Types of Creatine: Creatine HCL vs. Creatine Monohydrate
There aren’t that many supplements that are one-size-fits-all and appropriate for most (healthy) people. Multivitamins and protein supplements are the two most common supplements that are beneficial to all, regardless of their health and fitness goals.
Creatine is a lesser known but very valuable supplement that can help people, even those who are entirely sedentary! This might come as a surprise, as many people are intimidated by misinformation and myths surrounding this highly effective dietary supplement. However, there is science that shows that creatine aids both the active and inactive populations.
If you’re a loyal reader, you’ve seen us mention creatine supplements repeatedly, but if you’re starting to do more research, you might start to notice different types of creatine supplements.
In this article, we’ll tackle two primary creatine supplement forms and address which is best.
What are Creatine Supplements?
Creatine itself is a molecule that the body gets and produces from meat products. It is structurally similar to amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Your body can produce creatine from the amino acids glycine and arginine. These are nonessential amino acids, meaning that a healthy body produces them on its own.
The creatine molecule is used in various cellular functions, most notably energy production. The body stores creatine as phosphocreatine. Ninety-five percent is stored in muscle fibres, and the remaining five percent is stored in the brain, kidneys, and liver. Supplementing with creatine fills the phosphocreatine stores, which helps produce more energy. We’ll delve into that process a little bit deeper later on.
Creatine supplements are manufactured in a laboratory and not derived from animal products like many other supplements. Because of the level of control scientists have when creating creatine molecules, they have experimented with differences at the molecular level.
Types of Creatine Supplements
In fact, there are more than ten kinds of creatine supplements. Some of the most well-known types are:
- Creatine Monohydrate
- Creatine HCL
- Creatine Ethyl Ester
- Buffered Creatine
- Creatine Magnesium Chelate
There are many more forms available, but we are going to look at the top two most popular forms: creatine monohydrate and creatine HCL.
Creatine monohydrate is the gold standard. So, when we say that “creatine is the most well-researched supplement,” we’re talking about creatine monohydrate. It is the form that is most used, it has been around the longest, and it’s widely researched.
The name creatine monohydrate refers to its chemical structure in which one creatine molecule is bound to one molecule of water. Sometimes, companies take the processing a step further to improve the solubility of the supplement—this is known as micronized creatine.
In other cases, companies might leave out the water molecule altogether, creating creatine anhydrous, which is 100% pure creatine molecules. While pureness is typically something we strive for, all forms of creatine monohydrate are effective, and creatine anhydrous can increase the price point.
How to Use Creatine Monohydrate Supplements
Creatine monohydrate is typically supplemented in two phases, a loading phase and a maintenance phase. The loading phase doesn’t make or break it, but it can take nearly a month for the phosphocreatine stores to fill entirely without it.
The loading phase can last anywhere from one to two weeks, and it’s dependent on how many grams of creatine monohydrate can be tolerated in a day. One-week loading phases divide 20 grams of creatine supplement into four 5-gram servings.
Creatine supplements can be hard on the digestive tract, so if 20 grams is too hard on the stomach, the loading phase can stretch to two weeks, reducing the dose to two 5-gram servings per day for a total of 10 grams a day.
After the initial loading phase, once phosphocreatine stores are full, it’s time to switch to the maintenance phase. During this phase, 5 grams of creatine supplement are used daily. Studies show that this 5-gram serving is safe for up to five years and potentially even longer.
Recommended Creatine Monohydrate Supplement
You know and love the brand Allmax. They’ve got an incredibly vast selection of products to suit people from all walks of life and support their health. Our best-selling monohydrate is by Allmax, and it’s the recognizable quality and character we’ve come to expect from the brand.
This product is CreaSyn—micronized, pure creatine monohydrate powder. It is an incredibly small particle size, which improves mixability and solubility. Allmax recommends mixing one 5-gram scoop with water or juice twice a day for five to seven days to load. Then drop to one 5-gram scoop once a day with juice or water for maintenance.
If you like to cycle your creatine, you can do eight weeks on and two weeks off. When you begin again, make sure you do another loading phase before dropping to the maintenance dose.
Our customers say this is the best creatine monohydrate supplement they’ve used, as it mixes much more smoothly than other brands thanks to the micronized technology.
On the other hand, creatine HCL is newer and less thoroughly researched. In this form, instead of a single creatine molecule bonded to a water molecule, creatine HCL is a creatine molecule bonded with hydrochloride.
The theory is that the hydrochloride molecule improves absorption within the body. There isn’t as much research on creatine HCL in comparison to creatine monohydrate, but one study showed that creatine HCL was up to thirty-eight times more soluble than creatine monohydrate.
The improved creatine HCL absorption means a few things for those who chose this creatine supplement:
- Less creatine HCL is required for the same results.
- One common adverse side effect of creatine monohydrate is water retention. The improved absorption of creatine HCL means a decreased chance of this.
- It might not be necessary to do a loading phase with creatine HCL.
- Creatine HCL is at a slightly higher price point than creatine monohydrate.
