Saturday, October 22, 2016

Ranking the best creatine supplements of 2016 (review)

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 10 best creatine supplements on the market.  Then, we’ll dive deeper into how creatine works and how to take the supplement.

1. Integrated Supplements 100% Creapure

integratedAs the name suggests, the creatine supplement manufactured by Integrated Supplements has only one ingredient, and that’s creatine monohydrate.

Like some of its competitors, it is micronized, meaning it’s ground into a very fine powder that makes it easier to mix into liquids (but, unfortunately, also easier to make a huge mess if you spill it on the floor).

Integrated Supplements 100% Creapure also carries the distinction of holding a Labdoor “Tested for Sport” certification, meaning the product was purchased through a normal retail channel, then sent to an advanced biochemistry lab to test for any traces of contaminants or adulterants that could trigger a positive on a doping test.

This is valuable for anybody who competes in sports that may involve doping tests, like NCAA athletes, high-level triathletes, weight lifters, and natural body builders.

In the past, some supplements from less-than-scrupulous manufactures have been tainted with prohibited substances like steroid precursors which have triggered a positive drug test, so if this is a concern for you, definitely consider the Integrated Supplements creatine offering (1).

As with other simple, minimalistic creatine supplements, the cost per serving of 100% Creapure is quite low, so it’s hard to go wrong with this choice.

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 n 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.

5.  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.

6.  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.

7.  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!

8.  Naturo Nitro Creatine Chrome with Magnapower

This product is immensely popular, with hundreds of Amazon reviews and a place high atop the best-seller lists.  If many of its competitors take a “minimalist” approach, Naturo Nitro takes the opposite.

Instead of providing straight creatine monohydrate, Naturo Nitro uses their own proprietary form of creatine called MagnaPowder, which is magnesium chelate of creatine.  Each capsule provides 650 mg of creatine, along with 50 mg of magnesium.

This could be a boon, because many people are magnesium deficient as it is (3).  Additionally, magnesium supplementation has been connected with higher levels of testosterone.

If you’re up for trying out new proprietary chemical formulations, Naturo Nitro Creatine Chrome might be worth a shot.

There’s no independent research on whether this magnesium chelate form of creatine is more efficient, better absorbed, or better tolerated than the standard creatine monohydrate, so realize you’re in uncharted territory.  It is reviewed well, but if you want to play it safe and stick to what works—and we do know that creatine monohydrate works well—then this might not be your best choice.

Still, it’s one of the better capsule form creatine supplements on the market, making it a good choice if convenience is one of your top priorities.

As is typically the case, the cost per serving of creatine will be higher, both because the supplement is in capsule form and because of the proprietary chemical formulation.

9.  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.

10.  MuscleTech Concentrated Series CreaCore Creatine

MuscleTech is a widely-known brand that you’re likely to find at your local supplement store as well as on the internet.  Though it’s a top seller on, MuscleTech’s creatine products do poorly when we take a closer look at its ingredients.

MuscleTech appeals to broader swaths of consumers by flavoring their creatine powder so it doesn’t taste so chalky.  In addition to creatine monohydrate, the ingredients a number of flavoring, preservative, and coloring agents.  If you can’t stand the taste of creatine, this can do the job, but this approach has a number of drawbacks.

First, it makes the absolute creatine content of the supplement a lot lower.  A clean, minimalist creatine powder will be essentially 100% creatine monohydrate.

Analytical lab testing shows that MuscleTech Concentrated Series CreaCore Creatine is only 53% creatine by weight and several of its ingredients are on consumer watch lists as being potentially risky, including acesulfame potassium, sucralose, and yellow #6.

These extra ingredients drive up the cost, too—it’s twice as expensive per serving as some other comparable brands.

With all of these facts considered, it is hard to recommend MuscleTech’s creatine offerings.  If the taste of unflavored powder drives you away from creatine, try a different product, or take capsules, which have no taste at all.

Part 2: Who should take a creatine supplement?

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.

Benefits of creatine

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, meaning 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.

Recommended dose

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 (9).

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.

Side effects of creatine

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.


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.

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