Author: James O’Sullivan • Fact checked by: Gainful Registered Dietitians • May 19, 2022
If you’re someone who regularly hits the gym, you probably are somewhat familiar with creatine. Creatine is one of the most popular — if not the most popular — supplement for gym-goers looking for a performance boost.
Creatine is best known for its muscle-building benefits. It’s suggested to help increase muscle mass, aids in short energy bursts and allows the muscles to efficiently recover post-workout.
There are two popular forms of creatine: Creatine hydrochloride (HCL), and creatine monohydrate. So what’s the difference between these two types? Which one is better for your goals?
Below, we’ll answer all of your creatine Qs and help you determine which type of creatine supplement is best for you.
Creatine is an amino acid that can help to support muscle strength, short energy bursts, muscle recovery and improvements in body composition. It is made in the body starting in the kidneys and completing in the liver. The three amino acids that make creatine are glycine, arginine and methionine. The skeletal muscle stores creatine made by the body; in fact, per the Cleveland Clinic, about 95% of creatine is stored in the skeletal muscle of your body.
Creatine isn’t stored in your skeletal muscle for long, however: Although the body produces creatine naturally, it’s excreted daily.
To make up for that lost creatine, you can consume foods like beef, chicken, milk and cheese that have creatine, but the dose in these foods is very small. Due to the consistent excretion and the lack of creatine in most foods, many people find it’s better or simply easier to supplement creatine. Typically, the people who choose to supplement creatine are people who work out regularly and are looking for greater gains in lean body mass, muscle strength and power for their resistance, interval and strength training workouts.
To make creatine supplements, sarcosine (an amino acid derivative) and cyanamide (an organic compound) are combined with other catalyst compounds to form creatine crystals. The creatine crystals are vacuum-dried and milled into an extremely fine powder that dissolves easily. The differences between creatine HCL supplements and creatine monohydrate supplements are not something you can spot with the naked eye — the differences between these two types exist at a molecular level. While physically, creatine HCL supplements and creatine monohydrate supplements look basically the same, they have major differences when it comes to how the body absorbs and utilizes them.
There are a few key differences when it comes to creatine monohydrate vs creatine HCL.
Creatine monohydrate is typically made with a creatine molecule and a water molecule. This combination brings more water into the muscle, allowing it to quickly increase in size. Creatine monohydrate works best when a person incorporates a loading phase into their routine. A popular way to use creatine is through what is known as “creatine loading.” This involves taking 20–25 grams of creatine monohydrate every day, split into 4–5 equal doses for 5–7 days. The purpose of loading is to saturate your muscle cells with creatine quicker so that you can experience its benefits sooner. To experience the effects of creatine, your muscles must be fully saturated with it, which typically takes 5–7 days of loading. You need to take creatine monohydrate close to the time of your workout and consume daily creatine doses with a carbohydrate and protein to reap the performance benefits. (To really load the muscles with creatine and load the tendons with collagen at the same time, consider taking a combination of creatine monohydrate and collagen before your workout.)
Creatine HCL, on the other hand, is made up of a creatine molecule with hydrochloride attached. The hydrochloride significantly enhances water solubility and absorption. Because creatine HCL has greater solubility, you can take a smaller dose of creatine HCL than you would have to take with creatine monohydrate to see the same results: muscle growth, strength gains and lean mass gains. The attached HCL also makes the creatine molecule more stable. With increased stability, a loading phase isn’t as crucial.
Although creatine HCL works faster and requires smaller doses for big results, there are many benefits to supplementing with creatine monohydrate over creatine HCL. Creatine monohydrate is a creatine that’s made for all types of athletes. It’s not just for bodybuilders looking for major gains. Research shows creatine monohydrate supplementation is beneficial for many different fitness goals. The versatile boost in energy from creatine supports muscle strength and short energy bursts and aids in recovery — perks that any person who works out could benefit from. Creatine monohydrate has also been extensively studied for much longer. While taking micro doses or relatively few grams of creatine HCL is widely considered safe, it hasn’t been studied as thoroughly as creatine monohydrate.
Gainful offers a Creatine Performance Boost that is a creatine monohydrate. The science-backed, mono nutrient which also supports high-intensity training and energy production needed to help beginner and advanced athletes alike reach their next personal best.
We can say with confidence that this creatine isn’t just for bodybuilders; in fact, the Gainful Creatine Performance Boost is recommended for endurance athletes, too.
(And remember how we said taking a combination of creatine monohydrate and collagen before your workouts effectively loads the muscles and the tendons? Gainful also offers a Collagen Performance Boost that pairs together perfectly with the Creatine Performance Boost.)
