One of the most widely studied supplements for muscle growth has been creatine. And there is growing evidence of how creatine supplementation might drastically impact a bulking or loading phase.
But it’s not quite as simple as that.
See, there is still a lot of debate around the benefits of creatine HCL vs. monohydrate.
You’ll see both on shelves at your sports nutrition store. But which type of Creatine is best suited for your fitness level and goals?
To help you with this decision, we teamed up with a nutritionist to see if we can scientifically show what the best form of creatine is.
Difference Between Creatine HCL And Creatine Monohydrate?
It might seem like creatine hydrochloride (HCL) and monohydrate are just fancy terms that geeks in lab coats have come up with.
But there are some significant differences.
We’ve broken things down into 6 sections to better show you what both forms of creatine do to your body,
One of the main differences between creatine HCL and monohydrate is how fast your body may absorb it.
The HCL form is bound to hydrochloric acid, which has the benefit of being highly water-soluble.
That means you shouldn’t need too much planning of what and when you take it. A glass of water, along with your stomach acid, will work perfectly fine.
But scientists have also been able to prove that once your stomach absorbs it, it’s much faster to become active in your muscle cells .
So, HCL does seem to make it into your body faster, which could be a big plus from a timing perspective.
But, the International Society Of Sports Nutrition has done some research and found that over a longer period of time, more of the monohydrate creatine might make it into your system .
“Creatine is thought to improve strength, increase lean muscle mass, and help the muscles recover more quickly during exercise. This muscular boost might help athletes achieve bursts of speed and energy, especially during short bouts of high-intensity activities such as weight lifting or sprinting.” - WebMD.com
It’s also the type that has been around the longest, with thousands of proven track records.
My personal experience has been positive with both of them, so I wouldn’t discount HCL purely on this research.
Between the two forms of Creatine, monohydrate wins hands down when it comes to purity.
But you have to be careful how much you read into that.
Yes, the monohydrate form is usually around 99.8% pure, which means that when you measure out 5 grams of creatine, you pretty much get the full dose.
Just keep in mind that while HCL isn’t as pure, the stuff that it’s been mixed with makes it easier to absorb.
So, just because it’s not as pure doesn’t necessarily make that a negative, but you do need to consider that when comparing products.
Scientists have measured that HCL is 40 times more soluble than monohydrate creatine.
Not only does that make it easier to absorb, but if you take it as a powder supplement, then it should almost instantly dissolve in a glass of water.
I have some clients that find it works within about 15 minutes, and they take their supplement after their warm-up routine.
That way, they get the peak benefits once they have started their sets to get maximum exercise performance.
5. Side Effects
One of the advantages of HCL compared to creatine monohydrate is the limited side effects .
Because your body may absorb it faster, there is a lower chance of stomach upset and bloating.
But it may also reduce the issue of water retention that is common with creatine supplements.
I always advise people who start to use creatine monohydrate that they should take smaller doses first to see how they react.
If you notice signs of swelling and water build-up, then it might be better to switch to HCL. It might also be worth getting some medical advice.
If you’re going to be taking creatine for a longer loading phase, then HCL may work out a lot more expensive.
The faster absorption and less negative effects do come at a price.
If cost is going to be an issue, then I suggest trying out creatine monohydrate, even if it’s slower acting.
You could just plan to take it about 30 minutes before your workout and still get good results for your muscle mass.
Why Is Creatine Important For Athletes?
Both creatine hydrochloride and monohydrate ultimately do the same thing for your muscles.
And a quick warning, this next paragraph might get a bit technical, but I’ll avoid all the nerdy science terms.
Your muscles require a form of energy called ATP. It’s one of the most basic forms, and there is only ever a limited amount of ATP available at any given time.
This is why you can only perform at peak levels for very short periods of time, sometimes less than 5 seconds.
Creatine plays a key role in making more ATP available, and some studies suggest that a creatine supplement might boost ATP availability for up to 8 seconds.
And it also helps to keep a constant flow of fresh ATP, which is what might improve your endurance, performance, and strength gains.
And that’s why supplementing with creatine is so popular with bodybuilders.
When Is The Best Time To Take Creatine Supplements?
There is a slight difference in timing between creatine HCL and monohydrate. But you’ll still need to do some experimenting in both cases.
I suggest taking creatine monohydrate about 20 minutes before you start warming up.
It’s slower to absorb, and this might also make sure that you don’t get any stomach issues in the middle of a heavy bench press.
Once you start noticing the difference in the reps and weights for each set, you can adjust the timing so that it kicks in as early as possible.
HCL, on the other hand, may only take about 15 minutes to work, and some of my clients would take it during or even after their warm-up.
This might delay the peak performance of the supplement to a time where you would normally start noticing your muscles getting tired.
Basically, do some experimenting with your supplements to gain the best effects.
Stacking With Other Supplements
The good thing with creatine hydrochloride and monohydrate is that most pre and post-workout supplements don’t tend to include much of it.
Personally, I would suggest that you avoid creatine in other supplements as you don’t want to be taking too much of it.
Water retention could become an issue, and you might also find that your stomach doesn’t feel well.
One option you might want to consider is stacking creatine with beta-alanine.
The two supplements seem to work well together to boost your performance and reduce early signs of muscle fatigue.
I would just say that you may want to start with just creatine and wait a week or two before adding beta-alanine, just to make sure you don’t get any cramping from combining the two.
Will Creatine Hcl Make You Bigger?
Yes, creatine HCL can make you bigger when combined with a high-intensity workout. In the short term, it might increase the amount of water in your muscle cells to add bulk. But the added training intensity should also help you develop more muscle fibers.
Is Creatine Hcl Bad for Your Teeth?
No, creatine HCL isn’t bad for your teeth unless you eat the powder without diluting it. The hydrochloric acid in the supplement could have an impact on your teeth, but in capsule and mixed form, it shouldn’t have any impact.
Should You Take Creatine Every Day?
Yes, you could take creatine every day, but it’s really only beneficial on the days that you do higher intensity training. Because creatine is one of the few supplements that can cause water retention, you should also be careful not to take too much.
How Long Does It Take for Creatine Hcl to Work?
It takes about a week for creatine HCL to show signs of working. You would have to take the supplement consistently and workout at least four days to start seeing the effects of higher endurance and better performance.
Creatine HCL vs Monohydrate: Which Is Better?
While HCL might be better than creatine monohydrate from a negative effects perspective, the long history of monohydrate supplement use shouldn’t be ignored.
Unless you have a sensitive stomach or seem to retain a lot of water while taking HCL, I would suggest you try monohydrate first.
We have many clients who have been taking it for years, and they adjust the amount of creatine to the specific bulking phase they are in.