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Creatine is one of the most popular sports nutrition supplements on the market.
It’s commonly used by athletes, bodybuilders, powerlifters, and the like to increase muscle size, strength, and power.
There are several forms of creatine on the market, with creatine HCl and monohydrate being the most popular.
However, you may wonder how these two forms compare and which is best for you.
This article breaks down the differences between creatine HCl and monohydrate and explains which form is best.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a compound produced naturally by your liver and kidneys from three amino acids — arginine, glycine, and methionine.
It’s also naturally found in animal products, namely beef and fish.
The creatine produced by your body or that you obtain from your diet is stored primarily in skeletal muscles with small amounts found in the brain.
Creatine plays an important role in energy production by regenerating a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) (1).
ATP is known as the energy currency of the cell because it stores and transfers energy by giving a phosphate to become ADP (adenosine diphosphate).
The phosphate provides energy for muscle contraction, for example.
But, intense exercise quickly depletes ATP, so the body needs to replenish ATP for the muscle to keep moving.
To do this, it uses a phosphate group from the creatine stored in your muscles to “recharge” ADP and form ATP.
However, the body only has so much creatine in storage that it can use to power ATP.
This is where creatine supplementation comes into play — it increases your body’s creatine stores beyond what you could from diet alone.
With more fuel in your muscles to power ATP, you can perform a few extra repetitions, lift heavier weights, and tire less easily, leading to gains in muscle size, strength, and power (1).
Creatine is a natural compound that recharges ADP back to ATP to keep your muscles moving. Supplementing with creatine increases your body’s available fuel to power ATP so your muscles can work harder and tire less easily.
Creatine HCl vs monohydrate
Of more than 15 supplemental forms available, HCl and monohydrate are the most common and popular.
Here’s a rundown of both forms and a demonstration that shows how well each mixes with water.
Creatine hydrochloride (HCl) is creatine bound with hydrochloride.
It’s believed that adding hydrochloric acid to creatine would increase the compound’s solubility and absorption by the body.
Indeed, some claim that creatine HCl is 38 times more soluble in water than creatine monohydrate.
This claim is based on a study that demonstrated creatine HCl was 37.9 times more soluble in water than creatine monohydrate (2).
Because of its purported superior solubility, it’s also commonly said that you can take a much smaller dose of creatine HCl than you would with creatine monohydrate.
However, improved solubility does not translate to improved absorption.
To this point, there is no evidence in humans that creatine HCl is absorbed more effectively than other forms of creatine, including monohydrate (3).
Creatine monohydrate is creatine bound with a water molecule.
It was the first form of creatine marketed as a dietary supplement and remains the most common form today (3).
Creatine monohydrate is believed to be poorly absorbed since some residue may remain at the bottom of the glass after mixing.
However, recall that how well your body can absorb a compound has little to nothing to do with how soluble the compound is in water.
Some creatine monohydrate products are micronized or broken into very fine particles to improve solubility.
The solubility of creatine in water increases with increasing temperature, so you can also mix it with warm water.
In either case, most of the studies on the safety and benefits of creatine have used creatine monohydrate.
Creatine HCl vs monohydrate solubility test
I have never used creatine HCl but I wanted to see just how well creatine HCl mixes compared with creatine monohydrate.
I compared NutraBio creatine monohydrate and a popular creatine HCl product called CON-CRET.
For the test, I stirred five grams of creatine monohydrate and five grams of HCl side-by-side in room-temperature water for 10 seconds.
The end of the video would suggest that creatine monohydrate is more soluble in water, but this is because most of the creatine was settling at the bottom.
The creatine HCl looked cloudy, but this is likely because of the flavoring additive. Creatine HCl was completely dissolved after one minute of sitting, with no sediments or clumps at the bottom.
A micronized creatine monohydrate might have dissolved better.
Creatine HCl is creatine bound with hydrochloride, and creatine monohydrate is bound with a water molecule. Creatine HCl is more soluble in water than monohydrate but is not better absorbed.
Which form is best?
Creatine monohydrate is the most studied form of creatine.
In fact, creatine has been so well-studied compared with the other forms that when creatine supplementation is discussed in studies, it’s assumed that the form is creatine monohydrate unless otherwise specified (3).
To this point, the thousands of studies that have demonstrated the benefits and strong safety profile of creatine have used creatine monohydrate. The same cannot be said for the other forms (1).
From this standpoint, creatine monohydrate is the better choice over HCl in terms of efficacy and safety, until proven otherwise.
Creatine monohydrate is also better than HCl from a cost standpoint.
