Creatine is one of the only supplements that’s been clinically proven to increase strength and lean muscle mass. It’s also one of the most common sports supplements used by athletes and bodybuilders around the world.
But before including it in your supplement routine, you need to know the best creatine for your fitness goals and budget.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are hundreds of companies all claiming to have their own unique blends, be the most affordable, or have the best absorption.
That’s why we put together this guide to the best creatine supplements on the market.
We’ll walk you through the process our team used to cut hundreds of supplements down to 10 of the most effective and affordable creatine products available.
This includes results from dozens of scientific studies across all types of creatine. From creatine monohydrate and ethyl ester, through to creatine anhydrous and AKG.
By the end of this guide you’ll have everything you need to know about the best form of creatine, how it works, recommended intake levels, health benefits, finding the lowest price, and whether you need a ‘loading phase’.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is produced naturally in the liver, helping to supply energy to cells throughout the body, including muscle cells. In the human body, creatine converts to creatine phosphate, which helps make a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
ATP provides the energy for muscle contractions, but isn’t stored in high dosages. Within resting muscle there is only a small concentration of ATP, which is why creatine phosphate is useful for replenishing ATP stores during exercise.
Although creatine is found in some foods, such as beef, salmon, and tuna, you would have to eat 1-2 pounds to get 5 g of creatine. Not only is this expensive, it’s also impractical, which is why many people use a creatine supplement. This is usually in the form of a creatine monohydrate powder.
Top 10 Best Creatine Supplements
If you’re looking for a shortcut to the best creatine supplements on the market, this is it. We analyzed more than 50 creatine powders and capsules, calculated the cost per serving, reviewed current scientific research and cut through the marketing hype to present you with the top 10 creatine supplements worth buying.
1. Optimum Nutrition Creatine Powder
Optimum Nutrition Creatine is unflavored for easy mixing, micronized for improved solubility, and uses the purest creatine monohydrate available – Creapure®, made by AlzChem in Germany.
This is the only ingredient, which is delivered in a 5 g serving size, with no fillers or additives. This means you’re only paying for what you need, with no added costs for combining the creatine powder with BCAAs or L-glutamine.
- Made with Creapure® Creatine
- 5 g of Creapure® per serving
- Micronized powder mixes more easily & stays in solution
- More than 3,900 reviews on Amazon
- Excellent value for money
- Available in 150 g, 600 g, 1200 g, 2000 g tubs
Coming from one of the largest and most respected supplement brands in the industry is another benefit. Optimum Nutrition has an excellent customer service record, with thousands of highly rated customer reviews on sites such as Amazon.
2. Bulk Supplements Creatine Monohydrate
Bulk Supplements Creatine contains pure monohydrate powder, but not in the Creapure® form. This is designed to be taken as a dietary supplement in doses of 5 g.
Because you can buy it in bags or even sacks up to 25 kg, you’re looking at an unbeatable cost per serving. If you do decide to buy the 25 kg sack, this is without question the cheapest creatine powder on the market.
- Micronized creatine monohydrate powder
- 5 g of creatine per serving
- Cheapest creatine in the world
- Over 10,000 reviews on Amazon
- Available in a range of sizes, from 100 g up to 25 kg
As a company, Bulk Supplements are renowned for their affordable, single-ingredient supplements. At the time of writing this guide, Creatine Monohydrate was actually their top selling product, with over 10,000 highly rated reviews on Amazon alone.
3. MuscleTech Platinum Creatine
This is one of the few MuscleTech products to only include one ingredient, and as a result is available at a reasonable price. Each serving contains 5 g of creatine monohydrate.
- Ultra-pure micronized creatine monohydrate powder
- 5 g of creatine per serving
- Helps increase strength and build lean muscle
- Cheaper alternative to Cell Tech if only need creatine
- Uses HPLC-tested creatine
We chose to include MuscleTech Platinum Creatine instead of CellTech because CellTech combines creatine with BCAAs in a blend we don’t believe to be cost effective.
