Creatine is widely used among athletes. In fact, it is one of the most popular supplements in the United States. However — when purchasing creatine — it’s important to remember that every creatine supplement is different. There are also many kinds of creatine, with creatine HCL and creatine monohydrate being the most popular.
So, what is the difference between creatine HCL vs. monohydrate?
In short, creatine monohydrate is considered the original creatine that athletes have been using for years. Creatine HCL is newer on the market and promises to offer enhanced benefits.
But, is one really superior to the other?
In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of creatine and compare creatine monohydrate vs. HCL.
- Creatine is one of the most popular supplements among athletes. It helps build muscle mass, accelerates muscle growth, and improves exercise performance. Best of all, it is clinically proven to be completely safe for most healthy adults.
- Creatine monohydrate has hundreds of peer-reviewed studies to support its effectiveness. It is still considered the most superior form of creatine on the market today.
- Research surrounding other forms of creatine remains limited, making it difficult to consider other forms of creatine superior at this time.
BENEFITS OF CREATINE SUPPLEMENTS
Creatine is not only safe, but it’s one of the most popular and effective supplements used by athletes to increase strength and muscle.
So, how does it work?
Creatine works by increasing phosphocreatine stores in your muscle cells. Phosphocreatine is what helps form adenosine triphosphate (ATP), or energy.
During intense exercise, ATP is broken down faster than your body can regenerate it. This can prohibit you from performing at maximum intensity.
Taking creatine supplements increases your phosphocreatine stores, allowing your body to produce more ATP and continuously fuel your muscles. This can improve athletic performance and allow you to push through high-intensity exercise.
Creatine is also the most effective supplement for muscle building.
Initially, it increases the water content of the muscles, making them appear larger. As you continue to use creatine, it can enhance muscle fiber growth. This leads to increased muscle mass and new muscle growth.
Not only does creatine increase muscle growth, but it also does it very quickly.
Research suggests that taking creatine supplements for just 5 to 7 days can lead to significant improvements in muscle mass in addition to lean body mass.
THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN HCL AND MONOHYDRATE
Now that you’re aware of the benefits of creatine supplements, it’s time to discuss everything you need to know about creatine HCL vs. monohydrate.
WHAT IS CREATINE MONOHYDRATE?
Creatine monohydrate is what you can consider the “original” form of creatine.
It’s also the most extensively studied form. Similar to creatine supplements, creatine monohydrate is synthetic or man-made.
Creatine monohydrate is made using a creatine molecule and a water molecule. It is about 88% creatine by weight. There are several different ways creatine monohydrate can be produced. The most popular subform of creatine monohydrate is called micronized creatine. This type of creatine has undergone additional processing to improve its water solubility. Hypothetically speaking, improved water solubility could help your body’s ability to absorb it. However, more studies are needed.
An overwhelming number of scientific studies support the effectiveness of creatine monohydrate.
It is known for its ability to increase water retention in the muscles. Creatine monohydrate is the most effective nutritional supplement available to athletes to help increase high-intensity exercise capacity and lean body mass during training.
For example, one study published by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that users who take creatine monohydrate often gain twice as much body and fat-free mass compared to those who do not take it. This is equivalent to an additional 2 to 4 pounds during 4 to 12 weeks of training.
WHAT IS CREATINE HCL?
Creatine HCL, also known as creatine hydrochloride, is one of the newer forms of creatine available on the market. It is about 72% creatine by weight and exists as a creatine molecule bound with hydrochloric acid.
The purpose behind adding a hydrochloric acid molecule to creatine molecules is to help creatine dissolve faster.
In fact, one study published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements found that creatine HCL is 38 times more soluble than creatine monohydrate. However, we need additional studies to confirm this. In theory, the increased solubility means that it may also result in minimal water retention.
The attached hydrochloric acid molecule also makes creatine more stable. This is why no loading phase is required with creatine HCL vs. monohydrate.
So, how effective is creatine HCL?
The problem is that creatine HCL is new, so very little research is available. One study from 2020 compared creatine HCL vs. monohydrate among a group of 36 healthy adults. Participants were given either 3 grams of creatine HCL or 20 grams of creatine monohydrate. Physical performance values were collected on day one and at the end of 6 months after supplementation with HCL or monohydrate.
Researchers concluded that 3 grams of creatine HCL did not lead to improved performance or hormonal changes compared to creatine monohydrate.
Although research is limited, it appears creatine HCL may be as effective as creatine monohydrate. However, creatine HCL often comes with a much higher price tag and long term side effects are unknown.
Creatine monohydrate wins. It is the superior choice due to the amount of research and studies performed on the supplement. There are hundreds of peer-reviewed studies on the effectiveness and safety surrounding taking creatine monohydrate.
In contrast, there’s minimal research on creatine hydrochloride. Although some research suggests that it may be able to enter cells more quickly, we still need more research to suggest before considering it a more effective, superior supplement. Plus, due to the lack of studies, we can’t say for certain that it is safe.
FORMS OF CREATINE SUPPLEMENTS
- Creatine Citrate
- Creatine Malate
- Creatine Magnesium Chelate
- Buffered Creatine
- Creatine Ethyl Ester
As we’ve mentioned, supplemental creatine comes in many different forms. Though we won’t go too in-depth, it’s worth touching on. Let’s briefly discuss the other forms of creatine supplements you may find.
CREATINE CITRATE: this form binds creatine with citrate to attempt to increase absorption. Although it’s more water-soluble than creatine monohydrate, there’s no evidence that it is better absorbed or effective.
CREATINE MALATE: this form of creatine binds creatine with malic acid, which may improve endurance.
CREATINE MAGNESIUM CHELATE: this is created by binding creatine with magnesium, which is thought to increase absorption and limit water retention.
BUFFERED CREATINE: adds a buffer such as baking soda, which may help improve absorption and endurance. However, no studies show it to be superior to creatine monohydrate.
CREATINE ETHYL ESTER: although some studies suggest this form may be better absorbed, there is no research to suggest this.
As you can see, there are no other forms of creatine on the market at this time that are scientifically proven to be superior to creatine monohydrate.
Additionally, you may notice creatine capsules, ready-to-drink beverages, and powders being sold. While these may seem like easy and convenient options, powder form is the best because it allows users to get the appropriate dosage.
You also want to choose a creatine monohydrate powder free of unnecessary additives, artificial ingredients, and fillers.
CREATINE SAFETY AND DOSAGES
Years ago, creatine use was a topic of debate. There were claims that creatine supplementation caused hair loss, weight gain, and kidney disease. However, none of these claims were ever backed by solid scientific evidence.
Creatine is safe and well-tolerated in most healthy adults.
The best way to benign using creatine is by starting with a loading phase. During a creatine load, you will consume a large amount of creatine in a short period of time. This helps to keep your muscle stores saturated.
To do this, you’ll need to take a total of 20-25 grams per day, broken down into 5-gram servings throughout the day. Continue for around five days.
After the loading phase is over, you’ll switch to a maintenance dose of 2-10 grams per day.
If you choose not to do a loading phase, you should consume between 3-5 grams of creatine each day.
No matter what, be sure to continue creatine supplementation even on rest days. This allows your muscles to stay saturated and helps you reach peak potential.