The supplement market has continued to grow over the last several years, and for good reason. Health and fitness have both become a priority in many people’s lives.
I will say, there are some supplements out there that claim to do it all without any real benefits to speak of. There are also others that have a bunch of evidence showcasing their effectiveness.
One of the latter supplements is creatine. Creatine is an extremely popular supplement, and it’s no surprise why. It has been shown time and time again to improve performance in those who use it regularly.
On top of that, there are quite a few different forms of creatine to choose from. That said, there are two forms that are by far the most common:
• Creatine Hydrochloride (HCL)
• Creatine Monohydrate
Both forms have their benefits ... but is one actually better than the other? If so, which one and why?
Let’s talk about it, and I’ll teach you how to find the best option for you.
What Is Creatine?
Before we jump in, it would probably help to know exactly what creatine is.
Creatine is a peptide made of three amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine.
It actually does a few things in the body, but in this article ... we’re going to focus on how it can increase performance. When it comes to that, we’re primarily talking about energy production.
We don’t actually use creatine itself for energy, but it helps generate energy quickly.
In fact, it’s so quick that it’s the first energy source your muscles use during exercise. If you’re looking for results, creatine can certainly help!
Creatine is well known for enhancing muscle growth, while boosting strength and power (1, 2).
We get creatine from some foods, like meat and fish, and our body produces some on its own as well.
Our body makes creatine in the kidneys, the liver, and the pancreas. Once produced, creatine gets stored mostly in muscle tissue, but it’s also in your brain too.
The problem is, we don’t actually produce enough to hold as much creatine as we could. In addition to that, it can be very difficult to get a sufficient amount through your diet alone. That’s why creatine has become such a popular thing to supplement with!
How Does Creatine Work?
Do you remember ATP from middle school science class? If you don't, it's okay. Most people forget what they learned long ago unless they think about it regularly.
This might get a little science-y, but I’ll keep it as simple as I can.
ATP stands for Adenosine Triphosphate. It sounds complex, but it's actually the simplest energy currency your body has. Everything you eat makes ATP in order for you to have the energy to live.
The way ATP works is this:
It starts out as an adenosine molecule with 3 phosphates attached. Hence the name “Tri” in triphosphate.
When one of those phosphates breaks off, it releases energy that your body harnesses and uses.
But now you only have 2 phosphates attached, making it adenosine diphosphate (ADP).
Ideally, if you want to use that molecule again, it’ll need to regain that third phosphate group. That way, it can be broken off and used for energy again.
That’s where creatine comes in.
When you take creatine as a supplement, it gets stored as creatine phosphate in your muscles. It’s not the only place it’s stored, but that’s where most of it is.
Creatine donates that phosphate back to the ADP to create more ATP. Now the process can happen again, and happen fast!
In the early stages of exercise, you need energy very quickly. I mean you’re going from a state of rest to being active.
Think about a 100-meter dash in Olympic track events. Until the gun or signal goes off, the athletes are resting or getting set to take off like a rocket.
But, once that gun goes off, the athletes explode off the line in a full-on sprint. They really need the energy from ATP to do that.
The truth is, producing energy from carbohydrates takes a little bit of time before we can use it. Utilizing the energy from fat takes even longer.
Those athletes are only able to go from 0-100 so quickly because of ATP. It's the sole supplier of energy until carbohydrates can take over.
With that, creatine only supplies the energy for about 5-6 seconds of maximal effort (7).
After that, your body starts adding more energy from carbohydrates. Within 30 seconds, your body is no longer using creatine significantly.
So, this is a really short-acting process, but when it comes to performance ... it truly makes all the difference!
Having more creatine available means an increased potential to be stronger and more powerful. As a result, you can lift heavier weights, run faster, jump higher, and become a more explosive athlete.
Creatine may also yield cognitive benefits, potentially enhancing brain function and memory (4). It is truly that versatile of a supplement. I’ve personally been using it for over 10 years, and I can honestly say it’s made a huge difference in my life.
Creatine holds the potential to elevate both your physical prowess and cognitive performance. With that being said...
What’s the difference between creatine HCL and creatine monohydrate?
