Do Creatine Brands Matter? 8 Things To Watch Out For - FeastGood.com (2024)

Nearly every supplement company offers at least one kind of creatine (if not several), making it difficult to decide which brand to buy. As a nutrition coach, I’ll explain the differences between brands of creatine and what to watch out for when purchasing a product.

Key Takeaways:

  • While various types of creatine exist, creatine monohydrate is the most widely studied, safest, and most effective supplement for improving performance, regardless of the brand.
  • Creatine is available in capsule or powder form, and the delivery method does not change the performance benefits. Both are equally as effective.
  • So long as the brand of creatine you buy is 100% creatine and is third-party tested (to ensure accuracy and purity), the brand doesn’t matter.

Creatine Science vs. Brand: An Overview

The science is undisputed: creatine, specifically creatine monohydrate (the most-studied form), improves exercise performance, increases strength and power, enhances recovery, improves mental health and cognition, and can reduce injury.

These studies rarely, if ever, refer to any particular brand of creatine unless the study is sponsored/paid for by one specific supplement brand; in this case, you should be very discerning when reading any results that support the use of that particular brand.

So, does the underlying science change depending on the brand you take? Is there any advantage to taking one brand over another regarding creatine monohydrate?

There is no advantage to taking one brand over another regarding the performance benefits of creatine when the brands are equated for quality and serving size.

When I say “quality,” I mean the assurance that a stated serving of 5 grams of creatine monohydrate indeed contains 5 grams of creatine monohydrate and not cheap fillers like starches or other powders.

These additives are sometimes mixed into the product to make it more affordable.

I’ll discuss quality (as described above) and other considerations in the section below.

Brand Variability: Is There A Difference?

Although there is no difference in performance benefits between brands if the quality and serving sizes of the creatine are the same, there are eight things to watch out for when choosing between creatine products.

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1. Creatine Type

Our team at FeastGood.com put together a guide on the Types of Creatine, which I encourage you to read to learn about the nuances.

In short, there are ten different types, but creatine monohydrate tops the list as the best because it’s the purest form and has the most science-backed evidence.

You can ignore the hype from brands claiming that other forms of creatine are superior since research does not support these claims (yet).

All types of synthetic creatine start as creatine monohydrate – read more about this in the “Sourcing” section below.

2. Form of Creatine

As long as you’re comparing creatine monohydrate to creatine monohydrate, it doesn’t matter whether you take it in capsule form (pill) or powder.

For example, on the left, you’ll see creatine pills; on the right, you’ll see creatine powder. Each serving size, 7 pills or 1 scoop, contains 5000mg (5g) of creatine. In other words, you’re buying the exact same product.

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Just ensure you take an effective dose for your needs (usually 3-5 grams daily).

Check out our Creatine Calculator to find the optimal dose), which might mean that you need more than one capsule or more than one scoop, depending on the stated serving size on the label.

3. Sourcing

I’ll explain the process of manufacturing creatine below (for anyone who likes the nerdy stuff), but the key part is DO NOT buy your creatine from Chinese manufacturers.

Creatine is synthesized in a lab by reacting two chemical compounds in a liquid solution: cyanamide and N-methylglycine (sarcosine).

The reaction creates a liquid containing creatine crystals, which are separated by spinning them in a centrifuge (a fancy device that separates particles) and then dried and milled into a fine powder of creatine monohydrate.

A patent is also pending to create creatine monohydrate by reacting cyanamide with sodium N-methyl glycinate (a lower-cost ingredient than N-methylglycine) from a Chinese company called SKW Trestberg Corporation Ltd.

However, this process increases the risk of impurities such as cyanide or ammonia in the final product.

So, be very careful about creatine products from China, especially if you’re not sure what company manufactured them.

It might surprise you that all synthetically produced creatine starts as creatine monohydrate; other forms of creatine require further processing, making them more expensive and leading to higher prices and more zealous marketing claims.

No matter what brand of creatine you choose, you are getting the result of mixing cyanamide with sarcosine. So, the source doesn’t matter as long as it’s not a Chinese company using an unapproved process.

4. Absorption and Efficacy

One type of creatine, creatine hydrochloride (creatine HCL), has recently gained popularity across marketing campaigns because it is more soluble in water than creatine monohydrate, meaning a smaller amount of water is needed to dissolve a serving.

So when you see a company selling Creatine HCL, like Kaged Supplements, it’s so that they can market it by saying:

“A patented form of creatine that absorbs extremely well and mixes easily for a smooth, clean taste”.

