Creatine King of the Hill – Creatine HCl
by Dave Williams
The supplement shelves are so packed full of different creatine products these days that you can switch from one to the other faster than Kim Kardashian can switch husbands. What a lot of supplement users might not understand as they pinch their noses and chug their newfangled pre-workout drinks is that there are actually many different types of creatine. The one that has been around the longest is creatine monohydrate. Recently, supplement companies have been formulating more effective types of creatine such as creatine gluconate, creatine ethyl ester, and Kre-Alkalyn, and the new top dog, creatine hydrochloride (HCl). Before getting into the differences between these products, let’s first cover the basics of what creatine actually is and what it does.
Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid (a.k.a. it a protein-like compound) that is derived from the amino acids glycine, arginine, methionine. It is found in small amounts in beef and fish, and the body produces small amounts of it naturally. 95% of creatine in the body is stored in skeletal muscle, with the other 5% residing in the heart, brain, and testes (I’m no doctor, but I’m assuming that means men can store a little more than women) (1).
It is well documented that creatine can improve strength and performance, as well as help to build muscle. But how does it do that? Here is an overview of how creatine works in the body. First of all, it is important to note that creatine only comes into play during anaerobic activity such as sprinting, jumping, and weight lifting. The reason for that is that the primary fuel source during aerobic activity like jogging is glycogen (stored carbohydrates) and fat. The first fuel source during anaerobic activity, however, is a high-energy molecule called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. ATP is produced in the mitochondria of your cells, and it is depleted very quickly. This is why your muscles fail at the end of an all-out set. But, after resting for a mere few seconds, you can perform at least a few more reps before failing again. Now, for this to be the case, you must be able to produce ATP and somewhat replenish the energy needed for muscle contractions rather quickly. This is where creatine comes to the rescue. There are a few ways your body can produce ATP, but the fastest and most efficient way is by using creatine phosphate, which is the creatine that is stored and readily available in your body. So basically, the more creatine you have available, the faster and more completely you can replenish your ATP stores, which means you can train harder and longer.
To review, supplementing with creatine helps you to get that one extra rep, or use slightly heavier weights. It directly improves strength and performance and indirectly enhances hypertrophy (heavier weights = bigger muscles) and fat loss (harder training, more muscle = more calories burned). Creatine also helps hypertrophy by pulling water into muscle cells and hydrating them, causing them to send a signal the cell membranes to expand. With this list of benefits, it’s not hard to see why creatine has been the most popular performance supplement over the last 20 years. But as I mentioned earlier, there are several different types of creatine, and all of them can produce results if you take them as directed, so what are the differences?
The oldest and most popular type of creatine is the monohydrate variation. Creatine monohydrate is a powder that is a lot bulkier than the other forms of creatine because it is the least potent. By potency I’m referring to how much of the supplement is wasted in the dissolving process. Creatine monohydrate is much less soluble in water, meaning it does not completely break down, and you lose some when it enters your body. Since the average man is 69% water, you can see how this lack of solubility can be a problem, because if it can’t dissolve in your blood, it can’t get into your muscles. In fact, studies have shown that when a 5 gram dose of creatine was placed in water, up to 3.5 grams was left un-dissolved (2). So when you pay for 1,000 grams (that’s 1 kilogram, or a 2.2 lb tub) of creatine monohydrate, you could actually only be getting 300 grams of it. The solubility problems with creatine monohydrate is also the reason why you usually have to load it for 4 or 5 days with about 20 grams a day, and it causes a lot of people to suffer from bloating or an upset stomach. In addition, it is not stable in acidic conditions, especially those that are present in the gastrointestinal tract(3).
Some other forms of creatine on the market right now are creatine gluconate, which is simply creatine that is attached to a glucose molecule. The glucose is supposed to increase the cellular uptake of creatine by inducing a slight rise in blood sugar, thus causing insulin to be released. This sounds great, but just because insulin is elevated, there is no guarantee that the nutrients in your bloodstream will go into your muscle cells.
