In this article, we are looking at creatine HCL vs monohydrate to see which gives you the best bang for your buck when buying a creatine supplement.
Creatine HCL is supposedly absorbed more effectively and can fully saturate your muscles using a lower dose. However, when compared to monohydrate, the muscle growth and strength gain results will be exactly the same but at a higher cost per dose.
This is a birds-eye view of the matter.
In the following lines, we will dig deeper to find out which is better, and why. Keep reading to learn more about:
And more. We are leaving no stones unturned for this one.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a compound found in the body, which is mostly responsible for helping you with short energy bursts. It is composed of three amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine.
In the next section, we will tell you exactly how creatine works to make you stronger and, potentially, more muscular. For now, let's get you up to speed in terms of where creatine is stored and what its origins are.
Most of your body's reserves of creatine - 95% to be precise - are stored in the skeletal muscle.
The other 5% is stored in your brain and liver.
As far as where creatine comes from, there are three sources:
However, only relying on these two sources leaves a lot on the table.
At any given point, your muscles' creatine levels are between 60-80% full.
Meaning that, if you want to maximize your muscle creatine levels you should take a supplement. The most popular creatine supplement is creatine monohydrate. However, in recent years, creatine HCL has gained popularity among fitness enthusiasts.
So which one should you choose?
Let's start with a presentation of both, and later we will dive into a comparison of the two.
What is creatine monohydrate?
Creatine monohydrate is simply creatine with a water molecule attached to it.
It is the purest form of creatine supplement available on the market, at around 99.8% purity.
Furthermore, it is also the most popular.
After 25 years of research and over 700 studies, there is a clear grasp of how creatine monohydrate interacts with the human body. Everything from its benefits to its side effects is well documented.
Not only is it the most popular but it is also the most researched supplement overall. Hundreds of studies have demonstrated that creatine monohydrate is both effective and harmless - in the short term as long as in the long term.
What is creatine HCL?
Creatine HCL, or creatine hydrochloride, is a form of creatine developed in 2003 and commercialized from 2007 onward. It is creatine with a hydrochloride molecule attached to it.
Although it may sound "toxic", the hydrochloride is actually just a salt molecule.
So how does it work?
The salt molecule raises the pH of the substance, making it more soluble in water and other liquids. As a consequence, it gets broken down quicker in your body, and is absorbed by your muscle cells faster. And since the absorption rate is higher, the dose you need to get the same results as with the monohydrate variant is lower.
However, compared to Creatine Monohydrate, creatine HCL is much less studied.
To be more precise, we are looking at around 10 studies for creatine HCL.
How does creatine work in your body?
As mentioned above, creatine has the potential to make you stronger and more muscular.
But how exactly does it work?
Let's start with the ingestion of creatine. Once you take creatine, through food or supplements, it is broken down by your body into phosphocreatine.
Ok, so how does phosphocreatine (i.e. creatine) translate to more strength/muscle mass?
The main source of energy in our body is the ATP system - or adenosine triphosphate. Basically, when you are doing short bursts of high intensity effort, your body uses ATP compounds.
Once used, an ATP (adenosine triphosphate) molecule turns into ADP (adenosine diphosphate), which can no longer be used for energy production.
Once this happens, the phosphocreatine stored in your body donates its phosphate group to ADP to turn it into ATP so that it can be used for energy again.
Basically, creatine helps your system produce more energy.
As a practical example, let's imagine you can bench 220lbs (or 100kg) for 3 sets of 8 reps. If you take creatine and reach muscle creatine saturation, you will then be able to bench 220lbs for 3 sets of 10 reps instead of 8.
Thus increasing your strength and giving you the potential to increase your muscle mass through added volume.
Creatine Monohydrate vs HCL
Now that I have laid the groundwork, let's get into comparing creatine HCL from monohydrate.
Being that this is an article comparing the two forms of creatine, we will not into the general benefits and drawbacks of this supplement.
What we want to look into in this section are the benefits and drawbacks of creatine monohydrate as compared to HCL, and vice versa.
