Creatine has been studied extensively as a dietary supplement for many years.
In fact, more than 1,000 studies have been conducted, which have shown that creatine is a top supplement for exercise performance (1).
Almost all of them used the same form of the supplement — creatine monohydrate.
What’s more, most scientists who study supplements believe that monohydrate is the best form. Here are five science-backed reasons why this form is the best.
1. Has the Best Safety Record
Many studies have shown that creatine monohydrate is very safe to consume.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition recently concluded, “There is no compelling scientific evidence that the short- or long-term use of creatine monohydrate has any detrimental effects” (1).
Studies have reported that consuming monohydrate for two to five years appears to be safe, with no adverse effects documented (2, 3, 4).
This supplement appears to be safe at higher doses, too. Although a typical daily dose is 3–5 grams, people have taken doses of up to 30 grams per day for up to five years with no reported safety concerns (1).
The only common side effect is weight gain (1, 5, 6).
However, this should not be viewed as a bad thing. Creatine increases the water content of muscle cells, and it can also help increase muscle mass (1, 7, 8).
Any weight gain you may experience as a result of using this supplement is due to an increase in water or muscle, not fat.
Although forms of creatine other than monohydrate may also be safe to consume, there’s very little scientific evidence that confirms this.
Summary: A large number of studies have confirmed that creatine monohydrate is safe to consume. There is far more safety information for this form of the supplement than any other form.
2. Has the Most Scientific Support
The vast majority of the more than 1,000 studies on creatine have used the monohydrate form.
Besides this form, the other main forms of creatine on the market are:
- Creatine ethyl ester
- Creatine hydrochloride
- Buffered creatine
- Liquid creatine
- Creatine magnesium chelate
While each of these forms has a handful of studies examining it, the information on the effects of these forms in humans is limited (9, 10, 11, 12).
Almost all the health and exercise benefits of taking creatine supplements have been demonstrated in studies using monohydrate (1, 7, 13, 14).
These benefits include muscle gain, improved exercise performance and possible brain benefits (1, 15, 16).
Studies have shown that this supplement can increase strength gains from a weight-training program by about 5–10%, on average (13, 14, 15).
Additionally, a large review of dietary supplements found that creatine monohydrate was the most effective for muscle gain (8).
Summary: Several forms of creatine are used in supplements. However, most of the known benefits can be attributed to creatine monohydrate, since most studies have used this form.
3. Improves Exercise Performance Just as Well or Better Than Other Forms
Creatine monohydrate exerts a variety of effects on health and exercise performance, including increased strength, power and muscle mass (1, 7, 13, 14).
Several studies have compared monohydrate and other forms for their effects on exercise performance.
Creatine monohydrate appears to be better than the ethyl ester and liquid forms of creatine (9, 11, 17).
One study found that monohydrate increases creatine content in the blood and muscles better than the ethyl ester form (9).
Another study reported that participants’ cycling performance increased by 10% when they took a monohydrate powder, but did not increase when they took liquid creatine (11).
However, a few small, initial studies have suggested that the buffered and magnesium chelate forms of creatine may be as effective as monohydrate at improving exercise performance (10, 12).
Specifically, these forms may be equally effective for increasing bench-press strength and power production during cycling (10).
No suitable studies have compared the monohydrate and hydrochloride forms.
Overall, there is simply not enough scientific evidence to conclude you should take any form of creatine other than monohydrate.
While some new forms may be promising, the amount of evidence for monohydrate is much more impressive than the evidence for all other forms.
Summary: Creatine monohydrate is more effective than the liquid and ethyl ester forms for improving exercise performance. It is also at least as effective as the magnesium chelate and buffered forms.
4. Is the Easiest to Find
Some new forms of creatine are only available in multi-ingredient products, such as pre-workout supplements.
If you buy these, you’ll be paying for a handful of other supplements besides the one you actually want.
What’s more, these other ingredients are often unnecessary and do not have the same scientific support as creatine (18, 19).
Other forms of creatine, such as hydrochloride and ethyl ester, can be purchased as an individual ingredient.
However, these are only available from a small number of sellers online or in stores.
On the other hand, the monohydrate form is easy to buy as a single ingredient.
With a quick online search, you’ll find many options to buy creatine monohydrate without any other ingredients added.
Summary: Monohydrate is the easiest form of creatine to find as an individual ingredient. It is available from numerous online sellers and stores.
5. Is the Cheapest
Not only is monohydrate the easiest form of creatine to find as a single ingredient, it is also the cheapest.
There are a few possible reasons why.
Since monohydrate has been available for longer than other forms of creatine, it may be cheaper to produce.
Additionally, since many companies make this form of the supplement, there is more competition to keep prices low.
2.2 pounds (1 kg) of monohydrate can be purchased for about $20 USD. If you take a standard dose of 3–5 grams per day, this amount will last for 200 to 330 days.
The same size of the hydrochloride or ethyl ester forms of creatine is about $30–35 USD, or more.
Other, newer forms of this supplement are often impossible for you to buy as an individual ingredient.
Summary: Currently, monohydrate is the cheapest form of creatine to buy. Other forms are more expensive or difficult to find as a single ingredient.
The Bottom Line
Creatine is one of the most effective supplements for exercise performance. Several types are available, but monohydrate is currently the best form.
It has the best safety record, most scientific support and is at least as effective as any other form on the market. It’s also widely available and typically has the lowest price.
Overall, it’s clear that creatine monohydrate is the best form you can take.