But, so far, studies have not shown that creatine HCL is any more effective than creatine monohydrate in terms of performance. It simply dissolves better in less water. Consider creatine HCL if dissolvability matters to you, but know you won’t be bench pressing more because of it.

5. Additives, Fillers, and Flavorings

Another consideration is whether the creatine product has other additives, fillers, or flavorings.

Suppose you are sensitive to sweeteners like sugar alcohols or thickening agents like xanthan gum or carrageenan. In that case, you’d want to avoid brands that include these ingredients in their creatine products.

Some additives to creatine can include things like vitamins and minerals. But whether you want or need these ingredients in your product will depend on your personal goals, preferences, and advice from your doctor or healthcare provider.

My opinion: get your vitamins and minerals, or other nutrients, from whole foods and other types of supplements and leave your creatine supplement to just creatine.

What you certainly don’t want in your creatine supplement is cheap fillers like starches or sweeteners (i.e., maltodextrin) that reduce the actual amount of creatine per serving.

For example, here’s a creatine supplement from Legion that includes some other amino acids, as well as fillers, sweeteners, and artificial colors.

The best way to avoid these is to read the ingredient list of a creatine product from a third-party tested and certified brand. The only ingredient listed should be creatine.

6. Safety and Purity

There are a few ways for brands to ensure the safety and purity of their creatine products:

  • Source their raw ingredients from certified providers (if they make the product in-house).
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If a product is not third-party tested or certified, you cannot know whether your creatine supplement contains the ingredients listed on the label.

Look for third-party tested and certified brands to avoid cheap fillers or harmful substances.

7. Packaging and Sustainability

If environmental considerations are important, consider how your creatine is packaged. Bags of creatine generally take up less space than cylindrical plastic tubs and use less material.

Revolution Nutrition specifically points out that their bulk bags reduce the amount of packaging by 88%. Buying in bulk usually means less packaging per serving than buying smaller amounts (plus, it’s usually more economical, too).

It amused me to see creatine marketed as “organic,” given the laboratory setting in which synthetic creatine is made. “Vegan” creatine is also a bit of a misnomer, given that naturally occurring creatine molecules only exist in vertebrates (aka animals) and not in plants.

So, you can buy your creatine from vegan or organic brands if supporting those companies is important to you regarding your values, but the performance benefits are the same.

8. Price vs. Quality

While people often say, “You get what you pay for,” implying that a higher price means higher quality, this isn’t true regarding creatine.

You do have to watch out for extremely low-priced creatine as it likely contains cheap fillers; at a minimum, it’s worth paying for a third-party certified product, but beyond that, you don’t need any unique “bells or whistles” for a higher price tag.

Generally speaking, premium brands are only worth the extra cost if they include additional ingredients you want and would otherwise pay for separately.

For example, you could get a protein powder with creatine and avoid paying for two products.

My Recommendation

Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means we earn from qualifying purchases. Learn more.

My number one recommendation when choosing creatine is to look for a third-party certified brand.

These certifications ensure the product’s quality, purity, and safety so that you know you are getting exactly what it says on the label: nothing more and nothing less.

The following third-party certifications are what to look for when purchasing creatine:

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On top of the label, look for brands willing to provide lab results showing the exact breakdown of the testing process.

My top pick for creatine is Bulk Supplements Creatine Monohydrate (Micronized). Bulk Supplement’s facility is NSF Certified, and you can request a Certificate of Analysis for any product by emailing customer service.

Check Today’s Price on BulkSupplements

“After the better part of a decade taking creatine daily, I’ve tried a lot of different products—different brands, flavored versus unflavored, single-ingredient products versus post-workout blends—and this is the one I always come back to. It’s affordable, effective, and simple.”

Frieda Johnson, Garage Gym Reviews (GGR) editor on BulkSupplements Creatine Monohydrate (micronized).

I prefer standalone supplements (one ingredient only) because I make my own pre-workout with only the exact ingredients I want, in the amounts I want.

Plus, I can separate supplements I want to take daily (like creatine) from those I only take on certain workout days, like caffeine, for an intense session.

User Reviews & Anecdotal Evidence

Creatine is so popular that there is no shortage of user reviews and opinions online.