Creatine HCL vs Monohydrate
When comparing creatine HCL vs monohydrate, there are several differences.
Creatine HCL is a creatine molecule attached to hydrochloric acid, a.k.a. stomach acid. This enhances its ability to dissolve in water.
That doesn’t make it more effective, but it does leave you without powder at the bottom of the drink (5).
Creatine monohydrate is a creatine molecule attached to a water molecule.
In the early days of creatine monohydrate, it didn't dissolve very well. So, 20 years ago, you may have been left with some powder at the bottom of your cup when mixing it up.
No one likes undissolved powder in their drink, but that’s not so much a concern anymore.
Many creatine monohydrate products come micronized nowadays. That just means it’s been milled into a powder that's very fine.
For the same reason as creatine HCL, its ability to dissolve in water doesn’t make it any better or worse. It’s going to have the same effectiveness either way.
Plus, a micronized creatine monohydrate powder dissolves just fine these days.
Arguments For Creatine HCL
Creatine HCL reportedly causes less water retention associated with creatine monohydrate. Many people love the sound of that, although that has nothing to do with its effectiveness.
Both forms of creatine contribute to muscle growth, strength, and power. So what's the difference? Creatine HCL is claimed to be better because of its solubility and absorption.
That, and creatine HCL is also supposed to have the same benefits in a smaller dose than monohydrate.
The typical dosage of creatine monohydrate is 5 grams per day. A common recommendation for creatine HCL is 1.5-2 grams per day.
Sounds pretty great right? I mean, if you can get all the same benefits of creatine with less … how could it not be better?
Well, I wouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet. There is actually more creatine by weight in creatine monohydrate than there is in creatine HCL. I’ll cover more on this in the next section.
Arguments Against Creatine HCL
First, let me address some of the claims made for creatine HCL being better than monohydrate.
Many of the claims made about creatine HCL are all based on assumptions. The main assumption is that better solubility means better absorption and bioavailability.
If you don’t know what bioavailability means, don’t worry. It’s just a big word referring to how easily something is absorbed and utilized by the body.
But again, how well it dissolves doesn’t make it more or less effective. Research even shows that it doesn’t (5).
That, and creatine monohydrate is almost 100% bioavailable (5). So, is there really any need for creatine to be absorbed any better?
That would be like trying to find a more effective form of water to drink. One that hydrates you better than the water coming from your filter.
On top of that, it would cost you more than the water you drink now.
Do you see where I'm going with this? Water does its job very well, and it isn’t necessary to try and find a better form of it … especially if it will cost you more money.
When it comes to getting the same benefits at a lower dosage, this also defies logic.
To saturate your muscles with creatine, there is a finite amount of creatine that will fit.
In fact, you would actually need 5.55g of creatine HCL to give your body the same amount of creatine in 5g of monohydrate (5).
A 1.5-2g dose of creatine HCL just physically cannot give your muscles the same amount of creatine. Especially with creatine monohydrate getting almost 100% absorbed, it’s just not possible.
Good marketing may make you think otherwise, but don’t be fooled. Creatine monohydrate is the cheapest and most effective form of creatine ever studied.
Arguments For Creatine Monohydrate
I know I’ve mostly made my case already, but there’s a little left on the table still.
Creatine monohydrate is the most thoroughly studied supplement on planet Earth. It shows time and time again to be the gold standard for effective supplements.
It's extremely effective at increasing muscular strength, power, and aiding in muscle growth. The truth is, it really doesn't need to be any better.
There is no evidence consistently showing any other form of creatine is any better. Did I mention it's the most cost-effective form you can buy as well?
In the case of adding water weight, that’s a little misleading. There is some evidence that there is some water retention associated with creatine.
However, this comes from a study where people were using 20 grams per day. They only associated it with water retention in the earliest stages of creatine use as well (6). There is also evidence showing that it doesn’t increase water retention with long-term use (6).
Let’s just say it did consistently cause water retention inside the muscle. The only downside I can see would be the scale going up.
A hydrated muscle is a healthy muscle! But again, long-term use of creatine doesn’t lead to long-term water retention.
