Creatine is one of the products that generates the most fears related to potential dangers, sometimes even associated with doping, while paradoxically it is the sports food supplement that has been the most studied.
And while at the moment many are questioning the usefulness of BCAA supplementation for bodybuilding, conversely the effectiveness of creatine is increasingly recognized.
But what is the best creatine? What should I know before buying?
What is creatine used for? Why take it?
Short term effects
During intensive training you create muscle micro-traumas, but the body prioritizes the restoration of energy reserves rather than the repair of muscle fibers. This strategy responds to a logic of survival: in a critical situation, the essential thing is to provide energy rather than to repair the muscles. This is where creatine comes in. It not only accelerates glycogen storage, but also promotes muscle fiber repair by signaling that energy is being renewed. This facilitates faster recovery. Although this effect occurs naturally, supplementation can speed up the process.
Additionally, studies have shown that creatine has the ability to increase muscle strength in some individuals: typically 5-30%. This increase may occur over a relatively short period of time and is not necessarily related to an increase in muscle mass. One likely mechanism involves an interaction with the cells’ calcium pump, allowing creatine to speed up muscle relaxation after a contraction, making the next contraction stronger.
Taking creatine usually results in a rapid volume gain, but this is mainly due to water retention, not an increase in muscle mass… Therefore, stopping supplementation can lead to a loss rapidly gained weight. This is why it is necessary to distinguish the effects of creatine in the short term VS its effects in the longer term.
Long term effects
By following a cycle of progression, increasing your strength will allow you to lift heavier weights and/or perform more reps. In the medium and long term, this results in a gain in muscle mass.
Several other effects of creatine have been identified:
- Increased production of IGF-1 and its variant MGF ( mechanical growth factor ), 2 anabolic hormones.
- Acceleration of glycogen synthesis in the muscles.
- Intensification of the activity of muscle satellite cells, which participate in the repair and growth of muscle fibers.
- Decreased catabolism (the phase of tissue breakdown – the reverse of anabolism).
- Reduced levels of myostatin, a protein that inhibits muscle development.
- Possibility of an increase in the level of DHT, a hormone derived from testosterone.
Conclusion: when the cure is maintained over a sufficiently long period, there is indeed a gain in muscle mass, beyond the initial gain due to water retention that we mentioned above.
Best Creatine – Our Pick
This selection is offered to you based on real market research carried out on 25 of the most popular brands. We present to you the creatines that best correspond to the quality criteria defined below in this article, taking into account the quality / price ratio.
- Optimum Nutrition
- Biotech USA
- Eric Favré
- Cell Tech (Muscle Tech)
- XNative (Fitness Shop)
- Black Protein
- German Elite Nutrition
- food spring
CHOICE #1: NUTRIPURE CREATINE
Creapure® creatine is known to be the best creatine on the market . It must be understood that the brands of food supplements that we know are not the manufacturers of the raw material. They source from producers, and the German brand Creapure® is renowned for its production of high quality creatine monohydrate:
- Creatine monohydrate is the most studied and effective form for increasing strength, power and muscle size.
- Exceptional purity: the brand guarantees that each batch it produces contains at least 99.95% creatine monohydrate, therefore without impurities or unwanted additives.
- Produced under strict manufacturing standards in Germany, which guarantees both the purity of the product, but also its safety (no harmful contaminants).
- Superior solubility, which facilitates consumption and ensures better absorption by the body.
NUTRIPURE is the brand that offers Creapure® at the best price.
CHOICE #2: CREATINE NUTRIMUSCLE
Creatine from the Nutrimuscle brand is the most sold in France. It is also a creatine of excellent quality, since it is also a Creapure®.
The selling price is higher than that of Nutripure: €17.95 for 150g of creatine powder at Nutrimuscle, against €14.90 at Nutripure for the same quantity. Knowing that the product is exactly the same: the 2 get their raw material from the same place.
Apart from the price, the only difference between the 2 lies in the packaging: cardboard food bag for Nutripure, plastic pot for the Nutrimuscle version.
CHOICE #3: ULTIMATE CRN-5 FROM CRAZY NUTRITION
This is a more upscale creatine, for those who are looking for a high quality product and who are ready to pay the price (it is sold for 59.99€ for 330g… Which is equivalent to 27€ for 150g if you want to be able to compare with the 2 creatines already mentioned in our selection). Note that there is a formula with subscription bringing the 150g to 19€, which is already more competitive.
It is a complex mixing 5 forms of creatine + electrolytes, for optimal effects on your physical performance and better tolerance by the body.
How to choose your creatine?
What are the quality criteria that determine the best creatine.
