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Creatine vs Creatine: What's the Best?

Posted on September 15, 2020

Creatine vs Creatine: What's the Best?Dividerimage


Hitting the shelves of stores around the world in the early 1990s, Creatine quickly grew in popularity to become one of the most well-known sports nutrition supplements today.


Creatine is found in a wide range of products, including pre-workouts, mass gainer protein powders, amino acid growth formulas and in pure powder form. It is generally taken to improve athletic performance for power sports and exercises, and to increase lean muscle mass.


However, evidence is emerging to support creatine's use for many non-traditional uses, including neurodegenerative diseases, fibromyalgia, adolescent depression and osteoarthritis.


Creatine supplementation offers a number of physiological  benefits. According to Paul Greenhaff, a professor at the University of Nottingham who specialises in muscle metabolism, "Creatine supplementation increases the rate of water uptake by muscle cells, allowing for faster protein synthesis."


This particular function of creatine puts it alongside other nutrients, such as glycerol and electrolytes, in that they help to keep muscle cells hydrated.


But this isn't all creatine does ...


When creatine is taken orally in micronized monohydrate form, close to 100% is absorbed. Much of it enters muscle cells where around 2/3 is converted to phosphocreatine, a high-energy oxygen-independent molecule. The other 1/3 remains inside the muscle as free creatine.




What Does Creatine Supplementation do?

Phosphocreatine is used for the anaerobic creation of ATP, an energy source used to a greater degree by the body for short-duration, high-intensity exercise such as sprinting and low repetition weight-lifting.


Creatine assists with strength and power, and reduces recovery time between sets during these activities. Recently, a study published by Mills et al in 2020 in Nutrients indicated that supplementation enhanced leg press, chest press, total body strength and leg press endurance in young physically active adults.


Creatine supplements are most effective in those engaged in exercises that last up to three minutes. As a basic rule of thumb, the shorter the duration of the effort, the more benefit that will be attained from supplementation with this nutrient.


However, research is beginning to hint at benefits for endurance athletes, and those engaged in sports involving intermittent bouts of explosive power, such as soccer. The endurance benefit may be derived from creatine's ability to hyper-hydrate, much like glycerol, allowing cells to retain more fluid and prevent heat-stress or heat intolerance.


Creatine Monohydrate Benefits

According to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2017 Creatine Position Stand
Boost Sprint Performance.

Increase Muscle Contraction Efforts.

Enhance Strength Adaptations.

Increase Muscle Mass.

Support Muscle Glycogen Replenishment.

May Increase Aerobic Work Capacity.

Boost Recovery.

Increase Training Tolerance.


Vegan and vegetarian diets do not contain creatine, with evidence showing that muscle levels are lower than omnivores. This suggests that a greater benefit will be derived from creatine supplementation by vegans and vegetarians. Food sources of creatine are muscle meats, including red meat and seafood, which provide around 1-2 grams per day.




It's worth noting that the human body produces around 1 gram per day as well, synthesized from glycine, with a requirement also for arginine and methionine. So as long as your diet contains adequate quality protein, whether it's pure vegan or plant-based, your body will synthesize some of its own creatine.


Creatine has also been shown to boost intelligence, working memory and support mood in unipolar depression. However, creatine supplementation could potentially trigger mania in bipolar (manic) depression by increasing S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) availability, a natural by-product of the one-carbon cycle that is known to exacerbate this condition.


Given that creatine supplementation has been around for decades, there were always going to be some interesting product takes on this nutrient.


But do the new fandangled creatine formulations of an age-old nutrient actually offer any extra benefit?


Or are they just expensive and unnecessary iterations, designed to pump up credit card debt rather than your muscles?


It can be a disheartening process when on the hunt for scientific evidence in favour of a nutrient, as often marketing hype extends well beyond the evidence base.


Before we take a look at the published research relating to individual forms of creatine, let's check out an ideal supplementation protocol.


Micronized Creatine Monohydrate

Supplementation Protocol

 from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2017 Creatine Position Stand


Loading Phase: 5g taken four times daily for 7 days, or 0.3g/kg of ideal bodyweight daily for 7 days. Larger athletes training heavily may need up to 10-30g daily for 7 days to optimise muscle creatine levels. To maximise muscle uptake even further, consume each creatine dose with up to four times the amount of carbohydrate, such as dextrose (glucose), maltodextrin, fruit, baked potato or white rice.


Maintenance Phase: 3-5g Daily, though larger athletes training heavily may need 5-10g daily or more. Ideally, consume with carbohydrate.


It typically takes around 4-6 weeks for muscle creatine levels to reduce back to normal once creatine supplementation is stopped. There is no evidence to suggest that endogenous creatine synthesis falls below a normal baseline after creatine supplementation cessation.


1) Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine monohydrate is a well-established creatine supplementation option, due to its scientific scrutiny over decades now with the publication of hundreds of clinical trials, if not thousands.


Optimum-Nutrition-Micronised-Creatine-600g.jpgThere is certainly adequate evidence to show that creatine monohydrate is both safe and effective at improving exercise performance and increasing lean muscle mass. 


Multiple studies have shown that creatine monohydrate increases the levels of phosphocreatine within muscles, where an average 70kg person stores around 120-140 grams.


When it comes to clinical research, almost every scientist examining the effectiveness of this nutrient uses creatine monohydrate, which may or may not be micronised.


