You'll see hundreds of products lining the shelves of supplement stores, and when it comes to finding the one you need, there is a lot to sort through. And once you've done that, you're then left to navigate which form is the best…
There's no denying that supplement shopping can be hard. Finding the best form to suit your needs can almost be like finding a needle in a haystack.
And when it comes to creatine, it's no different.
If you're considering adding creatine to your stack and aren't sure which is the healthiest and most effective form, we're going to give you an overview of what's available and help you make your decision.
What Is Creatine And Why You Should Take It
Creatine is undoubtedly one of the most commonly used fitness supplements. Whether you're a bodybuilder, athlete, or just someone who loves the gym, creatine actually has a lot to offer where muscle growth and performance are concerned.
Creatine is a compound produced endogenously from two amino acids: arginine and methionine.
Unlike most other essential amino acids that must come from diet or supplements, like the BCAAs, the precursor amino acids are non-essential, meaning they are produced in the body from other amino acids.
The main reason people take creatine is because although it doesn't have a direct effect on muscle growth, it does a great job of supporting it.
The main function of creatine is to increase intramuscular phosphocreatine (PCr) concentrations to enhance work capacity. That's because it plays a vital role in energy availability and the regeneration of ATP, your body's main energy substrate.
Basically, supplementing creatine enables a higher conversion rate of creatine + phosphate to phosphocreatine.
In order for your body to function, it needs ATP. During energy production, ATP is degraded into ADP and an inorganic phosphate molecule (Pi), which provides the energy required to fuel metabolic activities.
Hydrolysis of the phosphate group produces energy in the form of heat, and this energy is used to drive muscle contraction. This entire process helps to ensure energy is available to power maximal effort anaerobic activities 1.
Essentially, the reason people supplement with creatine is to increase substrate concentration for ATP regeneration. Fast-twitch skeletal muscles generally contain a large phosphocreatine reserve to power ATP regeneration during high-intensity, short-duration work 2.
However, prolonged intense activity quickly depletes phosphocreatine levels, which translates directly into decreased energy availability and poor work performance due to insufficient ATP needed to meet high-intensity exercise demands.
Thus, more substrate means greater work capacity and more muscle growth.
Like every other supplement, the form you choose can dictate the efficacy of what you're using, so you want to make sure it's the best for you.
Here are the four main types of creatine you'll find:
- Creatine monohydrate: CM is the most common form in creatine supplements. It's absorbed quickly with levels peaking around 60 minutes after ingestion and then taken up by target tissues 1. Studies show that creatine monohydrate can boost muscle creatine stores and phosphocreatine concentrations by up to 40%, and also enhance anaerobic exercise capacity and training volume, thereby improving strength, power, and muscle mass 3.
- Creatine salts: Creatine salts are less popular and are a combination of creatine with organic acids to form creatine salts. They're typically combined to create a synergistic effect and enhance creatine's natural properties 3. Combining creatine with pyruvic acid, for example, helps to improve aerobic metabolism and lower blood lactate levels. Creatine citrate (creatine + citric acid) may also improve performance by increasing anaerobic work capacity, delaying onset of neuromuscular fatigue, and boosting ventilatory threshold during high-intensity training 4.
- Creatine ethyl ester: Creatine ethyl ester is sometimes seen as superior to creatine monohydrate, but the problem is that it quickly breaks down to creatinine when exposed to low pH levels 3, like in the stomach, meaning it has a poorer bioavailability compared to creatine monohydrate. Studies have also shown that creatine ethyl ester supplementation doesn't increase total muscle creatine levels or substantially improve training adaptations any more than creatine monohydrate 4.
- Creatine hydrochloride: This form is often marketed as providing more benefits than creatine monohydrate in smaller doses. Because it's a micronized form, it's said that smaller doses can elicit the same effect. And one of the main benefits of creatine hydrochloride is because it's a smaller dose, you need less water, which helps with the bloating and GI symptoms typical of most creatine supplements. However, there isn't much evidence to suggest this form is actually superior to creatine monohydrate.
Summary: What's The Best and Healthiest Form Of Creatine?
Where supplements are concerned, you always want to look for the healthiest and most effective form.
In the case of creatine, creatine monohydrate wins time and time again and is also backed by the most substantial body of research.
Its high solubility and enhanced bioavailability make creatine monohydrate uptake into skeletal muscles much more efficient than other forms and, therefore, pretty tough to beat.
- RB Kreider, DS Kalman, J Antonio, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Jun; 14(18).
- M Wyss, R Kaddurah-Daouk. Creatine and creatinine metabolism. Physiol Rev. 2000 Jul; 80(3): 1107-213.
- R Jäger, M Purpura, A Shao, T Inoue, RB Kreider. Analysis of the efficacy, safety, and regulatory status of novel forms of creatine. Amino Acids. 2011 May; 40(5): 1369-83.
- JD Branch. Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2003 Jun; 13(2): 198-226.