Creatine is one of the most popular fitness supplements out there. Long-studied for boosting workout performance and strength and muscle gains, it’s understandably considered a staple amongst bodybuilders and more casual lifters alike. Considering creatine also has benefits for focus and blood sugar, too, it has major payoffs that aren’t fitness related. In fact, all sorts of people can benefit from adding this compound to their routine.
As the popularity of creatine continues to grow, the more innovative and specialized forms of the supplement have cropped up. If you’re feeling a little lost amidst all of the latest options, don’t sweat it. This quick guide will help you find the right creatine supplement for your goals.
Quick Creatine Refresher
New to the creatine game? Know this: Creatine is a natural compound made from three amino acids (methionine, glycine, and arginine). We produce some in our liver and pancreas and get the rest of what we need from animal proteins like meat and fish. Our muscles stash away creatine to put to work during bouts of lifting or high-intensity exercise, when they use creatine to quickly regenerate ATP (the chemical form of energy muscle cells use for power) in order to keep performing, explains The Vitamin Shoppe dietitian Brittany Michels, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N., C.P.T. In short, creatine equals more available energy, which equals increased muscle performance.
The compound also supports the muscle-building process (called muscle protein synthesis) by drawing water into the muscles and stimulating insulin-like growth factor (IGF), both of which get the gears turning.
Because the brain needs immense amounts of ATP, creatine also plays a role in supporting focus and cognition. Meanwhile, research suggests creatine increases the activity of a protein that pulls sugar out of the blood and into the muscles, hence the healthy blood sugar benefits.
The idea behind creatine supplements (which are some of the most-studied in the fitness world) is that the bigger our body’s stash of the stuff, the more effectively it does everything from churn out energy for hardcore workouts to help you remember where the heck you left your keys.
The Best Creatine Supplement For You
Impressive, right? Whether you’re trying creatine for the first time or curious about optimizing your current routine, here’s what to know about each form so you can choose a supplement that works best for you.
The O.G. Creatine Supplement: Creatine Monohydrate
If you’ve supplemented with creatine before, chances are it was creatine monohydrate. “Creatine monohydrate is the most studied form of creatine and is made up of a creatine molecule and water molecule,” explains Michels. “It best resembles the natural form of creatine synthesized by the body.” As such, it’s the most popular option out there—and, according to Michels, usually the most affordable, too. You’ll find creatine monohydrate in everything from pre-workouts and energy drinks to recovery supplements.
So, is it right for you? This popular pick is a solid option for most people—but it’s particularly ideal for those without stomach complaints and who don’t mind the potential for some fluid retention, Michels notes. Remember, creatine can pull water into the muscles, and monohydrate is the biggest culprit. And while water in your muscles is a good thing, undissolved monohydrate can also pull water into your intestines, which is why it can cause trouble for people with sensitive systems, according to Michels.
For Monohydrate Fans After Extra Perks: Micronized Creatine
Consider micronized creatine the sequel to monohydrate. On a chemical level, “micronized creatine is the same as creatine monohydrate and features a creatine molecule plus a water molecule, which means it offers similar benefits,” explains Michels. However, micronized creatine goes through a process to compress the particle sizes to make them more soluble and easier to absorb. (Its particles are 20 times smaller than creatine monohydrate!) That means you’ll have less undissolved powder at the bottom of your shaker cup, as sometimes occurs with monohydrate, and could absorb more of what you drink down, Michels suggests.
Still, it’s best used by those with solid stomachs, Michels says. Something else worth noting: Because the creatine in these supplements undergoes that extra compression process, micronized creatine is usually a little pricier than monohydrate.
- Optimum Nutrition Micronized Creatine Powder
- BodyTech Elite Gotham City Grape Micronized Creatine Powder
For Sensitive Stomachs: Creatine Hydrochloride
An increasingly popular alternative to creatine monohydrate, creatine hydrochloride is made up of a creatine molecule and a hydrochloride molecule (a compound of the elements hydrogen and chlorine), according to Michels. Because it’s a newer form of creatine, it’s less studied. “However, it has better absorbability and solubility than monohydrate, making it the preferred form for those who experience stomach upset or fluid retention with creatine monohydrate or micronized creatine,” Michels says. In fact, it’s 38 times more soluble in water than creatine monohydrate. (This is also a plus if you typically find creatine supplements to taste a little gritty.)
“Just know that the improved absorption and solubility doesn’t mean that creatine hydrochloride is more effective,” says Michels. Instead, think of it as a comparable alternative for those who complain of side effects with creatine monohydrate or micronized creatine. There’s not much evidence to suggest it has any advantages aside from the digestion factor.
For Those Who Want To Skip The Loading Phase: Buffered Creatine Monohydrate (KreAlkalyn)
While your typical creatine monohydrate has a more acidic pH, buffered creatine monohydrate (which is available in a patented form named KreAlkalyn) goes through a process to improve its pH to be more alkaline. “This pH-corrected form increases bioavailability and stability and minimizes digestive distress,” explains Michels. “KreAlkalyn’s improved bioavailability means that you can get the same results with a smaller dose—and that it also doesn’t require cycling or a loading phase.”
Like some of the other newer forms of creatine available these days, the goal in creating KreAlkalyn is to improve solubility, absorbability, and bioavailability (i.e. to give users the most impact with minimal side effects) from their creatine routine, notes Michels. Thanks to its unique form, buffered creatine monohydrate is an ideal option for those looking to minimize digestive impacts and skip the extra-high doses often taken when you first start supplementing with creatine.
Still Not Sure Which Creatine To Choose?
If you’re still feeling a little stuck about which type of creatine is best for you, Michels recommends checking in with yourself about two factors: digestive upset and bloating. “If you have a sensitive digestive tract or would prefer to avoid the temporary fluid retention that may arise while supplementing with creatine, then I’d skip the monohydrate and micronized options and head straight for the hydrochloride or buffered forms,” she suggests. “Meanwhile, if you rarely notice an upset stomach with your day-to-day diet and don’t mind some temporary fluid retention during creatine usage (remember, hydrating your muscles for energy production helps those gains) then grab a monohydrate or micronized option.” Once you’ve narrowed your search down, consider factors like price, form (capsules vs. powder), and flavor preferences when making your final decision.