At the time of writing this guide, each serving of Cell Tech was more than 4 times the price of Platinum Creatine. The justification for this price increase is 1.5 g of monohydrate being replaced by 1.5 g of creatine HCL, with 1 g of BCAAs added.
MuscleTech is one of the biggest names in sports nutrition, well known for their marketing and unique ingredient combinations. They’re one of the brands owned by Iovate Health Sciences International, which also produces the Six Star Pro line of supplements.
4. Dymatize Creatine Micronized
The larger 1 kg tub of Dymatize Creatine represents excellent value for money, with a lower cost per serving than the 1 kg tub of Optimum Nutrition Creatine at time of writing.
Although their creatine monohydrate is produced in the USA, in a NSF GMP certified facility, it hasn’t got the same amount of research behind it as the Creapure® used by Optimum Nutrition.
- Contains 5g micronized creatine monohydrate per serving
- Uses 100% pure creatine monohydrate
- Flavorless for easy mixing into a protein shake or fruit juice
- Excellent value for money, often as low as $0.02 per gram
- Conforms to the strict International Molecular Formula: C4H9N3O2H2O
Dymatize Nutrition was founded in 1994, and is perhaps best known for its highly rated ISO 100 whey protein isolate powder. Although this contains 25 g of protein and 5.5 g of BCAAs per serving (2.7 g of which is Leucine), it doesn’t contain any creatine. This would make it an excellent addition to their micronized pharmaceutical grade monohydrate.
5. Sheer Strength Labs Sheer Creatine
Sheer Strength Labs has exactly what you’re looking for in a creatine supplement; 5 g of pure creatine monohydrate per serving at an affordable price.
The unflavored powder makes it an excellent addition to any pre- or post-workout protein shake, with highly rated solubility for easy mixing.
- 5 g of creatine monohydrate per serving
- Designed to increase muscle strength, power, and size
- Excellent value for money
- No fillers or additives
- Made in the USA, in GMP certified facilities
Sheer Strength Labs has developed an impressive collection of sports supplements, some of which have thousands of highly rated reviews on Amazon. This includes their Sheer BCAA capsules, Sheer Thermo thermogenic fat burner capsules, Sheer Test, and Sheer N.O. nitric oxide booster. The majority of these have been ranked as number 1 bestsellers in their respective categories on Amazon.
6. MusclePharm Creatine Powder
MusclePharm have a slightly more expensive creatine product than Optimum Nutrition, despite using standard monohydrate powder (not Creapure®). At the time of writing this guide, the 1 kg tub of O.N. Creatine was priced at $0.10 per serving, compared to $0.19 for the MusclePharm product.
MusclePharm Creatine is produced in a cGMP compliant facility in the USA. This refers to the Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulations, enforced by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- Creatine monohydrate powder
- 5 g of creatine per serving
- Flavorless powder for easy mixing with your favorite beverage
- Designed to increase strength, power, and lean muscle mass
- Made in the USA
As a company, MusclePharm supplements have proven incredibly popular, especially their Combat Protein Powder and Combat Crunch protein bars. They’re also the only sports nutrition company with their own 35,000 square-foot state-of-the-art athletic and testing space, for fine-tuning the performance of all their supplements.
7. Integrated Supplements Creapure Creatine
Integrated Supplements Creatine comes in at a similar price to Optimum Nutrition and MuscleTech Platinum Creatine. The big surprise here is that they actually use the Creapure® form of creatine monohydrate, manufactured to GMP regulations by AlzChem at labs in Germany.
- Creapure® creatine monohydrate
- 5 g of micronized creatine per serving
- Created in GMP compliant facilities
- Unflavored to have no impact on the taste of your protein shake
- Increases strength, power, and lean muscle mass
Their approach to marketing is also refreshing, with a focus on delivering only the information that matters. This includes achieving an A grade of 92% from LabDoor, based on label accuracy, product purity, nutritional value, and ingredient safety.
