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This is our complete guide to Creatine for all types of fighters (Muay Thai, MMA, Boxing, Kickboxing, and BJJ).
This guide aims to give you evidence-based opinion on whether Creatine is worth supplementing with if you are training a martial art, especially if you are training to fight or you are trying to maximize your performance in the gym.
The Best Creatine Recommendation?
For those of you who want to supplement with Creatine and don’t want to read through our 2500 guide, here’s our recommendation for the best Creatine: plain Creatine Monohydrate.
It’s the most basic creatine and the cheapest. And all studies point to this form of creatine being just as effective (more in some cases) than all the other more expensive forms. Unless you have stomach problems, this is the best bang for your buck. We recommend the Optimum Nutrition due to the cheap cost and reputation the company has garnered over the years.
We make a serious effort to give you a research-backed opinion rather than Bro-science. Don’t waste your time taking the wrong supplements that waste your money based on hyped up claims by supplement companies or recommendations given by bodybuilding websites aiming to sell you an expensive creatine product!
Read this article before buying any Creatine supplements — it could save you a lot of money and wasted effort!
This article has been updated for 2016 and reflects the most current researched opinion on Creatine.
What is Creatine?
It’s a natural substance in the body that’s involved in the production of ATP, a molecule the body breaks down for short bursts of energy. I want to stress here that if you eat plenty of red meat, you should already have a good amount of Creatine in your muscles already. Supplementation simply boosts the levels of creatine present in your muscles which may provide a slight metabolic advantage for a few specific situations.
How Creatine Works
As a molecule that’s used to release energy for intense activity requirements, Creatine is utilized to improve cellular activity in your muscles. The improvements from increased creatine can translate to improved strength for certain kinds of physical activities, depending on the duration and type of activity.
Supplementing with creatine is intended to improve lean mass and power output activities.
Side Effects of Creatine
Creatine may cause stomach cramping, diarrhea, and nausea if not taken with enough water. Too much creatine in a single dose (especially without sufficient water) may also trigger these same side effects. Some people are more vulnerable to the side effects.
If you take creatine, you should increase your water intake as supplementing with it may put additional stress on kidneys.
The Key Research Studies About Creatine
- Potential for increase in explosive strength for short bursts: A look at 16 studies showed a significant increase in Bench Press (7kg) and Squat strength (10kg) over an 8 week period ([1. Dempsey RL, Mazzone MF, Meurer LN. Does oral creatine supplementation improve strength? A meta-analysis. J Fam Pract. (2002)])
- May be beneficial for short sprinting sessions ([2. Deminice R, et al. Effects of creatine supplementation on oxidative stress and inflammatory markers after repeated-sprint exercise in humans. Nutrition. (2013)].)
- No evidence Creatine supplementation will increase aerobic performance (marathons and jogs) [3. Smith AE, et al. Ergolytic/ergogenic effects of creatine on aerobic power. Int J Sports Med. (2011)]). If you want an increase in aerobic performance, especial for short-intense activities between 1 minute to five minutes, look at Beta Alanine instead.
- Increases water retention in muscle fibers, thus adding a slight increase in size of muscles ([4. Safdar A, et al. Global and targeted gene expression and protein content in skeletal muscle of young men following short-term creatine monohydrate supplementation. Physiol Genomics. (2008)])
The General Consensus Regarding Creatine
There is a lot of research done on this supplement, and it does in fact work to some degree, mainly that will slightly increase explosive power. This may benefit in anaerobic activities where short bursts of max power output is needed, such as weightlifting and sprints.
Because creatine allows for a slight boost in explosive power, you can increase your overall work output; in response to this increase, your body responds by building more muscle tissue as an adaption to the increased stress.
In simple terms: more weight lifted = more strength/muscle built over time.
So it’s not unreasonable to expect more muscle gains OVER TIME if you supplement with creatine along side a weight lifting routine and the right diet (calorie surplus).
Creatine also has an effect of drawing water into the muscles, giving them a fuller look. This may or may not be desirable, depending if you want a lean, cut look or a more bulky look.
