Creatine is one of the three most commonly-recommended workout supplements, for good reason.
Table of Contents
- What is Creatine?
- All the Different Types of Creatine
- Creatine Monohydrate
- Micronized Creatine
- Creatine Anhydrous
- Creatine Ethyl Ester
- Liquid Creatine (Aka Creatine Serum)
- Effervescent Creatine
- Buffered Creatine
- Polyethylene Glycosylated Creatine
- Conjugated Creatine
Many will go on to use creatine regularly. Because it works.
But it’s all too easy to get overwhelmed by the many forms of creatine out there.
Which form is best?
And if you’re new, what the heck is this stuff, anyway?
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a substance naturally produced by your body as part of the muscle’s energy cycle.
It’s a peptide that is responsible for ADP getting recycled into ATP.
Your muscles burn ATP for energy.
Creatine supplements add to your natural reserves of creatine to get more ATP to your muscles, leading to longer, more effective workouts.
It’s not as effective for aerobic workouts (kind of like pre-workouts), but it can help you power through tough anaerobic workouts!
However, it may also lead to weight gain. That’s because creatine retains water.
It’ll make your muscles look more buff but may toss a couple numbers onto the scale.
But hey, fitness isn’t actually about your weight.
Fitness is about health and strength, so unless you wear shirts that require you to have a specific bicep size down to a fraction of an inch, this water retention is not really a downside.
Well, I guess wrestlers need to keep an eye on their weight. But you can cycle creatine.
In fact, it’s recommended. Read this in-depth article on how to take creatine for more information!
All the Different Types of Creatine
In that previous article, I touch on the wide variety of creatine supplements available.
My advice was basically, “Ignore all of the other stuff and use creatine monohydrate.”
I stand by that advice. Creatine monohydrate is the standard form of creatine and works great for most people.
But it’s possible that creatine monohydrate may not be the best form of creatine for you.
So, let’s quickly look at each form and see what makes it good or not!
Most research on creatine efficacy was done using creatine monohydrate. It’s known to work.
Creatine monohydrate isn’t that fancy. This form of creatine combines each molecule of creatine with one molecule of water.
Hence the “mono” “hydrate.”
It’s safe, effective, and is the baseline against which all of the following forms are judged.
It’s also the cheapest form of creatine!
However, creatine monohydrate has a weakness, and that weakness is that it’s not readily absorbed by digestion.
So you end up excreting a lot of what you ingest, and some people get upset stomachs from drinking creatine.
Solving the absorption riddle is why there are so many creatine varieties.
This type of creatine is creatine monohydrate that has been chopped up into tinier bits. It’s been made more “micro.”
Smaller molecules are easier to absorb, so some people respond to micronized creatine better than they do normal creatine monohydrate.
Supposedly, some people who experience bloating when taking creatine monohydrate don’t when they take micronized creatine.
However, micronized creatine has undergone more processing, so it’s more expensive.
Avoiding that bellyache can be worth it, though.
Anhydrous means “without water.” Creatine anhydrous has had that water molecule removed.
This means that you get slightly more creatine per gram, but that’s basically the extent of the benefits.
Creatine Ethyl Ester
This form of creatine adds an ester to the creatine molecule, forming creatine ethyl ester.
The idea is that this changes the charge of the molecule to make it easier to absorb by the body.
Indeed, it absorbs at a higher rate than creatine monohydrate!
…but the problem is that this form of creatine is less able to be used by your body as, well, creatine.
Creatinine is a byproduct of creatine. It’s the used-up form, basically.
Some of the creatine ethyl esters convert to creatinine without being used by your body as creatine!
Perhaps creatine ethyl ester can be good for avoiding the loading phase, but I wouldn’t count on it to be my main creatine supplement.
Creatinine strikes again with the liquid creatine supplements.
Liquid creatine is supposed to be more readily absorbed because it’s already in the liquid form.
However, creatine is not stable in water!
This means that, while the supplement is waiting on the shelves, creatine is degrading into creatinine.
I would avoid liquid creatine and only use the dry, powdered forms.
What about bubbly creatine supplements?
Effervescence is supposed to increase absorption of many things, creatine included.
Creatine is made effervescent through the addition of sugar and/or sodium bicarbonate.
