Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A better way to load creatine? by Jerry Brainum

    Many available supplements, particularly those targeted to bodybuilders and athletes, contain ingredients of questionable value. While a long list of such ingredients does look impressive on a product label (despite that fact that precise amounts are rarely listed, i.e.,"Proprietary formulas."), the research to prove the efficacy of these often esoteric and exotic ingredients is scant. Most of the time the available proof behind such ingredients consists of animal studies or in vitro, or test-tube, isolated cell studies. While such studies do have value, they can't always predict whether the same results that occur in a Petri dish or in a lab rat will also occur in an intact adult human.

     But there is one supplement that has an abundant body of solid research behind it. That supplement is creatine. Although discovered in 1835, creatine wasn't applied to athletic usage until the East Germans and Soviet sports scientists began providing vials of creatine phosphate to their athletes in the mid-1960s. This is also the same period when anabolic steroid use began in earnest among athletes. Creatine was introduced to the sports supplement market in 1985, when product developer, Bob Fritz, developed a product called "Creatine 1500." Since then, hundreds of studies have proved the efficacy of creatine, especially for those involved in resistance exercise.In fact, creatine works well for 80% of those who use it. The 20% that don't get significant results from creatine supplements are usually heavy eaters of red meat, the richest natural source of creatine. As you might expect, vegetarians who avoid red meat often show the best results after ingesting creatine, which is suitable for vegetarians since such supplements are synthetic, containing no meat products.

    Creatine works by acting as a sort of second battery in your muscle cells. The most elementary source of energy for muscular contraction is adenosine triphosphate or ATP.But the supply of ATP in muscle lasts only 3 seconds. ATP provides energy when one of its three phosphate bonds is broken off. Creatine is stored in muscle as creatine phosphate, and when a muscle is replete increatine, the stored creatine is able to provide a phosphate donor bond to replete depleted ATP, thus perpetuating the ATP energy cycle, until the creatine itself is depleted. Studies have shown that you can load a muscle with creatine, which would increase the efficiency of the creatine/ATP system.

     The advice on how to load a muscle with creatine has evolved over the years. Initially, the usual protocol consisted of ingesting 5 grams (about a teaspoon) of creatine, 5-6 times a day for 5 days. Later studies showed that after 48 hours on a creatine loading regime, the body began dumping over 60% of ingested creatine by rapidly converting the creatine tocreatinine, which was then excreted through the kidneys.More recent loading regimes suggest a 3-day loading regime, followed by a maintenance dose of about 3 grams of creatine daily.

     Studies also showed that promoting a a release of insulin appeared to increase the uptake of creatine into muscle. The suggested mechanism for this effect involved a stimulation of the creatine transport protein in muscle, which controlled creatine uptake into muscle. Later studies revealed that the creatine transport protein (CTP) was actually stimulated by a sodium pump mechanism in cells, and insulin stimulated that pump mechanism. The one sure way to promote a large insulin release was to ingest simple or high glycemic index carbohydrates. As a result, early creatine load protocols suggested ingesting as much as 95 grams of simple carbs with each 5 gram dose of creatine. On a loading regime of 25-30 grams of creatine a day, this meant that you would also need to ingest 475 to 570 grams of simple carbs. This was problematic from a caloric point of view, and also to those who were on low carbohydrate diets. Later, other research showed that ingesting whey with creatine led to similar uptake of creatine as did simple carbs. This was related to the glucogenic nature of amino acids contained in whey, which was a rapidly absorbed protein source. Those amino acids also stimulated insulin, and the CTP.

   A newly published study suggests still another alternative for maximizing creatine uptake into muscle. This study suggests that fenugreek is just the ticket for improved creatine uptake. This isn't an unexpected finding. I've written about past studies in which fenugreek appeared to promote more efficient glycogen synthesis after exercise when consumed with simple carbs. Fenugreek, which is an herb, has long been used to treat diabetic symptoms since it appears to lower elevated blood glucose levels. At first, this was attributed to the high fiber content of fenugreek, which was thought to slow glucose absorption and thus favorably affect blood glucose levels. But in 1998, a novel amino acid was discovered in fenugreek called 4-hydroxyisoleucine. This amino acid was found to potentiate the effect of  insulin in promoting glucose uptake into cells. If you're wondering at this point why this amino acid was never incorperated in a creatine supplement, the reason is that a use patent that included all athletic use of 4-hydroxyisoleucine was granted to a group shortly after the amino acid was discovered.
      In the new study, 47 men engaged in resistence exercise were randomly assigned to one of three groups:

(1) 70 grams of a dextrose (sugar) placebo

(2) 5 grams of creatine and 70 grams of dextrose

(3) 3.5 grams of creatine and 900 milligrams of a fenugreek extract

    Using the commercial fenugreek extract bypassed the use patent for 4-hydroxyisoleucine. The men also trained for 8 weeks on a 4-day split workout system. The study itself lasted for 8 weeks.The results at the end of 8 weeks showed that the combination of creatine and fenugreek extract worked just as well as the creatine and 70 grams of dextrose in promoting gains in strength and lean mass. Both groups showed significant gains in one-rep maximum lifts for bench press and leg press, as well as lean mass gains.In contrast, the carb placebo group showed gains only in the leg press, and no lean mass gains. One unexpected result was that in those who ingested the creatine/fenugreek, bench press strength increased after 4 weeks, while the creatine/dextrose group didn't show any strength gain at the same time point.This led to speculation that the creatine/fenugreek may have boosted muscle creatine stores more effectively than did the creatine/carb combination. The fenugreek is thought to have provided these results by increasing insulin sensitivity. Other studies suggest that saponins found in fenugreek favorably increase testosterone levels, and this, too, may have played a role. But that is also speculative, since testosterone levels weren't monitored in this study.

Taylor, L, et al. Effects of combined creatine plus fenugreek extract vs. creatine plus carbohydrate supplementation on resistance training adaptations.J Sprts Sci Med 2011;10:254-260.

©,2013 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited. 

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