- Creatine is the most well-researched sports supplement on the market. It's clinically proven to increase lean mass and strength, reduce injury risk, and speed up muscle repair.
- This supplement isn't just for building muscle. It also exhibits cardioprotective and neuroprotective effects. Its role in the prevention and treatment of neurological disorders, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, and other conditions is backed up by science.
- Although several types of creatine exist, only a few live up to the claims. To date, creatine monohydrate is considered the safest and most effective formula.
- Creatine is generally safe for healthy individuals. Doses of up to 30 grams per day are unlikely to cause adverse reactions other than minor side effects like bloating and cramping.
- Short-term creatine supplementation has been shown to increase strength and power, enhance athletic performance, ward off fatigue, and improve endurance. This sports supplement is particularly beneficial for athletes participating in anaerobic exercise, such as weight training.
Along with protein, creatine is the most popular sports supplements among elite athletes and novices alike. After all, who doesn’t want fuller looking muscles, greater strength, and more intense workouts?
What you may not know is that your body produces creatine naturally. In fact, about 95% of its creatine stores are found in the muscles. The remaining 5% accumulates in the liver, kidneys, and brain.
As a dietary supplement, this amino acid supports muscle growth and repair, enhances workout performance, and increases overall strength. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t affect your kidneys or electrolyte levels. Its long-term safety is confirmed by science.
But that’s more than just one type of creatine. Several varieties exist, and each has distinctive properties and mechanisms of action.
Below, we’re going to break down the different types of creatine so you can decide which one works best for your needs. A quality formula can take your gains to the next level and help you reach your fullest potential.
Let’s dive in!
Creatine 101: The Amino Acid You’re Not Getting Enough of
If you’ve ever set foot in a gym, you’ve probably heard about creatine or seen the big guys mixing it into their shakes. Maybe you’re thinking about it trying it yourself. First, make sure you know what creatine is, what it does, and what to expect from it.
This organic acid is synthesized in your liver and kidneys, serving as a source of fuel. It was discovered in 1932 — and it has been studied ever since. The first creatine supplement hit the store shelves in 1993 under the name Phosphagen.
Creatine also occurs naturally in certain foods, such as red meat, salmon, eggs, and poultry. In general, it’s found in fish, seafood, and animal products. However, most foods only provide small amounts of this nutrient, making it difficult to obtain it from diet alone.
How much creatine you need depends on your weight, training routine, and fitness goals.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition states that doses of up to 30 grams per day for five years are safe for all ages, from children to seniors. Furthermore, it suggests that the human body needs 1 to 3 grams of this compound daily to maintain its creatine stores and function optimally.
This compound is mainly stored in the skeletal muscle and is used for energy during exercise and daily activities.
After ingestion, it becomes broken down into creatinine. Part of it gets eliminated in the urine. Exercise further depletes your creatine stores, which is why it’s important to get this nutrient from food and supplements.
The Role of Creatine
Creatine is best known for its performance-enhancing effects. This nutrient, though, does a lot more than just help you build mass and strength. From your brain and heart to your cells, every organ needs it to function properly.
This compound has been studied for its role in the prevention and treatment of several conditions.
According to a review published in the journal Amino Acids, creatine may benefit those with central nervous disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, metabolic disturbances, osteoporosis, muscle atrophy, and more.
Its neuroprotective role is well-documented. As mentioned earlier, creatine provides energy, leading to sustained ATP levels.
Adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, is the energetic currency of your cells. This molecule supports all cellular activities as well as cell communication, DNA synthesis, and other functions in living organisms.
Due to its role in energy production, creatine may protect against neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease, brain trauma, epilepsy, and ischemic stroke. Furthermore, it may slow down their progression, especially when combined with other therapies.
In one study, strength training combined with creatine supplementation improved daily function, muscle strength, and endurance in subjects with Parkinson’s disease to a greater extent than weight training alone.
Another study has found that men who took creatine and engaged in aerobic training experienced greater improvements in glucose metabolism than those who didn’t use this supplement.
As WebMD points out, low creatine levels in the brain can impair mental function and contribute to seizures, movement disorders, and even autism.
In clinical trials, creatine supplementation enhanced mental performance, language skills, and attention in children with diseases affecting the body’s ability to produce this compound.
Creatine Fuels Your Muscles
Creatine plays a key role in energy production and muscle function.
