Why Creatine Monohydrate stands above the rest?

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Creatine monohydrate is one of the most popular supplements on the market. And with great reason.

A relatively low cost supplement, it also boasts more peer-reviewed research proving its safety and effectiveness at increasing strength and muscle mass than any other supplement.

Despite creatine monohydrate’s proven track record, other types of creatine do exist, and the companies who sell them work hard to market their product as even better than the tried and true creatine monohydrate.

More effective, safer and more bioavailable are three of the common claims various creatine companies tell the consumer about their product. Ironically—or perhaps not so ironically—these other types of creatine generally derive from creatine monohydrate, yet they usually cost a lot more.

Truth:

More often than not, other types of creatine on the market have less research backing their claims than creatine monohydrate, especially when it comes to both their value and their safety. As a result, researchers have expressed their concern over the rise of new creatine forms (1). Let’s take a look both the marketing and the research behind various creatine types: Do any of them offer value enough to trump creatine monohydrate, or is creatine monohydrate still the king of sports supplements?

Creatine Hydrochloride/HCL

THE MARKETING CLAIMS:

Claims to be more soluble in water and therefore more permeable to the intestines (11), which should lead to more absorption and less stomach distress and bloating. (12)

THE RESEARCH:

While researchers found creatine hydrochloride to improve body composition with training when compared to creatine monohydrate, the sample size was incredibly small (6 subjects) (12). Further, these same researchers found no difference between the two types of creatine when testing their effects on gaining strength on bench press and leg press.

Creatine Pyruvate

THE MARKETING CLAIMS:

Some research suggests combining creatine with an acid, such as pyruvic acid, can boost endurance exercise capacity, allegedly beneficial to athletes participating in sports that demand both endurance and high intensity exercise (13). Also, there have been claims made that this type of creatine is associated with a higher rate of absorption than creatine monohydrate (14).

THE RESEARCH:

The research is both limited and conflicted. Some studies have found no improvements associated with increased performance when taking 7g per day (15), while others found improvements taking 7.5g per day (1). Ultimately, the research that has compared it to creatine monohydrate have found it to be less effective at improving body composition and strength measures (16).

Buffered Creatine (Kre-Alkalyn)

THE MARKETING CLAIMS:

Buffered creatine is creatine monohydrate buffered to a higher (more alkaline) pH to help protect it from being broken down by stomach acid. Various buffered creatine brands also claim it has greater bioavailability, and is up to 10 times more powerful as creatine monohydrate (10). Some supplement companies have cited research studies to back these claims - albeit unpublished ones (10).

THE RESEARCH:

A study by Jagim et al. (2012) found that buffered creatine was not as effective as creatine monohydrate at raising creatine levels in the muscle, neither at the manufacturer-suggested dose (1.5g per day) or at a dose to match creatine monohydrate (5g per day). They also found no difference in self-reported side-effects.

Creatine Serum

THE MARKETING CLAIMS:

Marketing often says creatine serum gets absorbed in a way that bypasses the digestive process, meaning it’s supposedly more bioavailable in the muscle (2).

THE RESEARCH:

Creatine serum has been shown to be very unstable prior to ingestion, and breaks down into creatinine—a metabolite of creatine—before your bod gets a chance to break it down. Researchers have also found that creatine serum has no impact on creatine in the blood (2). This raises the question, is it actually more bioavailable or readily absorbed? This research also showed that creatine serum was not better than creatine monohydrate at increasing creatine content in the muscle.

Creatine Ethyl Ether

THE MARKETING CLAIMS:

Brands claim that creatine’s chemical composition can actually limit bioavailability. They suggest that this form of creatine makes it easier to both absorb and transport to the muscle (4).

THE RESEARCH:

Research also found that creatine ethyl ether was rapidly degraded in stomach acid (5, 6). Furthermore, researchers concluded that creatine ethyl ether was not better than creatine monohydrate or even maltodextrose at improving body composition, and attributed most changes in strength to the training program itself (4).

Creatine Nitrate

THE MARKETING CLAIMS:

Manufacturers claim that creatine nitrate dissolves better and that it can increase creatine in the muscle at lower doses than creatine monohydrate (7). They also claim that the added nitrate can help improve endurance capacity (8, 9).

THE RESEARCH:

Researchers found no difference between the suggested creatine nitrate loading scheme or in double the loading scheme versus a 3g-per-day loading scheme of creatine monohydrate. Researchers went on to mention that the reason they found no difference may be because they did not use the standard creatine monohydrate dosage of 5g per day. While researchers did suggest there may be a mechanism whereby creatine and nitrate work together, they highlighted that more research is needed (7).

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Research references

1. Jager et al. (2011): Analysis of the Efficacy, Safety, and Regulatory Status of Novel Forms of Creatine. Read the research

2. Kreider et al. (2003): Effects if Serum Creatine Supplementation on Muscle Creatine and Phosphagen Levels. Read the research

3. Kreider et al. (2017): International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Safety and Efficacy of Creatine Supplementation in Exercise, Sport, and Medicine. Read the research

4. Spillane et al. (2009): The Effects of Creatine Ethyl Ester Supplementation Combined with Heavy Resistance Training on Body Composition, Muscle Performance, and Serum and Muscle Creatine Levels. Read the research

5. Dox & Yoder (1922): Esterification of creatine. Read the research

6. Mold et al. (1955): Creatine Ethyl Ether. Read the research

7. Galvan et al. (2016): Acute and Chronic Safety and Efficacy of Dose Dependent Creatine Nitrate Supplementation and Exercise Performance.Read the research

8. Bailey et al. (1985): Dietary Nitrate Supplementation Reduces the O2 Cost of Low-Intensity Exercise and Enhances Tolerance to High-Intensity Exercise in Humans. Read the research

9. Jones et al. (2011): Slow Component of VO2 Kinetics: Mechanistic Bases and Practical Applications. Read the research

10. Jagim et al. (2012): A buffered form of creatine does not promote greater changes in muscle creatine content, body composition, or training adaptations than creatine monohydrate. Read the research

11. Gufford et al. (2013): pH-dependent stability of creatine ethyl ester: relevance to oral absorption. Read the research

12. Franca et al. (2015): Creatine HCl and Creatine Monohydrate Improve Strength but Only Creatine HCl Induced Changes on Body Composition in Recreational Weightlifters. Read the research

13. Jager et al. (2008): The effects of creatine pyruvate and creatine citrate on performance during high intensity exercise. Read the research

14. Jager et al. (2007): Comparison of new forms of creatine in raising plasma creatine levels. Read the research

15. Schuylenbergh et al. (2003): Effects of oral creatine-pyruvate supplementation in cycling performance. Read the research

16. Stone et al. (1999): Effects of in-season (5 weeks) creatine and pyruvate supplementation on anaerobic performance and body composition in American football players. Read the research