Creatine Ethyl Ester, according to Muscle and Fitness Senior Science Editor Jim Stoppani, is “creatine with an ester group attached, which is supposed to enhance creatine’s ability to pass across cell membranes to make it easier to be absorbed by the intestines.” However, Stoppani notes that two recent studies were published showing that creatine ethyl ester was no better than creatine monohydrate in increasing creatine levels in muscle (4). Furthermore, another study presented by the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that “the addition of the ethyl group to creatine actually reduces acid stability and accelerates its breakdown to creatinine” (5). Creatinine is the unwanted and unusable byproduct of creatine.
Kre-Alkalyn is buffered creatine, which means it is produced with a pH level around 12.0 (6). The pH scale goes from -5, which is the most acid, up to 14, which is the most alkaline. Pure water is considered neutral at 7.0. According to the makers of Kre-Alkalyn, the higher pH makes it more chemically stable, thus preventing its conversion to creatinine, as well as increasing uptake and efficiency. This looks nice on the surface to consumers, but the stomach and GI tract have a pH varying between 1.0 and 2.0, and is accustomed to dealing with similar pH levels. Something with a pH level of 12.0 is going to take some serious chemical processes to occur before it is readily available. Imagine yourself walking on a treadmill for an hour between levels 1.0 and 2.0, and you are quite comfortable. Then all of a sudden, some jerk comes along and cranks it up to 12. You’re going to have to make some serious changes to the way you’re moving in order to stay on the treadmill and avoid hurting (and humiliating) yourself. Well, Kre-Alkalyn is that jerk…real cool, bro.
If by now you have lost faith in creatine supplements, fear not. There is one form of creatine that stands a head and shoulders above the rest, with virtually zero shortcomings. That form of creatine is Creatine Hydrochloride, or Creatine HCl. Creatine HCl was actually discovered by accident in an experiment attempting to make creatine ethyl ester back in 2003. Research on this new and exciting product ensued, and it blew the doors off of every other form of creatine in existence. First of all, Creatine HCl has been shown to be 59% more soluble in water (2), and since a man’s body is around 70% water, higher solubility means much higher potency and bio-availability. The higher potency and bio-availability allows for much smaller dosing methods. In fact, only about 1.5 grams is equivalent to 5-10 grams for creatine monohydrate. Its pH is around 2.0, which is the natural pH level of the stomach, and it remains stable regardless of what it is mixed in. There is also no loading period with Creatine HCl. Creatine monohydrate users have to take up to 20 grams a day for up to 5 days in order to fill their muscles with enough creatine to be effective, which can lead to bloating, upset stomach, headaches, and cramping, not to mention making you buy more of the product. But since Creatine HCl is so much more potent and bio-available, no loading is required. You also don’t have to cycle it on and off throughout the year. Just a measly ½ teaspoon per day is all you need to reap the full benefits of creatine, all year long, with zero side effects. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.
The only place to get Creatine HCl by itself with nothing else added is RxWhey.com. Prescription Nutrition stocks Creatine HCl in 100 gram packs and for less than 1/5 the price of Con-Crete. Not only is Creatine HCl affordable, it is a steal at this price. Try it out and truly experience the benefits of this great creatine. NONE of our competitors even offer this product let alone at the price we do.
- Terrilion K (1997) Int J Sports Nutr 7:138.
- Child, R. & Tallon, M.J. International Society of Sports Nutrition. (2007)
Dave Williams is a Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Specialist in Sports Nutrition, and an unapologetic pretty boy from a small town north of Pittsburgh, PA. He graduated from Mercyhurst University with a degree in business and economics, but couldn’t seem to shift his mindset from workouts to Wall Street, so has set out to help make people unleash their inner hotness. Check out his Facebook page at facebook.com/DaveWilliamsFitnessConsulting