After your standard whey protein powder, creatine may be the most popular sports supplement on Earth, and with good reason. A lot of supplements out there have a few promising studies suggesting they may improve some aspect of performance. Creatine has hundreds of them, and study after study has shown that among most people (a small percentage of are non-responders) it can have a significant effect on several areas of performance.

It’s perhaps best known for the aesthetic benefits. Creatine increases muscle size relatively quickly and while that’s in part due to an increase in muscle water content — a good thing, since it means we’re better hydrated — it does indeed appear to lead to actual hypertrophy over time. And bigger muscles aren’t just aesthetic: larger muscles can improve work capacity, explosiveness, fat oxidation, injury resilience, and recovery.

Creatine Benefits Infographic

Despite all the awesomeness of hypertrophy, athletes may be more interested in effects on power. Power is the ability to generate high amounts of force in relatively short periods of time — more power means you can pull more weight in low-rep sets — and independent of the hypertrophy, just five to ten grams of creatine per day appears to improve power output by 12 to 26 percent.

There’s also plenty of evidence suggesting it can increase muscular endurance, boost anaerobic capacity, and among people who seldom consume creatine in meat, supplementing may improve cognition.

All of these benefits with no apparent health risks, creatine is a no-brainer when it comes to supplementing, particularly since it’s so darn cheap.

We tried dozens of different kinds of creatine to land on the 5 absolute best on the market:

Best Creatine: Legion Recharge
Best Creatine Monohydrate: Integrated Supplements Pure Creatine
Best Creatine Stack: MuscleTech Cell-Tech
Best Creatine Pills: Optimum Nutrition’s Creatine 2500 Caps
Best Creatine HCl Supplement: Kaged Muscle’s C-HCl 

Read below for even more categories and picks to find the best creatine for you!

What’s the Best Type of Creatine?

The general sentiment among nutrition experts is that creatine monohydrate is, for most people, the best bet. It’s the cheapest form and more importantly, it’s the most well-researched. Hundreds of studies have been performed on creatine monohydrate and there’s no evidence of ill effects, whereas many of the more novel forms of creatine have one or sometimes no studies supporting them.

That said, many people experience stomach cramps when they consume creatine monohydrate and it’s possible that taking a creatine with a different pH — usually creatine hydrochloride — can have a different effect on stomach acid and make for a creatine that digests more easily. As far as we know, the easier digestion doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more effective or that you need less of it to achieve the desired result.

Finally, it’s worth noting that creatine magnesium chelate could potentially result in improved athletic performance without the concurrent increase in water weight that typically accompanies creatine. There’s just one study supporting this right now, nonetheless there is some promise.

[Learn more: 10 kinds of creatine and what they all mean.]

Do I Need to Load Creatine?

You don’t have to, but you can. The typical creatine dose is 5 grams once or twice per day, but it’s sometimes suggested that one should “load” creatine by taking 20 to 25 grams per day for the first week of usage. This is then followed with 3 to 4 weeks of 5 grams per day, then a break for a week or two, then repeat. This may bring about more acute increases in strength and muscle size — creatine will “work” more quickly, in other words — but it’s not necessary.

While it’s sometimes advised that one should take a month off from creatine a few times a year, there’s currently not a lot of evidence suggesting that’s necessary.

Best Creatine

Legion Recharge was our favorite creatine product. Granted, it’s not just creatine: one scoop also delivers l-carnitine l-tartrate, which may help to reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and improve muscle repair, plus there’s some banaba leaf extract, which may help to increase insulin sensitivity.

It’s also naturally flavored with a delightful, mild watermelon taste (Fruit Punch and Unflavored are also available), and it’s not a “pre-workout creatine” so you can take it any time of day.

Integrated Supplements Pure Creatine is the best plain, old-fashioned creatine. It’s easy for folks to say “all creatine monohydrate is the same” but it’s high quality Creapure® brand creatine, it’s one of just three creatines that’s been approved by the popular third party testing site Labdoor, and it’s insanely cheap at 3 cents per gram.

xEndurance’s Creatine-JB is a fantastic, all-natural creatine for athletes. It’s a little expensive at a dollar per serving, but it has a really pleasant citrus flavor and it contains a gram of lactate, which has been shown in some studies to improve time to exhaustion in short duration, high intensity workouts. It’s also third party tested by Labdoor and Informed Choice.

Best Creatine Monohydrate

Integrated Supplements Pure Creatine is the best creatine monohydrate. For pure, unfiltered creatine it’s got everyone beat. Not just because it uses Creapure, not just because it’s pretty cheap, but also because it’s certified by two third party testing companies. You simply couldn’t ask for more quality control for a creatine.