According to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN), this supplement may improve recovery time, training adaptations, athletic performance, and more.
Its mechanism of action is extremely complex, so we’ll try to keep it simple. Creatine supports ATP production and hence provides energy to your cells and muscles, especially during short bursts of intense exercises, such as weight lifting, HIIT, and sprinting.
It also protects the heart and brain and may reduce injury risk.
Creatine supplements increase the body’s phosphocreatine stores. As a result, it stimulates protein synthesis, reduces protein breakdown and prevents ATP depletion.
This facilitates hypertrophy and muscle repair while decreasing fatigue. Basically, you’ll find it easier to build mass and workout out harder for a longer time without feeling tired.
According to an older study featured in the Journal of Applied Physiology, taking just 20 grams of creatine per day for six weeks can elevate phosphocreatine stores by up to 20 percent.
This naturally occurring compound also increases the water content in muscles. That’s why most guys who take creatine look bigger from one day to the next.
At the same time, it boosts muscle fiber size and promotes muscle growth. It’s interesting to note that creatine has a positive impact on both fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers.
Creatine supplementation improves muscle function via four mechanisms:
- Elevates phosphocreatine stores, leading to increased energy production
- Accelerates phosphocreatine re-synthesis after exercise
- Boosts glycogen and water storage in the muscles
- Reduces lactate accumulation
How Creatine Boosts Athletic Performance
Now that you know how creatine works to build muscle, it’s easy to understand its appeal. But what can you expect in terms of exercise performance?
As the International Society of Sports Nutrition notes, creatine supplements may help athletes lift heavier, recover faster from injury, and perform better at their sport of choice.
Furthermore, these products may reduce the severity of injuries.
About 15 to 40% of athletes and military personally use creatine, report the JISSN. And it makes perfect sense if you think about its potential benefits.
This supplement helps your muscles retain water and glycogen, leading to greater energy and reduced recovery time between workouts. Additionally, it helps reduce muscle damage, cramping, soreness, fatigue, dehydration, and other factors that can negatively affect athletic performance.
For example, researchers reviewed 250 studies on bodybuilding supplements and concluded that creatine and HMB were the most effective. In clinical trials, creatine doubled the amount of mass that subjects gained on a weekly basis.
Furthermore, it doesn’t cause adverse reactions. HMB, on the other hand, led to an increase in total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and blood pressure.
In another study, men who took creatine and engaged in heavy resistance training for 12 weeks experienced a 35% increase in type I muscle fibers, a 36% increase in IIA muscle fibers and a 35 percent increase in IIB muscle fibers.
Their bench press one-rep max increased by 34% and squat one-rep max by 32%. None of them experienced side effects. The placebo group had significantly smaller gains.
As you can see, current evidence confirms the safety and efficacy of creatine. In fact, this is the most studied sports supplement available today. Not all types of creatine are created equal, though.
And we’re not talking just about the different brands out there.
Most Popular Types of Creatine and What They Do
Things were quite simple back in the Golden Era. Athletes only had access to a small variety of protein powders, creatine formulas, and amino acids.
Today, there are thousands of products on the market, and each comes in dozens of flavors, varieties, and strengths.
Let’s take protein powder, for example.
There is whey isolate, whey concentrate, hydrolyzed whey, soy protein, pea protein, hemp protein, and everything in between. These can be further broken down into slow- and fast-digesting protein, natural and organic protein, and so on.
The same goes for creatine. Several varieties exist, from creatine monohydrate to creatine AKG and pH-buffered creatine. Here are some examples:
- Creatine monohydrate
- Micronized creatine
- Creatine citrate
- Liquid creatine
- Creatine nitrate
- Ethyl ester malate
- Creatine gluconate
- Buffered creatine
- Creatine magnesium chelate
- Creatine malate
- Conjugated creatine
- Creatine ethyl ester
- Creatine AKG
Feeling confused? We totally get it. Luckily, a little research is all it takes to narrow down your options. While it’s great to have so many choices, only a few are worth considering.
The question is: what’s true and what’s hype? Is there any actual difference between the various types of creatine? Let’s find out!
1. Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine monohydrate is the most researched and perhaps the most effective type of creatine available. It’s also the form that has been used in most clinical trials.
