Best Type of Creatine

Creatine is by far and away the most effective supplement for building muscle and strength. And unlike many of supplements found on today's market it dates back to 70's when the Soviet's where reportedly using it and dominant the Olympics. 

Today it's found in the majority of popular pre-workout as well as a stand alone product.

We are going to dive into what the best type of creatine is. It comes in many forms including Monohydrate, Ethyl Ester, Tri-Creatine Malate, Buffered Creatine, Micronized Creatine, Liquid Creatine and Creatine HCl but are they all that different? 

A Brief History of Creatine

Creatine didn't truly hit the world stage until the 1993 Barcelona Olympics. Linford Christie, a 100m dash athlete was supplementing with Creatine prior to winning his olympic gold 1.

By the time the next summer game's rolled around it was estimated that at least 80% of the athletes were using Creatine 2. At this point, both industry and academia became more interested in Creatine and the impact it had on athletic performance. 

Today, Creatine is one of the most popular supplements, in an industry that is exploding. And for good reason, Creatine is one of the few supplements that has enough research to confirm it's an effective supplement to build strength and muscle.

And as with an industry as it grows, it expands and part of that expansion is R&D which leads to new forms of Creatine. Which brings us to the topic of today; is Creatine Monohydrate still the best or are there better sources of Creatine?

The Best Creatine for Building Lean Mass

Creatine Monohydrate

Most of the studies focus on Creatine Monohydrate for one simple reason; it's the original form that Creatine was used and sold in. 

It's got two other benefits that come with being the original; it's the easiest to find and it's the most cost effective. Until there is more research on another form of Creatine that can conclusively determine that it's more effective than Monohydrate this will be the gold standard. 

I'm a big fan of Creatine HCl​ but for the majority of the population, Creatine Monohydrate is still the way to go.

Micronized Versus Non-Micronized​ Monohydrate

There are two forms of Creatine Monohydrate, Micronized and Non-Micronized. Micronized Creatine is finer and dissolves easier. 

There are a few potential benefits to having smaller particles.

  • Micronized Creatine mixes better. 
  • The improved solubility makes it easier on your gut
  • Speculation about whether or not the improved solubility actually improves results (higher absorption rates). 

The reason I lumped these two together is because Micronized Creatine Monohydrate is the standard. It's difficult to find non-micronized Creatine.

Supplement Guidelines

Depending on which brand you look at they may recommend anywhere between 2500 to 7500mg as a dosage. Early studies (such as this study, this study) that a loading cycle should be used for maximum benefits (I'd avoid mentioning that in body building forums, like - you've been warned). However, now it's widely accepted that you don't need to load or cycle. 5g/day is the most effective dosage.

The Top Creatine Monohydrate Supplement

Bulk Supplements Monohydrate Creatine
Cost Per Serving: $0.10
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You know Bulk Supplements is serious about producing cost effective supplements. I'm certain that logo is just a stock photo, meanwhile Pepsi is shelling out a million dollars for theirs.

Jokes aside, this product is fantastic it's cheap (ten cents a serving!) and only has one ingredient Creatine Monohydrate. I save five star reviews for supplements that we know are effective (Creatine), are cost effective, contain no artificial nonsense and provide an effective dosage. Bulk Supplement's Creatine checks all those boxes.

Creatine Ethyl Ester

We've established our base-line as Micronized Creatine Monohydrate and everything else from this point forward will be compared to it.

Creatine Ethyl Ester is supposedly a better form of Creatine because it absorbs more readily. In theory, this sounds great. More absorption = more creatine = more pump. When loading was still very popular with Monohydrate, CEE products were advertising that the additional availability meant you didn't have to load.

Unfortunately, the studies don't confirm that view point. For instance, this study CEE is actually less effective at building muscle than both Monohydrate and the Placebo. 

Creatine Muscle Strength 1-RM

This table demonstrate how the participants strength increased over the course of 48 days.
 PLA = Placebo, CRT = Creatine Monohydrate, CEE = Creatine Ester Ethyl
Source: Study

At best, CEE is as effective as Monohydrate, but based on my own research I'm inclined to believe it's actually worse. Oh and it's more expensive.​

I would pass on Creatine Ester Ethyl and stick to Monohydrate.​

Tri-Creatine Malate

Tri-Creatine Malata is a compound made up of Creatine Monohydrate and malic acid. Like CEE, the benefit is supposedly to increase water solubility and bio-availability. You'll notice this a trend in Creatine development; try to improve how water soluble the product is in order to increase it's bio-availability. 