Founded in 2006, Integrated Supplements is a relatively new addition to the dietary supplement industry. They specialize in developing pure supplements, manufacturing all of their products in NSF, GMP, and FDA regulated facilities. They’re also certified by OU Kosher.
8. Nutricost Creatine Monohydrate
Nutricost is another creatine monohydrate powder that represents excellent value for money. At the time of writing this guide, each serving in the 1 kg tub was priced at $0.09, making it the same price as Dymatize Creatine and cheaper than the Optimum Nutrition supplement.
- Pure micronized creatine monohydrate powder
- 5 g of creatine per serving
- Unflavored and micronized for improved solubility
- More affordable than creatine capsules or tablets
- Manufactured in GMP compliant facilities
However, this is standard micronized monohydrate, not Creapure®. This means a lower purity rating, but it’s still manufactured in the USA, in GMP compliant facilities.
Nutricost is similar to Bulk Supplements in the sense that it specializes in single-ingredient products. However, they also have a much wider range of health supplements that extends beyond sports nutrition into heart health, digestive support, immune support, and much more.
9. Old School Labs Vintage Build
Vintage Build is the only ‘all-in-one’ muscle builder to be included in our list of the top creatine supplements. That’s because when we actually break the ingredients down and work out the cost of buying the same doses separately, ‘all-in-one’ supplements are much more expensive.
- 5 g Creatine monohydrate powder per serving
- 2 g L-glutamine per serving
- 5 g BCAAs per serving (2:1:1 ratio)
- Available in 2 flavors; Fresh Berries, and Lemon Lime
- Over 1,800 highly rated reviews on Amazon
Unfortunately, this is true of Vintage Build, which we prove in our review with a comparison to NOW Foods supplements. However, this could just as easily have been Optimum Nutrition or any number of sports nutrition companies.
The same can be said of MuscleTech CellTech, but it’s much more difficult to directly compare ingredient prices because they tend to rely on creatine blends.
We’re just saying that Vintage Build is incredibly expensive for what it is, priced at $1.33 per serving at the time of writing this guide. This was the most expensive creatine supplement we reviewed.
As a company, Old School Labs makes some excellent supplements. Their Vintage Burn thermogenic fat burner and Vintage Blast pre-workout supplements are both bestsellers, with thousands of reviews on Amazon.
10. MET-Rx Creatine 4200
MET-Rx Creatine 4200 are the only creatine capsules included in our top 10. That’s because you typically pay a lot more for the manufacturing cost of the capsules compared to buying the pure creatine powder. If you do decide to buy the capsules, choose the 240-count bottle to save money.
- Pure HPLC creatine monohydrate
- Creatine capsules
- 4.2 g creatine in each 6-capsule serving
- Helps increase strength and power
- Gelatin in the capsules means it’s unsuitable for vegetarians
We’ve also found that capsules and tablets aren’t the most convenient delivery method.
For Creatine 4200, a single serving requires 6 capsules to deliver 4.2 g of monohydrate. This might not make much of a difference for a maintenance dose of 5 g per day, but consider trying a loading phase with 30 capsules per day (~20 g of creatine).
MET-Rx is a brand of nutritional supplements perhaps best known for its meal replacement powders. They’re also one of the original sports nutrition companies, with a 25-year history in delivering bestselling creatine supplements, protein powders, bars, and much more.
Listed below is a small selection of the creatine supplements we reviewed, then decided to exclude from our top 10. This was either because of insufficient clinical study to say they work better than monohydrate, or because the cost per serving was too high.
- Transparent Labs Creapure HMB
- Cellucor COR-Performance Creatine
- Beast Sports Nutrition Creature
- Promera Sports Con-Cret
- Universal Nutrition Creatine
- BSN Creatine DNA
- Muscle Feast Creapure
- RSP Nutrition CreAde
- BPI Sports Best Creatine
- MuscleTech CellTech
- GNC Amplified Creatine 189
- Six Star Creatine X3
- EFX Kre-Alkalyn
- MuscleTech Creacore Creatine HCL
- MuscleTech Creactor
- Controlled Labs Green Magnitude Creatine
- Arnold Series Iron CRE3 (discontinued)
- Crea-TEN by 5% Nutrition
There were also a couple of creatine supplements that were actually priced very affordably and provided the same 5 g of creatine monohydrate as many in our top 10. These were NOW Sports Creatine Monohydrate and ProSupps Creatine 300.
