Off on another mission of discovery, this time with the question in mind “what is the best type of creatine to build muscle?” And I can tell you, this subject is an absolute minefield of misinformation and disinformation.
But if you are in a rush and don’t want to read all the jargon, here is our opinion on the best creatine for muscle growth.
Aside from the bad information, you also have to try to avoid dated information and old articles that might have had the readers best interest at heart at the time they were written, but science has proven to be incorrect since.
The bad info isn’t just down to plain lies told by companies trying to sell us these products either, there are also a TON of affiliated websites out there that just don’t do much in the way of research other than to parrot reviews from big-name online shopping stores and/or the information the supplier already tells us.
Some obviously just grab their information from old articles which still say (as an example) that creatine ethyl ester is very effective. If you’ve read that on a website, beware whatever else they are telling you!
The problems with the above approaches to writing an article on creatine are…
- The suppliers may not be telling us the whole story about their products. Often, in fact, they will hide the true product ingredients behind a slimy veneer of cleverly worded bullshit which unfortunately is quite easy to fall for.
- Reviewers are (mostly) not scientists so have not examined the product in this capacity.
- Reviewers are susceptible to the placebo effect with products of this nature.
- Outdated information.
This is as good a time as any to hypocritically hand out my disclaimer about not being a scientist/medical professional myself and to tell you that you should do your own due diligence and consult a medical professional before taking creatine, especially if you are already on medication of any kind.
Now we are nicely disclaimered up, we can get to the first thing I learned…
Don’t buy any of that “proprietary blend” shit for starters. Here’s the definition as supplied by ConsumerReports.org
“This means that the manufacturer has mixed several ingredients into a special blend. They must be listed in order of the amount the product contains, but the manufacturer doesn’t need to state how much of each ingredient is included.
As a result, blends may contain dangerously high amounts of certain ingredients.”1consumerreports.org
This was further backed by usada.org who say…
“Beware of ‘Proprietary Blends.'”
In proprietary blends, supplement companies don’t have to list the amount of each individual ingredient – they only have to list the total amount of the blend.
Proprietary blends are a marketing tool that companies use to try to make their product seem unique or special in some way. But buyer beware – companies sometimes ‘fairy dust’ their products with the expensive ingredients (using trace amounts that may have no physiological impact), and then bulk out the blend with cheaper ingredients.
It is impossible to know how much of a particular ingredient you are receiving in a proprietary blend.”2usada.org
Just to spell it out, this means that aside from a possibility of “dangerously high amounts of certain ingredients” inside the ‘proprietary blend’ there could also be hardly any of the substance that actually benefits you.
Also, remember when you are taking supplements they are not a replacement for optimum nutrition. The clue is in the name… ‘supplement’.
So what are the different types of creatine supplement?
- Creatine monohydrate (CrM)
- Micronized creatine monohydrate
- Creatine ethyl ester
- Creatine nitrate
- Creatine hydrochloride (Con-Crete)
- Buffered creatine (Kre-Alkalyn)
- Creatine pyruvate
- Liquid creatine serum
OK, so I’m already regretting looking into the pros and cons of the different sorts of this stuff, nightmare huh? Let’s take it one step at a time and see what the pros and cons of each sort of creatine are, but first, let’s take a look at a video which explains how creatine helps muscle growth.
How does creatine work in the body?
Creatine monohydrate (CrM)
This is the cheapest form of creatine, and research to date proves that it is effective for our needs (supplementation for exercise performance) although other types are comparable and come with other benefits.
The main ‘problems’ with creatine monohydrate are that it isn’t great for dissolving in water, and it can cause side effects such as stomach issues with some users. Bloating, the shits and all that good stuff.
These stomach issues seem to mainly boil down to people taking too much, especially during ‘loading phases’ which some say are not strictly necessary anyway.
One way around this problem is to try splitting your dosage up into two or even three different times of day. If that doesn’t work, micronized versions of creatine (below) might be the best creatine monohydrate supplements for you.
