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What are the different types of creatine?

Laura Harcourt

Written byLaura Harcourt

julie_cunningham

Reviewed byJulie Cunningham

creatine in powder form
Creatine is a popular supplement commonly used during workouts, but did you know it comes in various forms? Find out more about the different types of creatine

Summary

1What is creatine?

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound that’s made up of three amino acids – glycine, arginine and methionine. Produced by the liver...

2What does creatine do?

Creatine supplementation has been widely studied and it’s currently regarded as a safe and effective supplement that can offer various benefits...

3How to choose the right creatine for you

Although some forms of creatine may be more soluble when mixed in fluid, the evidence so far shows that creatine monohydrate may be the best choice...

When it comes to sports supplements, you’ll most likely have come across creatine – one of the most widely known and studied sports supplements on the market.

As a popular natural supplement renowned for potentially improving performance, muscle mass and strength, fat loss and post-exercise recovery, much of the research into creatine has focused on a specific type, called creatine monohydrate.1-4

But did you know that there are several other types of creatine as well?4 

Whether you already include creatine in your supplementation regime or want to get started, this article will break down six common types of creatine on the market to help you decide which one might be best for you.

What is creatine?

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound that’s made up of three amino acids – glycine, arginine and methionine. Produced in the body by the liver, kidneys and pancreas, it’s primarily stored in our muscles where it’s used to provide energy for muscle contractions.5,6 

However, small amounts of creatine can also be found in red meat and fish.5

It can be difficult to get enough creatine to improve athletic performance through diet alone though, especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan.7 That’s why creatine supplements are often used to help boost the natural stores of creatine in your body and aid in sports performance.1-3

What does creatine do?

Creatine supplementation has been widely studied and it’s currently regarded as a safe and effective supplement that can offer various benefits related to sports performance. Some of these reported benefits include:2,3
  • improved exercise performance – it’s been shown that creatine can help your body produce a compound called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which can provide your muscles with energy and help them to work harder and train better1,2,3,8
  • faster muscle recovery – creatine may improve training recovery by reducing not only muscle damage during intense training sessions but also inflammation and soreness post-exercise as some studies have shown1,9-11
  • increased muscle mass – by enhancing the effectiveness of your training regime and improving muscle recovery, creatine supplementation may help you achieve greater muscle gains1,12,13 
Due to its reputation for helping users achieve short bursts of speed and energy, athletes commonly use creatine to improve their performance when doing sports like weightlifting, cycling and sprinting.9,14

What are the different types of creatine?

Creatine supplements can come in a number of forms. Below, we’ve broken down the six most common and popular types of creatine that have been studied in scientific literature so far.

1. Creatine monohydrate

Creatine monohydrate is thought to be the most common creatine supplement used to boost performance. It’s made up of a creatine molecule that’s bound to a water molecule.15 

Creatine monohydrate is the most widely studied type of creatine, with a large amount of literature recognising it as a safe and effective way for healthy adults to improve their muscle- building capacity and increase their physical performance.1,2,3,14,16 

This form of creatine is also water-soluble and is available as a powder, capsule or chewable tablet. So it’s easy to add to your pre-workout routine.15
 

2. Creatine hydrochloride

Creatine hydrochloride (HCI) is bound with hydrochloric acid to create a salt that’s more water soluble than creatine monohydrate.17

Hydrochloride creatine has gained popularity in recent years due to the claim that it can reach cells more quickly.18 However, having an increased level of water absorption doesn’t necessarily mean the body will absorb it more quickly.17, 19 

This form of creatine is far less studied than creatine monohydrate, and further high-quality research is needed. However, the few existing studies show comparable results in performance improvement and muscle strength.18,19
 

3. Creatine ethyl ester

Creatine ethyl ester (CEE) is created when creatine is bound to ester salts which, again, is designed to make it more easily absorbed within the body.17,20 

Very few research studies have examined the safety and efficacy of creatine ethyl ester.

