liquid creatine is just creatine in liquid form, which makes it convenient to take with you. There’s not much to say here. The only “benefit” is you can bring it with you and you don’t have to mix it. Plus, many formulas are packed with other ingredients, which drive up the price. If you want to pay $1 per serving compared to $0.10-$0.25 so you don’t have to mix it then that’s on you (keep in mind, a large amount of consumers just dump it in their protein shake)
Since everyone wants to be better than creatine monohydrate, we can go through some studies that have been put up against one another; but first, let’s see what the benefits of monohydrate are in the first place.
The main claim against monohydrate is that it does not absorb well into the body so other brands are better because there’s do. This is not true. Multiple studies have found that 99-100% of creatine is absorbed into the bloodstream.
Concerning its performance benefits, a shortlist includes:
Remember this when you hear things like this version is “5x stronger” or “10x stronger”. You mean I’ll get 25-150% stronger and put on 5-20kg of mass my first week?
Monohydrate is pretty damn good and hard to top.
There haven’t been a ton of peer-reviewed studies that have examined buffered creatine. Seemingly the only published study (Kre-alkalyn uses a few studies but none seem to be peer-reviewed) was done in 2012 and found that buffered creatine offered no benefits over monohydrate. In fact, that’s literally the title of the study.
This study put monohydrate up against two doses of kre-alkaline; one using only the lower dose it claims is more efficient and the other using the same loading phase as monohydrate (20g x 7 days). They found that not only did kre-alkalyn fail to produce higher creatine stores than monohydrate, monohydrate actually produced slightly higher stores than both groups of Kre-Alkalyn. This means that even the Kre-alkalyn group which used the loading phase did not see the same increase.
Again, there seems to only be one study that looked at monohydrate and HCL using a similar protocol as the kre-alkalyn study. All creatine groups increased strength in the lower and upper body, but HCL had “significantly” improved body composition.
However, upon closer inspection, I don’t think that word would be used among “normal” trainees. Monohydrate put on an average of 1.8kg of fat-free mass over the 4 weeks compared to 1kg and 1.6kg.
Looking at fat mass, the monohydrate group lost 0.8kg vs 1.1kg and 1.2kg. Therefore, since monohydrate didn’t lose as much fat (they still lost fat, though), the other groups resulted in better composition change.
While nothing is said about diet, it’s hard to come to exact conclusions, but that’s the one study that exists.
Make sure to check out our article where we go in depth on the differences between HCL and Creatine Monohydrate here.
There are still other forms such as phosphate, creatine ethyl ester, and creatine nitrate. However, after looking at different versions of creatine, you begin to see a common thread. Lack of studies, faulty studies, or unremarkable findings.
I want to address some of the common complaints in a little more depth as they are what’s used to prove they are better than monohydrate. This is important as if these issues don’t exist in the first place, there’s no need to look for anything else. Here we go.
If you do have an issue with this, you can forgo the loading phase. Just keep in mind that it will take longer to completely fill your stores. Or, while there have been no studies, it would make sense that using something like 10 grams would cause less discomfort but speed up the loading phase compared to the 5 grams. Further, it’s important to keep in mind that no threshold exists to see benefits. It’s not as if your stores must be full before you see improvements; remember you’re using natural creatine now.
One of the most regurgitated claims is that it’s going to fill you up with water. My response is, “Well, I hope so as muscles are more than 70% water”. Having hydrated muscles can prevent injury, improve performance, create a higher anabolic environment, and add size. Still, new research shows that out total body water does not increase and any increase in water seems to be proportional to muscle gain.
Any claim that one creatine is better than the other for muscle mass or weight gain can be dismissed. As you saw, the main claim of different creatine is that they are absorbed better so that you don’t need to take as much. However, remember that your creatine stores are finite. So, even assuming they are absorbed faster, the end result is the same; full creatine stores. Once stored, creatine is creatine. There’s no reason to think that the source of creatine will affect it effectiveness in the re-synthesis of ATP
That being said, research is very clear that creatine will increase your mass in a good way, seemingly whatever type you take.
For a more in-depth look at claims on creatine, I would suggest you visit JISSN as they have the most up-to-date information.
Good ol’ monohydrate. It’s incredibly cheap and very effective. The vast majority of studies that have shown effectiveness have been using monohydrate, and even some of the other versions will use studies from monohydrate to support their claims of creatine. It works great, and there’s no reason to change it.
If you have used monohydrate and just don’t like it, give HCL ago.
Maybe something will change in the future, but for now, many of the claims of superiority over monohydrate are either exaggerated or just false. Luckily, prices of other forms have come down significantly over the years, but monohydrate is still the best.
Don’t make it complicated and stay away from brands with flamboyant packaging (that’s a general good rule of thumb for the supplement industry regardless). Stick with either big brands such as Optimum Nutrition or Dymatize (like this micronized option) or look for brands which use Creapure, a lab from Germany. I also like Bulk Supplements for simple and affordable options. If you’re looking for a solid creatine monohydrate option, I would go with this one from Bulk Supplements.