Do you want to add muscle and gain power? Look no further than creatine.
And no, it’s not just for body building.
First, we’ll review the best creatine supplements on the market.
Part 2 dives deeper into how creatine works and how to take the supplement.
1. Creatine HMB: Creapure + HMB
To be the best you can’t be acting like the rest, enter Creatine HMB by Transparent Labs.
Creatine HMB leads the creatine pack because it combines the proven with the new.
- Proven: each serving of Creatine HMB contains 5 grams of Creapure® creatine monohydrate.
- New: each serving of Creatine HMB contains 2.5 grams of HMB, anabolic metabolite from leucine.
That means you’re getting more strength and muscle building potential per serving than any other ‘plane jane’ creatine product.
Transparent Labs Creatine HMB comes in both unflavored and blue raspberry. In its natural state, Creatine HMB is tasteless with a slight spice taste from BioPerine® black pepper added to increase uptake.
It’s made using the worlds purest, most tested creatine combined with industry leading manufacturing practices.
That’s why Creatine HMB is our top pick.
2. BulkSupplements Pure Micronized Creatine
Bulk Supplements makes a name for itself by offering cheap, pure, and simplistic supplements, and its creatine offering is no exception.
As you might guess, it has exactly one ingredient: creatine monohydrate. Lab testing confirms this fact; its creatine content is 100%—no binders, fillers, byproducts, flavorings, or colorants.
On top of this, BulkSupplements is careful enough with their manufacturing processes that they can guarantee the product is free of common allergens like gluten, dairy, yeast, and soy.
Other companies will sometimes cut costs by manufacturing other products, like soy protein, on the same equipment as a product that has no soy ingredients. While this is not a problem for the vast majority of people, it’s a nice touch if you’ve got allergies or sensitivities.
The usual drawbacks with unflavored powder are still a factor: creatine’s chalky taste can be off-putting, and it can be tricky to measure exact amounts with a scoop, but creatine doses are not usually super-precise—somewhere in the vicinity of five grams per day is a typical dosage, so you don’t need to be trickling grains onto a micro-scale to get the optimal effects.
3. Optimum Nutrition Micronized Creatine
The creatine supplement made by Optimum Nutrition is simple and straightforward powder-form supplement. Creatine monohydrate is its only ingredient; it passes laboratory analytical testing with flying colors. Its lab-determined creatine content is one hundred percent; no extraneous ingredients or fillers could be detected.
As with many other powder forms of creatine, Optimum Nutrition has micronized its product, meaning the powder is ground down into a very fine consistency. This is good both for absorption reasons and for practicality—it’s easier to mix into a protein shake, and it is also absorbed more readily by your body.
As a powder, it has the same benefits and drawbacks as other powder form supplements. It’s cheaper per serving than capsule-based creatine supplements, and it’s a good option for strict vegetarians because there is no gelatin capsule made of animal-sourced ingredients.
On the flip side, it’s harder to measure out the serving size you desire (scoops can be inaccurate), and you may not like the chalky, astringent taste of the creatine powder. Since the only ingredient in Optimum Nutrition Creatine is creatine, there’s no flavoring or sweetening.
A capsule, of course, doesn’t need flavoring because the creatine is stuck inside the capsule until it dissolves in your stomach.
4. MyProtein Creatine
Chalk this one up as another in the no-nonsense category. It comes in several flavors, but the most popular variant is the unflavored creatine monohydrate, which comes in a simple foil pouch and is 100% creatine monohydrate by weight. It’s highly pure and very cheap per serving.
MyProtein also offers flavored variants which are a good choice if you can’t stand the taste of natural creatine. The ingredients of each specific flavor vary slightly, but most contain natural flavoring agents, sucralose, acesulfamine-K, and coloring agents.
Depending on your level of tolerance for other ingredients in your supplements, you’ll have to choose whether the flavored or unflavored versions are right for you.
MyProtein is made in a factory that does handle other allergen ingredients, which may include soy, milk, eggs, and gluten, so if you are extremely sensitive to any of these, you might want to look elsewhere, as there is some potential for cross-contamination.
While the protein does come with a scoop, MyProtein encourages you to use a scale to measure out your daily supplement servings, as scoops are not particularly accurate. This is an issue shared among all powder-form supplements, so if you’re serious about accuracy, definitely invest in a micro-scale.
As the name suggests, the creatine supplement manufactured by Naked Supplements has only one ingredient, and that’s creatine monohydrate.
It’s an unflavored and super-minimalist source of creatine, and it blends up pretty well in water, which makes it a great pick for just about everyone.
