Creatine is the single, most researched sports supplement in human history, yielding an array of benefits for the human body and mind. As such, creatine comes in many forms, the most prominent being creatine monohydrate and creatine HCL.
So, creatine HCL vs. monohydrate, which one should you choose?
Well, if you ask me – there’s no debate about which one’s better. But I don’t want you to take my word for it.
Instead, I’d like to dissect these two compounds, bit by bit, and let you make your own decision.
What is Creatine Hydrochloride (HCL)?
Creatine hydrochloride, or creatine HCL, is a “new and improved” version of creatine monohydrate that’s skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years.
Creatine HCL combines a single creatine molecule and a single hydrochloric acid molecule.
The combo of these two creates a stable, easily soluble form of creatine that is supposedly easier to absorb. However, this claim is yet to be scientifically proven.
HCL offers better water solubility, but whether that’s actually advantageous is up for debate.
What is Creatine Monohydrate?
Creatine monohydrate is a simple concoction composed of a single creatine molecule and a single water molecule. Even though simple, creatine monohydrate is arguably the best sports supplement on every level – from performance to safety.
Creatine monohydrate has been proven to effectively increase muscle strength, size, and power with minor side effects (we’ll touch on this later).
What are the Benefits of Taking Creatine Monohydrate or HCL?
To understand the benefits, we must first understand how creatine works.
Creatine works by elevating the levels of phosphocreatine/creatine ratio in skeletal muscle tissues. Skeletal muscle tissue is one of the three main types of muscle, and it’s the one that we use to move our bodies.
Creatine supplementation helps provide more energy to skeletal muscles by producing ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Besides energy production, ATP also offsets fatigue, helping you work out longer and harder.
It also aids IGF-1 (growth hormone) production and decreases myostatin (growth-limiting protein) levels. 
All of this will lead to improved muscle function, development, and strength. 
But that’s not all.
Creatine is also very beneficial for brain function. Supplementing with just five grams of creatine monohydrate will improve cognitive processes. This means better focus, memory, and reaction time, which are extremely helpful for athletes or bodybuilders. 
Is Creatine HCL the Same as Monohydrate?
No, creatine HCL is not the same as creatine monohydrate. These two are different on a molecular level.
That said, there’s little to no difference in how these two affect the body. 
Both yield the same results – increased athletic performance and improved brain function.
On the other hand, comparative research is scarce, at best.
While some studies (including the one above) have shown the effects of these two are virtually identical, there’s still a need for more research to settle this.
What is the Difference Between Creatine Monohydrate and HCL?
The main difference between these two lies in water solubility and “potency.”
First, let’s talk about solubility – what does it mean?
Water solubility is the ability of a substance to dissolve in water. Creatine monohydrate is known for its suboptimal water solubility, while creatine HCL is very soluble. Nearly 40 times more soluble than creatine monohydrate.
However, there’s no scientific evidence that suggests this massive difference has an impact on absorption. While quicker absorption is assumed (and attributed as the main reason for the difference in potency), we still don’t know for sure.
Another difference lies in its potency.
An effective dose of creatine monohydrate is 3-5 grams per day, with the latter being the optimal dose. On the other hand, 1-2 grams of creatine hydrochloride bring forth the same results.
Does this make creatine HCL effectively a much better option? I wouldn’t say so.
Side Effects of Creatine Monohydrate
There aren’t many side effects associated with creatine monohydrate, but bloating, water retention, and gastrointestinal issues may occur.
Creatine will cause your muscles to retain more water than usual, which may lead to water retention and a feeling of bloating.
It is also not uncommon for creatine monohydrate to cause diarrhea. 
However, all of the above almost exclusively affect people who undergo a “loading phase” and take more than 10 grams of creatine daily.
And, as you probably know, going through a “loading phase” is completely and utterly unnecessary, as fully saturating your muscles with creatine takes less than a month, and whether you achieve full saturation faster makes no difference at all.
Side Effects of Creatine HCL
Once again, there aren’t many side effects associated with this compound. However, there’s a great misconception that creatine HCL can’t lead to water retention and bloating. It certainly can. It’s simply that no one ever “loads up” on creatine HCL and is, therefore, not at risk of being or feeling bloated.
How Creatine HCL Helps Avoid Some of the Common Side Effects of Creatine Monohydrate
As we’ve said, a lower dose of creatine HCL is required to produce the same results as with creatine monohydrate.
This means you’re less likely to experience any of the side effects of creatine monohydrate since you won’t be taking such high doses.
Another thing is you will generally supplement creatine HCL with less water, which could very well be another reason for the lack of “water weight” commonly associated with creatine monohydrate.
Which is Better – HCL or Monohydrate?
One thing we haven’t discussed is the price per optimal dose, which in my opinion, plays a significant role in this head-to-head match.
If we were to look at industry averages, we’d quickly realize that creatine HCL is at least twice as expensive as monohydrate.
Couple that with:
- The effects being virtually non-distinguishable
- The fact that you are highly unlikely to experience any side effects if you skip the loading phase
- The fact that there is simply not enough research to back up any of the bold claims associated with creatine HCL
Creatine monohydrate comes out as the clear winner in this battle.
Ultimately, my pick out of these two is creatine monohydrate, and that’s hardly ever going to change.
It has a proven track record, is backed by research, and is cost-effective – essentially a flawless compound.
HCL creatine, on the other hand, is, unfortunately, a money-grab compound developed by the supplement industry, just like many other creatine forms that are supposedly “better” than monohydrate.
In reality, most of them are actually worse, yet they’re universally more expensive, so what does that tell you?