Creatine is one of the most popular bodybuilding supplements around simply because it works like nothing else outside of steroids in helping you to build solid muscle and strength. If you spin through the muscle magazines, though, you might get confused by the wide variety of creatine products and delivery systems on the market.
So which type of creatine is best?
Let’s take a look at the different options and then figure out which will give you the most muscle for your money.
Creatine monohydrate has been the gold standard for two decades, and all of the other forms on this list were developed in an attempt to eat into monohydrate’s market share. While creatine monohydrate can cause stomach discomfort and general bloating in some people, likely due to problems with absorption, most users report no adverse side effects.
Creatine citrate, as the name implies, is creatine bound to citric acid, which makes it slightly more soluble in water than creatine monohydrate. Research has found, though, that blood absorption is not improved by the increased solubility, so the extra cost of the citrate version is not really warranted.
Creatine Ethyl Ester
Creatine ethyl ester is marketed as a more absorbable form than creatine monohydrate, but a 2009 study by Mike Spillane and colleagues showed no difference in effectiveness between the two creatine supplements. When you factor in bad flavor and high costs, ethyl ester doesn’t make the grade.
Liquid creatine, or serum creatine, is usually just one of the other forms of creatine suspended in water. It sounds like a fine and convenient idea until you realize that creatine rapidly degrades in water, making these supplements much less effective than their powdered counterparts.
Creatine hydrochoride is just creatine bound with hydrochloric acid and, like the citrate version, is more soluble in water than creatine monohydrate. There is little evidence that it produces any better results than creatine monohydrate, but it is at least possible that better solubility will mean less stomach discomfort for some users.
Creatine malate is just creatine bound with malic acid, and it, too, is more soluble than creatine monohydrate. Creatine malate is also one of the few alternative forms that has been shown to yield positive training results. Even so, malate has not been shown to be more effective than the monohydrate form, but it does cost more.
Creatine pyruvate is creatine bound to pyruvic acid — are you sensing a trend here? The pyruvate form is pretty interesting because it HAS been shown to increase higher blood levels of creatinethan creatine monohydrate and to be more effective as an ergogenic than creatine citrate. There are some contradicting studies, though, and creatine pyruvate is, of course, more expensive than creatine monohydrate.
Effervescent creatine is creatine that’s combined with some sort of sugar, plus a “bubbling” agent that produces a sort of creatine soda when hydrated. The idea is that the bubbles will help absorption, while the sugar will help with both absorption and flavor. While many of these products do taste pretty good, there isn’t much proof that they are worth the extra cost.
So What’s Best?
Believe it or not, the lengthy list above does not even represent all of the forms of creatine available on the market. From big, sugary drinks to creatine kre-alkalyn, there are all kinds of exotic concoctions that purport to do a better job than creatine monohydrate.
The fact is, though, that plain old creatine monohydrate has been studied extensively for years, and nearly all of the evidence points to it as a safe, effective training aid. It costs less than any of the fancy alternatives, too.
As with any substance that you put in your body, purity is important when it comes to creatine monohydrate, so check your labels and aim for 99.5% purity or better.
If creatine monohydrate does cause you problems with bloating, then you can try a more expensive option. In general, though, if you’re going to buy creatine, make it creatine monohdyrate.
Your muscles and bank account will thank you.