Types of Creatine
Creatine monohydrate is an organic acid that occurs naturally in the human body. The reason it’s so useful for anyone that wants to increase their strength, is that it facilitates the recycling of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the energy used in cells, with over 90% found in muscle and brain tissue.
It’s a supplement that’s designed for athletes looking to increase their strength, power, and endurance, but shouldn’t be seen as a recovery booster. Some studies have even seen cognitive benefits from supplementing with creatine monohydrate.
As the most studied form of creatine, there’s no shortage of scientific evidence to backup its ability to increase strength and lean muscle mass. One example is a study that found creatine supplementation led to greater increases in arm strength, upper arm muscle size, and fat-free mass than strength training alone.
Creatine Anhydrous uses the same formula as Creatine Monohydrate, but with the water molecule removed. It’s often included with supplements that use more than one type of creatine, alongside creatine monohydrate, creatine HCL, or creatine AKG.
By removing the monohydrate (water molecule), the Anhydrous form becomes pure 100% creatine. This is compared to creatine monohydrate, which usually contains around 12% water.
However, there’s an additional cost involved in the process of creating creatine anhydrous, which is why you only find it in smaller quantities as part of a creatine blend.
Whereas creatine monohydrate is one of the most clinically studied supplements on the market, we’re yet to find any scientific study based solely on creatine anhydrous.
Creatine Hydrochloride (HCL)
Creatine HCL is formed by attaching a hydrochloride group to creatine to enhance its stability. The formula was co-founded by Donald W. Miller, associate professor at the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, University of Manitoba.
By adding this hydrochloride group, the goal is to overcome several common problems with creatine monohydrate. This includes solubility in liquids and slow absorption into the body.
The hydrochloride lowers the pH of the creatine to make it more acidic, which increases solubility, resulting in greater absorption by the intestines. With more creatine being absorbed by the body, you typically need a lower initial dose. That’s why you won’t find supplements that provide more than 3 grams per serving, such as MuscleTech Cell Tech.
Unfortunately, as with creatine anhydrous, it’s difficult to find any clinical studies comparing creatine HCL with creatine monohydrate. That being said, a summary of aqueous solubility data collated by Donald W. Miller showed creatine HCL to have a relative solubility level more than 39 times greater than creatine monohydrate.
Creatine Ethyl Ester
Creatine ethyl ester (CEE) is another creatine monohydrate variation that claims to have a better absorption rate into the body, and a longer half-life.
However, studies that compare the two have found significant differences between their effectiveness. At best, CEE is less effective than monohydrate, and at worst CEE was considered no better than a placebo. Some research even suggests that CEE may hydrolyze too quickly to reach muscle cells in its ester form, rendering it useless.
Ability to increase serum and muscle creatine levels, improving body composition, muscle mass, strength and power were all factors in comparing the effectiveness of the two creatines.
Creatine Alpha-Ketoglutarate (AKG) uses a formula that’s designed to allow more efficient uptake of creatine into the muscle cells. It’s a compound that’s created through binding creatine to a molecule of alpha keto-glutarate.
The problem is there are very few studies to prove its effectiveness, but no shortage of bodybuilding articles promoting it as an effective way to increase strength and energy levels.
NxCare Inc. was reportedly the first company to bring creatine-AKG to the bodybuilding market with the release of their ANAVOL supplement.
Binding creatine to AKG is thought to increase uptake of creatine by muscle cells because of its role as a Krebs cycle intermediate.
A study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism looked at combining creatine with a nitric oxide formula; Arginine a-Ketoglutarate (A-AKG).
Their study found that supplementing with creatine and A-AKG was more effective than creatine alone at increasing bench press repetitions (+3.7 reps, or 12.4% vs. +3.2 reps, or 11.9%). No strength or endurance increase was noted for participants in the placebo group.
