Creatine, Ribose and Insulin Potentiators
In my first article I dealt with one of the biggest supplements today. Why not make it two for two and take on creatine early on. No doubt creatine was the revolution of the industry, a big boost for supplement companies and a credit to science. Luckily people are starting to relativate the hype and the prices have become affordable. But you can't deny the charm of it. Even today its support-base is unrivaled in bodybuilding, I daresay bigger than even whey protein, and it's still a favorite for the hate-mongers to scrutinize. I refer once again to this latest controversial study linking creatine to carcinogenic risk. I assure you it's not only not true, but once again it has proven to be so effective that some people find it a threat.
True story: The first time I ever bought creatine I asked the store clerk why I should bother with this supplement. All he said was: "It makes your muscles grow."
We've come a long way. Chances are more people know what the deal is with creatine, but on the other hand the number of creatine products has increased and the buying public is confused. Micronized, liquid, effervescent, what to buy? Well, first of all I should perhaps explain how creatine works and how to maximize its potential before I get into these different forms.
Creatine is a naturally occuring compound that is present in the body. Under the right circumstances the body can manufacture it and small amounts are taken in through food, mainly from red meat and fish. To understand what creatine does you have to know a little bit of physiology. All energy in the body comes from a source called Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP). All things we regard as energy sources (like glucose) can be regarded as currencies, but before you can spend it you need to exchange it to the accepted currency which is ATP. When potential energy is created by burning ATP, this leaves waste products, namely one separate phosphate ion and ADP (Adenosine Di-Phosphate). Both are regarded as such and excreted by the body. When the compound creatine monohydrate is introduced into the system it forms creatine phosphate (or phospho-creatine) by binding with a phosphor-ion. This new substance has the capability of binding this ion to left-over ADP and regenerate ATP. New ATP, new energy. This enables faster recovery, longer and better training sessions and this should translate into new muscle growth. This is extremely important in lifting, because muscle growth is mainly an anaerobic occasion. That means you need enough energy to complete your set without resorting to the Krebs-cycle (which enables us to do long, strenuous efforts). This does not go for leg muscles, because they contain larger amounts of oxidative fibers.
But that's not all. Creatine has the ability to absorb water into its target cells. This logically makes the cells bigger, and so your muscles appear bigger, though its not actual growth. This special side-effect has the benefit of being good motivation (nothing gets you going like watching yourself grow) and naturally getting that little extra in a pre-contest phase. (A judge can't tell the difference between real muscle and water within the cells). This leads to a little dehydration whilst starting a new cycle of creatine, but as long as you drink enough this should not form a problem. What will form a problem is that creatine is not easily absorbed by the cells. This problem is partly solved by introducing a loading phase, but even then you risk using only half your creatine. Many new forms of creatine have tried to address this problem, but which one works?
Why taking it with juice is not the answer:
The first users of creatine realized early on that insulin was needed to create an environment capable of pushing creatine into the muscle. It makes sense, because all nutrients, especially the all important protein, need insulin to have optimal effect. Taking your protein with a simple sugar created an insulin spike making it more efficient, and that was the plan with creatine. So they decided to take it with juice. The juice of choice was grape because it contained the most fructose, the sugar present in all fruit juices. Fructose was a good choice because it was moderately glycemic (glycemic index refers to the ability of a sugar to form glucose and ultimately glycogen, the prime storage of energy in the body) and easy to mix with the creatine. Unfortunately fructose doesn't cause a long enough insulin-spike to remain anabolic until the time the creatine becomes available to the muscle (roughly 20-30 minutes after intake). On top of that they consumed large amounts of juice, and all that free fructose easily transformed to fat storage. Not exactly what they were hoping for.
Why liquid creatine is not the answer:
I'm going to say this once and for all and this goes for all liquid forms of creatine, including serum. I do not want to hear another thing about it. Honestly, I'm tired of repeating this over and over. The idea behind liquid creatine was making it more absorbable, but making it liquid makes it easier for it to get into the blood but not into the muscle. On top of that, the idiot who came up with the idea did not take into account that creatine, once in a solution, starts to come apart and becomes the waste product creatinine. In the body, as with any waste product, creatinine is transported not to the muscle but to the blatter. The longer the creatine is dissolved the less stable it becomes. Most liquid products that had been on the shelf for a while were tested to contain less than 15 percent of the original creatine. That's the highest one, most tested lower than that. So you pay for 100 grams of creatine, you get less than 15. To put it in plain terms, if you buy this shit, you get taken. If your ass starts hurting, that's not a side-effect, it's the aftershock of getting screwed so hard.
