Choosing your creatine products can be overwhelming, with all the options out there.

If you're an avid gym-goer looking to increase your muscle mass, you have certainly heard about these two types of creatine - creatine HCL and creatine monohydrate.

So which one of these two common forms should you take?

To help you with that, we’ll compare the two, break them down bit by bit, and help you decide for yourself.

Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid that helps you achieve your fitness goals. It is also arguably the most researched and effective supplement in sports nutrition.

As such, it comes in many forms, including the two we'll dissect today - creatine monohydrate and creatine HCL.

On paper, creatine HCL vs monohydrate is a draw.

Both monohydrate and HCL have the same primary purpose, which is to increase your muscle gains and boost performance.

Still, there are some subtle differences between the two starting at a molecular level.

These can only be discerned if we take a look at different aspects of the two, such as absorption rates, dosage requirements, performance effectiveness, etc. So, let's do just that!

Spilled Gainful Creatine Powder

1. Strength Gains

Both forms of creatine, monohydrate and hydrochloride, will lead to an increase in ATP production, which will offset fatigue during resistance training.

This will result in an increase in lean body mass, improved muscle function, muscle development, and muscle strength.[1]

In other words, creatine increases energy, and it will help you get stronger.[2]

When it comes to key differences between the two, there really isn't much to say. The biggest reason for this is the lack of comparative research.

However, there is a study showcasing that both creatine monohydrate and creatine hydrochloride lead to a noticeable, albeit very comparable, increase in strength.[3]

So, when it comes to strength gains - either of these will help.

2. Muscle Growth

The effectiveness of creatine molecules on muscle size is very well known.

However, many seem to think that creatine simply leads to "water weight" and that you're not actually building muscle but are instead just retaining water in your muscle cells, making them appear fuller.

Learn More - Does Creatine Make You Gain Weight? (Fat Or Water Retention)

However, while muscle water retention is one of the reasons you notice the results rather quickly, and while it does actually happen, that is a gross oversimplification.

The way creatine supplements (both monohydrate and HCL) lead to muscle growth is by increasing the phosphocreatine/creatine ratio in skeletal muscle tissues.

This leads to the aforementioned adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production (resynthesis) during high-intensity exercise.

All of this leads to more effective workout sessions, which in turn translates to better results.

3. Safety

When taken in recommended doses, creatine is one of the safest dietary supplements you can take.

This applies to both creatine monohydrate and HCL since they are both forms of the same compound.

However, when taken in large doses, it is possible that some people with sensitive stomachs could experience some side effects, but we'll discuss those later.

4. Effectiveness

Gauging the effectiveness of creatine hydrochloride and monohydrate is tricky.

If we were to simply take a look at the daily dose, then creatine hydrochloride would be more effective since it requires a much lower dose to reach the same muscle saturation level.

However, the dosage isn't the be-all and end-all of effectiveness. As you'll see in a minute, the cost of supplemental creatine is another factor.

Also, while the studies have shown differences in water solubility, they don't necessarily translate to a difference in athletic performance or muscle gains.[4]

In fact, the research on HCL is still somewhat lacking compared to the monohydrate, but from what we know so far, both yield the same results.

So, the truth is, if you supplement creatine at a normal dose, both of these forms are equally effective.

Learn More - How Long Does Creatine Stay In Your System? (Expert Guide)

5. Solubility & Absorption

As you've just read, creatine HCL is the clear winner in the solubility category, but just because one is more soluble than the other does not mean it is also more absorbent.

Both forms appear to be equally absorbent, with no clear winner.

However, since HCL is significantly more water-soluble than monohydrate, many believe it can also dissolve quicker in the stomach, which could theoretically lead to better absorption rates (as compared to monohydrate).

Learn More - Can You Take Creatine On An Empty Stomach Or Not?

However, until there is more research backing up these claims, it's safe to say that neither of these is more absorbent than the other.

Man Drinking Creatine Mix From Tumbler

6. Dosage

When it comes to dosage, there's quite a stark difference between the two.

With creatine monohydrate supplementation, you'll typically need to take around 3-5 grams daily to reach muscle saturation levels, with the latter being the optimal dose.

On the other hand, HCL creatine supplementation requires only about 1-2g daily.

Another thing we have to discuss is a loading phase often associated with creatine monohydrate.

Some would argue you need around 20 grams (with no more than 10 grams per serving) of creatine monohydrate for about a week to fully saturate your muscles.

However, this is an optional practice I'd actually encourage against.

There are no real benefits that come from a loading phase, especially long term, so you're much better off just taking a 5 g dose until you inevitably reach full muscle saturation (approx.

140 to 160 mmol/kg of dry muscle mass) within three to four weeks.[5]

Related Article - How Much Creatine Should I Take? | Garage Gym Pro

7. Value For Money

Seeing how you need a smaller dose, we would assume that creatine hydrochloride would be a much better and much more cost-effective option for long-term supplementation.

However, it's quite the opposite.

In my opinion, the only reason we ever saw any new iteration of creatine other than monohydrate is to boost sales and generate more money for the supplement industry.

It was never about finding a better and more efficient form of creatine, which is evident if you just take your time and compare the price per the recommended dosage.

For example, if we were to take MyProtein's creatine monohydrate, which is Amazon's best-selling and by no means the most affordable option, we'd see that the price per serving (5g) is just $0.36.

On the other hand, if we were to look at another Amazon best-seller, MuscleTech's Cell-Tech creatine HCL containing 750 mg of creatine MCL per scoop, we'd quickly realize that the price per serving is $0.80.

So, despite requiring a larger dose, creatine monohydrate offers a much better value for money.