Remember that these are often just opinions and are not necessarily fact-checked and/or supported by scientific studies:

  • I determined the best creatine supplement is Thorne Creatine. Thorne is one of the most well-known and trusted brands in the supplement industry…the only thing you get in Thorne Creatine is 5 grams of creatine monohydrate per serving, with no additives to worry about.Taylor Leamey, product reviewer at CNET.
  • Creatine monohydrate is the least expensive product typically, and it will supply all the creatine you need. Other creatine alternatives tout benefits that are not really that beneficial. I would recommend you look for German creatine sold as Creapure.Quora User
  • No matter what anyone tells you – cheap monohydrate is all you need.Quora User
  • Creatine monohydrate is creatine monohydrate, no matter who stuck their sticker on the packet. There is no best. Buy the cheapest…If you buy one of the self-styled premium brands, all you’re paying for is a bigger marketing budget.Quora User
  • There is zero proof that combining creatine monohydrate with creatine magnesium chelate and creatine hydrochloride works any better than creatine monohydrate alone. In addition to paying for two more-expensive forms of creatine, you’re also shelling out cash for two types of sweeteners, three types of extract, and something called AstraGin—ginseng and astragalus root—that has nothing to do with creatine absorption. Save your money.Elizabeth M. Ward, MS, RDN, on Genius Creatine Powder, Post-Workout Muscle Maximizer.

As you can see, many people know that creatine monohydrate is undoubtedly the best form of creatine and that the brand itself doesn’t necessarily matter (assuming safety & purity).

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Mix Two Creatine Brands Together?

Yes, you can mix two creatine brands together, especially if they are the same type of creatine, such as creatine monohydrate.

There are no performance benefits to mixing brands or types.

Can You Get Enough Creatine Without Supplementing?

If you eat animal products, you can get enough creatine without supplementing. However, this might cause you to exceed your daily protein and/or calorie targets because it requires eating 1-2 lbs of beef or fish.

Vegetarians/vegans cannot get enough creatine to maximize performance without supplements.

Can You Get Bad Quality Creatine?

Yes, you can get bad-quality creatine if you don’t choose reputable brands.

It’s not the creatine itself; it’s the risk that additional unnamed ingredients are in the product, such as cheap fillers or additives, banned substances, or even toxins.

Buy only third-party certified products to minimize this risk.

References

Richard B. Kreider, Douglas S. Kalman, Jose Antonio, Tim N. Ziegenfuss, Robert Wildman, Rick Collins, Darren G. Candow, Susan M. Kleiner, Anthony L. Almada & Hector L. Lopez (2017) International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14:1, DOI: 10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z

Rawson ES, Volek JS. Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2003 Nov;17(4):822-31. doi: 10.1519/1533-4287(2003)017<0822:eocsar>2.0.co;2. PMID: 14636102.

Izquierdo M, Ibañez J, González-Badillo JJ, Gorostiaga EM. Effects of creatine supplementation on muscle power, endurance, and sprint performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002 Feb;34(2):332-43. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200202000-00023. PMID: 11828245.

Jiaming, Y., & Rahimi, M. H. (2021). Creatine supplementation effect on recovery following exercise-induced muscle damage: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Food Biochemistry, 45, e13916. https://doi.org/10.1111/jfbc.13916

Allen, P. J. (2012). Creatine metabolism and psychiatric disorders: Does creatine supplementation have therapeutic value? Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 36(5), 1442-1462. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2012.03.005

Rae C, Digney AL, McEwan SR, Bates TC. Oral creatine monohydrate supplementation improves brain performance: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial. Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Oct 22;270(1529):2147-50. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2003.2492. PMID: 14561278; PMCID: PMC1691485.

Brandon T. Gufford, Kamaraj Sriraghavan, Nicholas J. Miller, Donald W. Miller, Xiaochen Gu, Jonathan L. Vennerstrom & Dennis H. Robinson (2010) Physicochemical Characterization of Creatine N-Methylguanidinium Salts, Journal of Dietary Supplements, 7:3, 240-252, DOI: 10.3109/19390211.2010.491507

About The Author

Lauren Graham

Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.

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Do Creatine Brands Matter? 8 Things To Watch Out For - FeastGood.com (7)

On Staff atFeastGood.com, we have Registered Dietitians, coaches with PhDs in Human Nutrition, and internationally ranked athletes who contribute to our editorial process. This includes research, writing, editing, fact-checking, and product testing/reviews. At a bare minimum, all authors must be certified nutrition coaches by either the National Academy of Sports Medicine, International Sport Sciences Association, or Precision Nutrition. Learn moreabout our team here.

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Do Creatine Brands Matter? 8 Things To Watch Out For - FeastGood.com (2024)
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