One study analyzed various creatine products on Amazon.com and found that the average cost per gram of creatine monohydrate was $0.12 while the average cost per gram of creatine HCl was nearly five times as much at $0.55 (4).
The argument for creatine HCL costing significantly more could be the belief that you need less than monohydrate, but there is no evidence that lower doses of HCL are more effective than standard monohydrate doses (4).
Now, the purpose of this article isn’t to persuade you to purchase creatine monohydrate but instead to provide an overview of the evidence so that you can make your own decision.
I have supplemented with creatine monohydrate — and have been continuously for the last 12 years — based on the fact that it’s the most well-studied and cost-effective form.
But, there’s nothing wrong with opting for creatine HCl. At the end of the day, it’s still a form of creatine and almost everyone can benefit from supplementing it (1).
Nearly all of the studies demonstrating the benefits and safety of creatine have used creatine monohydrate. From this standpoint, creatine monohydrate is a better choice than HCl. Purchased from Amazon.com, creatine monohydrate also costs on average nearly five times less than HCl.
How to supplement creatine
There is limited data on the best supplementation strategy for creatine HCl, so I’ll focus on creatine monohydrate.
There are two primary ways to supplement creatine monohydrate.
The most common way is called the loading protocol, which entails taking 20–25 grams (5 grams taken 4–5 times) daily for 5–7 days and then taking 3–5 grams thereafter to maintain optimal creatine stores (1).
This method of supplementation saturates your creatine stores much faster, allowing you to experience creatine’s benefits sooner.
Alternatively, you can just take the 3–5 gram maintenance dose. This method is just as effective as the loading protocol, but it takes four times longer to saturate your creatine stores and therefore experience creatine’s benefits (1).
This is because creatine’s effects are only realized once your stores are saturated — it has no immediate effects.
Therefore, it doesn’t make a difference when you take creatine — whether that’s before or after your workout or at a different time — as long as you remember to supplement it daily.
If you stop taking creatine, it takes 4–6 weeks for your creatine stores to return to pre-supplementation levels (1).
The most common way to supplement creatine is by taking 20–25 grams for 5–7 days and then 3–5 grams daily thereafter. Alternatively, you can skip the loading phase and take the 3–5-gram dose daily. Both ways are equally effective, but you’ll experience faster results with the loading protocol.
Is creatine safe?
Creatine is remarkably safe.
Creatine can safely be used by almost everyone, from teens to older adults (5).
The only well-known side effect of creatine is that it can cause weight gain due to water retention.
However, not everyone experiences water retention from creatine supplementation, and in those who do, it’s only temporary.
Any increases in body weight from supplementation in the long term come from gains in muscle mass when combined with good nutrition and a progressive training program.
You can purchase creatine alone or alongside other ingredients like in a pre-workout. You can learn which pre-workouts contain creatine here.
When looking for a creatine supplement, choose one — whether HCl or monohydrate — that is third-party tested to ensure quality and purity.
For creatine monohydrate supplements, look for ones that contain creatine monohydrate as Creapure or PharmaPure.
These are high-quality bands that adhere to strict quality and purity standards.
In fact, many studies use creatine monohydrate as Creapure, which is produced in Germany.
Other sources of creatine monohydrate, particularly from china, have been reported to contain harmful contaminants like dihydrotriazine (DHT) and heavy metals like mercury (3).
Here are a few high-quality creatine monohydrate and HCl products:
- Creapure: Muscle Feast Creapure Creatine
- PharmaPure: NutraBio Creatine Monohydrate
- Third-party tested: Kaged Muscle Creatine HCl
It’s unknown whether CON-CRETE — the creatine HCl product used in the solubility test — is third-party tested.
Most forms of creatine are vegan-friendly.
Creatine is remarkably safe. Contrary to common belief, creatine does not damage the kidneys but it can lead to temporary weight gain as a result of fluid retention in some people. Look for creatine products that are third-party tested or contain high-quality brands of creatine monohydrate like Creapure or PharmaPure.
The bottom line
Creatine is a popular sports nutrition supplement.
It increases the available fuel to power ATP, allowing you to lift heavier weights, perform more repetitions, and tire less easily. Creatine may also offer benefits outside of the gym for brain health and depressive symptoms.
Nearly all the research supporting the benefits and safety of creatine has used creatine monohydrate. From this standpoint, creatine monohydrate is better than HCl.
Creatine monohydrate is also significantly less expensive than HCl when purchased on Amazon.com.
Creatine doesn’t cause kidney damage in healthy people but it can lead to temporary weight gain in some.
Regardless of whether you choose to supplement monohydrate or HCl, choose one that is third-party tested or provides a high-quality brand of creatine monohydrate like Creapure.