Best Creatine Monohydrate

Athletic Xtreme’s German Creatine is also a pretty solid pick. Imported from Germany’s Creapure facility, it’s unflavored, has no added ingredients, it’s tested with High Pressure Liquid Chromatography to blast away impurities, and it’s third party tested by BSCG — but it’s slightly above average in price.

MusclePharm’s Core Series’ Creatine is another great all-rounder. It’s just creatine monohydrate, but MusclePharm has gone the extra mile by getting it certified by Informed Choice.

Best Creatine Stack

MuscleTech Cell-Tech is the best creatine stack. A lot of products claim to be more effective than regular monohydrate and while that’s seldom true, Cell-Tech has the goods. It combines creatine with a big 38 grams of carbohydrates and some alpha-lipolic acid, and some studies actually show that this trifecta could be more effective at sending creatine to the muscles than plain creatine.

Best Creatine Stack

Creatine HMB is our second favorite stack. It combines Creapure with hydroxymethylbutyrate monohydrate and some natural flavors. Studies suggest combining creatine and HMB can seriously increase the strength gains, plus it appears to help retain muscle during intense workouts.

MET-Rx Advanced Creatine Blast also contains a lot of ingredients that work synergistically with creatine. There’s the 33 grams of carbohydrates, which may help to drive creatine to the muscles, plus there’s some taurine to help with recovery and two grams of branched chain amino acids, which may help with muscle retention. However, it contains creatine ethyl ester, which is probably less effective than monohydrate.

Best Creatine Pills

Optimum Nutrition’s Creatine 2500 Caps got our vote for the best creatine pill. There’s no fancy reasoning here, it just gives us exactly what we want: it’s extra pure Creapure, you only need four capsules to get to a five-gram serving, and it’s reasonably cheap. It’s worth noting, however, that the pills contain gelatin from beef and pork.

Best Creatine Pills

Universal Nutrition’s Creatine Chews also have a lot to offer. As chewable tablets, they remove the need to have a source of water to consume creatine, which is a huge advantage. They contain 4 grams of sugar per serving, sure, but they’re free from artificial sweeteners and they’re vegetarian-friendly.

Crazy Muscle Three-Atine is another interesting choice. Don’t pay much attention to the fact that it has three kinds of creatine; 96 percent of it is monohydrate and the other two probably don’t bring much to the table. But it’s 9.6 cents per gram, vegetarian friendly, and it just requires three pills per serving.

Best Creatine HCl Supplement

Kaged Muscle’s C-HCl  hits all the right notes. While pricier than monohydrate, it’s a pretty reasonable cost for creatine HCl and with third party testing from Informed Choice, the quality control elevates it above its competitors. In other words, it’s the best balance of quality and cost.

Best Creatine HCl Supplement

Ghost Size is an impressive product. We didn’t put it first since it’s technically a combination of HCl and monohydrate but firstly, that makes it cheaper; secondly, it has a slew of other ingredients that can help with absorption, power output, endurance, and muscle gain. Plus, that Sour Warheads candy flavor is delicious.

R+D Body CRE HD rounds out our list of the best hydrochlorides. It’s pretty cheap at 22 cents per gram, it’s made in a certified Good Manufacturing Practices facility, plus it comes in convenient pill form.

Still Looking for the Best Creatine Supplement?

There you have it — our five favorite creatine products on the market. But when you’ve tried as many creatines as we have, there were a lot of others that we loved but didn’t make the very top of our list for the previous categories. That’s why we’ve also come up with a list of the best creatines for men, best creatines for women, best creatines for muscle growth, for bulking, for the brain, and the best micronized creatine. Keep reading for our favorite picks!

Best Creatine for Men

Legion Recharge was our favorite creatine for men. In addition to the banaba leaf extract, which may help to facilitate fat loss through improve insulin sensitivity, there’s a good hit of l-carnitine l-tartrate, which is a great supplement for maintaining cognition and muscular control, particularly as we age.

Best Creatine for Men

MET-Rx Advanced Creatine Blast could also be a smart pick for men. There are two reasons why: it contains a lot of chromium, which could help with diabetes risk — men are at greater risk than women, so this may be noteworthy. Second, it contains a significant amount of phosphorus, which appears to be significant for male sexual health.

Naturo Nitro Creatine Chrome may be beneficial for men as well. Of all the creatines we tried, this one contains the most magnesium, a mineral that has some links with higher testosterone levels.

Best Creatine for Women

Naturo Nitro Creatine Chrome could be an interesting choice for women. It’s actually magnesium creatine chelate, a type of creatine that may help to improve performance without increasing water weight. We don’t have a lot of studies on it just yet, but the research we do have suggests it could potentially be a good choice for women who want to improve performance without experiencing the “bloat” of regular creatine.