Why effervescent is not the answer:
Again, effervescence adresses the issue of getting the stuff in to your blood fast and not into the muscle. Effervescence was a step in the right direction. It's kept stable until introduced into the solution and spends near to no time in the stomach, so a lot more gets into the blood. Especially for loading this is interesting because you could load with smaller amounts. Some claim this stuff is 200 percent more effective. That is plain bull. But it is just as effective, maybe slightly more than powdered creatine (at least in the first 2 weeks of use). My beef with effervescence is that you can't stack this stuff with your shakes and other supps. I mean who drinks effervescent milkshakes? That is asking for gastro-intestinal discomfort at the least. On top of that effervescence is created with carbon dioxide, which is also a waste product. To ingest something that the body naturally expels, doesn't make much sense. This is the same reason I never drink much soda either, even though I like it.
Why added dextrose is not the answer:
Another good step in the right direction. Dextrose is higher glycemic and causes longer and higher insulin spikes than say fructose or sucrose. It's the highest glycemic natural sugar. Even at that, the largest part of the insulin boost will be gone by the time the creatine reaches the muscle. Dextrose makes the creatine more expensive because pharmaceutical-grade dextrose isn't cheap and you need a lot of it. It's better than the effervescent, but with no more cost-effectiveness to speak of. So all of you that have been taken in by the Cell-Tech Hardcore wrap, think again. It is better than creatine, but at all the extra cost. And no matter what anyone says you can't make creatine 880 percent more effective. Considering what you already use now, the most you can perfect creatine is 350 percent. If it ever becomes cheaper, it may be of use. Bodybuilding.com's discount is a step in the right direction. If only Muscletech would make the wholesale price cheaper and they would have a winning product on their hands.
What is effective?
Well, the answer is quite obvious and a lot cheaper. Either I'm the smartest man in the world (and I doubt it) or somebody is keeping the obvious under wraps. Isn't it plain to the eye that you need to create an insulin spike when the creatine reaches the muscle? Well, I did the research myself on a total of 25 subjects, 10 taking creatine with grape juice, 8 taking it with OJ (orange juice) and extra OJ at 20,30 and 40 minutes after ingestion, and the last 7 taking it with milk and drinking OJ at 20, 30 and 40 minutes after ingestion. The result was overwhelming. The second and third group gained 92 and 83 percent more muscle mass over a period of 8 weeks. I opted for OJ because not everyone is a big fan of grape juice, but I would guess using the same amounts of grape juice would create greater insulin spikes and be more effective. Using dextrose could be amazingly effective, but who can afford to take 3 times 20 grams of dextrose? No in light of advising cost-effective supplements, so you can afford to stack more efficiently, advising that would be unethical.
Recently some people have told me about concerns of creatine turning to creatinine faster in OJ because of the citric acid. I doubt that citric acid could have a greater effect than stomach acids , but if it is indeed a concern for some, just observe the one obvious rule I hinted at before: whatever you dissolve it in , don't leave it sitting. Drink it. The longer it sits the more it goes to waste.
Creatine and the diet
Unlike prohormones and other specialty supplements, creatine remains effective while on a diet without impairing your goals to cut fat. Creatine contains absolutely 0 calories. On the contrary, creatine may in fact help to shed water, act as a diuretic. For those of you trying to get lean to go cruising for chicks this summer can use creatine all the way through, but for those of you thinking of entering a competition, here's a little trick a lot of pros have picked up over the year: Stop all creatine use 8 weeks out and commence a new loading phase 5 days prior to the contest. The creatine loading effect will shed more excess water than the best diuretic, and some of that water will be absorbed into the muscle anew, creating a fuller, thicker look while on stage. It's worth a shot, and I'm convinced you'll be pleased with the results.
What form should you take?
Do as you please, if effervescent is your ballgame, go for it. Personally my favorite is micronized. I have a lot of faith in its stability, and it doesn't leave the nasty residue like regular creatine. It's not better than the others (other than liquid of course), it's merely a personal choice. But please, no more questions of whether or not you should take serum. The answer is No.
