Everything wrong with Creatine Hydrochloride

Recently I had a friend in the industry tell me that he was going to (re)formulate a preworkout product, and use Creatine Hydrochloride instead of monohydrate.

When I asked why, he said that you can use less of the HCL version and get the same results. From a formulation point of view, this is smart thinking — the preworkout market has a limit on scoop size (for the most part), and it’s good sense to formulate with ingredients that take up as little space as possible. Using Creatine HCL, he explained, would free up space in the scoop, and allow for a more expansive list of ingredients.

This, of course, is untrue, and there is no evidence that Creatine HCL is superior to Creatine monohydrate, in terms of strength and muscle accrual (gainz).

It also doesn’t hurt that the monohydrate version is pretty cheap. And by pretty cheap, I mean outrageously cheap. Creatine monohydrate is about $4/kilo on the bulk supply market, and generally people take about 20g/day in a loading phase, then cut back to anywhere from 3–10g/day, with five grams being the standard daily non-loading dose.

To explain why monohydrate is generally superior to hydrochloride, it’ll be helpful to look at a specific product that contains Creatine HCL, examine the exact claims being made, and compare them with the known science.

Oh look, I found one!

Because Pre-Jym contains two grams of Creatine hydrochloride, and a fairly standard set of claims for the ingredient, those are the claims I’ll be addressing:

Let’s take those points one by one:

There are hundreds of studies suggesting that creatine supplementation supports significant gains in muscle strength and power, as well as muscle growth.*

This doesn’t apply to Creatine hydrochloride. There are hundreds of studies on Creatine monohydrate, there are virtually none on the hydrochloride salt.

Creatine HCL is made by attaching a hydrochloride (HCL) group to creatine.

Agreed…

Adding the hydrochloride group lowers the pH of creatine, making it more acidic. This drastically increases its solubility in fluids, which increases absorption of the creatine and prevents any stomach issues.*

Solubility in fluids does not de facto translate to absorption. It might. It might not. As a result, that statement is incredibly misleading. When you drop Creatine monohydrate in water, it doesn’t dissolve or disperse very well. But as long as you’re not looking at a ton of creatine at the bottom of the shaker after you finish drinking it, you’ve gotten the complete dose.

Still, the solubility issue is often misunderstood, so it bears further explanation and a look at the exact scientific claims and how they translate to the ad-copy. Because I was unable to find any solid science or reputable scientists arguing the case that Creatine HCL was better than monohydrate, I turned to the International Society of Sports Nutrition. What I found was a PDF presentation, arguing for Creatine HCL being an improvement over monohydrate. Let’s take a look at a slide:

Here we see that five grams of Creatine monohydrate is solubized in 10oz of water. The solution here is to just use 10oz of water and the “water solubility issue” is completely solved. If you use less water, and there’s any left on the bottom, you just add more liquid and finish it. The issue of whether the creatine disperses in liquid is completely overcome by simpily making sure there’s none left in the vessel. But here we have the exact amount of water necessary. Hold that thought, because here comes our final claim from the Pre-Jym ad-copy…

Research suggests that when subjects consume the same amount of creatine HCL and creatine monohydrate, the creatine HCL is absorbed by the intestines about 60% better than creatine monohydrate.* This means you can take a much smaller dose of creatine HCL to get similar results.

This is based on flawed research. Here’s another slide from that same ISSN presentation, which addresses the same data from that study:

The first thing you should have noticed is that the study used insufficient water for that amount of Creatine monohydrate — it used 6oz instead of 10oz. Next, you can see that the actual study doesn’t look at creatine levels in the muscle (where it can aid performance), it looks at creatine levels in plasma. If you take two equal amounts of creatine salts and put them in your body, some goes into the plasma, some goes into the muscle, some is ultimately excreted, etc…but high plasma levels might indicate anything, including lower levels in the muscle.

In other words, if at 30, 60, 120, and 180 minutes, if there was more creatine in the plasma with the hydrochloride version, as compared to the monohydrate one, and equal amounts were ingested, where did the rest of the creatine monohydrate go?

Well, if it wasn’t in the plasma, and it wasn’t being excreted through urine or feces, it was probably in the muscle. Hey, look at that! The study everyone was claiming to prove the superiority of Creatine HCL is just as likely to have proven it’s not as good as monohydrate…Higher plasma levels may actually indicate the opposite of what the advertising tells us. In any case, it does not prove what is being claimed, i.e. that it’s better absorbed. It might be less well absorbed by muscle with more getting to the plasma— we don’t know.

Creatine monohydrate should be dosed between 3–5 grams at a maintenence dose, and a loading phase will help most people achieve muscle saturation more quickly. At two grams/day, as we’re seeing it dosed in Pre-Jym and other preworkout formulas, it’s not going to make you much bigger, but you will get a bit of a strength and endurance boost (at least by the six week point…Ergo-Log did a great write up on this). And as I mentioned earlier it’s dirt cheap…add that to the fact that it’s 99% bioavailable, and it ought to make you suspicious when someone says they’ve improved on it.

It’s an interesting piece of trivia that the Creatine HCL patent was filed by the same inventors who gave us the biggest turd to ever hit the creatine graveyard, Creatine Ethyl Ester- which was later proven to be completely ineffective. And it’s even more interesting to note that many of the same claims have been made for both…

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