8. Side Effects

Side effects that are most commonly associated with creatine intake are upset stomach, gastrointestinal issues, water retention, and bloating.

However, they are often very minor and short-lived and are often the result of a large creatine dose.

A study from 2007 showed that supplementing 10 grams of creatine monohydrate (double the recommended dose) in a single serving has led to an increase in reported diarrhea.[6]

So, more creatine doesn’t equal major differences in your physique or body composition.

In fact, it will probably lead to a lengthy toilet session, so avoid loading phases. 5 grams is more than enough creatine.

Learn More - Does Creatine Make You Poop? (Find The Answer Here!)

As for creatine HCL, the lack of studies on side effects prevents me from making any claims.

However, from my experience, there are no observable differences in side effects between the two, and considering no one is loading up on HCL, it's safe to assume you shouldn't experience any unpleasantness while supplementing creatine HCL.

Learn More - Does Creatine Make Your Face Fat? (Does It Make It Puffy)

What Is Creatine HCL?

Creatine hydrochloride is a newer version of creatine gaining popularity over the past few years.

It is a combination of a creatine molecule and hydrochloric acid. The attached HCL molecule creates an easily soluble and stable form of creatine.

In theory, it should be much more absorbable than its predecessor and provide better results with smaller doses.

However, this was never proven to be true, and the only "advantage" HCL has over monohydrate is greater solubility.

Creatine HCL Benefits

Will HCL make you bigger? Yes. Bigger than monohydrate? No.

Creatine HCL is just as effective as the monohydrate form and works by increasing your body's ATP production, aiding you in achieving peak performance while training, regenerating energy faster, and providing your muscles with a much-needed boost during strenuous exercise.

The only real benefit of creatine HCL is that it is less likely to cause gastrointestinal issues due to a smaller required dose.

Also, if you want to see the results faster, creatine hydrochloride should be your go-to.

However, since your fitness journey is a marathon, not a sprint, seeing the results a week or two prior is not something that will make any significant difference in the long run.

Benefits of Creatine HCL

Creatine HCL Downsides

There are two main downsides to creatine hydrochloride - price per serving and lack of research.

Since we've already covered the significant price difference, let's talk about scientific research or lack thereof.

For a supplement whose effectiveness rests on bold claims (e.g., better and more effective than creatine monohydrate), the lack of scientific evidence supporting those claims should be an eyebrow-raiser.

Also, there are some anecdotes suggesting HCL doesn’t bode well with caffeine, causing muscle cramps, which could hinder your ability to use pre-workout supplements.

Some have also associated it with unwanted body weight gain, but those are mostly anecdotal side effects that shouldn’t be taken at face value.

What Is Creatine Monohydrate?

Creatine monohydrate is a simple mixture (a single creatine molecule and a water molecule) and is the most popular form of creatine. It's also the best one.

Other than that, it is one of the most studied sports supplements available and is the one that you'll want to stick with.

Creatine monohydrate has been around since the early 90s, and it's still being used by bodybuilders, athletes, and gym-goers today.

See More - Micronized Creatine Vs Monohydrate (Learn The Differences)

Pros Of Creatine Monohydrate

Compared to creatine HCL, monohydrate comes with several benefits under its belt.

First of all, it's much cheaper than HCL - one serving of monohydrate costs about half (or less) of what you'd normally pay for the equivalent amount in HCL form.

Secondly, it's backed by ample research and studies that have shown time and time again its effectiveness in energy production, so there is no doubt that supplementing with this form of creatine will yield results.

In addition to that, creatine monohydrate will also decrease myostatin (a protein that limits muscle growth) and increase insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a hormone that aids anabolic responses in your cells and tissues.

Benefits of Creatine Monohydrate

Cons Of Creatine Monohydrate

As for cons, there really aren't many aside from stomach discomfort associated with large doses. That’s about the only negative effect there is.

One thing to be mindful of is low-quality creatine supplements, but that isn't on creatine monohydrate, but rather on greedy manufacturers.

Common Creatine HCL And Monohydrate FAQs

Is creatine HCL good for weight loss?

Creatine HCL is not a weight loss supplement. However, if used properly and in combination with proper training and diet regime - creatine supplementation could help on the road to weight loss if that's your desired goal.

How long does creatine HCL take to work?

It takes about two weeks for you to see the results.

Is creatine monohydrate good for overall health?

Any creatine supplement is excellent for overall health - especially monohydrate. It's been shown to not only aid build muscle and improve performance but also boost brain function and help with some neurodegenerative diseases.

Is creatine HCL hard on your kidneys?

Creatine hydrochloride is very safe and won't cause any renal issues in healthy people. It is one of many normally occurring amino acids in the human body, and as such, it shouldn’t cause any issues to creatine users.

Verdict – Which Is Better?

So, creatine monohydrate vs creatine hydrochloride - which one should you choose if you're considering taking a creatine supplement?

Creatine monohydrate is the tried and tested form of creatine with decades worth of research behind it, a proven track record, and an unbeatable price-per-serving ratio.

Although many forms of creatine exist today, until there is rock-hard evidence and enough research suggesting otherwise, you shouldn't waste your time or money with any other forms of creatine other than creatine monohydrate.

References: 

  1. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/72/2/607S/4729704?login=false
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14636102/
  3. https://www.scirp.org/journal/paperinformation.aspx?paperid=62283
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0765159719302011?c
  5. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/13/8/2844
  6. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15438620701693280 
Miloš Lepotic

Miloš Lepotic

Meet Miloš, a certified sports nutritionist and self-taught supplement expert whose pharmacological background and nearly a decade of gym experience make him the perfect guide for optimizing your health and athletic performance through supplement reviews and practical advice rooted in factual, science-backed information.