Micronized creatine monohydrate
There is only one big difference between this and the stuff above, it has been broken down into smaller powder so that it can be more easily absorbed by the body.
As we said, regular creatine monohydrate can cause stomach issues with some users, but micronized creatine is said to make this a non-issue.
Another of the main advantages of micronized creatine monohydrate is that it suspends in liquids more easily so it is quicker to mix and more pleasant to drink. You also don’t want a load of the stuff stuck on the inside of your glass, you want it in your body.
Note that this doesn’t mean it completely dissolves. Like regular CrM, it will be a little grainy. Think of it like particles of sand stirred into a glass of water, the smaller the sand particles the less chance they will just sink straight to the bottom when you swirl the water up with a spoon right?
This is essentially what happens with the smaller micronized particles.
Another plus point is that people who do not respond to normal creatine will usually respond to micronized.
Price may be a little higher when you purchase this form of CrM.
Creatine ethyl ester
Aside from sounding like a form of creatine specifically for old grandmas this form the creatine molecule is attached to an ‘ester’.
I have no idea what that means, or why Ethel wanted to get in on the fun but this is touted to allow for greater absorption (bioavailability).
This was not the case when creatine ethyl ester was put through it paces in a direct comparison with creatine monohydrate…
“In conclusion, when compared to creatine monohydrate, creatine ethyl ester was not as effective at increasing serum and muscle creatine levels or in improving body composition, muscle mass, strength, and power.”3 Department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation, Baylor University
Interestingly there is a new form of creatine ethyl ester around called ‘Di-acetyl creatine ethyl ester’4 which…
“According to their in vitro studies this analogue is no less than 1000 times more effective than regular creatine. It could be that di-acetylcreatine ethyl ester, when taken orally, is deactivated in the stomach. But maybe it’s not, or maybe you can inject this stuff. And then… Well, this super creatine that will probably end up on the WADA doping list.”5www.ergo-log.com/di-acetyl-creatine-ethyl-ester.html
Anyway, it is a pretty well-known fact that creatine ethyl ester is useless. Don’t bother.
More water soluble than creatine monohydrate and some speculate it is more bioavailable (more than 98% of monohydrate is absorbed by the body anyway) although there is no proof of this yet.6
With creatine nitrate, the creatine is bonded to a nitrate rather than a water molecule as it is in creatine monohydrate.
Also adds nitric oxide to the mix which means there is more oxygen in the bloodstream. This may allow you to train harder but as far as I am aware this has yet to be proven.
This time the creatine has been bound with hydrochloric acid. It is more water soluble than creatine monohydrate, and claims have also been made that a lower dosage is required.
With regards to a lower required dosage, nothing has been proven through studies, and some believe that this is highly unlikely.
- Creatine HCL
- Creatine HCl
Buffered creatine combines magnesium and (you guessed it) creatine. This supplement is considered as safe as creatine monohydrate by most and may help some reduce creatinine production.
Kre-Alkalyn powder is also more water soluble than creatine monohydrate powder.
- Creatine Magnesium Chelate
- Chelated Creatine
Exercise.com had this to say about the buffered Kre-alkalyn creatine:
“While no studies have been conducted by a reputable research facility, buffered creatine may help some users to reduce the amount of creatinine produced in their bodies.
Buffered creatine has only been available as a supplement for a few years.
Some doctors, mainly those associated with the companies that manufacture this supplement, say that buffered creatine is more effective for muscle building. However, buffered creatine has been shown to be no more effective than creatine monohydrate, tri-creatine malate or creatine ethyl ester.”7exercise.com
The idea behind this type of creatine is that bonding creatine to magnesium makes the product more alkaline. This, in turn, is supposed to counteract the acidic effects of stomach acid.
Creatine monohydrate is already pretty good at withstanding the stomach acids anyway.
