Because of the explosion of creatine products on the market in recent years, what used to be a very simple question has turned into a problem that requires a great deal of explanation. What used to be simply known as creatine (creatine monohydrate) has now become an extensive list of scientific sounding names. So what is the best creatine to take for increasing your muscle and strength gains?
What is Creatine?
Before we get into the various types of creatine supplements on the market, let’s take a quick look at what creatine does that makes it such an effective tool for increasing strength and mass. Once we understand
Methylguanidino acetic acid, henceforth to be called creatine, is an amino acid. It occurs naturally in our bodies and comes from two sources. The majority of creatine in our bodies comes from the foods we eat.
Foods that are naturally high in creatine include lean red meat, fish such as tuna and salmon, and to a small degree in milk and milk products. To give you an indication of the amount of creatine that occurs naturally in food, a pound of lean beef is generally considered to contain 1-2 grams of creatine.
When dietary consumption is inadequate for the bodies energy needs creatine can also be synthesized by the liver and kidneys. L-arginine, glycine, and L-methionine are all naturally occurring amino acids that are used by our bodies to manufacture creatine.
What Does it Do?
About 95% of the creatine in our bodies is stored in skeletal muscle. Here it is used to re-synthsize or restore ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). ATP is essentially the energy source for every cell in our body. To give you an understanding of how important it is to our bodies, going without it for even one second would be instant death. It literally is the fuel on which our bodies survive. For more information on ATP, check out these resources. (ATP: Energy’s Currency and Ketosis – advantaged or misunderstood state?)
A basic explanation is this. When you perform a movement, the bonds of ATP split, releasing energy and allowing for the contraction of muscles. Creatine binds with the compound left over from this split (ADP) and restores it to ATP, thus extending the energy stores of the muscle.
To put it simply, creatine allows your muscles to more quickly restore energy, facilitating increased performance. And since it is difficult to consume enough food on a daily basis to dramatically increase your creatine levels, supplements have been developed to help.
Various Forms of Creatine Supplements
In the old days (when I was in college), choosing the best creatine supplement was easy. The only option was creatine monohydrate. If you’ve never had it, the taste and texture leave quite a bit to be desired.
It doesn’t readily dissolve into liquids, so it’s almost like drinking a glass of water with sand in it. And not only did it taste like crap, the rate at which it is absorbed by the body is extremely low. Some estimates put absorption into skeletal muscle at about 1%. This is obviously highly inefficient.
The main culprit for this is the low amount of surface area of creatine monohydrate. A rather unpleasant side effect of this can be the solution sitting in your stomach eventually causing gas and bloating.
That being said, the majority of performance research out there was done using creatine monohydrate, and it’s benefits are well documented. It is also the least expensive option.
Monohydrate does require a loading phase when you first begin using it. Taking 2-3 times the recommended dosage during the first 5-7 days allows your body a chance to build up excess stores. If you chose not to load in the first week, you’re body will store excess and over a few weeks you will reach the same saturation point, just not as quickly as with loading.
Although it is the oldest creatine supplement on the market and does have side effects, it might be the best creatine to take. But let’s take a look a few popular alternatives.
From a molecular standpoint, micronized creatine is the exact same as creatine monohydrate. It’s essentially been sliced and diced into a smaller size that makes for better solubility and absorption.
This also has the added benefit of reducing stomach issues for some people. So if you experienced gas or bloating with monohydrate, micronized might be the next logical step.
Like monohydrate, micronized creatine does require a loading phase. And form a cost perspective it is slightly more expensive.
Creatine Ethyl Esther
This form of creatine has an esther attached to each molecule to aid in solubility and absorption. Of course the big advantage of this is that more of the creatine is absorbed and is usable for the body. It also eliminate many of the side effects such as gas and bloating associated with monohydrate.
Because of the high rate of absorption, this product does not require a loading phase. Price wise it is more expensive than the previous two options, but when the increased efficiency is taken into account, the price difference is minimal.
Many users do complain of a horrible taste associated with ethyl esther, so a supplement in pill form would be highly recommended.
From an efficiency standpoint, this is the best creatine to take for quick and efficient increases in strength and size.
Creatine serums have been around for some time. The idea behind them is simple. A quick and easy method of supplementation using a dropper under the tongue. However, over time creatine in a solution breaks down into creatinine, which is useless.
Serums are generally expensive, and there is mounting evidence that there is little difference between it and a placebo.
Probably not worth the money unless you are unable to stomach any of the other forms for creatine.
So What is the Best Creatine to Take to Maximize Your Gains?
Either micronized creatine or creatine ethyl esther are great choices. Both will improve muscle energy during sets and recovery between sets. The higher absorption of ethyl esther makes it very appealing since it doesn’t require a loading phase. But you’ll have to decide if that’s worth the additional money.
Either way you should be able to count on performance enhancements from whichever product you choose.