Note that Creatine Monohydrate (the basic form of creatine) may cause stomach cramping and bloat for some users.
Types of Creatine (and the Claims Made)
As of 2016, there are quite a few different Creatine types to choose from.
And it’s difficult to figure out which Creatine type is worth buying and which is hype. As is the case with virtually all supplements, grandiose claims by supplement companies are made regarding the more expensive, newer creatine formulas as more effective than the original creatine monohydrate form (the basic creatine).
1. Creatine Monohydrate
This was the first creatine that was released to the market and is the cheapest type you can buy. Creatine Monohydrate requires a loading phase (usually about 4 to 5 days). One of the side effects is that your muscles retain more water, boosting their size. Some people report bloated stomach and intestinal pain as a side effect.
2. Ethyl Ester
A newer type of creatine that claims to reduce or completely eliminate the side effects caused by Creatine Monohydrate. There is no loading phase.
3. Creatine Malate
A blend of both creatine monohydrate and malic acid. This form of creatine is more water soluble than monohydrate and supposedly lacks the stomach causing issues. The claim is that it’s easier for your body to break this form of creatine which makes it more effective.
4. Buffered Creatine
One of the newer creatine types being hawked by all the bodybuilding magazines as the next best thing since sliced bread.
The claim made is that this product is formulated to keep a steady rate of conversion from Creatine to Creatinine (the waste product that Creatine turns into). Under normal circumstances, the pH levels rise which eventually stop the conversion of Creatine to Creatinine, meaning the creatine is no longer doing its job.
The result is that you can use less buffered creatine per serving than regular creatine and that it’s more effective — or so the claims go.
5. Micronized Creatine
A more refined version of creatine that’s easier for your body to absorb. It’s been around for a long while and is one of the cheaper forms of creatine.
6. Creatine Hydrochloride
This is a new creatine that’s made some hype waves. It’s supposed to be an improvement over the regular creatine and is marketed as a more concentrated version of creatine that lacks the side effects and improves absorption rates.
7. Liquid Creatine
A form of pre-liquefied creatine that’s supposedly has a higher absorption rate due to the higher water solubility.
So Which Type of Creatine Is the Best (as backed by studies)
The first rule to follow when it comes to choosing a supplement is to immediately discount the hyped claims.
Unfortunately, there’s a lack of real studies behind many of the supplements, and in some cases, it can take years before a hyped up supplement is shown to be bullshit by actual research.
You should believe supplement-company-funded research studies about their own product just as much as you should cigarette-funded cancer research.
Which is to say not at all.
So here’s the truth, based on actual studies with links to the studies given.
Best Creatine Type?
Let’s go through each of the creatine types and give what studies have shown, such as they are. Keep in mind some data may be inconclusive due to lack of studies, so do take these with a grain of salt. However, it’s far better than NO information or untested claims made by the supplement companies hawking the product.
Creatine Ethyl Ester: this ‘superior’ form of creatine has actually been shown to be worse than regular creatine with poorer absorption rates due to the creatine being almost totally absorbed in the gut rather than in the muscles. Don’t waste your money.
Micronized Creatine: just as effective as Creatine Monohydrate but more water soluble. Due to the higher solubility, it may reduce stomach cramps.
Creatine Hydrochloride: About the same as Creatine Monohydrate though more water soluble. The extra benefits outside of this are lost due to the stomach acid — i.e. the supposed lower dosage requirement has NOT been proven.
Magnesium-chelated creatine: this is the only type of creatine that some limited research shows may be slightly more effective than regular creatine. It also has been shown in a couple of studies to give similar benefits as creatine monohydrate but without the water gain in the muscles that creatine monohydrate is known for. Out of all the creatine types, this seems to be the only one that’s better in any measurable way outside the water solubility of a couple of the others.
Buffered Creatine: Studies, so far, show this to be no more effective than regular creatine. The side effects are also not more or less. It’s about the same as creatine monohydrate, but more expensive.