A small study of 16 underweight non-athlete males found that, when combined with resistance training, CEE showed significant effects on body weight and leg strength compared to the resistance training and placebo group.21

However, during a double-blind study from 2009 which compared CEE to creatine monohydrate (CM) and a placebo, researchers found that CEE was less effective in improving body composition, muscle mass, strength and power. More high-quality research would need to be conducted in order to confirm CEE as an effective supplement form.22
 

4. Buffered creatine (kre-alkalyn)

Buffered creatine (also called kre-alkalyn) refers to a type of creatine that’s been chemically altered to have a higher pH, making it less acidic.23 

To do this, supplement manufacturers add an alkaline powder to improve the stability of creatine in the stomach. This is claimed to help combat some side effects of traditional creatine, such as bloating and cramping, but research has shown no evidence of this.23 

In a study comparing buffered creatine to creatine monohydrate, for example, no differences were found in terms of the effectiveness between the two, as well as any associated side effects.23
 

5. Creatine magnesium chelate

Creatine magnesium chelate (MgCr-C) is a type of creatine that’s bound with magnesium, which suppliers claim can improve muscle protein synthesis.17 

Although research remains limited, some evidence supports the effectiveness and safety profile of creatine magnesium chelate.24

During a small double-blind clinical trial of 31 weight-trained men in 2004, researchers evaluated the effects of creatine monohydrate, creatine magnesium chelate and a placebo. But, while both the creatine monohydrate and creatine magnesium chelate groups showed improved performance over the placebo group, there was no noticeable difference between the two types of creatine.24 

That said, a more recent (but still small) study published in 2020 found that 16 weeks of creatine magnesium chelate supplementation improved the sprint ability performance of elite football players when compared to a placebo. Nonetheless, more research is required.25
 

6. Liquid creatine

Liquid creatine refers to a ready-to-drink version of creatine, typically where the supplement has already been dissolved in water. 

Although drinkable creatine may be more convenient when you’re on the go, researchers believe creatine isn’t stable in beverage form, meaning it may break down when it remains in liquid form for several days at a time, rendering it less effective.

What’s more, some limited research also shows that liquid creatine is potentially less effective than using other forms of creatine.26,27
 

How to choose the right creatine for you

Although some forms of creatine may be more soluble when mixed in fluid, the evidence so far shows that creatine monohydrate may be the best choice when it comes to safety, effectiveness and affordability. 4,17,28,29 

While the research is yet to support claims that creatine can cause digestive upset, some people complain of digestive symptoms like diarrhoea when taking it. 30 So if you have a sensitive stomach, it might be a better idea to try a different type instead.

Alternatively, talk to a nutritionist or healthcare professional about which type of creatine they’d recommend for you to use. 

Creatine monohydrate supplements are available in various formats to suit your preferences and budget. This includes: 
For those who follow a plant-based diet, several brands also offer vegan creatine supplements.

The final say

Creatine is one of the most widely known and popular sports supplements on the market and its ability to improve athletic performance, muscle strength and muscle recovery is well documented.1,2,3,8,9,10-13 

Although new types of creatine may show promising value for some users, creatine monohydrate seems to remain the gold standard in creatine supplements.1,4,17,28,29

This is because the majority of scientific research has focused on this type of creatine, showing it as a safe, affordable and effective addition to your workout; however, we advise to first speak with a nutritionist or healthcare professional beforehand.1,4,17,28,29

Disclaimer

While we strive for accuracy and balance, please be aware that this article may discuss products available for purchase through Holland & Barrett. Consult a healthcare professional before making any health-related decisions.
 