At a bird's eye view, this is how they stack up against each other:
Muscle mass gain
Reduced incidence of GI issues
Price per dosage
As you can see from the table above:
As you can see, there are lots of similarities between these two types of creatine.
However, there are also some differences:
Now, these are only a few birds eye pros and cons.
Let's actually take a look at all the claims surrounding creatine HCL vs monohydrate and see how they stack up against scientific studies.
Solubility & absorption
According to a 2015 study, creatine HCL is 38x more soluble in water than creatine monohydrate, which is presumed to contribute to its increased absorption.
However, that is just an assumption.
It all stems from the idea that if a substance is more soluble, then it must also mean that it gets more efficiently absorbed by your body. However, that is not always the case.
And you know why?
Because there is one more important step creatine has to go through before getting absorbed into your muscles: it has to be digested by your stomach.
The digestive juices in your stomach break down the food you ingest so that it can be then used by your body. Meaning that, no matter how soluble creatine is prior to entering the stomach, it will continue to dissolve in there before being used by your body.
Yes, usually more soluble substances are dissolved quicker.
However, there is no evidence that that is the case at such a granular level as creatine gets.
Improvement in strength
Creatine monohydrate's effect on strength is well documented.
To name but a few, there is this study from 1995 showing how supplementation with creatine improved the participants' 1RM bench press, another study from 1999 showed that participants who took creatine significantly improved their power and strength, and a more recent study from 2018 which showed, again, that creatine supplementation improves strength.
Again, these are just some of the available studies.
There are 100s of studies that look at creatine and its benefits on strength and muscle mass and can be easily accessed using sources like Examine.
As far as creatine HCL is concerned, there have been some studies performed on its effectiveness as far as gaining strength goes. However, this type of creatine remains relatively unstudied.
With that being said…
A study from 2015 showed that participants taking creatine HCL and monohydrate had similar results in terms of strength gains, after 4 weeks of resistance training. Interestingly, creatine HCL was the only of the two forms to induce changes in body composition in recreational weightlifters.
The body of research is still limited but the results are promising nonetheless.
Let's look at a 2nd study.
This study from 2019 compared creatine HCL and monohydrate for strength gains in leg press and bench press. Both forms of creatine showed increases in 1RM strength, with the results being similar between the two.
Even though creatine HCL is not as well studied as creatine monohydrate, they both seem to have the same effects in terms of muscle mass gain.
One thing to note is that with creatine HCL you will not appear as "swole" because, in contrast to what happens when you take creatine monohydrate, with HCL your cells don't retain as much water.
What does science say?
A double-blind study from 2020 examined the effects of creatine HCL and monohydrate on muscle mass, by comparing plasma testosterone and plasma cortisol levels in young athletes who took one or the other supplement. These hormones are good indicators of muscle growth. At the end of the study, there was no significant difference between athletes.
Meaning that, creatine HCL and monohydrate are equally as effective at building muscle in athletes.
The recommended dose for creatine monohydrate is 5g per day in a maintenance phase, and 20g per day for 1 week in a loading phase. In contrast, the recommended dosage for creatine HCL is around 1.5g per day.
As opposed to creatine monohydrate, with creatine HCL you don't have to do a loading phase.
The claim goes that creatine HCL is more bioavailable than monohydrate, therefore more efficiently absorbed by your body. However, there is little evidence supporting that claim.
Now what about creatine monohydrate?
Is a loading phase truly necessary?
As we discussed in a previous article looking into creatine loading, it is not necessary. However, it will help you experience the effects of creatine monohydrate faster - in 1 week if you load creatine, in around 4 weeks if you take the regular 5g dosage.
So are the dosage recommendations on point?
As far as creatine monohydrate goes, they are. Countless studies looked into this matter and the general consensus is that you should be taking around 5g of creatine per day, and 20g if you want to do a loading phase. However, after a week of loading, you return to the 5g per day indefinitely.
As for the HCL creatine…
Again, the research is limited, but there is one interesting study we can look at.
In this study participants taking creatine HCL were split into two groups: one group taking 5g daily, the other group taking 1.5g daily, for a total of four weeks. Interestingly enough, the group taking 5g of creatine HCL daily saw significant improvements in bench press and leg press performance. In contrast, the group taking 1.5g daily saw improvements only in the leg press.