6. NOW Sports Creatine monohydrate
With its flashy branding and bright-orange bottle, you might think that the creatine supplement made by NOW Sports is another one of the maximalist formulations that tries to cram in extra ingredients and supplements to stand out from the crowd.
In fact, just the opposite is true: it’s another single-ingredient creatine monohydrate powder. It does well on independent lab testing, with fully 100% of its contents being creatine monohydrate by weight, and it contains no impurities or contaminants.
Its cost per serving is quite low, too, even in competition with less flashy and well-known brand names.
It does not appear to be micronized, so it may be a little trickier to blend into your protein shakes without getting clumps, but a good shaker bottle and whisk ball should make short work of that.
7. MusclePharm Creatine
The creatine supplement from MusclePharm has one unique selling point, which is its use of a proprietary blend of different forms of creatine.
In contrast to your standard creatine supplement whose only active ingredient is creatine monohydrate, MusclePharm uses a six-part blend of various forms of creatine. In addition to creatine monohydrate, various other forms of creatine are included.
Predictably, MusclePharm claims that their proprietary blend of creatine is superior to the usual creatine monohydrate. And likewise, just as predictably, they point to in-house research they’ve done to support this claim; however, there’s a lack of independent scientific validation of this idea (2).
If you’re an evidence-based supplementation believer, it may be better to steer clear of MusclePharm Creatine simply for this reason: most independent, peer-reviewed scientific studies that demonstrate the efficacy of creatine as a muscle-building and performance-improving supplement use plain old creatine monohydrate.
It may well be that the proprietary creatine blend used in MusclePharm works as well or better, but why be a guinea pig if you don’t have to?
Regardless, MusclePharm Creatine does well on lab testing, containing 100% creatine by weight (in its various forms), and contains no dangerous or watch-list ingredients.
8. MET-Rx Creatine 4200
Met-Rx provides a creatine capsule supplement for those who hate the taste of powder form creatine or just want an easier way to take their daily dose while in training.
Each capsule contains 700 mg of creatine monohydrate, as well as a small amount of silica and magnesium stearate, which both serve as binders, stabilizers, and anti-clumping agents.
The capsule itself is made of gelatin, so its’ a no-no if you’re strictly against animal products. But capsule and binders aside, MET-Rx Creatine 4200 is highly pure: lab tests find that it’s essentially 100% creatine.
As is usually the case with capsules versus powders, the capsule form of a supplement is more expensive per serving. You have to pay for the extra manufacturing costs associated with precisely measuring the powder content of each capsule, plus the equipment to pack the pills and of course the materials cost for the gelatin and binders.
Still, the cost is reasonable, but if you’re a penny-pincher, pure unadulterated powder is definitely the way to go.
Among the capsule forms of creatine, MET-RX is one of the best, so if you find the convenience is worth a slightly higher price, by all means go for it!
9. PowerFoods Monster Creatine
PowerFoods Monster Creatine is a capsule based creatine supplement that uses a unique approach that takes three different types of creatine, with the goal of optimally stimulating your body’s creatine absorption.
In theory, it sounds good, but in practice, research only supports one form of creatine (creatine monohydrate).
10. TwinLab Creatine Fuel Stack
TwinLab makes a capsule-based creatine supplement that also includes glutamine and taurine. Each capsule contains 833 mg of creatine, along with 333 mg of glutamine and 33 mg of taurine.
These other two active ingredients are supposed to help with building muscle and sustaining energy output during exercise—both taurine and glutamine are amino acids.
These two are both popular supplements among weight lifters, power sport athletes, and body builders, and at least one study found that they are more useful when combined with creatine (4). Regardless, that’s not the same thing as being better than just creatine.
In any case, if both of these are on your supplement regimen anyways, TwinLab Creatine Fuel Stack is worth a look.
As with all capsule supplements, the tradeoff is essentially one of cost versus convenience. It takes a few minutes to measure out a few scoops of powder, mix it into a protein shake, drink it, and (don’t forget!) clean out your protein shaker.
In contrast, it takes just a few seconds to pop a few creatine capsules and move on. Of course, the cost per serving is higher, especially in this case because the supplement contains glutamine and taurine as well. Weighing the costs and benefits for yourself will tell you whether it’s the right choice for you.
11. MuscleTech Platinum Creatine
MuscleTech is a widely-known brand that you’re likely to find at your local supplement store as well as on the internet.
MuscleTech makes a pretty basic creatine powder, which doesn’t stand out much from the crowd, aside from being micronized.