The bottom line…
“…findings do not support claims that consuming a buffered form of creatine is a more efficacious and/or safer form of creatine to consume than creatine monohydrate.”8pubmed.gov
This time, the creatine is bound with pyruvic acid because…
well… why not eh?
This form of creatine is more soluble than monohydrate and may also produce a larger amount of creatine in plasma. Creatine monohydrate is absorbed really well anyway, so the extra expense is likely not worth the minimal difference.
Liquid creatine serum
The touted benefits of liquid creatine serum are that it is absorbed by the body faster, and also that it is absorbed more easily. This is why some manufacturers are only including small doses of creatine inside their products as the idea is you don’t need as much.
Finally, manufacturers claim you do not need a loading phase with liquid creatine serum.
The main problems with this particular type of creatine are:
- It really doesn’t matter how quickly creatine is absorbed, as long as it is absorbed.
- Creatine breaks down into creatinine when in a solution for too long.
- You do not need to have loading phase with creatine in any of its forms anyway.
- It’s much more expensive.
I have actually seen bottles of this stuff specifically stating in a comparison chart in the product description that a loading phase is required with regular creatine, but that it is not with creatine serum. This flies completely in the face of all the research I have done. The same product also claims that their serum is “100% stable: 2 year shelf life” while powder is described as “Unstable: rapidly degrades into waste product creatinine”.
Once again, this doesn’t correlate with the research that I have done, if anything the complete opposite seems to be true. You, of course, have to do your own due diligence, I’m no scientist, but my personal opinion is that I don’t trust claims like this at all.
Note: Check out the link above to see the chart, or if it gets removed, the link to the wayback machine from the image below will show the page as it previously appeared.
Another thing you might want to take into consideration is that a study was run on another of the products from the company that manufactures the above-mentioned product. This one is called “Creatine Serum ATP Advantage from Muscle Marketing USA”. This was the study conclusion:
“We conclude that the trace amounts of creatine in the product would be too little to affect the muscle content even with multiple dosing.”9pubmed.gov
Creatine is also known to break down in water, essentially becoming useless if it is in a solution for too long. As you have no idea how long such a product has been sitting in a warehouse before it gets to you, logically it follows that it may have been sat for a long time.
I would say save your money.
Other factors to consider when choosing creatine supplements
As you can see, the whole subject is as confusing as hell so it is difficult to give a definitive answer on the best type of creatine for muscle growth and/or weight loss. Every person will respond differently to the different kinds of creatine supplements.
Creatine monohydrate really is the benchmark to beat, and the dangers of creatine in this form seem to be just about non-existent if taken responsibly and sourced from a reliable company.
There are reasons why different types of creatine might be better suited to you:
- Easier to mix with liquids
- Easier to absorb
- No bloating
- No loading phase needed
- No stomach problems
Bear in mind that this does not mean the other forms are more effective!
Stomach discomfort could well be down to taking too much of the product, especially if you are loading. You will see the recommendation of 5 grams a day everywhere, but it really depends on your lean body mass.
Don’t rely on the manufacturer to tell you to take a lower dose than needed for your body size, they just might have an interest in you consuming their product faster huh?
“If you’re fairly lean, this leads to a simple formula:
POUNDS: Bodyweight * 0.15 = grams of creatine monohydrate to ingest KILOGRAMS: Body mass * 0.3 = grams of creatine monohydrate to ingest
Although these formulas would appear to overestimate needs, bear in mind that one gram of creatine monohydrate is only 88 percent creatine. The overage takes this into account.”10John Kiefer: www.schwarzenegger.com
Although there is no harm in it (in fact some people like our Jim swear by it), a loading phase is not strictly necessary, but it will take longer for the muscles to reach saturation. Beats feeling bad however if that’s the way it affects you.
Also, as many as 30% of people will not respond to creatine monohydrate for a variety of reasons such as:
- A diet already rich in creatine
- Efficient recycling of creatine in the body
- Naturally high creatine production in the body
- Poor absorption
If poor absorption is your problem, then trying another type of creatine might do the trick for you.