Which Is Better: Creatine HCL or Monohydrate?
I think the answer is pretty obvious based on everything you just read.
Creatine monohydrate is the original and most highly studied form of creatine. No other form of creatine can really get more effective than monohydrate.
I won’t be ignorant and say that there isn’t some form out there we haven’t studied that might help in other ways.
But, when it comes to adding in creatine for the performance benefits, it's already as good as it will ever be.
Finding the best new form of creatine has helped a lot of companies market and sell their products. There just isn’t any research that consistently backs up that they are any better.
We don’t need to, and it just seems like people are trying to reinvent the wheel at this point.
Creatine HCL may be the preferred choice by some people, and that’s okay. It will still help you saturate your muscles with creatine.
Just make sure that you take it every day, and I would go with a full 5-6 gram dose. It’ll cost you more, but you can do it and still see great results.
Finding the Best Creatine Supplement
When it comes to finding the best creatine supplement, I recommend you stick with creatine monohydrate. Also, make sure that it is a micronized form of creatine monohydrate.
At 1st Phorm, that’s exactly what we offer: a pure Micronized Creatine Monohydrate. As I mentioned earlier, micronizing the creatine mills it into a finer powder.
It’s about the consistency of powdered sugar, so it dissolves much better than any other creatine I’ve used. It goes perfectly in a pre-workout, post-workout shake, or even in water or juice.
Whatever creatine you choose to go with, make sure you take 5 grams every day. That way you get enough to fill your muscles and maximize performance!
But whether you choose creatine HCL or creatine monohydrate, both forms can help you. Creatine HCL is more expensive, and won’t give you better results, but you’re welcome to use whatever form you like.
Adding creatine could unlock the physical potential you might not reach without it. Or at least, it may take you longer to get there.
That’s not the only thing that matters when it comes to getting great results though. Your actual workouts and your diet are much more important than any supplements you may take.
Those are also the hardest parts about seeing results too. Not only sticking to your regimen, but also knowing what the right things to eat and do are.
Let us help!
We've developed the best overall tool to help you get quality results and change your life. It’s called the 1st Phorm App.
In the app, we teach you everything you need to know about training, nutrition, and supplementation. On top of that, you can track your food, choose between a full library of workout programs, and measure your progress. That’s not even the best part either.
You’ll also get an advisor that you can message whenever you want with questions. They’ll even hold you accountable when you really need it too!
So check out the 1st Phorm App today, and get started working toward your goals!
If you have any other questions, reach out to our team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and Nutrition Coaches. They’re available to talk every day from 6 AM to 10 PM Central. Just give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 or send us an email at CustomerService@1stPhorm.com anytime.
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(2) 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 Jul 20;9(1):33. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-9-33. PMID: 22817979; PMCID: PMC3407788.
(3) Morrison S, Ward P, duManoir GR. ENERGY SYSTEM DEVELOPMENT AND LOAD MANAGEMENT THROUGH THE REHABILITATION AND RETURN TO PLAY PROCESS. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2017 Aug;12(4):697-710. PMID: 28900575; PMCID: PMC5534159.
(4) Avgerinos KI, Spyrou N, Bougioukas KI, Kapogiannis D. Effects of creatine supplementation on cognitive function of healthy individuals: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Exp Gerontol. 2018 Jul 15;108:166-173. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2018.04.013. Epub 2018 Apr 25. PMID: 29704637; PMCID: PMC6093191.
(5) Kreider RB, Jäger R, Purpura M. Bioavailability, Efficacy, Safety, and Regulatory Status of Creatine and Related Compounds: A Critical Review. Nutrients. 2022 Feb 28;14(5):1035. doi: 10.3390/nu14051035. PMID: 35268011; PMCID: PMC8912867.
(6) Antonio J, Candow DG, Forbes SC, Gualano B, Jagim AR, Kreider RB, Rawson ES, Smith-Ryan AE, VanDusseldorp TA, Willoughby DS, Ziegenfuss TN. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021 Feb 8;18(1):13. doi: 10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w. PMID: 33557850; PMCID: PMC7871530.
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