Some people take buffered creatine in the belief that it has greater retention and fewer side effects at lower doses compared to creatine monohydrate.
Unfortunately we’re yet to find a study that proves this to be the case. In fact, one study divided 36 resistance-trained participants into two groups; one that supplemented with Creapure® and the other with Kre-Alkalyn®. After 28 days, researchers concluded that there was no evidence that supplementing the diet with a buffered form of creatine resulted in fewer side effects than monohydrate.
Creatine Phosphate has been reported to be as effective as creatine monohydrate at increasing lean muscle mass and strength, but there aren’t enough studies to prove conclusive.
Magnesium creatine chelate is a patented form of creatine from Albion Labs, also known by the name Creatine MagnaPower. It’s where the creatine has been chemically bonded to magnesium in an attempt to boost ATP synthesis. This is different to creatine monohydrate, which binds to a water molecule.
Although some studies have shown promise for creatine chelate, most tend to report that strength gains are no more significant than with creatine monohydrate.
Effervescent creatine products often claim to use a ‘rapid absorption formula’ to get the creatine into your muscles faster. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough evidence to support this claim, and most effervescent creatine studies report unconvincing results. At least one study even claims no significant difference between effervescent creatine supplementation and a control group.
Listed above are the main types of creatine you’ll find in health supplements, each of which has subtle changes in its composition or mode of delivery. However, there are many more creatine variations, which we’ve compiled to create the list below:
- Creatine citrate
- Creatine malate
- Creatine serum
- Creatine phosphate
- Creatine kinase
- Creatine nitrate
- Creapure patented creatine monohydrate
- Creatine kre alkalyn
- Creatine magnesium chelate
- Creatine pyruvate
Who Should Take Creatine?
Anyone over the age of 18 that wants to enhance their strength, increase lean muscle mass, and boost exercise performance should consider supplementing with creatine. This is usually men and women that are fitness enthusiasts or weightlifters.
The only reason we wouldn’t recommend creatine for anyone under the age of 18 is the lack of clinical study involving this age group. That being said, it’s already proving to be a popular option for teenagers and older children.
A 2001 report was conducted on 1,103 pupils aged 10 – 18. This found that 62 of them were already using creatine, although no testing was carried out to assess any side effects or results.
A similar study of 4,011 high school student-athletes in 2002 found 16.7% of athletes used creatine, with the highest proportion in the 12th grade.
When Should I Take Creatine?
The general recommendation for creatine supplementation on workout days is 30 minutes to 1 hour before training, and another serving immediately after.
The theory behind the pre-workout dose is that it increases power output while you exercise. Increased power output should result in a greater activation of muscle fibers and more weight lifted. This in-turn would lead to increased muscle growth.
But is this backed by any real science?
Perhaps the best known study was published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. This compared the effects of creatine monohydrate dosing before and after a workout.
Nineteen healthy recreational bodybuilders took part in the study, which were split into 2 groups; one taking 5 g of creatine pre-workout (Pre-Supp), and one taking 5 g of creatine post-workout (Post-Supp). Subjects then trained five days per week for four weeks.
The study found no significant difference between the groups. A similar increase in strength and lean muscle mass was seen in the Pre-Supp and Post-Supp groups.
A separate study looked at differences between supplementation pre/post-workout, and taking the same supplement in the morning and evening. In this case, the supplement was a combination of protein, creatine, and glucose.
After 10 weeks of structured resistance exercise, the group supplementing immediately before and after training saw the best results. They experienced a greater increase in lean body mass and 1RM strength in two of three assessments.
Taking Creatine Pre-workout
Based on the scientific research above, one 5 g dose of creatine should be taken pre-workout, with the optimal time being 30-60 minutes before you start your training. On non-workout days, this dose should be taken upon waking.
