Creatine is one of the most proven and intensely researched sports and bodybuilding supplements on the market today. Time and again, creatine has been clinically shown to help increase strength and lean gains, all while being completely safe and legal. As such, every manufacturer wants to take advantage of this wonderful substance and grab as much of the market share as they can get. The creatine market is therefore hugely competitive, there are countless products out there, and sometimes it gets a little hard to choose which is the best for you. This article will look at different types of creatine, and different types of supplements that contain creatine. Hopefully after reading, you will be able to make an informed decision about what you want.
Types of Creatine
Creatine all started with creatine monohydrate. This is the most basic form of creatine. Chemically speaking, it is just a molecule of creatine, attached to a molecule of water. This is the creatine of choice when being studied by exercise nutritionists and sports scientists. Literally thousands of scientific studies, many of which were performed by independent universities and organisations, have been performed on, or using creatine monohydrate. The only criticism for creatine monohydrate is that it's relatively insoluble and is not well absorbed on its own, resulting in relatively large doses being needed.
Because of this Achilles heel of creatine, chemists have attempted to improve the way in which creatine can be absorbed by altering its chemistry or joining it with other molecules. However, due to the sheer number of different creatine derivatives, it is difficult for independent researchers to assess how effective each of these are, in comparison to creatine monohydrate.
One of the latest developments in creatine technology worth mentioning is creatine HCL. Creatine HCL was developed to be more soluble and hence absorbable compared to creatine monohydrate. This implies that much smaller doses of creatine HCL is needed in order to have the same effect as creatine monohydrate. Although it's only early days, preliminary research involving this and related products appear promising (Herda et al, 2009).
On the other hand, there was once a great deal of hype over creatine ethyl ester. This was originally developed to be more bioavailable. Unfortunately, after a few years when this compound was finally put up to scientific scrutiny, it was found that creatine ethyl esters were actually very rapidly broken down into inactive substances within the body (Spillane et al, 2009). Hence, it was not very bioavailable at all. This is therefore one form of creatine to think twice about before buying.
How to Choose the Best Creatine Monohydrate
The most basic form of creatine can be made by multiple manufacturers. Even though they are all "100% creatine monohydrate" are they all really the same? The first factor to consider is that the creatine particles can be different sizes. Considering that creatine is not that ease to dissolve, it is advantageous to find a creatine supplement that has been "micronised" this means that these particles are smaller than average. Being smaller means that they are much easier to dissolve than non-micronised creatine particles.
Something worth a special mention is a trademarked form of creatine known as "Creapure". The rights to this form of creatine are owned by a German company, and it is known as the purest form of creatine in the market. Creapure undergoes the strictest quality testing and assurance to make it the creatine monohydrate of choice. This form of creatine monohydrate can be slightly more expensive than other types. However, in this writer's opinion, the extra price you pay for quality is worth it.
The absorption of creatine is highly dependent on insulin and the ingestion of certain nutrients such as carbohydrates and sugars. Consequently, many manufacturers have formulated complex creatine supplements that contain not only different forms of creatine, but also the right blend of supporting nutrients. Typically, these supplements contain high levels of simple sugars to give a post workout insulin spike. This spike has been shown to be both anabolic and significantly improve the incorporation of creatine into muscle tissue (Greenwood et al, 2003). In addition to sugar, creatine supplements may also contain alpha lipoic acid, a compound known to increase insulin sensitivity, and hence increase creatine absorption (Burke et al, 2003).
There's no doubt that these supplements are superior to taking creatine by itself when it comes to increasing creatine absorption, and hence muscle mass and strength. The science behind the interaction of creatine and insulin is solid, and these supplements exploit that relationship to bring you something that genuinely does work.
Given that the formulations of creatine supplements are relatively simple, it is possible to formulate your own effective creatine supplement if you knew what you were doing. However, it is far more convenient to purchase a ready-made formula, some of which have been university tested for efficacy. In some cases, a readymade creatine supplement can actually work out to be cheaper than trying to make your own from raw ingredients. Of course in other cases, some creatine supplements are more expensive. These are the ones that also tend to contain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and a spectrum of other nutrients to help you recover faster.
Supplements with Creatine
Other than the supplements already mentioned, there are a variety of other supplements that also contain creatine.
Pre Workout Supplements
Pretty much every pre workout supplement has creatine in it, often in more than one form. The rationale of putting creatine into a pre workout supplement is good, because creatine is best absorbed during or after a workout, as a result of increased blood flow and nutrient delivery (Candow & Chilibeck, 2007).
Some of the more advanced protein powders, such as weight gainers contain creatine. The purpose of creatine here is to provide an all in one supplement so that you will not have to purchase an additional source of creatine. Creatine in these supplements tends to be well absorbed because weight gainers also contain sugars and protein which can help to increase creatine absorption (Steenge et al, 2000). Furthermore, weight gainers are also often taken after a workout, thereby further increasing creatine absorption.
Burke et al (2003), Effect of alpha-lipoic acid combined with creatine monohydrate on human skeletal muscle creatine and phosphagen concentration. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 13: 294-302
Candow & Chilibeck (2007), Timing of creatine or protein supplementation and resistance training in the elderly. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 33: 184-190
Greenwood et al (2003), Differences in creatine retention among three nutritional formulations of oral creatine supplements. JEPonline, 6: 37-43
Herda et al (2009), Effects of creatine monohydrate and polyethylene glycosylated creatine supplementation on muscular strength, endurance, and power output. J Strength Cond Res, 23: 818-826
Spillane et al (2009), The effects of creatine ethyl ester supplementation combined with heavy resistance training on body composition, muscle performance, and serum and muscle creatine levels.
Steenge et al (2000), Protein-and carbohydrate-induced augmentation of whole body creatine retention in humans. J Appl Physiol, 89: 1165-1171