The above studies were conducted on this supplement, so any potential benefits of creatine can be attributed to this formula. Creatine monohydrate is proven to increase lean mass and muscle power output, leading to enhanced physical performance.
Except for minor side effects, such as bloating, nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramping, there are no known adverse reactions. If you do experience bloating and digestive discomfort, take several small doses throughout the day rather than one large dose.
Another cool thing about creatine monohydrate is its low price tag. This supplement is a lot more affordable than creatine AKG, micronized creatine, and other “cutting-edge” products that lack scientific support.
Classic Creatine from Old School Labs is formulated with the highest quality creatine monohydrate. It mixes easily and contains no additives or fillers.
Each scoop delivers 5 grams of creatine. We recommend taking either one serving daily or one serving four times a day for one week followed by a 5-gram daily maintenance dose.
The latter option is known as “creatine loading” and allows your muscles to store this nutrient at a faster rate, so you’ll get better results in less time. Drink plenty of water to fully reap the benefits.
2. Buffered Creatine
Kre-Alkalyn and other buffered creatine brands were all the rage a few years ago. What makes this product different from creatine monohydrate is its higher pH. Manufacturers say that it’s easier on the stomach and more alkaline and that it’s not broken down into creatine as other formulas.
The few studies available show no major differences between creatine monohydrate and buffered creatine. In a clinical trial, resistance-trained subjects who took buffered creatine had the same results as those using the monohydrate form.
3. Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE)
This formula is thought to be better absorbed and produce less water retention than creatine monohydrate. The evidence is mixed, though.
4. Creatine HCl
Manufacturers say that creatine hydrochloride (HCl) absorbs more efficiently in the muscles, which eliminates the need for loading and reduces the serving size needed to get results.
While it sounds good on paper, there isn’t enough evidence to support these claims.
Our team has compared creatine monohydrate and creatine hydrochloride to help you make an informed decision. Check out our guide to see what these formulas have in common and which one works best.
5. Creatine Gluconate
This formula is designed to increase creatine uptake and improve intestinal absorption. As the researchers note, its safety and efficacy require further investigation.
To date, no studies have been published to validate its mechanism of action.
6. Creatine Malate
Malate is said to be more soluble in water. While this might be true, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it works better.
A study published in Physiological Research assessed its effects on mice. The creatine malate group experienced an increase in swimming time, which indicates that this formula may enhance stamina and endurance. However, it’s unclear how these findings translate to humans.
Another study, which was featured in the journal Acta Physiologica Hungarica, has found that creatine malate increased power and total work output as well as growth hormone levels in sprinters within six weeks.
Long-distance runners only experienced an increase in the distance covered during the test.
These results look promising, but more research is needed to confirm the efficacy of creatine malate.
7. Micronized Creatine
This formula contains creatine monohydrate that has been micronized (broken into smaller particles) to improve its solubility and absorption rate.
Therefore, it produces the same results as regular creatine, but it’s less likely to cause bloating and digestive discomfort.
The downside is that it comes with a higher price tag, which may not be worth it. However, if you have a sensitive stomach, micronized creatine could be an option.
8. Creatine Citrate
With its high solubility and absorption rates, creatine citrate is gentler on the digestive system. Unfortunately, it’s also more expensive and requires a larger dose than creatine monohydrate.
A four-week study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition has found that both creatine citrate and creatine pyruvate improved workout performance in young athletes. The latter appears to be more effective for overall endurance.
Athletes who took creatine citrate experienced significant improvements in power and force at the beginning of their workout, but the effects wore off during the later intervals.
Another study has found no major differences in absorption between creatine citrate and monohydrate.
Unlock Your Full Training Potential with Creatine Monohydrate
These are just a few of the many types of creatine available.
All in all, consider creatine monohydrate your best bet. It has been clinically proven to ignite muscle growth and boost athletic performance, regardless of age or fitness level.
On top of that, it’s safe and has little or no side effects.
We designed a 3-in-1 muscle builder, Vintage Build™, that utilizes creatine monohydrate alongside BCAAs and L-Glutamine to be the perfect supplement to improve strength and speed up recovery post-workout.
Don’t forget to check out our guide to the best sports supplements for your age and workout goals.
After reading about the different types of creatine and what they do, you probably have some questions. Let us know in the comments below!
We’ll help you figure out which supplements are worth considering and which ones are just hype.