Creatine monohydrate is the #1 bestselling workout supplement of all time, but how does it work, how effective is it, really?
If there’s one supplement that has truly passed the test of time, it’s creatine monohydrate.
It has been the subject of hundreds of scientific studies, and the evidence is clear:
When it comes to improving your body composition and workout performance, creatine monohydrate is basically all pros and no cons.
And in this article, we’re going to talk about why.
By the end, you’re going to know what creatine monohydrate is, how it works, how effective it is, how to take it for best results, and more.
Let’s get to it.
What Is Creatine Monohydrate?
Creatine is a natural compound made up of the amino acids L-arginine, glycine, and methionine.
Creatine monohydrate is creatine with one molecule of H2O (water) attached to it.
How Does Creatine Monohydrate Work?
The most basic unit of cellular energy is a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
For a cell to use ATP, though, it must first break it down into several smaller molecules. This process produces byproducts that are then “recycled” back into ATP to be used again.
The more ATP your cells can store and the faster they can regenerate it after use, the more work they can do. This is true of every bodily system, including your muscle cells.
Now, creatine is an essential ingredient in the process of regenerating ATP, which is why supplementing with it increases the amount of work that your muscles can do.
Specifically, it accelerates the process by which ATP is formed from one of its precursors, known as adenosine diphosphate (ADP), which allows for rapid ATP replenishment.
Without getting overly technical, creatine “donates” a molecule of a substance that allows your body to rapidly convert ADP into ATP, thereby significantly increasing your muscles’ functional capacity.
The downside to this system of energy generation, though, is the body’s natural creatine stores are very limited. Once they’ve been depleted, the show is over, and the body has to turn to glucose or fatty acids to continue producing ATP.
That’s where creatine supplementation enters the picture.
When you take a creatine supplement, your total body creatine stores rise, and especially in your muscles.
Creatine’s muscle-related benefits don’t stop there, either. It also directly helps you build muscle faster.
The primary way it accomplishes this is by increasing the water content in muscle cells. This makes the muscles bigger, of course, but also causes changes related to nitrogen balance and the expression of certain genes related to hypertrophy (muscle growth).
Other research suggests that creatine also has anti-catabolic effects, which further helps with long-term muscle gain.
How Does Creatine Monohydrate Stack Up to Other Forms of Creatine?
Creatine monohydrate is the simplest and least expensive form of creatine on the market.
It has been around for decades and is a tried-and-true winner, but it has many challengers to its throne.
Over the years, manufacturers have modified creatine in various ways to make it more effective.
How well have these experiments gone? Has anything been able to trump creatine monohydrate?
Let’s take a quick look at the research on the most popular creations to find out…
Creatine Ethyl Ester vs. Creatine Monohydrate
CEE was developed in the hopes that it would increase the absorption and bioavailability of the creatine, but research shows it’s a dud.
A direct comparison between CEE and creatine monohydrate shows that CEE can’t even duplicate, let alone surpass, the results seen with creatine monohydrate supplementation.
In other words, it’s completely worthless.
The reason for this is CEE is less stable than creatine monohydrate, resulting in its rapid conversion into a substance called creatinine, which has no beneficial effects in the body.
Buffered Creatine vs. Creatine Monohydrate
Buffered creatine is creatine monohydrate combined with magnesium or baking soda to raise its pH value.
In chemistry, pH is a measure of the acidity of a solution. A pH of less than 7 is said to be “acidic” while a pH greater than 7 is “basic” or “alkaline,” and the more acidic a substance, the more it can react with other substances and cause chemical changes.
The idea behind buffered creatine is to “protect” it against the stomach’s powerful acids, and thereby increase its absorption into the bloodstream.
Unfortunately, research shows that buffered creatine isn’t any better than creatine monohydrate, because stomach acid is too strong to be negated by any buffering agent that you could safely eat.
The good news, though, is creatine is naturally resistant to stomach acid.
Creatine Hydrochloride vs. Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine hydrochloride is creatine bound with hydrochloric acid.
As usual, the goal was to increase creatine absorption and efficacy.
Well, it succeeded in improving the powder’s water solubility, but it hasn’t been shown to enhance uptake or performance benefits.
Creatine Magnesium Chelate vs. Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine magnesium chelate is a form of creatine bound to magnesium.
Magnesium plays a role in creatine metabolism, so combining the two could theoretically improve its effectiveness.
There isn’t much research on it yet, but one study found that creatine magnesium chelate is no more effective than creatine monohydrate.
We’ll have to see how it pans out in further research.
Creatine Malate vs. Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine malate is creatine bound with malic acid.
Some research shows that malic acid can increase energy production in cells, which could work synergistically with creatine to further increase performance.
The jury is still out on this one, though, because no studies have directly compared it to creatine monohydrate yet.
Creatine Nitrate vs Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine nitrate is a form of creatine bound with chemicals called nitrates, which are abundant in certain foods like beets and spinach.
Research that’s no longer available online indicated that creatine nitrate may be more water soluble than creatine monohydrate, and we know that nitrates can improve performance, but no studies have directly compared creatine nitrate to monohydrate yet.
We’ll have to wait and see what the science says.
Micronized Creatine vs Creatine Monohydrate
Micronized creatine is creatine that has been processed to reduce the particle size of the powder.
Most of the micronized creatine you can buy is creatine monohydrate, and while micronization helps it better dissolve in water, it doesn’t increase absorption or effectiveness.
Your body “micronizes” creatine during digestion by breaking it into smaller particles, so “pre-micronizing” it doesn’t achieve anything special beyond making it easier to drink.
Creatine Pyruvate vs. Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine pyruvate is creatine bound with pyruvic acid.
Research shows it may produce higher plasma levels of creatine than monohydrate, but this doesn’t translate into greater muscle absorption or performance enhancement.
Remember, your body already can absorb a large percentage of the creatine provided by creatine monohydrate, so slightly improving this doesn’t have any significant effect.
Creatine Citrate vs Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine citrate is creatine bound to citric acid.
Its story is familiar:
It’s more soluble than creatine monohydrate, but no better in terms of end results.
Liquid Creatine vs. Creatine Monohydrate
Liquid creatine is a form of creatine–typically monohydrate–suspended in water.
This was conceived of more as a marketing gimmick than anything else, and studies show it’s far less effective than creatine monohydrate.
The problem is when creatine is mixed with a liquid, it begins to break down into creatinine, which, as you know, delivers none of the benefits of creatine.
So, by the time a liquid creatine product gets into your hands, it’s really not a creatine supplement, but a creatinine supplement.
How to Take Creatine Monohydrate
Research shows that supplementing with 5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day is optimal.
When you first start taking creatine monohydrate, you can “load” it by taking 20 grams per day for the first 5 to 7 days, and see benefits sooner.
You should also take your creatine monohydrate with your post-workout meals for two reasons:
- Research shows that taking creatine with a moderate amount of protein and carbohydrate increases muscle absorption.
- Studies show that taking creatine after a workout is slightly more effective for increasing strength and muscle gain than taking it before.
Thus, creatine is the perfect supplement to take after a workout, with a meal.
The Bottom Line on Creatine Monohydrate
If you’re buying anything other than creatine monohydrate, you’re probably overpaying for the same or lesser benefits.
That’s why it’s still the gold standard by which all other forms of creatine are judged, and the best bang for your buck.
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What’s your take on creatine monohydrate? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!