Liquid Creatine: less effective than regular creatine when you buy it in liquid form due to the creatine degrading over a few days. If you make liquid creatine by adding creatine to water is fine, but over days the creatine will break down.
Creatine nitrate: has been shown to be more water-soluble than regular creatine. But no other benefits over regular creatine have been shown.
Creatine Malate: has been shown to be more water-soluble than regular creatine and the malate may add some benefit, but it’s the same effectiveness as regular creatine.
Pills, Capsules, or Powered Creatine: Which is the Best Form?
In addition to the various types of Creatine available, you can also get it in three different forms: pill, capsule, and powder. This creates a bit of confusion as to what creatine form is the best.
The good news is that there are no significant advantages to pill, capsule or powder creatine regarding efficacy.
The only advantages may be which form is easiest for you to consume and perhaps the price you pay. Generally, unflavored powder is the cheapest (and the worst tasting) while the capsule and pill forms are more convenient.
Summary of the Best Type
most all the creatine types are nearly the same effectiveness as regular creatine monohydrate, with a couple types notably less effective than the monohydrate.
The best creatine is by far Creatine Monohydrate: it’s just as effective as the other types while being the cheapest to buy,
The main advantages of choose an alternative type of creatine is the increased water solubility which may reduce stomach cramping issues associated with regular creatine monohydrate. All other benefits (increased absorption, faster absorption, less water retention) have not been shown to be the case in studies done, contrary to whatever the supplement brand tells you on their adverts.
The one exception (i.e. a better creatine) is Magnesium-chelate creatine which studies shown may be just as effective as regular creatine but without the water-retaining properties of creatine monohydrate.
SHOULD I SUPPLEMENT WITH CREATINE?
If you don’t care about being as lean/ripped as possible and you want a small improvement in explosive power, then Creatine can deliver on that promise. Being able to increase your work output can mean over time you see more muscle gains though creatine’s effects. These benefits most likely apply to explosive strength-based activities — lifting weights (low rep, heavy weight) and maybe some shorter sprinting activities. Aerobic activities that regular endurance won’t see a benefit from creatine (check out Beta Alanine instead)
SHOULD YOU SUPPLEMENT WITH Creatine for Muay Thai?
if you are trying to compete in a lower weight class and need to keep lean: you won’t want to take Creatine because your muscles will retain more water. Based on some limited evidence, Magnesium-chelated creatine might confer the regular strength enhancing benefits (through strength training) of regular creatine without the extra water retention in muscles and associated weight gain. But studies are limited at this point, so take with a grain of salt.
if you are also doing strength training in addition to Muay Thai and don’t care about gaining a bit of water weight: Where Creatine may offer an advantage is if you, in addition to Muay Thai, strength train. Creatine might allow you to push a bit a few more reps or add just a bit more weight which may bring greater strength and muscle gains. As noted in the section above, studies done on Creatine and weightlifting have noted after 8 weeks of supplementation and an increase of 10 kg in squat strength and 7kg in bench strength. Being stronger could ultimately be an advantage in your clinch game.
Best Creatine Brands
Given that research has shown little to no (and in some cases less) advantages to alternative forms of creatine (vs regular old creatine monohydrate), we’ll give three picks here based on 1) price, 2) quality, 3) potential side effects, and 4) extra benefits inherent to that form. Besides the actual flavor of the creatine and the water solubility (how well it dissolves in water and in your stomach), there’s not much to recommend when it comes to going with an expensive brand versus a cheaper creatine brand.
This is your basic unflavored creatine monohydrate. There’s nothing fancy about this: it’s cheap, it’s high quality, and it’s just as effective, according to the studies done, as any of the ‘fancy’ more expensive creatine types.
Micronized Creatine is a more refined version of basic creatine monohydrate. There are no additional benefits other than it’s increased water solubility. However, if you suffer from stomach cramps, stomach bloating or other stomach problems from regular creatine, the enhanced solubility may reduce or eliminate those symptoms. There are other Creatine types that areC also more water-soluble than regular creatine monohydrate, but micronized creatine is one of the cheapest, which is why we recommend it.