Who should buy creatine?
Though creatine was originally studied as a way for high level athletes to gain muscle mass and strength, creatine is gaining support as a way for anyone who wants to preserve or build muscle strength—not just elite athletes.
Of course, creatine is still a great supplement to take if you want to lift more or sprint faster, but it’s also great if you want to preserve muscle mass while your arm is in a cast, or increase your muscle strength if you’ve been sedentary for a long time and are starting a weight lifting program.
Some emerging research even suggests that taking creatine could help you recover from a concussion, due to the fact that your brain burns creatine for energy. If you fit into any of these wide ranging categories, creatine could be a good supplement to add to your routine.
How we ranked
When making our rankings of the best creatine supplements on the market, we looked to the scientific literature for guidance. Since all of the successful research studies use fairly high doses of creatine split up into several servings per day, we prioritized creatine supplements that made it easy to follow this kind of protocol.
First of all, that meant opting for highly pure products. We culled anything from the field of candidate supplements that did not focus primarily on creatine as its main active ingredient, so pre-workout supplements or protein powders that added creatine as a secondary ingredient did not make the cut.
Next, we focused on the method of delivery. Since they’re so much more amenable to variable dosages, powder-based creatine supplements had a clear advantage over capsule based products.
We ended up eliminating almost all of the capsule-based creatine supplements because they couldn’t measure up in terms of purity and dosage flexibility compared to powder-based products.
We put a lot of emphasis on products which were certified as being free from common allergens like soy, gluten, and eggs, as these are good indicators of high-quality manufacturing processes.
Finally, we looked at the packaging itself—while many of the best products come in resealable plastic bags, rigid plastic tubs can be somewhat easier to work with.
This didn’t always tilt the scales (for example, our top product still ended up being BulkSupplements Creatine, which comes in a fairly simple bag), but it did result in a reshuffling of some of the rankings, based on this more practical aspect of creatine supplementation.
Creatine is great for muscular strength and high-intensity power. Creatine is a muscle- and power-building supplement that directly provides additional fuel for your muscles during short, high-intensity exercise. This primary energy-boosting effect enables better training sessions: you can lift heavier weights for more reps, and this causes direct gains in muscle mass and strength as a secondary effect.
For these two reasons, creatine supplements are very popular with weight lifters, power sport athletes (football, rugby, sprinting, etc), and body builders. Additional evidence indicates creatine can also be helpful for people who need to rebuild muscle mass after an injury or after being on crutches or in a cast for a long time.
Research on athletes is very clear: creatine has a strong, specific effect on muscle power and muscle force production. Creatine supplementation is particularly effective when combined with protein supplementation, as outlined in a 2001 study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition.
In the study, Darren G. Burke and other researchers at St. Francis Xavier University in Canada followed 36 men over the course of six weeks of resistance training (5). One third of the men were given a protein and creatine supplement, one third of the men were given a protein supplement only, and one third of the men were given a placebo, to function as a control group.
At the study’s conclusion, the researchers found that the protein and creatine group had the greatest increase in lean muscle mass, as well as in their maximum bench press and knee extension strength.
Notably, not all performance measures improved to a greater extent in the creatine plus protein group—squat strength and knee torque improved to an equal extent in the protein and creatine group versus the protein alone group, when both were compared to the placebo group.
According to a review study published in 2003 by Richard B. Kreider at Baylor University, the effects of creatine on athletic performance are well-validated and fairly well-understood (6).
Creatine has a specific and strong effect on short-term power production in muscles. This means that it is very well-suited for tasks like maximal lifting, short sprints or repeated bouts of sprinting, and for building muscle overall—which is a result of creatine supplementation enabling you to lift heavier weights for more repetitions.
Creatine is not, however, well-suited for aiding performance in longer-duration tasks, like long sprinting or aerobic exercise. The energy demands of these exercises are fundamentally different; your body relies on its creatine stores comparatively little for longer-duration exercise.
Creatine isn’t just for hardcore athletes, either. A 2001 study by Peter Haspel and colleagues at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium found that creatine supplementation can be helpful for people who need to rebuild muscle mass after an injury or accident (7).
In the study, 22 subjects had their leg immobilized in cast for two weeks. Afterwards, they underwent a rehab program designed to measure and improve muscular strength in the immobilized leg. Half the subjects received a creatine supplement, while the other half received a placebo.
Over the course of the rehab program, the researchers tracked the subjects’ muscle mass and muscle strength in the immobilized leg. They found that the creatine supplement group gained back their strength more quickly than the group which took the placebo.
