The above is a pretty typical ad description for creatine ethyl ester (CEE), which was probably the hottest creatine alternative ever to hit the market. According to the hype, CEE was everything that creatine monohydrate wasn’t: it was more soluble, stable, potent, bioavailable and effective. And—if that wasn’t enough—proponents insisted creatine ethyl ester supplementation was completely safe and free from side effects such as bloating/water retention. It seemed like a dream come true.
Note the persistent use of the past tense…”was”—not “is.” Problem is, at the time CEE was introduced, there was very little data to confirm these claims. That hasn’t changed…although we now have data to DISCONFIRM them, however. Let’s take a closer look…
What is Creatine Ethyl Ester?
Creatine ethyl ester, or CEE, is a creatine molecule with the carboxylic acid group “masked” by esterification with ethyl alcohol (ethanol). It’s claimed that this modification makes the molecule more lipophilic (fat-soluble) and easier to absorb. In addition, it allegedly stabilizes creatine in stomach acid, and prevents conversion to creatinine.
The goal of CEE supplementation is to achieve higher blood levels of creatine and enhanced uptake by skeletal muscle vs. creatine monohydrate.
CEE was originally the brainchild of University of Nebraska professors Jonathan Vennerstrom and Donald Miller. It was originally licensed to MRI and marketed as CE2, although a number of “copycat” products rapidly appeared as the word spread. This led to a confused state of affairs… Some raised issues about product quality and challenged the claims, while others rushed headlong to join the Hallelujah chorus.
Personally, I threw my lot in with the doubters after reading through public versions of the documents submitted to the FDA in support of a “New Dietary Ingredient” notification for CEE. Although many details were redacted as “proprietary information”, there was enough info to convince me there were…”issues” with CEE—to put it politely.
“Creatine Ethyl Ester is rapidly absorbed from the gastro-intestinal tract, with radioactivity being detected in plasma within 3 minutes following administration. The peak concentration of the associated free form (ester) occurred at five minutes following administration, and accounted for less than 15% of the total radioactivity present in plasma.
This indicates that its dissociation into creatine and ethanol is rapid and nearly complete within this initial five-minute period…The peak level of creatine in plasma was equivalent to about 12% of the total radiocarbon present…The concentration gradually declined and gave rise to creatinine levels that increased to approximately 80-90%, where they remained throughout the duration of the study period.”
In other words:
- CEE dissociated to creatine and ethanol within minutes after oral administration.
- At its peak concentration in plasma, the amount of creatine represented only about 12% of the total radiocarbon present.
- The rest (80-90%) was creatinine, a biologically inactive waste product.
Based on this description, CEE didn’t appear to be very stable…AT ALL. It fell apart and began to degrade rapidly after ingestion. Needless to state, this is not how creatine monohydrate behaves.
Ok, the pharmacokinetic data on creatine ethyl ester was determined in rats, not humans. That was the best there was, however.
There was a complete—and disturbing—lack of human data to show that creatine ethyl ester actually did what the ads claimed it did…which was to increase muscle creatine content and performance as well—or better—than creatine monohydrate.
Subsequent research confirmed CEE wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
First, tests by Dr. Mark Tallon demonstrated that—contrary to claims—CEE was LESS, not more, stable than creatine monohydrate in stomach acid.
In addition, a pilot study performed by the Ohio Research Group showed CEE was less effective than another commercial product (Gaspari Size On) at improving lean mass and strength.
The coup de grâce, however, was was a recent study supervised by Dr. Darryn Willoughby and Dr. Richard Kreider.
“Since creatine ethyl ester supplementation showed a large increase in serum creatinine levels throughout the study with no significant increase in serum and total muscle creatine content, it can be concluded that a large portion of the creatine ethyl ester was being degraded within the GI tract after ingestion. Furthermore, it appears that the skeletal muscle uptake of creatine ethyl ester uptake was not significant enough to increase skeletal muscle creatine levels without significant degradation to creatinine occurring.”
Emphasis mine. Needless to state, in the four years that CEE’s been on the market, not ONE SINGLE STUDY—not even an in-house one—has been produced to validate the extravagant claims made by the manufacturers and retailers of creatine ethyl ester-based supplements.
So, does creatine ethyl ester work at all???
At best, kinda-sorta. It’s clear, however, that creatine ethyl ester is NOT a superior alternative to creatine monohydrate. And—while creatinine may not be explicitly toxic—I for one am not interested in paying extra $$$ for a supplement ingredient that starts converting into waste material before it ever reaches my muscle cells.
As far as I’m concerned, the ad at the top has it “bass ackwards”—CEE’s the one that really “falls short.” Creatine monohydrate may not be the “future of creatine,” but it’s still the best-supported and most effective form out there.