Of all the workout supplements on the market, creatine is one of the best.
It’s the most well-researched molecule in all of sports nutrition—the subject of hundreds of scientific studies—and its benefits are clear: it helps you gain muscle and strength faster and boosts endurance and recovery, and it does it all naturally and safely.
Therefore, deciding whether or not to take creatine is simple: You should. Deciding which type to take, however, is a trickier riddle to unravel.
That’s because supplement companies constantly concoct new kinds of creatine and claim each is more potent than the last.
How much of this is marketing bluster, though? Is each new variant really the “best creatine on the market?”
Get an evidence-based answer in this article.
(Or if you’d prefer to skip all of the scientific mumbo jumbo and you just want to know if you should take creatine or a different supplement to reach your goals, no problem! Just take the Legion Supplement Finder Quiz, and in less than a minute, you’ll know exactly what supplements are right for you. Click here to check it out.)
Table of Contents
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is a natural compound made up of the amino acids L-arginine, glycine, and methionine. Our body can produce creatine naturally, but it can also absorb and store creatine found in various foods like meat, eggs, and fish.
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How Does Creatine Work?
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the most basic unit of cellular energy. When cells use ATP, they split it into smaller molecules, and when they’re finished, they “reassemble” these fragments back into ATP for reuse.
The more ATP your cells can store and the faster your body can regenerate ATP, the more “work” it can do.
Creatine acts as an energy reserve for your cells by accelerating ATP production. It does this by donating a molecule to an ATP precursor called adenosine diphosphate (ADP), which allows it to be rapidly converted into ATP.
Basically, creatine helps your body more efficiently recycle ATP so that it can be used to quickly power muscular contraction.
While creatine helps you replenish your ATP stores quickly, these stores are limited. Once they deplete, the body turns to glucose or fatty acids to continue producing ATP.
Supplementing with creatine greatly increases your creatine stores, particularly in your muscles, which is why it boosts muscle growth, increases strength and power, improves anaerobic capacity, reduces fatigue, lessens muscle damage and soreness after exercise, alters the expression of genes related to hypertrophy, and preserves muscle after grueling workouts.
What Is the Best Creatine Supplement?
Creatine monohydrate is the most commonly studied and used form of creatine, though many more varieties are available.
Supplement companies often market these novel forms of creatine as superior to monohydrate and charge a corresponding markup. Is the cost justified, though?
Let’s take a look at the efficacy of each according to science.
When creatine binds to citric acid, it creates creatine citrate. Research shows that creatine citrate offers no additional benefits compared to monohydrate.
Creatine malate is creatine bound with malic acid. Preliminary research suggests that malic acid may have some performance-boosting effects, but there’s nothing to suggest it will work better in conjunction with creatine.
Creatine Ethyl Ester
Some people claim that creatine ethyl ester is more bioavailable than other forms of creatine, but research shows it’s less effective than monohydrate (and on par with a placebo).
The reason for this is when you ingest creatine ethyl ester, it’s quickly converted into the inactive substance creatinine, which confers none of creatine’s benefits. (This makes creatine ethyl ester one of the worst forms you can take.)
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Liquid creatine is a form of creatine (normally monohydrate) that’s already dissolved in water.
Supplement companies claim this makes it more effective than powdered forms by improving absorption, reducing bloating, and decreasing how much you need to take to experience benefits.
Research shows that liquid creatine is a dud, though, likely because suspending creatine in liquid for several days causes it to break down into the inactive substance creatinine. In effect, you’re just drinking glycine mixed with water.
Creatine nitrate is a form of creatine bound with a “nitrate group.” While nitrates have performance-enhancing properties, research shows that creatine nitrate is no more effective than monohydrate.
Creatine Magnesium Chelate
Creatine magnesium chelate is a form of creatine bound to magnesium.
Magnesium plays a role in creatine metabolism, which is why some people believe it could increase creatine’s effectiveness.
Research shows that creatine magnesium chelate and monohydrate improve performance similarly, though creatine magnesium chelate may cause less water weight gain.
“Buffered creatine” is a form of creatine monohydrate with a higher pH (it’s less acidic). Supplement companies claim this makes it superior to regular monohydrate, but research shows they’re equally effective.
Creatine pyruvate is creatine bound with pyruvic acid.
Studies show that creatine pyruvate produces higher levels of creatine in your blood than monohydrate but is no more easily absorbed, which means it’s unlikely to be more effective.
Creatine monohydrate is the most well-studied and scientifically supported sports supplement available today. Research routinely shows that creatine monohydrate is safe to use and reliably boosts your athletic performance as much or more than other forms.
It’s also the most cost-effective. In a systematic review conducted by scientists at the University of Colorado, researchers examined the results of 17 studies and found that most forms of creatine boost performance to a similar degree, but creatine monohydrate is 3-to-5 times more affordable. Here’s part of their cost analysis:
Thus, creatine monohydrate is the gold standard of creatine, and nothing’s likely to dethrone it anytime soon. That’s why I chose it for my 100% natural post-workout supplement, Recharge.
Each serving of Recharge contains 5 grams of micronized creatine monohydrate. This means the creatine monohydrate in Recharge is processed into very fine particles that are more water-soluble and easier to digest, which means it mixes better with liquid than the non-micronized form and is less likely to upset sensitive stomachs.