How to Use Creatine HCL Supplements
You should always follow the directions on the creatine supplement you select; however, the typical serving size of creatine HCL is anywhere from 750 milligrams to 5 grams.
It’s also easier to find creatine HCL supplements in capsule form. Whichever form you chose, you can take it at any point in the day, but try to be consistent and stick to the same time of day, every day. The same is true for creatine monohydrate and most other forms of creatine supplements.
Recommended Creatine HCL Supplement
Our most popular HCL product is this one by ANS Performance, a top brand in the industry. It is a capsule product, so you don’t have to mix it in a shake or worry about the texture. Simply take one capsule per day for the recommended 750 mg serving.
Our customers love this product and report that it works without the bloating, digestive upset, and water retention they experience when using monohydrate supplements.
How Do Creatine Supplements Work?
Above, we mentioned that creatine supplements help provide more energy for cells. Now, let’s talk about how they do this in the muscles.
Muscle cells (known as fibres) power contractions with ATP or adenosine triphosphate. The muscles store a very small among of ATP, which is used up quickly when you begin to exercise. The “tri-” in triphosphate refers to the three phosphate molecules in the chemical structure of ATP. When a muscle fibre contracts using ATP, it loses a phosphate molecule and turns into ADP—adenosine diphosphate.
The body then uses phosphocreatine, also stored in the muscles, to regenerate ATP by transferring a phosphate molecule to the ADP. This effectively converts ADP to ATP and can then continue to power muscle contractions. The waste products creatine and creatinine (metabolized creatine) are then secreted from the body through the kidneys.
Creatine Supplement Benefits
You can probably guess that creatine supplements benefit athletic individuals because they help provide more energy to power through workouts. You’re right, but there are many other advantages to using a creatine supplement, whether you chose creatine monohydrate or creatine HCL.
Main Benefits of Creatine
Helps build more muscle mass in various ways:
- boosting protein production
- increasing levels of IGF-1 (a growth hormone)
- increasing the water content in the fibres
- decreasing myostatin levels (a molecule that stops muscle growth
Increases ATP, which improves:
- brain performance
- muscle recovery
- fatigue resistance
Supports brain health and function. Studies show it might help with neurological diseases like:
- stroke, epilepsy, and brain or spinal cord injuries
- can lower blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of diabetes
Main Comparison Notes: Creatine Monohydrate vs. Creatine HCL
So, if creatine supplements can do all of this for you, which type should you take? Here are the main notes to compare creatine monohydrate and creatine HCL:
Comparing the Two Types
- Both supplements contain synthetic creatine. However, with creatine HCL, the creatine is bonded with hydrochloride. Monohydrate is bonded with a water molecule instead of hydrochloride.
- The hydrochloride in creatine HCL might improve absorption and reduce some adverse effects, but also comes at a higher price point.
- Creatine monohydrate requires a loading phase to be the most effective and lead to the quickest results.
- Creatine HCL allows you to forgo the loading phase and use less to get the same results.
- Creatine monohydrate is the only type of creatine supplement that has been focused on and thoroughly researched over the past 189 years since its discovery.
Which Creatine Supplement Should You Use?
While some research available on creatine HCL is promising, other studies do show some contradicting or even disappointing results.
2020 Study: Science and Sports did a short-term study that compared a recommended 20 grams of creatine monohydrate with 3 grams of creatine HCL. The group of adults using the monohydrate showed increased power and strength in their upper and lower bodies, but the group using HCL did not show an improvement.
This study also looked at testosterone and cortisol in the participant’s bodies. These hormones show if a body is in muscle catabolism (breaking down) or muscle anabolism (building). Again, the group using monohydrate supplements was in the anabolic state, while the HCL group had no change in the hormones.
2015 Study: a short-term study by Food and Nutrition Sciences found no difference in the effectiveness and results between the two creatine supplement forms in a group of forty weightlifters. However, the group that supplemented with HCL showed an increase in lean mass and decrease in fat mass.
2004 Study: the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that the effectiveness of creatine monohydrate might very well come down to the unique physiological profile of an individual, and it’s likely that this is the case for creatine HCL as well. However, there aren’t any studies on it yet.
In addition to the studies noted here, we do have to consider other benefits of creatine HCL supplements (like no adverse symptoms) could be due to a smaller sample size. There are way more people taking creatine monohydrate than HCL, which means a smaller sample size of HCL.
While creatine HCL supplements have promise and the theory is solid, there’s simply not enough research available to fairly compare it to the reigning king, creatine monohydrate. It’s also important to realize that limited research on the effectiveness also means limited research on safety.
We can say with confidence that scientific research proves that creatine monohydrate is safe and effective. Unfortunately, we don’t have adequate research to say the same for HCL. So, for now, if you want our advice, you’ll get the same thing we always say: follow the science.
If you want to use a creatine supplement, choose creatine monohydrate supplements. However, if you want to be a trailblazer, you’re probably not taking too much of a risk by trying creatine HCL, and hey, maybe it will work better for your body!