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 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 creatine 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 creatine monohydrate is how fast your body may absorb it.
The creatine HCL form is bound to the hydrochloric acid molecule, 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.
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, creatine 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 creatine monohydrate 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
Creatine HCL is 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 creatine HCL purely on this research.
Between the two forms, creatine monohydrate wins hands down when it comes to purity.
The creatine 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 creatine 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.
Scientists have measured that creatine HCL is 40 times more soluble than creatine monohydrate.
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 creatine HCL works within about 15 minutes, and they take their supplement after their warm-up routine.
5. Side Effects
One of the advantages of creatine 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 retention, then it might be better to switch from creatine monohydrate 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 creatine HCL may work out a lot more expensive compared to creatine monohydrate.
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 creatine monohydrate about 30 minutes before your workout and still get good results for increased muscle mass.
Why Is Creatine Important For Athletes?
Both creatine hydrochloride and creatine 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 adenosine triphosphate or 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 creatine supplements might boost ATP availability for up to 8 seconds.
It also helps to keep a constant flow of fresh ATP, which is what might improve your endurance, performance, and muscle gains.
And that’s why supplementing with creatine HCL or creatine monohydrate is so popular with bodybuilders.
When Is The Best Time To Take a Creatine Supplement?
There is a slight difference in timing between creatine HCL and creatine 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.
Creatine monohydrate is 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 creatine monohydrate kicks in as early as possible.
Creatine 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 creatine supplement to a time where you would normally start noticing your muscles getting tired.
Basically, do some experimenting with either creatine monohydrate or HCL to gain the best effects.
Stacking With Other Supplements
The good thing with creatine hydrochloride and creatine monohydrate is that most pre, post-workout, and dietary 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 supplements 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, just like with creatine monohydrate. It might increase the amount of water in your muscle cells, in addition to developing more muscle fibers from resistance training.
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 creatine supplement could have an impact on your teeth, but in capsule and mixed form, it shouldn’t have any impact like with creatine monohydrate.
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. Both creatine monohydrate and HCL 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, better physical performance, and muscle growth.
Creatine HCL vs Monohydrate: Which Is Better?
While HCL might be better than creatine monohydrate from a negative effects perspective, the long history of creatine 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 creatine monohydrate first.
We have many clients who have been taking either creatine monohydrate or HCL for years, and they adjust the amount of creatine to the specific bulking or loading phase they are in.
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