It’s a more enjoyable drinking experience for sure.
But it’s a lot more expensive than other forms and isn’t really that much more absorbable.
It seems to me that “buffered” creatine is what you get when you stuff a bunch of marketing folks into a room with a handful of sciency-sounding words.
They’ll even patent it, call it Kre-Alkalyn, and tout that it’s pH-balanced.
Your body balances its pH level by itself.
Buffered creatine is more expensive than creatine monohydrate and, even worse, is most commonly found in non-bulk forms, which drives the price even higher.
It’s not any more effective, despite what those marketing people want you to believe.
Polyethylene Glycosylated Creatine
One of the newer forms of creatine is PEG creatine.
PEG enhances the absorption potential of creatine. Research suggests that you get the same amount of benefit as creatine monohydrate with 75% of the dose.
It’s still not that common yet, and suffers for being more expensive.
But sure, it’s a good choice if consuming 25% less will save you a quarter of the cost of another form of creatine!
The rest of the list will cover conjugated creatines. That means that the creatine molecule has been combined with another molecule.
So, you’ll get about half creatine and half that other molecule. This increases expense, but I do believe the benefits can be worth the added cost.
Not in every case, though.
Also, a lot of conjugated creatines are not found as the sole ingredient in a supplement. You’ll find them mixed with other creatines, which helps make up for their shortcomings.
Mix citric acid and creatine to get creatine citrate. It’s a lot like creatine monohydrate except a little more water-soluble.
Personally, I’d pass. Citric acid supplementation doesn’t do much for you so there are better conjugated-creatines to choose from.
When you attach hydrochloride to creatine, it becomes more absorbable. A lot more.
You can get away with taking less creatine HCl than creatine monohydrate for the same effect.
But that doesn’t make it any more or less efficacious.
Plus some people think it tastes like battery acid.
You still get more benefit per dollar of creatine monohydrate than creatine hydrochloride.
However, a lot of people swear by creatine HCl.
A lot of aspects of fitness are personal, so creatine HCl may work better than creatine monohydrate for you!
Creatine Magnesium Chelate
Creatine magnesium chelate is the first creatine on this list which I’d unequivocally recommend above creatine monohydrate, despite the added expense.
There’s some evidence that the addition of magnesium chelate increases how much creatine gets taken into your muscles.
For me, though, the real benefit is in the magnesium.
Magnesium is used in many biological processes, from your muscles to your bones. It even helps calcium get where it needs to go.
Heck, magnesium helps your muscles contract and relax! Try getting fit with muscles that won’t contract.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to lack magnesium, even if you have a healthy diet. Many, if not most, people don’t meet the recommended daily amount of magnesium.
So, creatine and magnesium together? Sign me up!
Do note, however, that it’s not any more efficacious than creatine monohydrate.
Creatine with malate might be a good choice as well.
There’s evidence that malate supplementation can increase exercise performance, so I wouldn’t be afraid of choosing tri-creatine malate as my form of creatine.
But it’s not as easily found as other conjugated creatines.
Orotic acid is used in mineral supplements to increase their bioavailability. It even used to be called vitamin B13, but we now know it’s not a vitamin.
However, there isn’t much research out there that it’s beneficial when combined with creatine.
Research suggests that creatine pyruvate increases the amount of creatine found in your blood plasma.
But that doesn’t automatically mean that your body is using it any better.
However, there are biological mechanisms by which pyruvic acid can benefit your cellular energy supply.
It’s part of the Krebs cycle, the mechanism by which carbs, fats, and protein get turned into ATP.
But the research on creatine pyruvate has not yet shown it to be any better than creatine monohydrate.
Many forms of creatine are not any more effective than creatine monohydrate, except at emptying your wallet.
So, which form would I recommend?
It’s the simplest, cheapest, most-researched choice.
Micronized creatine may be good if creatine monohydrate makes your stomach sick.
PEG creatine shows some promise, but not if you have to pay more for it.
Some people swear by creatine HCL.
I do like creatine magnesium chelate and tri-creatine malate because then you supplement with other stuff that is also known to increase academic performance.
But creatine monohydrate is a classic for a reason, so it remains my most-recommended form of creatine!