Recharge also contains clinically effective doses of L-carnitine L-tartrate and corosolic acid to help you gain muscle and strength faster and recover better from your workouts.
If you want to be able to push harder in the gym, train more frequently, and get more out of your workouts, then you want to try Recharge today.
(And if you aren’t sure if Recharge is right for you or if another supplement might be a better fit for your budget, circumstances, and goals, then take the Legion Supplement Finder Quiz! In less than a minute, it’ll tell you exactly what supplements are right for you. Click here to check it out.)
FAQ #1: What are creatine’s side effects?
Creatine is generally well tolerated and causes few adverse side effects.
Some people experience stomach cramps if they drink insufficient water, and diarrhea if they take too much (more than 20 grams) at once.
You can avoid these side effects by drinking to thirst and taking no more than five grams of creatine at a time.
In the past, some people also reported feeling bloated when they took creatine, but as processing methods have greatly improved, this is much less of a problem now than it once was.
FAQ #2: What’s the best creatine for men?
The best creatine for men is any form of powdered creatine monohydrate. That said, you may prefer a supplement containing micronized creatine monohydrate if you have a sensitive stomach since it’s less likely to cause gastrointestinal issues.
And If you want a 100% natural source of micronized creatine monohydrate, try Recharge.
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FAQ #3: What’s the best creatine for women?
Women often shy away from creatine because they’re afraid of “getting bulky” or bloating. As we’ve already seen, bloating is no longer an issue and getting bulky never was.
Since creatine works the same in both sexes, women’s best creatine supplements are the same as men’s: any form of creatine monohydrate.
FAQ #4: When is the best time to take creatine?
Many people think there’s a “best time to take creatine,” but research shows it works perfectly well when you take it at any time of the day.
FAQ #5: What is the best creatine for muscle growth?
Most all creatine supplements are equally effective, but creatine monohydrate is significantly cheaper, which is why I think it’s the best creatine for building muscle.
FAQ #6: What’s the best creatine monohydrate?
There are two forms of creatine monohydrate: Micronized and non-micronized. Both boost performance equally—the only difference is that micronized creatine monohydrate is processed more thoroughly, making it more water-soluble and easier to digest. This makes it easier to mix and a better option for people with sensitive stomachs, but it’s often more expensive than non-micronized creatine.
As such, there’s no “best type of creatine” for everyone—choose whichever best suits your needs.
FAQ #7: Do you need to cycle creatine?
When you supplement with creatine, your body reduces its natural production, but it doesn’t impact your endocrine system like steroids.
Producing creatine is demanding for the body, and reducing this burden may even be healthful. And if you cease supplementation with creatine, your body resumes its regular production.
FAQ #8: How do you take creatine?
Research shows that supplementing with five grams of creatine per day is optimal.
When you first start taking creatine, you can “load” it by taking 20 grams per day for the first 5-to-7 days (followed by the “maintenance” dosage of 5 grams per day).
You don’t have to load, but studies show that it causes the creatine to accumulate faster in your muscles, helping you reap its benefits sooner.
FAQ #9: Is creatine bad for your kidneys?
If you have healthy kidneys, creatine doesn’t harm your kidneys.
Even if you have impaired kidney function, you’re unlikely to experience any problems. In one study, 20 grams of creatine per day caused no harm to someone with one slightly damaged kidney. That said, if you have any kidney issues, check with your doctor before you start supplementing with creatine.
One of the reasons people still believe creatine stresses the kidneys relates to a substance known as “creatinine,” which your body produces when it metabolizes creatine.
In sedentary people not supplementing with creatine, elevated creatinine levels can indicate kidney problems. You should expect high creatinine levels if you exercise regularly and supplement with creatine, though.
FAQ #10: Should you take creatine while dieting to lose weight?
Supplementing with creatine while in a calorie deficit is smart because it helps you retain your muscle and strength, which is vital for improving your body composition.
FAQ #11: Does creatine cause baldness?
One study conducted by scientists at Stellenbosch University found that creatine raised levels of dihydrotestosterone or DHT, a hormone that hastens hair loss in susceptible men.
Specifically, they found that the normal protocol of taking 20 grams of creatine per day for a week followed by 5 grams a day for 2 weeks increased DHT levels in male rugby players by about 40-to-60%.
That said, the study had several limitations (one being they didn’t actually measure hair loss, just a hormone often associated with it), and the results haven’t been replicated since. Thus, there’s very little evidence that creatine contributes to hair loss.
FAQ #12: Does caffeine make creatine less effective?
One study published in 1996 in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggested that taking creatine with caffeine “counteracts” some of its benefits.
Given that this study only included nine participants and that at least three subsequent studies have shown that the exact opposite is true—creatine and caffeine work synergistically—it’s probably safe to assume that caffeine doesn’t make creatine less effective.
FAQ #13: How much of a difference will creatine make in my training?
One review of around 300 studies published in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry found that most people who supplement with creatine can expect a 5-to-15% increase in strength and power.
In another study conducted by scientists at Pennsylvania State University, researchers found that participants who supplemented with creatine could perform 30% more reps on the bench press across 5 sets of 10 reps.
That said, research also shows that 20-to-30% of people are creatine “non-responders” (they experience little or no benefit from taking creatine), which means not everyone will see improvements of this magnitude.
+ Scientific References
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