Best Creatine for Women

Beast Creature could be another good option for female athletes. It’s tasty, it contains five types of creatine, and it contains ingredients that could improve fat loss by increasing insulin sensitivity. One potential bonus is that it also has 70 percent of your daily biotin, a nutrient often included in women’s multivitamins due its purported benefits for hair and nails.

xEndurance Creatine-JB may also be a smart pick. Not only is it all natural and contains a gram of lactate, which may improve short-duration, high-intensity workouts, but it also has more calcium than anything else on this list — and women appear to need more calcium than men.

Best Creatine for Muscle Growth

Ghost Size takes the cake for muscle growth. The key to this formula is epicatechin, an antioxidant found in chocolate and certain plants that is linked to a wide array of benefits. These include increased nitric oxide produciton, better oxygenation to the brain, and muscle growth: epicatechin appears to inhibit myostatin, which suppresses muscle growth, and the dosage found in Ghost Size is in line with studies that examined this effect.

Best Creatine for Muscle Growth

Legion’s Recharge is a good pick for muscle growth. Besides the creatine itself, it contains a hefty 2.1 grams of l-carnitine l-tartrate, which has solid links with improving muscle repair in addition to increasing focus during workouts. It’s also delicious, naturally sweetened, and it contains ingredients that may improve insulin sensitivity and help the body to better utilize carbs for recovery.

MuscleTech Cell-Tech could also be a solid pick for muscle growth. Detractors may not be a fan of the artificial ingredients, but there is evidence that including carbohydrates and alpha-lipoic acid with creatine may increase muscle creatine content. That said, this product uses a little less alpha-lipoic acid than was used in the study suggesting this synergistic effect.

Best Creatine for Bulking

Transparent Labs’ Creatine HMB really did their homework. The HMB, which stands for hydroxymethylbutyrate, is the main metablite in the branched chain amino acid leucine that prevents the breakdown of muscle protein. Translation: it helps you to retain muscle, and it appears to do so more effectively than leucine alone. One bonus is that combining HMB with creatine also appears to increase strength better than taking either supplement alone. Plus, the blue raspberry flavor is delicious and contains no artificial sweeteners.

Best Creatine for Bulking

Naturo Nitro Creatine Chrome is an interesting choice for bulking. During the bulking process, many athletes lament losing muscle definition and feeling bloated. The magnesium creatine chelate in Naturo Nitro may help to counteract that effect as there’s some evidence that it could potentially improve performance without adding water weight. If you want to bulk but you want to keep definition, this may be worth considering.

Old School Labs Vintage Build is also a pretty good pick for bulking. It contains extra branched chain amino acids and glutamine to enhance the anabolic effects of a workout, plus it may improve performance and it has no artificial flavors or sweeteners.

Best Creatine for Brain and Mental Benefits

MuscleTech Cell-Tech is a decent pick as far as mental benefits. This is because it has a wide array of ingredients that includes taurine, which in addition to its potential effects on recovery, may also increase focus during a workout. The valine present in this product may have a similar effect as far as mental benefits go.

Best Creatine for Brain and Mental Benefits

Legion Recharge deserves another entry for mental benefits. In addition to creatine it has a well-dosed 2.1 grams of l-carnitine l-tartrate. Evidence suggests that this amount may help to improve attention, reduce fatigue, and boost cognition

Old School Labs’ Vintage Build may also help with focus. This is because it adds a few grams of BCAAs for each serving, which appear to preserve cognition during lengthy workouts, particularly during aerobic exercise.

Best Micronized Creatine Creatine is a solid bet for the best micronized creatine. It’s certified Good Manufacturing Practices and it’s produced in an allergen-free facility, something many brands can’t offer. The downside is that if you order smaller quantities, it’s a little more expensive, but once you order one kilogram or higher, it becomes just about cheapest creatine you’re likely to find.

Best Micronized Creatine

MuscleTech Platinum Creatine is a pretty great pick for micronized creatine. Micronized creatine has just been processed so it’s lighter in texture and disperses more easily in water, and Platinum Creatine is not just remarkably fluffy, it’s very inexpensive at 2.8 cents per gram.

BPI Sports’ Micronized Creatine is another good pick. It’s got no artificial ingredients, no anti-caking agents, no soy, plus at 2.3 cents per gram it’s one of the cheapest creatines we’ve seen. Note that it hasn’t undergone third party testing.

The Takeaway

Whether you like plain old creatine monohydrate or the most complex creatine stack, whether you like pills, hydrochloride, or micronized, we think we’ve landed on the best list for your needs. For more information on each of the products, just make sure to click through to the full review. Happy lifting!