Sources

  1. Kreider, RB., et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2017;13;14(1). Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z.
  2. Hall, M., et al. Creatine Supplementation: An Update. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2021;;20(7):338–44. Available from: https://journals.lww.com/acsm- csmr/fulltext/2021/07000/creatine_supplementation__an_update.3.aspx.
  3. Hall M., et al. Creatine Supplementation. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2013;12(4):240–4. Available from: https://journals.lww.com/acsm- csmr/Fulltext/2013/07000/Creatine_Supplementation.10.aspx.
  4. Jäger, R., et al. Analysis of the efficacy, safety, and regulatory status of novel forms of creatine. Amino Acids. 2011;40(5):1369–83. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3080578/.
  5. Kreider, RB., et al. Creatine in Health and Disease. Nutrients. 2021;13(2):447. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7910963/
  6. Bonilla, DA., et al. Metabolic Basis of Creatine in Health and Disease: A Bioinformatics- Assisted Review. Nutrients. 2021;13(4):1238.‌ Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8070484/.
  7. Kaviani, M., et al. Benefits of Creatine Supplementation for Vegetarians Compared to Omnivorous Athletes: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020;17(9):3041. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/17/9/3041/htm.
  8. Cooper, R., et al. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2012;9(1). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3407788/.
  9. Wax, B, et al. Creatine for Exercise and Sports Performance, with Recovery Considerations for Healthy Populations. Nutrients. 2021;13(6):1915. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8228369/.
  10. Doma, K., et al. The Paradoxical Effect of Creatine Monohydrate on Muscle Damage Markers: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Medicine. 2022;52:1623–1645. Available from: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279- 022-01640-z.
  11. Jiaming, Y., et al. Creatine supplementation effect on recovery following exercise‐induced muscle damage: A systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Food Biochemistry. 2021;45(10). Available from: https://doi.org/10.1111/jfbc.13916.
  12. Almeida, D., et al. Creatine Supplementation Improves Physical Performance, Without Negative Effects on Health Markers, in Young Weightlifters. Journal of Science in Sport and Exercise. 2022;4(3):255–265. Available from: https://www.sciopen.com/article/10.1007/s42978-021-00147-9.
  13. Wu, SH., et al. Creatine Supplementation for Muscle Growth: A Scoping Review of Randomized Clinical Trials from 2012 to 2021. Nutrients. 2022;14(6):1255. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8949037/.
  14. 4. Butts, J., et al. Creatine Use in Sports. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach. 2017;10(1):31–4. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5753968/
  15. Singh, S., et al. Creatine Monohydrate. Profiles of Drug Substances, Excipients and Related Methodology, 2009;34:1–35. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1871512509340017.
  16. Shao, A., et al. Risk assessment for creatine monohydrate. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. 2006;45(3):242–51. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0273230006000912.
  17. Kreider, RB., et al. Bioavailability, Efficacy, Safety, and Regulatory Status of Creatine and Related Compounds: A Critical Review. Nutrients. 2022;14(5):1035. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8912867/.
  18. Tayebi, M., et al. Is creatine hydrochloride better than creatine monohydrate for the improvement of physical performance and hormonal changes in young trained men? Science & Sports. 2019;35(5):e135-e141. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0765159719302011.
  19. de França E., et al. Creatine HCl and Creatine Monohydrate Improve Strength but Only Creatine HCl Induced Changes on Body Composition in Recreational Weightlifters. Food and Nutrition Sciences. 2015;06:1624. Available from: https://www.scirp.org/html/5- 2701782_62283.htm#txtF9.
  20. Gufford, BT, et al. pH-Dependent Stability of Creatine Ethyl Ester: Relevance to Oral Absorption. Journal of dietary supplements. 2013;10(3):241–51. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4469200/.
  21. Arazi, H., et al. Effect of creatine ethyl ester supplementation and resistance training on hormonal changes, body composition and muscle strength in underweight non-athlete men. Biomedical Human Kinetics. 2019;11(1):158–66. Available from: https://sciendo.com/article/10.2478/bhk-2019-0022.
  22. Spillane, M., et al. The effects of creatine ethyl ester supplementation combined with heavy resistance training on body composition, muscle performance, and serum and muscle creatine levels. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2009;6(1):6. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2649889/.
  23. Jagim, AR., et al. A buffered form of creatine does not promote greater changes in muscle creatine content, body composition, or training adaptations than creatine monohydrate. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2012;9(1):43. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3479057/. 
  24. Selsby, JT., et al. Mg2+-Creatine Chelate and a Low-Dose Creatine Supplementation Regimen Improve Exercise Performance. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2004;18(2):311. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15142029/.
  25. Zajac, A, et al. The Effects of Long-Term Magnesium Creatine Chelate Supplementation on Repeated Sprint Ability (RAST) in Elite Soccer Players. Nutrients. 2020;12(10):2961. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7600931/.
  26. Astorino, TA., et al. Is Running Performance Enhanced With Creatine Serum Ingestion? The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2005;19(4):730. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16287365/.
  27. Gill, ND., et al. Creatine Serum Is Not as Effective as Creatine Powder for Improving Cycle Sprint Performance in Competitive Male Team-Sport Athletes. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2004;18(2):272. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15142023/.
  28. Antonio, J., et al. Common Questions and Misconceptions about Creatine supplementation: What Does the Scientific Evidence Really show? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2021;18(1). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7871530/.
  29. Fazio, C., et al. Efficacy of Alternative Forms of Creatine Supplementation on Improving Performance and Body Composition in Healthy Subjects. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2021;36(9):2663–2670. Available from: https://journals.lww.com/nsca- jscr/fulltext/2022/09000/efficacy_of_alternative_forms_of_creatine.42.aspx.
  30. Ostojic, SM., et al. Gastrointestinal Distress After Creatine Supplementation in Athletes: Are Side Effects Dose Dependent? Research in Sports Medicine. 2008;16(1):15–22. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18373286/. ‌
 

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