This increase was related to a boost in markers of protein synthesis in the muscles, leading the researchers to conclude that creatine helps directly increase the cross-sectional area of muscle fibers during a rehab program.
Creatine is an effective way to increase muscle mass in the elderly. Following along the path of many supplements for strength, researchers have begun to explore whether creatine is also helpful for non-elite athletes who also want to add muscle mass.
Older adults are a particularly good test case, because they need to build or maintain muscle mass for totally different reasons. Frailty is one of the biggest causes of disability and falls among the elderly, and it can be traced directly to sarcopenia—the shrinking of muscle fibers that happens in older adults if they don’t exercise.
Resistance training (e.g. through a weight lifting program) is the usual treatment of choice to reverse or prevent this loss of muscle mass and muscle strength, but research suggests that creatine could be a useful addition to resistance training programs for the elderly.
One study, published in 2016 in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia, and Muscle, tested a resistance program alone compared to the same resistance program plus a creatine supplement in a group of elderly subjects over the course of 12 weeks (8).
All of the participants took a supplement, but half of them were taking a placebo, while the other half were taking a protein supplement.
After the 12 week training program, the researchers examined the strength gains in each group. As we might expect, both groups increased their muscular strength and muscle mass, but the group taking the creatine supplement experienced significantly more strength and muscle mass gains than the placebo group.
Findings from this and other research suggests that creatine could be very useful for older adults looking to increase their muscle mass and strength to maintain a better quality of life in old age.
Creatine can help improve brain function in certain situations. Creatine isn’t just used by your muscles. When the brain is under stress, it relies more heavily on creatine to perform executive functioning.
One of the most exciting frontiers in creatine research is not on its application for muscles, but its application for cognitive function. New research suggests that creatine could be useful in situations ranging from concussion recovery to cognitive performance at high altitudes and during periods of limited or no sleep.
The scientific research papers that are reviewed in the article cite the ability of creatine to boost cognitive functioning or prevent deterioration of cognitive performance in stressful situations, such as at high altitudes or when you are sleep-deprived.
Some of the most interesting work is on creatine supplementation as a part of concussion recovery programs. While the research in humans is in the early stages, cellular biology work suggests that the presence of creatine can reduce the negative cellular cascades that are activated after a concussion, indicating that creatine supplementation could potentially be useful following a concussion (10).
Fortunately, creatine appears to be a very safe supplement. According to a book chapter on the subject authored by Adam Persky and Eric S. Rawson, the short-term safety of creatine is well-demonstrated.
There are still some questions on its long-term safety due to a lack of comprehensive multi-year studies, but those which have been conducted have not found any negative effects of creatine supplementation on kidney, liver, muscle, or heart function (8).
A 2011 study by Hyo Jeong Kim and other researchers advises against using creatine if you have kidney disease or people at high risk for kidney disease (including diabetics and people with high blood pressure), but beyond that, there should be no problems associated with even heavy loads of creatine (up to 20 grams per day) in healthy people.
When it comes to the optimal dose, many scientific studies use protocols which call for 15 to 20 grams of creatine per day, split up into five gram doses taken at different times during the day.
However, according to R.L. Terjung and other researchers at the University of Missouri, similar results can be achieved with doses as low as three grams of creatine monohydrate per day (11).
At some point, your muscles become saturated with creatine and any additional creatine in your system is simply wasted. By this logic, the optimal dose is going to be higher if you are a person who already has more muscle mass—you have a bigger muscular fuel tank to fill up compared to a smaller person.
In most cases, between five and 15 grams of creatine per day should be appropriate during a loading phase, and three to five grams per day during a maintenance phase.
Q: What is creatine?
A: Creatine is a pretty simple molecule that is used by both your brain and your muscles. Creatine can be used by muscles to rapidly generate large amounts of energy through the creatine phosphate energy pathway, and creatine also directly stimulates the growth of muscle tissue.
In the brain, creatine can also be used for energy, and new research suggests that your brain might benefit from creatine supplementation during stressful situations.
Q: What does creatine do?
A: Creatine can be used by your muscles to generate a lot of power in a short amount of time. Over the course of weeks or months, a regular supply of supplemental creatine can prime your body to increase muscle mass and muscle strength in response to a resistance training program to a greater degree than just doing the same lifting or training program without creatine.
Its ability to stimulate synthesis of new muscle tissue is by far the most popular reason for people to take a creatine supplement, but even if your goals are purely related to short-term anaerobic performance, creatine can still be very helpful.