The sizeable bulk of evidence for creatine supplementation is in monohydrate form. As the old adage goes if it ain't broke don't fix it. And it definitely ain't broke.


Creatine Monohydrate is backed by perhaps more scientific research than any other ergogenic and lean muscle mass aid.


2) Micronised Creatine Monohydrate

Micronised Creatine Monohydrate is simply creatine monohydrate that has passed through a fine mesh in order to create a smaller particle size.


This leads to better solubility in water, which should lead to increased absorption rates, and more of this tripeptide finding its way to skeletal muscle tissue.


Micronised Creatine Monohydrate mixes more efficiently in water too, meaning less ends up hanging around at the bottom of the glass or shaker after the beverage is finished.


This gives Micronised Creatine Monohydrate an advantage over regular creatine monohydrate.


3) Creatine Nitrate

This creatine supplement contains creatine combined with nitrate to form a salt. As a nitrate salt, creatine nitrate is more water-soluble than some other formulations.


The manufacturers of creatine nitrate supplements claim that the addition of nitrate allows for production of nitric oxide. In the body, nitric oxide stimulates the dilation of blood vessels, which may lead to greater uptake of creatine by muscles and improved athletic performance.


They also maintain that a loading phase is not required. However, the limited research carried out on this form of creatine suggests that it is no more effective than creatine monohydrate.


Research indicates that 3 grams of creatine nitrate was as effective as 3 grams of creatine monohydrate regarding performance benefits.


Given that part of the creatine nitrate molecule is composed of nitrate, it is likely that a higher dosage can be used to attain maximal benefit, or perhaps taken in conjunction with creatine monohydrate.


For instance, 3 grams of creatine nitrate and 3 grams of micronised creatine monohydrate as an on-going maintenance supplement might work well, theoretically.


4) Tri-Creatine Malate

Tri-creatine malate is made up of three creatine molecules bonded with a single molecule of malic acid.


Malic acid is an important component of the Krebs cycle, an intermediary step in the synthesis of ATP. The manufacturer's claim an increased effectiveness from this formulation due to the added effects of malic acid.


Again, the impact of the malic acid is unknown at present on athletes and sports persons. However, research indicates that malic acid may benefit fibromyalgia sufferers by reducing pain and tenderness indices of the muscle.


5) Creatine HCL

Creatine HCL, or creatine hydrochloride, is a relative newcomer on the market. Patented in 2009, this formulation is the hydrochloride salt of creatine.


creatines-aint-creatines.jpgManufactured by ProMera Health, and marketed as Con-Cret, its main benefit is an increased solubility in water, which allows the supplement to function at a lower dose than other less-soluble alternatives.


One study found that it had a 59-fold increase in water-solubility over creatine monohydrate. However, this study was commissioned by the manufacturer, and is somewhat of a conflict of interest.


In addition, absorption rates are already close to 100% with creatine monohydrate, meaning that water solubility may not be as important as we think.


According to ProMera Health, the increase water solubility of creatine HCL means that it does not require a loading phase. However, loading phases are not absolutely essential for any form of creatine.


They are simply a means of maximising muscle creatine content faster. Regular doses taken over a slightly longer period of time, of any form of creatine, will eventually achieve the same muscle creatine level.  


Much more independent research is required on this form of creatine before any definitive statements can be made regarding its efficacy.


6) Kre-Alkalyn

Kre-Alkalyn is the trademarked name of a buffered creatine monohydrate supplement. The manufacturers claim that this formulation allows for greater retention of creatine by the body, together with fewer side-effects and a lower required dose.


However, these claims may not be accurate, as at least one study has found that buffered creatine supplements provide no benefits above and beyond those of standard creatine monohydrate.


It is also interesting to note that creatine monohydrate has a neutral pH of 7, as reported in the scientific journal Amino Acids, 2017.Therefore supplementation of the standard form of creatine will not significantly alter the pH of the body. The pH inside of the muscle cell is approximately 7.2 anyway, slightly more alkaline than the pH 7 of creatine.


Creatine-Clinical Trial.png

 7) Creatine Ethyl Ester

A comprehensive clinical trial was undertaken comparing this form of creatine with creatine monohydrate, and published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2009.


Subjects were supplemented with 20 grams of either creatine ethyl ester or creatine monohydrate, with serum and muscle levels (via biopsy) monitored, as was exercise level and dietary intake. The researchers found that creatine ethyl ester significantly increased serum creatinine, a waste product of creatine.


Furthermore, Creatine Ethyl Ester did not positively impact muscle creatine levels anywhere close to creatine monohydrate.


Unfortunately, this means creatine ethyl ester is likely broken down in the GI tract to creatinine, making creatine monohydrate clearly the more beneficial form of this nutrient.




Creatine supplements are a helpful passport increased athletic performance and muscle gains. However, the right product certainly help, particularly for people not consuming red meat or seafood on a regular basis.


Creatine can also give power athletes and weightlifters the small improvements they need in order to succeed in competition, or to push through plateaus in training.


There are countless creatine products available on the market today, which, unsurprisingly, has led to a great amount of consumer confusion, particularly regarding product claims and formulation differences.


It's those glossy creatine products with cool-looking charts showing how much they're going to grow that are hard to overlook, right?


The main differences tend to relate to whether the product is micronized or not, and whether creatine is bonded to another molecule, such as  malic acid or nitrate. However, the original creatine monohydrate, preferably micronised, some 30 years after entering the market, is still a market leader based on efficacy, safety and value for money.




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