1. In what form?
You will find different forms of creatine on the market. Although today monohydrate is widely used and seems to be the safest choice, it can be useful to have some information on all the forms available in case of more specific needs.
It is the most widespread because it is a reliable, efficient, economical and safe option:
- Hundreds of scientific studies have examined its effectiveness and safety, confirming its role in improving sports performance: strength, power and muscle mass.
- It is highly bioavailable, which means that when consumed, a large part of the creatine is actually absorbed by the body and can be used by the muscles.
- Because it is produced in large quantities and widely available, its cost per serving is often lower than other forms.
- Finally, it is generally well tolerated, and no serious side effects have been reported.
Creatine hydrochloride (HCL)
Designed to have better absorption and fewer side effects than creatine monohydrate. In practice, a smaller amount is needed to achieve the same effects as the monohydrate.
However, since most research on the effects on athletic performance has been done with creatine monohydrate, there is less scientific evidence supporting the use of creatine HCL compared to creatine monohydrate. Additionally, creatine HCL is generally more expensive than creatine monohydrate (but since a smaller dose is required, the cost per dose can be comparable).
It is a form of creatine monohydrate that has been ground into an even finer powder. The reduced particle size means that they can dissolve more easily in water, which has the advantage of leaving less residue at the bottom of the glass when mixed, but also and above all of being better absorbed by the intestine.
Ethyl ester is a relatively new form of creatine that was developed to improve bioavailability by adding an ester group to the creatine molecule. This change allows creatine to cross the cell membranes of the gut and muscles more easily, which could theoretically improve its absorption and speed up its assimilation compared to other forms of creatine. Note that there is currently no research to support the effectiveness of this form.
Form bound to a molecule of citric acid, a key component of energy metabolism. Nevertheless, there is no scientific evidence confirming that creatine citrate enhances muscle energy production… It is popular due to its higher solubility than monohydrate, but that is its only advantage.
This form binds a molecule of creatine to a molecule of phosphate. This combination is sometimes considered more effective than creatine monohydrate, but research has not validated this hypothesis, in particular because of the difficulty of phosphates in crossing cell membranes.
Bound to a malic acid, this form could theoretically allow greater production of ATP than other forms of creatine. It is also more soluble in water and seems to cause fewer gastrointestinal problems.
A patented form that binds a molecule of creatine to magnesium, which could facilitate its absorption and protect creatine in the stomach. Magnesium is also needed to convert phosphocreatine to ATP.
As its name suggests, it is a shape from which a molecule of water has been removed. This form of creatine offers a little more creatine than the monohydrate form (about 6% more)… But overall, it’s still the same substance and it costs more!
Combination of creatine and HMB, a metabolite of leucine, an amino acid that helps muscle recovery and the development of lean mass. By combining the 2 substances, they are protected from degradation in the stomach, their solubility is improved and their absorption in the body is facilitated.
Form related to orotic acid, a precursor to nucleic acids that are essential for building DNA. Orotic acid increases carnosine levels in the muscles, which can help buffer acidity that builds up during intense exertion. Additionally, orotic acid stimulates the formation of phosphocreatine in muscle cells and promotes hypertrophy by supporting the production of key factors in protein synthesis. Basically, tri-creatine offers the benefits of creatine + the benefits of orotic acid.
The effervescent creatine
In the form of tablets, which are designed to dissolve quickly in water and be absorbed by the body more easily. They may be more pleasant to consume due to their taste and texture, but there is no conclusive evidence that the effervescent form of creatine is more effective or easier to absorb than traditional creatine monohydrate.
A form that closely resembles effervescent creatine in terms of effects, except for the lack of bubbles when dissolving. It is characterized by its ability to modify the pH of water when added to it, which promotes its solubility.
This combination is based on the idea that glucose can stimulate the production of insulin, a hormone that promotes the storage of nutrients in cells, including creatine. Because of this, gluconate is believed to improve the body’s absorption of creatine. More research is needed to validate this hypothesis.
Considered to be more absorbable due to its total solubility (without any residue), the primary concern with this form is its stability and shelf life. Early liquid creatine products had stability issues, but with advances in technology, methods have been developed to improve its shelf life.
When we talk about “purity” in relation to supplements, we are referring to the concentration of creatine in the product and the absence of contaminants or unnecessary additives. This is essential to ensure maximum benefits and to minimize potential risks associated with consuming contaminated or poor quality products.
A pure product should have a high concentration of creatine. This means that the majority of the weight in each serving should be creatine, rather than additives, fillers or other ingredients.
It should not contain any contaminants. Some lower quality products may be contaminated with heavy metals, banned substances or other impurities. These contaminants can be detrimental to your health and may offset the benefits you hope to obtain from taking creatine.