For convenience, it’s best to combine the creatine with a whey protein shake if your current protein powder doesn’t already contain it. If you’re currently taking a pre-workout supplement and it contains creatine, we recommend taking this 30 minutes apart from the creatine. That’s because caffeine has a dehydrating effect, meaning it counteracts the process of creatine flowing into your muscles.
Taking Creatine Post-workout
Post-workout is the preferred time to supplement with creatine for many athletes. A post workout meal spikes insulin, aiding in the delivery of creatine molecules when your body is most depleted. This can also promote muscle synthesis by expanding muscle cells and triggering growth.
We recommend taking your post-workout dose of creatine at the same time as your post-workout shake, within 30 minutes of finishing your training.
How Much Creatine Should I Take?
There are really two schools of thought on this, depending on whether or not a loading phase is required.
The majority of creatine monohydrate powders have a serving size of 5 g. This drops slightly to between 3 and 4 g if the supplement blends different types of creatine.
Most studies use a loading phase of 5 to 7 days, whereby participants ingest 20 g of creatine per day, split across 4 doses. Following a 5-day loading period, the dose drops to 5 g per day for a period of 6 to 12 weeks.
A few studies have looked at slightly higher doses, including one published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. In this study, 6 g of creatine per day was used, split into two doses and ingested each day for 5 days.
This was in place of the standard 20 g loading phase. Despite the lower dose, athletes still noted an 18% increase in interval power performance.
Do I Need to Load Creatine?
If you’ve never taken a creatine supplement before then the general recommendation is yes. A good starting point is 20 g per day for 5 to 7 days, split across 4 doses, then dropping to 5 g per day as a maintenance phase for 6 to 12 weeks.
This is backed by the following scientific research.
How long does the loading phase need to be?
One study compared loading phase durations to determine which was more effective; 2 days, or 5 days. This involved seventeen trained men being assigned to one of two groups; a creatine group that ingested 20 g of creatine per day, or a placebo group.
5-Day Loading Phase
Researchers measured anaerobic power and strength performance on the third and sixth day to establish the benefit of loading for 2 and 5 days. The results showed significant improvements in anaerobic power and back squat strength after the 5-day loading regime, with no significant benefit to the 2-day loading phase.
The conclusion of this study was to recommend the 5-day loading phase for anyone supplementing with creatine for strength and power gains.
3-Day Loading Phase
A separate study tested a 3-day creatine loading phase on 20 elite power athletes. Ten male and ten female athletes were randomly assigned to a creatine or placebo group, before performing interval cycle sprints.
With a loading dose of 0.35 g/kg of fat-free mass, creatine supplementation triggered a significant increase in total work during the first sprint, and peak power for sprints 2 to 6. A 6.6% increase in thigh volume was also noted in five of the creatine subjects. It would have been great to see this study continued for a full 5 days, then compared to the 3-day performance increase.
How long should I supplement with creatine for?
Another study tested the effects of prolonged creatine supplementation over the course of 6 weeks. Researchers divided twenty subjects into two groups; one that supplemented with creatine, and one placebo.
The loading phase they used was 20 g per day for 5 days, followed by 2 g per day as a maintenance phase for an additional 6 weeks. Results showed an increase in fat-free mass for the creatine group.
Is a maintenance phase needed?
A paper published in the International Journal of Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism tested the impact of 3 different loading procedures. This was followed by a comparison of 2 maintenance phase regimes.
Over the course of 6 weeks, muscle biopsy samples were taken pre- and post-loading, as well as at the end of the maintenance phase. These were analyzed for skeletal muscle ATP and creatine concentrations.
As expected, post-load creatine stores were significantly increased for all 3 loading procedures. But the highest concentration came from a glucose and creatine combination ingested twice per day.
In terms of a maintenance phase, the 2 g per day and 5 g per day doses were similarly effective at maintaining post-load creatine concentration in the muscles. The study concludes that 2-5 g per day for 6 weeks is the most effective maintenance routine.
A separate study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, found total muscle creatine concentration increased by 20% after 6 days of supplementation at a rate of 20 g/day (loading phase).
