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Creatine Monohydrate vs. HCL – What is the Difference?

If you have been looking into perfecting your supplement regime, you understand that adding some creatine to the mix is a good idea. It’s a widely-used fitness supplement that brings about great results for many people.

But there’s more to it than just purchasing the first creatine product you come across. You may assume that all creatine is created equal, but not so. There are actually many types out there to choose from. If you are looking for the best creatine supplement, consider the two most popular options: creatine monohydrate and creatine HCL.

How do you know which one is best?

Let’s take a look at the differences between these two forms of creatine, examining their safety, effectiveness, and how to use them. This way, you can make the most educated decision possible.

The Difference: Creatine HCL and Monohydrate

There are some subtle differences between these types of creatine, but they exist at the molecular level so they’re not too obvious. That said, they can have a noticeable effect on how creatine is used and absorbed in your body.

Creatine Monohydrate

This is the most common creatine supplement you’ll see, and it’s actually been around the longest, at least in the fitness industry. Numerous studies have been done on it. It’s made with a creatine molecule and a water molecule. Manufacturers can process this form in a variety of different ways though.

Some manufacturers use micronized creatine, involving more processing to boost the solubility.

Other manufacturers don’t include the water molecule at all, resulting in anhydrous creatine, or 100% creatine. This version happens to be more expensive.

Research backs up the effectiveness of all variations of creatine monohydrate, as it can increase energy, stamina and power during workouts. It can also add more water into the muscle.

To take this kind, it’s most effective to incorporate a loading phase to build up its presence in your muscles.

Creatine HCL

Creatine hydrochloride (HCL) may be newer but it’s gaining in popularity. It’s composed of a creatine molecule and hydrochloride attached.

Attaching the hydrochloride rather than water boosts solubility and absorption. One study says this form of creatine is 38 times more soluble than the monohydrate version, meaning you could take less creatine HCL with the same results as creatine monohydrate. Faster absorption equals minimal water retention, as well – a risk that comes with creatine monohydrate.

The attached HCL also adds to the stability of the creatine molecule, so you could skip the loading phase and still get the results you want.

Creatine and Muscle Growth

Check out how creatine supplements help with muscle growth. Don’t forget that your muscles already store creatine that it naturally derives from your diet. When released, creatine will:

  • Boost insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) (this is a hormone that increases muscle growth)
  • Increase power, energy, and endurance to enable you to get all you can out of your workout
  • Draw water into your muscles, making them look larger.
  • Encourage better recovery after your workouts.

When you take a supplement, you’re ensuring that your muscles can store the maximum amount of creatine as it possibly can. While all types of creatine help you achieve desired results, each one works a bit differently.

Safety

Now let’s go over safety. There used to be concerns regarding the risks of taking creatine supplements. Some people claimed it worked similar to a steroid, leading to many negative side effects such as hair loss, weight gain, and kidney problems. However, through years of research, those claims have been proven untrue. Check out these hundreds of peer-reviewed studies regarding the safety and efficacy of creatine.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition says it’s OK to use creatine supplements, stating that long-term and short-term creatine use is well-tolerated by healthy people and safe as well. However, their viewpoint doesn’t state which type of creatine is the safest. While creatine in general is a commonly-researched fitness supplement, most peer-reviewed studies use creatine monohydrate.

The safety of creatine HCL needs to be researched more thoroughly before it can be guaranteed as safe across the board.

Effectiveness

You may wonder: which type of creatine is the most effective?

Both creatine monohydrate and creatine HCL are effective, with both forms facilitating increased muscle mass when used in an appropriate manner. There is a difference between the two, and that is rooted in how they get into the muscle.

Creatine HCL is more efficient in regards to solubility and absorption – at least in theory anyway. Some say this makes this form far more effective, due to the creatine’s ability to infiltrate the cells more quickly and with fewer side effects.

The problem arises when we see that not enough research has been done to confidently conclude that creatine HCL indeed is the better option. Research focusing on creatine HCL is still very limited, which makes it difficult to know the benefits and if it actually leads to more effectiveness.

That being said, just because there is limited research doesn’t mean that there are no studies out there at all. One recent study comparing the effectiveness of both forms of creatine found no significant difference in effectiveness. This double-blind study divided subjects into four groups in an effort to make comparisons on the effects of creatine monohydrate and creatine HCL, specifically in regards to athletic performance, plasma cortisol and plasma testosterone (hormones that indicate muscle growth).

Other Creatine Forms

There are many forms of creatine, although they aren’t as popular as the two we have been talking about. Let’s go over the main differences between the rest of the creatine forms:

Creatine Ethyl Ester – Some say this form can be better absorbed in fat. But there is limited research on this form which says that more is actually excreted, making it harder for the kidneys to process it.

Buffered Creatine – This has additions in this slightly basic “buffer” which claims to decrease creatine breakdown within the stomach, enhancing muscle absorption.

Creatine Citrate – This type binds creatine with citrate. It may be more water soluble, but it’s not better absorbed.

Creatine Magnesium Chelate – This is creatine bound to magnesium, which could minimize water retention.

Creatine Malate – This type binds together creatine and malic acid, which may enhance stamina.

The Optimal Way to Supplement Creatine

While many forms of creatine exist, creatine monohydrate is the most thoroughly-researched form.

But despite the type of creatine you choose, quality does matter. Stay away from fillers, sweeteners, and artificial ingredients when on the hunt for fitness supplements. You should be paying for the supplement itself, not the unnecessary fluff.

Always take creatine as recommended. If you go with creatine monohydrate, begin with a loading phase, then a maintenance phase for the best results.

If you choose creatine HCL, you don’t necessarily need a loading phase. Always read instructions on proper use. In the end, consistency is key with any option you choose!

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