Unless you’re new here, you know you should probably be taking creatine. It’s one of the most well-research, reliable, and safe supplements around.
So I’m not going to address any questions about the general effectiveness of creatine.
Yes, it works.
No, it’s not “steroids,” rather it’s a compound made up of three amino acids, making it more closely related to protein than anything else.
No, it’s not bad for your kidneys.
From this point on I’m assuming we’re all on the same page with the baseline knowledge of creatine’s effectiveness and safety. It’s effective for muscle growth and muscle building, increasing athletic performance, and even, as newer research suggests, overall health.
It also helps with muscle strength, muscle recovery, and more. For an overview of all the research on creatine, check out Examine, who’ve compiled all the research for us.
Update November 2020: If you’re really not convinced about the safety and efficacy of creatine, just this year a study came out on the link between creatine intake and depression. In a pool of over 20,000 participants, the researchers found an inverse relationship between creatine consumption and depression. Meaning, if you consumed more creatine you were less likely to be depressed.
So, you should be taking creatine. Whether for bodybuilding or sports nutrition or just for your overall health. Personally, I put it up there with fish oil, vitamin D, and magnesium among the supplements that basically everybody should take.
But what about the different forms of creatine?
The two heavyweights in the creatine-chemistry game are creatine monhydrate and creatine hydrochloride (creatine HCL). The difference between them starts on a chemical level.
Creatine monohydrate is creatine bonded with one water molecule (hence, monohydrate).
Creatine HCl is creatine bonded with a hydrochloride molecule.
These chemical differences mean they’re going to interact differently in the body.
Creatine HCl is much more soluble (1). If you remember from high school chemistry, solubility is how well something dissolves.
Proponents of creatine HCl will say its solubility means the body absorbs it better. But, this extrapolation is built on speculation, not research.
The vast majority of research on creatine showing over and over again the substance’s effectiveness was done on creatine monohydrate, and there’s no research to show Creatine HCl’s superiority.
The reality is they probably both work equally. And if we’re talking about differences, they’re so minuscule they’re not worth worrying about. What’s more important is that you’re actually taking creatine on a consistent basis.
The more tangible difference on a practical level between creatine monohydrate vs HCl is the cost. Creatine monohydrate costs less. In terms of bang for your buck, it’s one of the best supplements around.
And because of this, I recommend going with the tried and true creatine monohydrate.
However, solubility is not something to brush off to the side. Creatine monohydrate really does not mix well in water.
Drinking creatine with just water is like putting sand in your water.
I use it in smoothies or post-workout protein shake so it doesn’t matter, but if you need a creatine form you can easily mix in with water or juice, then paying a few extra bucks for creatine HCl might be worth it for you.
But, in terms of the best creatine supplement considering the price and effectiveness, creatine monohydrate is still king.
Nearly all creatine monohydrate supplements are exactly the same: they’re just pure creatine monohydrate. And if they were all exactly the same, there would be no best. Unfortunately, because the supplement industry can be a bit shady, they’re NOT all the same.
Remember that supplements are not regulated by the FDA. That means supplement companies sneak in other filler substances or additives without putting it on the label. Or worse: banned substances. That’s a huge problem for the supplement industry. In order to avoid these issues, you should go with a trustworthy brand that’s been third party tested. Don’t grab a random supplement from amazon or GNC.
Obviously, you could do your research, and there are plenty of trustworthy creatine products.
I take this to the next level, because the supplement industry can be shady, and look for companies with a reliable reputation and that maintain the highest standards of ethics and sustainability. That’s why I buy almost all my supplements from ONNIT, and their creatine monohydrate is no exception. That said, there are plenty of other great brands as well.
On most trusted and popular supplement brands, you’ll see that their creatine monohydrate supplement says “micronized creatine monohydrate.” Micronized, as the name implies, means that the creatine powder is broken down into a finer powder. Nutritionally, this won’t make a significant difference. But practically, it does. Because creatine is insoluble, it doesn’t dissolve well (as you may remember from high school chemistry, everything to some extent is soluble and insoluble, they just have ratings on their solubility). That’s why most creatine monohydrate products are “micronized.” The smaller particles will dissolve easier.
Creapure® is the brand name for the company that produces the micronized creatine monohydrate. Because of some legal shenanigans I, and everybody else, has to put that fancy r with the circle around it because it’s Trademarked. None of this really matters to you, but Creapure® is the most popular and trusted form of creatine monohydrate so you’ll see it in most trust creatine products, including ONNIT’s.
With regards to health and fitness, you know we here at Roman Fitness Systems understand that training is a part of life, but not your whole life, as you can tell by our numerous articles on topics ranging from Rules for an Awesome Life, to Why The Twilight Books Suck. And that means that we aim for a practical approach so you can get the most out of your training, and enjoy the rest of your life.
When it comes to the best time to take creatine, the answer is whenever is most convenient for you. Because what’s most important is that you take it. And if taking it pre-workout is more work for you than in the evening, then you’re less likely to take it and thus not reap its benefits.
There’s also lots of discussion around whether you should take it with carbohydrates. Most creatine supplements will recommend a “loading phase” where you drink creatine with juice. I, again, subscribed that the most important thing is that you take it. Period.
For example, I have a smoothie for breakfast almost every morning. So, I always put a few grams of ONNIT creatine monohydrate in the smoothie. Creatine monohydrate is insoluble, but I’ve found that in a thick smoothie made in a blender, I don’t notice it at all. It’s also unflavored, so drinking it on its own doesn’t taste bad, but it doesn’t taste good either.
If you usually have a post-workout shake, throw it in there. The point is, the best time to take creatine is the time that works best for you. That way you do it consistently.
Anybody who’s bought creatine before knows that the bottle always recommends a “loading period.” In a loading period, the idea is to take several (4-5) servings throughout the day in conjunction with a sugary beverage, like juice or Gatorade. Doing this much more quickly shuttles creatine into your muscles and saturates them. Doing this, you’ll reap the benefits of creatine quicker. In general this is a pretty controversial topic, and a decent scientific argument could be made for both.
But here’s where most people are too focused on the trees that they lose sight of the forest: in the long-run, it doesn’t matter at all. Creatine is a supplement you should take daily for the rest of your life, so needing to wait an extra week for the effects to fully kick in doesn’t matter. And, consuming all that sugar just to shuttle the creatine into your muscles has its own downsides (like getting fat). Plus, as I said, creatine doesn’t mix well, and drinking it five times a day in juice is pretty gross.
So I advise against it, just because I don’t think it’s necessary.
There is no best creatine supplement. And every year, I see more and more creatine supplements on the market, often with different forms of creatine. Those companies, I’m sure, will talk about a new form of creatine is superior in every way. There may be some truth to it. Only further research will tell.
But what we know right now is that creatine monohydrate is one of the most well-researched supplements, period. It’s inexpensive, effective, and safe.
If you eat a ton of red meat (and here’s why you should be) then you’re getting plenty of creatine from your diet. And like most nutrients, there’s a point of diminishing returns. A 16-ounce steak contains around 2 grams of creatine. The recommended serving for creatine is 5 grams. Even if you’re a red meat-eater, it’s worth trying creatine monohydrate to see if you respond to it.
One easy way to gauge its effectiveness is to see if you gain weight within a few days. It will be water weight, but the gain will be a sign that you aren’t saturated with creatine and therefore can benefit from creatine supplementation.
Check out our answers to the five most common supplements questions.