A maintenance phase of 2 g/day was then established, which subjects ingested for a further 30 days. Researchers found this was enough to successfully maintain the elevated creatine concentration, while 0 g/day led to a gradual decline back to baseline by the end of the 30 days.
Interestingly, by dropping the loading phase to 3 g/day, but extending the duration to 30 days, researchers observed a similar 20% increase in muscle total creatine concentration.
In summary, based on the scientific evidence currently available, the optimal loading and maintenance phases are:
- 1. Take 20 g per day for the first 5-7 days, split into 4 doses
- 2. Take with a meal, as insulin transports creatine molecules to muscle cells
- 3. Don’t take on empty stomach to minimize any discomfort
Sample maintenance phase
- 1. Switch to maintenance after loading
- 2. 5g per day, either as a single dose or 2 doses at 2.5g each
- 3. Follow instructions on the supplement you choose, not all are the same
What are the Effects of Creatine?
One of the most frequently mentioned benefits of creatine is its ability to increase strength. But is there any science to back this up, and what kind of strength increase should you expect?
A review of 22 scientific studies was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. This found the average increase in muscle strength following creatine supplementation plus resistance training was 8% greater than the increase in strength from placebo. The endurance increase was also 14% greater in the creatine groups compared to placebo.
However, they also found that response rates vary, and these numbers are an average. The degree to which your strength improves will depend on a number of factors, such as the number of years you’ve been training, if you’ve used creatine before, and age.
A separate review of sixteen creatine studies looked at the effects on the amount of weight lifted in 3 key exercises; bench press, squats, and arm curls.
This found the maximum weight lifted in the bench press was 6.85 kg greater in the creatine group compared to placebo. For squat, this increased to 9.76 kg, but for arm curls there was no reported difference.
Effects of creatine without resistance training
What if you take creatine without lifting heavy weights? Are there really any health benefits from taking creatine alone?
A review of existing research looked at its ability to improve the quality of life in the elderly without associated weight training. This concluded that creatine supplementation could potentially delay atrophy of muscle mass, helping to improve endurance, muscle strength, and bone strength.
Should You Mix Creatine With Other Supplements?
When you ingest creatine, you want your body to retain as much as possible for as long as possible. But how can this be done naturally?
Steenge et al found that you can increase the retention of a 5 g creatine dose by 25% using a combination of protein and carbohydrates. The serving size used in the trial was 50 g of protein and 47 g of carbohydrates, but similar benefits were seen with 96 g of carbohydrates and 0 g of protein.
Creatine Powder vs. Creatine Tablets
Most research compares the different types of creatine, which is typically in powder form. Unfortunately, there aren’t any studies that compare the actual delivery methods, such as powders, capsules, or serums.
Because of its micronized or buffered form, it’s believed that creatine powders offer faster absorption into the body. However, at the current time there isn’t enough scientific evidence to prove this theory.
How To Find a Good Creatine Supplement
When we review a new creatine supplement, the research usually goes through 4 important stages.
- Stage 1: Brand reputation
The first thing we do is a background check on the brand. This includes checking for patents, whether they’re owned by a parent company, the reputation of any parent company, and the location of their registered address.
- Stage 2: Customer feedback
If everything looks legit, we’ll put together a quick list of any other supplements they have, then check the customer feedback for each of them on Amazon. We’ll also do a quick search for any scientific studies that used this particular creatine.
- Stage 3: Ingredient check
For any creatine review the most important thing to check is ingredients. Unless there’s at least 3-5 g of creatine monohydrate per each serving we won’t usually recommend it. Based on all of the independent scientific research we’ve reviewed, monohydrate is the main type of creatine we’re interested in.
We’ll also check for any added ingredients to see if they’re provided in effective doses, such as with the BCAAs and L-glutamine added to Old School Labs Vintage Build.
- Stage 4: Price check
This is where we take a look at the tub/bottle sizes available and perform a basic calculation based on serving size and price. Once we have the average cost per serving, it’s much easier to compare creatine supplements.