Creatine works for a wide variety of people, not just elite athletes: it’s been studied as a way to increase muscle mass in frail, elderly adults, for example, when combined with resistance training programs.
Q: Is creatine bad for you?
A: Creatine is about as close as you can get to a model supplement—it has a well-demonstrated profile of efficacy, and on top of that, it is very safe.
Creatine has been successfully used in high-level athletes as well as the elderly, without any adverse health effects. The safety of creatine has been confirmed in long-term studies that take regular blood samples looking for signs of damage to the kidneys or liver, but creatine does not show any toxic effects even over long durations of use (12).
Creatine is not currently recommended for people under 18, but this is largely because of a lack of research, not because of any evidence indicating that it could be bad for you.
Q: Should I be taking creatine?
A: Creatine is one of the most effective and safest supplements for building muscle mass and muscle strength. However, it’s not right for everyone.
If your primary focus is an endurance sport like running or cycling, creatine is not going to help you. The benefits of creatine are strictly for short-term anaerobic performance, which includes things like sprinting and weight lifting.
Moreover, while creatine can be helpful for your brain, these cognitive benefits appear to be limited to stressful situations, like brain recovery after a concussion or cognitive performance at high altitude or after sleep deprivation. Other nootropics (even something run of the mill, like caffeine pills) might function better if you want to boost your cognitive functioning during normal situations.
Q: What does creatine do to your kidneys?
A: Some initial skeptics of creatine pointed to some hypothetical dangers for kidney function that could be caused by long-term ingestion of high levels of creatine.
The argument was that creatine intake would stimulate the generation of toxic compounds called HCAs, which could damage the kidneys. However, according to a meta analysis of research on creatine, long-term studies of creatine find essentially no change in blood biomarkers of kidney health (13).
Still, creatine has not been studied in people who have kidney disease, so the official recommendations are that creatine is not recommended for people with kidney disease or renal failure. It’s safe for healthy people, though: even long-term studies have found no biological evidence for any deleterious effect on kidney health or kidney function.
Q: What are the dangers of creatine?
A: Creatine poses very little risks, even when taken for long periods of time. Initial reports of side effects like cramping have not stood up to more intense scientific scrutiny, for example.
Creatine is thought to cause some amount of water retention, but this does not rise to the level of a “danger.” Technically speaking, creatine is not recommended for people who have kidney problems, and for people who are under age 18. In both cases, these recommendations are based on a lack of research, not strong evidence indicating a harmful potential for creatine.
Q: Is creatine safe?
A: Yes, among all of the potential supplements that you could take to increase your muscle mass and muscular strength, creatine is as safe as plain protein powder.
As a natural compound that can be found in fairly large amounts in foods like chicken and beef, it should not be surprising that creatine is a safe supplement.
The latest consensus statements from international sports science researchers make the case that creatine is both safe and effective (14).
Q: Is creatine good for bodybuilding?
A: Creatine is a very popular supplement among bodybuilders, particularly when trying to “bulk,” or add muscle mass, as rapidly as possible.
Bodybuilders often use sophisticated loading/unloading strategies when supplementing with creatine, as the water retention effects of creatine supplementation can work against a bodybuilder’s goals when trying to cut body fat (and non-muscle mass generally) as much as possible, and particularly in the run-up to a bodybuilding competition.
Q: When should you take creatine?
A: Most studies on creatine suggest that it is best to take creatine several times per day. Some research has used small doses taken as often as five times per day!
Generally, though, you can get away with around three doses of creatine spread throughout the day and garner all of the benefits of creatine supplementation.
Q: What is creatine loading?
A: Creatine loading is a supplementation strategy that aims to rapidly increase intramuscular creatine levels as quickly as possible, then maintain high levels of creatine in your body with a lower dose.
The loading protocol recommended by a 2017 position stand by the International Society of Sports Nutrition is fairly typical: For five to seven days, take 0.3 grams of creatine per kilogram of body mass. Then, maintain your creatine intake at 3-5 grams per day (15).
As you might imagine, different researchers and performance experts have different recommendations when it comes to the precise method of creatine loading, but the general strategy is the same: a short period of high-dose creatine intake, then a maintenance phase with lower intake levels.
A dose of five to 15 grams of creatine monohydrate per day can help you lift more, sprint faster, and see more rapid increases in muscle mass and muscular strength.
If you want a safe, reliable way to build muscle, increase power, or recover muscle mass after an injury or accident, taking a creatine supplement is a great choice. It is a safe, reliable way to boost your body’s short-term energy reserves.
For BodyNutrition‘s #1 creatine recommendation, click here.