Supplement Breakdown: Creatine HCL

Supplement Breakdown: Creatine HCL
Not all creatine is created equal. The HCL form trumps all others. Here's why.

Updated July 3, 2018

Think all creatine is the same? It's not. The type you see most often is creatine monohydrate, but this is far from your only option. In fact, your best bet for reaping all the benefits of one of the most highly touted (and widely studied) performance-enhancing supplements ever is creatine HCL.

Creatine hydrochloride (HCL) is made by attaching a hydrochloride (HCL) group to creatine to enhance its stability. While creatine is well-recognized by sport scientists and athletes as one of the most effective supplement ingredients you can take to promote muscle growth and strength gains, there can be a few issues with the standard form of creatine known as creatine monohydrate.

Creatine Monohydrate's Downside

The main issues with creatine monohydrate are its solubility in fluids and its absorption by the body. Some research has reported that less than 3% of the original amount of creatine monohydrate is transported across the intestinal cells within 90 minutes. Not only is this an issue because it limits the uptake of creatine by the intestines and then by the muscles, but it can also lead to stomach upset (from the creatine sitting in the intestines and drawing water into them) and water retention in the subcutaneous space (under the skin), which blurs a person's muscularity and makes them look smooth and bloated.

Although some experts claim that creatine monohydrate doesn't cause bloating or water retention, I have data on thousands of individuals showing that many of them do, in fact, experience this "bad" water retention with creatine. In fact, several studies actually show that creatine monohydrate not only increases intracellular water (inside the muscle cells where you want it), but it also increases extracellular water levels, which is the area under the skin that causes that puffy look. Even though the changes in extracellular fluid may be small, in those who are very lean it can make a big difference in how "shredded" they look. I know that when I'm getting ready for a photo shoot I am NOT risking any small increases in my subcutaneous water levels. That's just one reason why I use creatine HCL.

There's also data on numerous individuals experiencing stomach issues such as abdominal cramps and diarrhea from taking creatine monohydrate, even when it's micronized. Again, this is due to the creatine that's not dissolved in the fluid it's mixed with -- it then sits in the intestines and draws water in. I've personally had severe issues with creatine monohydrate. It doesn't do well with my intestines. And I've heard from thousands of others who experience the same issues. With creatine HCL, I have zero stomach issues, which is not only great news for my stomach but also for my muscles, because I know that it's being absorbed and getting to them.

HCL Rationale

Creatine HCL works well because adding the hydrochloride group to the creatine molucule lowers the pH of the creatine, making it more acidic.This drastically increases its solubility in fluids. You'll notice this when you mix creatine HCL in water; it mixes almost instantly with no sedimentation, with no particles sitting in the bottom of the glass. Any ingredients that have precipitated to the bottom of a cup are ingredients that will sit in your intestines and not be absorbed properly. This will also cause water to be pulled into the intestines, causing stomach discomfort and diarrhea. Creatine HCL has been shown in the lab to be about 40 times more soluble in fluid than creatine monohydrate.

And research shows that when subjects consume the same amounts of creatine HCL and creatine monohydrate, the creatine HCL is absorbed by the intestines around 60% better than creatine monohydrate. This means that you can take a much smaller dose of creatine HCL to get similar results as creatine monohydrate. With greater solubility in fluid, greater absorption by the intestines and with a much smaller dose, you significantly reduce the chance of stomach issues and subcutaneous water retention.

Although published studies comparing performance benefits of creatine HCL to creatine monohydrate have yet to be done, the data I have on trained lifters confirms that creatine HCL outperforms creatine monohydrate in lean muscle mass gains, strength and power increases and greater endurance in the gym. This has also been reported by thousands of people following my advice to switch to creatine HCL.

But even if you don't want to believe that creatine HCL outperforms creatine monohydrate, you can rest assured knowing that it definitely provides similar results as creatine monohydrate, at a much smaller dose and with none of the potential side effects. There truly is no debating that fact.

Creatine Timing

I've recommended taking creatine BOTH before and after workouts for over a decade. It simply works the best in the gym and research also backs up this practice. However, there is debate still going on out there amongst the other experts on whether it is best to take creatine pre-workout or post-workout. Well, for those who for some reason only want to take creatine once a day, a recent study by a colleague of mine, Dr. Jose Antonio, may have the answer for you—or not.