In every case we’ve seen, the larger the quantity you buy, the more money you’ll save. A good example of this is Bulk Supplements, where a 100 g bag will cost you $0.25 per serving. In comparison, if you bought the 25 kg sack, you would only pay $0.02 for the same 1 g of creatine.
Which creatine you choose depends on your needs, budget, and delivery system preferences (tablets, capsules, serum, etc.). But if you follow the guidelines above, you’ll be able to identify the best creatine supplements available.
Health Risks of Creatine
Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid that’s made by the human body in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It’s also found in foods such as meats and fish.
But is it safe to take as a health supplement? Is there an upper limit to your daily dose?
In recent years, there has been a much greater focus on studying the safety of creatine, rather than simply re-establishing its benefits for strength and lean muscle gain.
Damaging effects on kidney and liver function?
One study, published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, tested the effects of long-term creatine supplementation on American college football players.
Twenty-three members of the team with at least 2 years of strength training were split into two groups; one for a daily dose of creatine (5 to 20 g), and the other a placebo control group.
Although the supplementation varied between 0.25 and 5.6 years depending on the team member, no long-term detrimental effects were seen on the kidney or liver functions.
Negative Effects of Creatine on Renal Function?
Impairment of renal function and concerns over gastrointestinal issues have also been raised as health concerns on a number of health and fitness forums.
A study of long-term creatine supplementation on aged patients with Parkinson’s disease was conducted and published in 2008. This looked at supplementing the diet of sixty patients with Parkinson’s with 4 g per day of creatine over a period of 2 years.
The results found that creatine was well tolerated, with markers of renal function remaining normal, indicating unaltered kidney function. However, if you already have a pre-existing renal disease, scientists recommend you seek professional health advice before starting creatine supplementation.
A separate study testing dosage levels on rats found indications that long-term creatine supplementation (4-8 weeks) may adversely affect kidney and liver structure of sedentary rats. This wasn’t the case with exercised rats, which showed no difference in kidney and liver structure and function after one, four, and eight weeks.
Some people have reported stomach ache and cramping when they start taking creatine. This is believed to be a result of taking too much creatine in a single serving, instead of splitting it into equal doses, consumed throughout the day.
One study tested this theory with 59 top-level male soccer players, each of which was assigned to one of three groups; 2 x 5 g per day (C5), 1 x 10 g per day (C10), and a placebo group (P) that received no creatine.
After 28 days, all reports of gastrointestinal (GI) distress were aggregated by group. The results showed no significant differences between GI distress in the C5 group and the placebo group. In comparison, the risk of diarrhea nearly doubled in the C10 group.
So, to answer the question ‘Is creatine safe?’, the answer based on scientific research is an overwhelming yes. However, there are some caveats to minimize side effects, such as taking no more than 5 g in a single dose. You should also drink a minimum of 2 liters of water per day to minimize stress on the kidneys and prevent dehydration.
Best creatine on a budget
If you’re on a strict budget and simply looking for the cheapest creatine powder, we recommend Optimum Nutrition Creatine. Although Bulk Supplements may seem the obvious choice, the price of a 5 g serving only drops to $0.04 if you buy the 25 kg bag. You typically wouldn’t want to buy any supplement that took many years to use up.
For closer to $0.09 per serving, you can buy a 1 kg tub of Creapure® – the purest form of creatine monohydrate. It’s also backed by thousands of highly rated reviews on Amazon, and made by one of the most trusted brands in the sports nutrition industry.
If you’re not too worried about Creapure® and just want 5 g of monohydrate powder, there are plenty of slightly cheaper options. The 1 kg tub of NOW Foods Creatine, 1 kg tub of Nutricost Creatine, and 1 kg tub of Dymatize Creatine all retail for between $0.08 and $0.09 per serving.
Where to buy creatine
Most top creatine brands have their own websites, but the prices are almost always identical to what you’ll find on Amazon. Buying on Amazon has a number of benefits:
- Quick and easy to compare product prices
- Free next day delivery often available
- Take advantage of discounts through incentives such as ‘Subscribe & Save‘