In layman's terms, make it work better.

Malic acid is an interesting compound, it's often paired with Creatine (Tri-Creatine Malate) as well as Citrulline (Citrulline Malate). Malic Acid helps with the Krebs cycle: it helps turn carbs, protein and fats into energy. 

Studies have shown that when you undergo intense exercise, malic acid is depleted.​ 

The issue is, malic acid is cheap. Five cents a serving cheap. Monohydrate Creatine is pretty reasonable, Tri-Creatine Malata is very expensive. 

Unfortunately there are a limited number of studies comparing Monohydrate to novel forms of Creatine. The studies that do exist indicate novel forms of Creatine aren't more effective than good ol' Creatine Monohydrate.

Creatine Serum

Creatine serum is on a different level. At least the labs are TRYING when they were developing CEE or Tri-Creatine Malate. 

Here is a list of the benefits from the manufacturer

  • ​Convenient
  • No Loading
  • Instant adsoprtion
  • Does not cause bloating
  • Stick with your normal water intake

First off, if taking a supplement isn't convenient I'm not really sure what is. I can see the point, this basically comes in an eye dropper but we do have shaker bottles. The no loading claim is BS on the account that it's pretty well agreed on that loading is unnecessary. 

As for "instant adsorption" until I see one study that confirm that any of these new types of Creatine adsorb more readily or are have more bio-availability I'm going to be skeptical. 

For those who have used Creatine Serum, they'll usually find it works, just not as well as Creatine Monohydrate. Creatine Serum is a hard pass for this guy.

Buffered Creatine (Kre-Alkalyn)

Buffered Creatine, which is also know as Kre-Alkalyn, is a patented form of Creatine. Just like the others, Kre-Alkalyn is supposed to perform better than the old guard, Creatine Monohydrate. 

​It combines Creatine with an Alkaline Powder (hence the name Kre-Alkalyn). Alkaline powder was designed to help balance your pH levels. By nature, our bodies should be slightly alkaline, the average American diet is highly acidic and this puts an enormous amount of stress on our bodies.

Creatinine (not to be mistaken with Creatine) is a bi-product of Creatine. It's a waste product that is transported through our blood stream and the kidney's filter it out. Creatinine levels are an indication that our kidney's are health 3

Kre-Alkalyn claims that having a more balanced pH creates a more stable product (probably true). And this results in less Creatinine. 

The company, All American Pharmaceuticals has done some studies to try and demonstrate that it's a better product.  The issue with this particular study is that they're using the recommended dose for Kre-Alkalyn (or close to it) 750mg and nowhere near the recommended dose of Creatine, also 750mg. 

You can't compare one product to another if you're not following the recommended dosage guidelines. The argument becomes even more invalid because mg for mg Kre-Alkalyn is WAY more expensive than most companies selling Creatine Monohydrate​.

To be fair, aside from testing VO2 max, they also test pH levels and Creatinine in their urine. pH levels are significantly higher and Creatinine levels are significantly lower in the Kre-Alkalyn users.​ As I mentioned before pH levels are actually pretty important.

However, studies which are comparing proper dosages of Creatine Monohydrate versus the proper dosage levels of Kre-Alkalyn ​indicate that both are equally as effective. [4,5]

Creatine HCl (Conjugated Creatine)

Conjugated Creatine is Creatine that has been bonded to another ingredient. If that seems super vague it's because it is super vague.

​One of the more common conjugated Creatine's on the market place is Con-Cret HCl Creatine. Like many of the other types of Creatine's found on this list, HCl Creatine is supposedly better because it's more soluble, it's works quicker, you need less of it.

The claims are basically always the same,  unfortunately the science doesn't always support those bold claims.

My experience with Creatine HCl is this, it's easier on the stomach than Creatine Monohydrate. I don't know if it's because it's more soluble or because you need to take less of it. 

Creatine HCl is way more expensive than Creatine Monohydrate and honestly if your gut can hack Creatine Monohydrate don't waste your time (or money) sampling the rest of the so called improvements. 

Final Remarks

Creatine Monohydrate is still the undisputed champion of the Creatine world. Some of the other Creatines on this list work - HCl, Buffered and Malate but no one has provided any real evidence that they produce more gains than Creatine Monohydrate.

And it shouldn't come as a surprise that these other forms of Creatine are almost always more expensive than plain old Creatine Monohydrate. 

If it's not broken, don't fix it

The Top Creatine Monohydrate Supplement

Bulk Supplements Monohydrate Creatine
Cost Per Serving: $0.10
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