They gave recreational male bodybuilders (basically guys like you and me), either 5 grams of creatine monohydrate immediately before they worked out for four weeks, or 5 grams of creatine monohydrate immediately after they worked out for the four-week period. On non-training days the subjects were allowed to take the creatine whenever they desired. They reported in a 2013 issue of the Journal of The International Society of Nutrition that there really wasn't any difference between the two groups for lean mass gains, body fat, or muscle strength. However, when they ran some much weaker statistics there was evidence that POSSIBLY taking creatine post-workout was more effective on lean muscle gains and muscle strength.

I want to first be clear here that I am NOT bashing Dr. Jose Antonio. Dr. Antonio is someone that I consider a friend and someone I regard as a very smart person. He stated in the paper that there were no significant differences between taking creatine pre-workout or post-workout. And only when they used magnitude-based inference was there any evidence that post-workout MIGHT be better than pre-workout. However, the media is going to jump on this, as well as all the pseudo-scientist bodybuilding "experts" who do not read these studies in their entirety, and say that taking creatine post-workout is far superior than taking it pre-workout. Not so fast.

I admit that there has yet to be a study published that compares taking creatine both pre- and post-workout to taking it just pre-workout or just post-workout. But the results that I have seen in thousands of people switching from either taking creatine just pre-workout or just post-workout to taking creatine both pre- and post-workout are very significant. Plus, a study done by Australian researchers reported that weight-trained subjects taking a protein, carbohydrate, and creatine shake immediately pre- and post-workout for ten weeks experienced an 80% greater increase in lean muscle mass and about a 30% greater increase in muscle strength than subjects taking the same supplements in the morning and at night.

They also lost body fat while taking the supplements pre- and post-workout, while the group taking the supplements in the morning and night lost no body fat. The pre- and post-workout supplement group also had significantly higher muscle glycogen levels, which is critical for performance and muscle growth. Many people would argue that because the subjects were taking a protein shake and fast-digesting carbs (glucose/dextrose) that it does not truly tell you how effective the creatine was. While it is hard to tweeze out what benefits were due to creatine versus the protein and carbs, that is precisely the way you want to take creatine. Taking creatine alone by itself is not half as effective as when you take it with protein and carbs. In fact, the recent study comparing pre-workout to post-workout creatine supplementation had subjects take just creatine and nothing else. I would argue that since that is a very ineffective way to take creatine, it negates any findings of the study. But since there weren't any real findings of the study, it doesn't really matter.

Now when you hear people talking about this study in the gym, or you read discussions about it online and the people are claiming that taking creatine post-workout is far superior than taking it pre-workout, you can have a laugh knowing that a) they didn't actually read the study despite acting like they did, b) they don't know what they are talking about, and c) you are way ahead of them because you already got the real truth on the matter. So do what you and I both know works best when it comes to supplementing with creatine: Take it both pre-workout and post-workout and also take a pre- and post-workout shake. 

These are all reasons why I included creatine HCL in both Pre JYM and Post JYM. Each product contains 2 grams of HCL per dose. This is the dose that I've found works best for the majority of people: two grams before training and then another two grams after.

Am I saying that creatine monohydrate is bad? No. Just that creatine HCL is better – a significant upgrade for a supplemental ingredient already proven effective. And wouldn't you prefer to take the best form of creatine possible before and after workouts? I know I would!

References

Supporting Research

Dash, A., et al. Evaluation of creatine transport using Caco-2 monolayers as an in vitro model for intestinal absorption. Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 90(10):1593-1598, 2001.

Powers, M. E., et al. Creatine supplementation increases total body water without altering fluid distribution. Journal of Athletic Training 38(1):44-50, 2003.

Miller, D. Oral bioavailability of creatine supplements: Is there room for improvement? Annual Meeting of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2009.

Antonio, J. and Ciccine, C. The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. Journal of The International Society of Nutrition 10:36, 2013.

Cribb, P. J. and Hayes, A. Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006 Nov;38(11):1918-25.

 

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