This may suggest that 1.5g of creatine HCL daily is not enough dosage to lead to muscle creatine saturation within 4 weeks, and a higher dose may be necessary.
Price per dosage
Creatine HCL may seem cheaper than creatine monohydrate. However, that's not the case.
A regular pack of 335g of creatine monohydrate goes for around $35.
A regular pack of creatine HCL of 45-55g goes for $20. Even though the quantity is smaller, you are also supposed to take a way smaller dose. Making it seem like you are making a good bargain.
In reality, this is how price per dosage turns out to be, when comparing creatine monohydrate vs HCL, following the pricing above.
Price per dose
Upon comparing the price of some of the most popular creatine monohydrate supplements with some of the most popular creatine HCL brands, we found that:
Which brings me to my personal experience and opinion: supplement brands can't make much money off of creatine monohydrate because there is no room to increase it (due to competition and people already being used to a particular price point for dozens of years now).
Therefore, in order to increase their profits, they need to come up with imaginary problems which can be solved by taking this revolutionary product - in this case, poor absorption and high doses which can be solved by creatine HCL.
Now that we had a look through the differences between creatine monohydrate and HCL, what is our recommendation?
Again, all other types of creatine are only a byproduct of monetary gain for supplement companies.
Obviously, I am not going full on against capitalism. But when it comes to creatine, monohydrate is the best overall: most researched, comes with clear, measurable benefits, is safe both long and short term, and it's also cheap (which is the main issue for manufacturers).
If you still want to try other varieties of creatine, make sure the product you choose checks out the following boxes:
These are some of the things you should be on the lookout for when purchasing any type of creatine, whether it is HCL, monohydrate, ethyl ester, etc.
With everything out of the way, let's look at some of the most common questions relating to creatine HCL vs monohydrate:
Which creatine is better: HCL or monohydrate?
Creatine monohydrate is overall better than HCL because its benefits and safety - both in the long as long as in the short term - have been scientifically proven. Furthermore, creatine monohydrate comes at a lower cost per dose than HCL, which makes it a more budget-friendly option for virtually the same results.
The only convenience of creatine HCL vs monohydrate is the dose - 1.5g instead of 5g. However, some studies seem to suggest that a dose this small doesn't offer the full benefits of creatine.
Will creatine HCL make you look bigger?
Creatine HCL can make you bigger. Generally speaking, creatine gives you more energy, which allows you to push yourself harder in the gym, which gives you the opportunity to get bigger. However, that is entirely dependent on your willingness to put in the effort. As compared to creatine monohydrate, creatine HCL will not make you look bigger.
Creatine monohydrate leads to more water retention, which can make you look swole. Creatine HCL, on the other hand, doesn't lead to as much cell water retention, meaning that you won't look as big as you would on creatine monohydrate.
Why is creatine HCL the best?
Unfortunately, it's not. From available research, creatine HCL offers the same exact benefits as creatine monohydrate, only at a higher price per dose. The only difference is that you won't retain as much water using creatine HCL - which may be a benefit or drawback, depending on whether you want to look swole or not.
How much more effective is creatine HCL than monohydrate?
Not at all. There is no current body of research to prove that creatine HCL is superior to monohydrate. However, it is inferior in terms of price per dosage, which is higher in creatine HCL.
The bottom line
Creatine HCL vs monohydrate - which one should you choose?
In my opinion, you should choose creatine monohydrate for two reasons, which I will reiterate: all the benefits, drawbacks, safety - both long and short term - are well accounted for in the body of literature. It has been researched for the past 25 years so its effects on the body are well known.
Furthermore, it is cheaper on a per-dosage basis than creatine HCL.
This form of creatine, HCL, is supposedly better absorbed by the body and can have similar effects to creatine monohydrate, only at a lower dose. There are some studies to support these claims, however the research is limited.
Besides, there is one study to indicate that 1.5g of creatine HCL per day may in fact not be enough to get the same benefits as with 5g of creatine monohydrate. Add that to the already higher cost per dosage, and creatine HCL just doesn't seem to make sense.
Over to you.