The most important factor: your health
Your health should really be the first thing you take into consideration before ingesting anything. This, unfortunately, could mean for US citizens that they should source their creatine from EU countries, the cleanest source of which comes from Germany under the name ‘Creapure’.
Overreaction? Perhaps, but just because a big name firm is supplying your supplements it doesn’t mean they are always to be trusted:
Back in 2012, even bodybuilding.com named one product its ‘new supplement of the year’ only to find later that it was allegedly “secretly spiked with a chemical similar to methamphetamine that appears to have its origins as an illicit designer recreational drug.”11
“For years, the FDA treated many dietary supplements like drugs, meaning supplement manufacturers had to demonstrate the safety of their products before the FDA would approve the products for sale. In 1994, however, Congress dropped that requirement when it enacted the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), a law that supplement manufacturers helped write and pass.
Under the DSHEA regulatory regime, supplement manufacturers hoping to use new ingredients must notify the FDA and provide evidence that the new ingredient can “reasonably be expected to be safe.” But manufacturers do not need to prove that a new ingredient is safe. Instead, the law puts the burden of proof on the FDA: the agency can remove a dietary product, such as ephedra, from the market only if it shows that the product “poses a significant and unreasonable health risk.”
The European Union (EU) took a more proactive approach to regulating supplements. In 2002, the EU adopted the Food Supplements Directive (FSD), a counterpart to the DSHEA. The FSD puts a much higher burden on supplement manufacturers than does the DSHEA. As Nowak explains, the EU regulatory scheme “contains a ‘positive list’ of vitamins and minerals permitted to be used in dietary supplements.” Manufacturers who want to use ingredients that are not on the list must first convince the EU’s regulatory body to add the ingredients to the list. The process of adding an ingredient can take years and cost companies the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars.”12www.theregreview.org
So what is the best type of creatine on the market?
It is pretty much a widely accepted fact that the safest, most pure type of creatine is called ‘Creapure’ and comes from a German company called AlzChem.
What is Creapure creatine? Well, the main things you need to know are firstly their process minimizes dicyandiamide (DCD) and completely removes dihydrotriazine (DHT) which is potentially harmful.
Some companies also use sarcosine and S-methylthiourea as raw materials. Contaminants in creatine made this way can include methanethiol (methyl mercaptan), thiourea and dimethyl sulfate, all of which are toxic.
On top of this, each batch of Creapure is tested for purity before leaving the factory. Creapure is listed on the Cologne List (the first and biggest doping prevention platform for nutritional supplements in the world). This means that it is regularly tested at the Olympiastützpunkt Rheinland laboratory in Germany for any contamination from steroids or stimulants.13
So hopefully you can now see why Creapure is considered the most high-performance form of this supplement.
So, what brands of creatine have creapure? See below…
Best creapure creatine monohydrate
All the evidence points to creatine monohydrate being the best type of creatine to build muscles.
Look for a brand which lists only German Creapure creatine in its ingredients, NOTHING else.
No fillers, additives, colors, flavors, sugars or sweeteners – only 100 percent pure creatine with Creapure on the label. (Well, it’s 99.9 percent pure, but you get the idea.)
If you want the biggest bang for your buck without other crap mixed in then stick with a totally pure unflavoured form. This will give you the best chance of getting the most effective product at the best price.
Fitness Labs German Creatine Monohydrate 1000g
Best creapure micronized creatine monohydrate
If you are worried about having stomach trouble or diarrhea when using creatine monohydrate then micronized creatine monohydrate supplements are probably your best bet.
This form is also going to be a lot easier to mix with liquids than the normal creatine monohydrate products and you avoid that non-responder issue altogether if it is for poor absorption reasons.
Over to you! What have your experiences been with the different types of creatine?
Do you disagree that Creapure creatine monohydrate or micronized creatine monohydrate is the best type of creatine to build muscle?
Let us know in the comments.