Chances are, you’ve experienced that dreaded post-workout lactic acid buildup and soreness — but creatine supplementation serves as a solution.
The major benefit of supplementing with creatine is the energy it gives your muscles. Creatine enhances energy production in your cells. The most basic form of energy in cells is adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This is what your cells use to perform their various functions. ATP depletes quickly during exercise, but creatine helps replenish ATP. The more creatine you have for your body to use, the more energy your muscle cells have for exercise as well as for recovery after your workout.
Creatine helps athletes of all levels achieve a variety of fitness goals, from gaining muscle to maintaining weight loss. Creatine-saturated muscles enhance sports performance, especially for activities involving repeated high-intensity exercises. (Think basketball, soccer, ski racing, kickboxing, football, etc.) Supplementing with creatine increases the water content of your muscles. The water retention allows the muscle to quickly increase in sizeIt also gives athletes energy for sprints or surges in endurance events where he or she wants to break away from the pack.
In addition to its performance-related benefits, other benefits of creatine include a boost in brain health protection and cognitive processing. Researchers have found that creatine supplementation may help with both Huntington’s disease, which involves nerve cell breakdown in the brain, and Parkinson’s disease, which involves reduced levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in your brain. A dramatic reduction in dopamine levels leads to brain cell death and symptoms such as tremors, speech impairment and loss of muscle function. A study of mice with Parkinson’s disease showed that creatine was able to effectively prevent 90% of the typical drop in dopamine levels (however, more research is needed in humans to prove it has the same effect on the human brain). Additionally, another study found that humans with Parkinson’s disease who simultaneously weight trained and supplemented with creatine had significantly improved strength and brain function compared to individuals with Parkinson’s disease who only weight trained without supplementing creatine.
Additional research in animals suggests that taking creatine supplements may help treat Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, ischemic stroke, brain injuries and spinal cord injuries. Creatine may also help lower blood sugar levels after meals, and creatine supplements are beneficial for people who don’t eat foods that contain creatine, such as vegetarians and vegans. Those following vegetarian or vegan diets typically don’t consume enough creatine and are at risk for low creatine levels in the muscle; creatine supplementation takes care of that issue.
Creatine does have a bit of a bad reputation due to some of its reported side effects. The most common side effect of creatine is bloating, cramps and stomach discomfort/upset stomach. People who use creatine but don’t engage in regular or intense physical activity may find taking high amounts of creatine HCL or creatine monohydrate leads to weight gain or a bloated appearance. Some people also (incorrectly) believe that creatine is an anabolic steroid; however, the International Society of Sports Nutrition and the International Olympic Committee not only regard creatine as extremely safe, they also note that creatine is one of the most beneficial sports supplements available on the market for lean muscle mass.
When it comes to avoiding unwanted side effects, the ingredients used in your creatine formula can make all the difference. Gainful’s Creatine Performance Boost is sifted through a very fine sieve, which means that the particles will dissolve and absorb easier than most creatine supplements. The Creatine Performance Boost’s supreme absorbency along with its vegan, keto, paleo, non-GMO, cGMP, gluten-free, no sugar added, HPLC-tested, micronized formula is what allows Gainful’s creatine to stand out among the rest. Because the ingredients in Gainful’s Creatine Performance Boost are clean, users find they are better able to avoid unwanted side effects.
Think your fitness regimen could benefit from creatine, or thinking about making a switch from creatine HCL to creatine monohydrate? Take the first step in figuring this out by taking Gainful’s quiz.
Based on your answers to a few expert-created questions, Gainful’s team can help determine if creatine monohydrate is right for you. The quiz helps us create your complete sports nutrition system, which includes a Personalized Protein Blend as well as Personalized Pre-Workout and Personalized Hydration formulas. Every product is made with ingredients that are added specifically for your needs, and our experts take every dietary restriction and preference into consideration.
You’ll find that Gainful’s Creatine formula is impressively versatile. You can add it to a drink made with your Personalized Protein Blend, your Hydration formula or your Pre-Workout. You can also sprinkle the Gainful Creatine Performance Boost over food — it is completely tasteless. People typically mix powdered creatine supplements in with their protein shake or other fluids to create a drink that gives their muscles a boost and supports effective muscle recovery.
In summary: Creatine is easy to incorporate into a fitness regimen, and it can benefit all types of athletes — including (possibly) you. Take the quiz today and see if creatine is that performance edge you need to reach your goals and take your fitness journey to the next level.
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