It should not contain unnecessary additives. Some manufacturers add additional ingredients to improve the taste, mixability or shelf life of the product. Although these additives are not necessarily harmful, they can dilute the concentration of creatine and do not provide additional performance or health benefits.
To assess the purity of a supplement, check the product label: it should clearly state the amount of creatine per serving and the ingredient list should not contain many additives.
Pure or compound creatine?
We see more and more creatines associated with other ingredients, such as carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins or minerals. This combination may provide additional benefits, e.g. :
– Carbohydrates increase absorption in the muscles
– Added amino acids promote muscle recovery
However, research on compound forms is less abundant and these products are often more expensive.
Getting certified for a supplement means that an independent, third-party organization has tested the product to make sure it meets specific standards. This may include checking creatine content, looking for contaminants, such as heavy metals or banned substances, and assessing the accuracy of product labeling.
Certification may also involve stability testing to ensure the creatine remains effective and safe throughout its shelf life. This is especially important for forms that claim to be more stable or more soluble than traditional creatine monohydrate.
For example, some supplements may be certified by IFS FOOD, Informed-Choice, or NSF International, 3 respected certification bodies in the supplement industry.
4. Transparency of labeling
A transparent product label is a sign of honesty and responsibility on the part of the manufacturer, and therefore a factor to consider when buying a supplement. It indicates how willing the manufacturer is to share detailed information about the product:
- The label should clearly state the amount of creatine in each serving. This allows the consumer to know exactly how much they are consuming and to follow dosage recommendations correctly.
- If the creatine supplement contains other ingredients, these should also be clearly listed. This not only includes other active nutrients, but also excipients, fillers and preservatives. If the product contains potentially allergenic ingredients, such as gluten or lactose, this information must also appear on the label.
- A transparent label should include provenance information. This can help consumers avoid products that contain creatine from substandard or potentially contaminated sources.
- It can also provide information about the manufacturing process of the product, including whether the product was manufactured in a facility that follows Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). It can also indicate whether the product has been third-party tested for purity and quality, which adds an extra layer of confidence and safety for the consumer.
5. Brand reputation
If you’ve never heard of the brand you’re about to buy, at least do a few checks on the Internet first!
Look for customer reviews and testimonials… They are valuable in assessing the reliability of a brand. A trusted brand will typically have a majority of positive reviews from happy customers (consider the quality of reviews, not just the quantity). Detailed reviews that talk about product efficacy, taste, solubility, and other specific factors are more helpful than vague or non-specific reviews.
The reputation of a brand can also be assessed through its seniority in the market. This can be an indicator of its reliability: if it has been around for a long time, it usually means that it has gained the trust of consumers over the years.
Finally, as we have already discussed above, a trust mark will be transparent and open, offering all the necessary information to consumers to enable them to make an informed choice: manufacturing processes, sources of ingredients, etc.
We will look for the best quality / price ratio! Do not be guided only by this criterion: a low price is certainly attractive, but it can mean that the product is not of high quality. Conversely, a high price does not guarantee superior quality either.
We saw it in our selection: the creatine offered by Nutripure and Nutrimuscle is the same, yet there is a significant difference in price.
The price may vary depending on several factors:
- The form of creatine used: As we mentioned earlier, there are different forms of creatine, some more expensive to produce than others. Creatine monohydrate is generally less expensive than other more advanced forms, such as HCL or micronized creatine.
- Quality and Purity: A 99.9% pure creatine will be more expensive than an inferior one (and if it has been tested by a third-party lab to ensure purity, that will also increase the cost).
- Specific certifications: certified GMO-free, vegan, gluten-free, hallal, kosher or others…
- Market positioning: A premium brand, with a strong reputation and premium brand image, may charge more for its products for similar quality.
Should I take creatine? Our opinion
If we combine all the studies carried out on creatine to date:
- more than 70% of them report positive results,
- ≈ 10% of neutral results,
- ≈ 20% of negative results.
Knowing that the effects of food supplements always vary according to many factors and characteristics specific to individuals, we can say without going too far that taking creatine is relevant and effective. In particular, a study has shown that creatine can lead to a muscle mass gain of around 1 kg per month in beginners.
But in the end, the decision to take it depends on your personal objectives: is your practice of sport mainly guided by the fact of being in good health, or are you also looking for performance and muscle mass gain?
If you are hesitant to take creatine because of its potential dangers, know that it is one of the most studied and therefore safest supplements. It sometimes enjoys bad press, but this is not justified. It has nothing to do with doping. It is a molecule produced naturally in the body.