How should I use creatine?
The most frequently asked question about creatine is whether or not to load. It's not nescessary, but I don't see why you wouldn't. You could potentially up the gains by 30 percent and will start seeing results much sooner. By over-saturating the area surrounding the muscle the body's need for homeostasis will try to equalize the normal ratio of things and increase the amount within the muscle. So loading is beneficial.
How should you load? Well the official recommendation is 0.08 grams per pound of bodyweight and nothing further, but let's be honest here, most of us who've used it have fared better with the 20-25 grams in a loading phase, either in two evenly spaced doses or 3 doses. I usually suggest 3x7 for 5 days. Do you have to load for 5 days? No. You could get as much out of 4 or 6 days, 3 is cutting it short and 7 or more is pissing away money, because at that point you're no longer absorbing more than 7-10 grams. After that most people say to use 5 grams per day. I just hinted at the fact that you can still absorb 7-10 grams when you take it correctly, so I'd say 10 grams is a better choice. You'd absorb at least 7 and the extra helps to maintain the homeostasis effect I told you about. Two doses of 5 grams makes the most sense, and taking them at the most anabolic of moments makes even more sense. Take one dose in the morning when your body is starved and takes in anything it gets and take one dose immediately after training, when the muscle is pulling all its resources together to recuperate the damages. Taking it in more doses will only wear down the receptors faster and shortchange your gains.
Of course, the last of the frequently asked questions is how long to take it. Well, it's safe to use it continually for years, but you should really cycle. Receptors tend to downgrade and become less effective with time. Giving them a rest makes sense. Some say to cycle on for 6 weeks, others for 8, but then I hear these things about people who stop after six weeks, while they were still gaining. That's stupidity. Don't stop as long as you are gaining. After that, take a good 4 weeks off, maybe a bit longer if you are older, to give the receptors a chance to upgrade again. That's basically creatine in a nutshell. Large nut, but still.
Are there any side-effects?
None that can't be prevented or helped. The most common is dehydration. More water-absorption naturally means you need to be drinking more, especially during training. Another little side-effect that may be present at the onset is diarrhea. The excess creatine that you don't absorb may drag more water into your stool than you'd prefer, which is why I don't advise using more than 10 grams in a maintenance phase. And the last side-effect that is associated with creatine is having to urinate a lot. The problem goes away with time, and other than two or three more visits to the restroom, it won't inconvenience you.
Creatine is definitely one of the best and safest supplements currently available to the modern bodybuilder. The industry has clearly done its best to make it more effective and competitively priced. And ask any and all of today's supplement gurus, no matter who they get their paycheck from, they will tell you this is the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel.
If you mention creatine, I feel you have to mention Ribose. It's one of my favorite new supplements and if it goes the same route creatine went it should become cost-effective in the near future. The reason Ribose and Creatine are so closely related is the way in which they do their thing. They're also very synergistic (support each other) in their actions.
Ribose is a simple 5-carbon sugar which is metabolized inside most living cells. Ribose is the binding sugar that holds the phosphate and the different bases in RNA (RiboNucleic Acid) together, which as most of you know is the main system for duplicating genetic material and thus an important link in protein synthesis. In fact mRNA is responsible for most of the protein synthesis. Ribose is also closely related to desoxyribose which is the binding sugar in DNA (desoxyribonucleic acid), the building blocks of life and the dictionary of our genetic codes. Ribose is the main metaboliser in the manufacturing of ATP, which as we discussed, is vital to lengthening and intensifying anaerobic exercise. It may not just be important in the making of new ATP, some scientists claim that it may hold on to excess ADP longer. Long enough for, say, creatine phosphate to turn it back in to ATP. And as a result creates a synergistic effect between the two substances that could result in major gains in the long run. The main beef with Ribose at this point is its cost. To have a true anabolic effect you need 5-20 grams daily (I usually suggest 50 to 100 percent of the amount of creatine you are taking, but it should easily be 200 percent when taken separately) and at the current price, its just not worth the money. I do have high hopes though. Mainly thanks to companies like BB.com leading the way it may become cheaper. It happened with creatine, why not with Ribose? Creatine, when I first bought it was very expensive, I remember I used to pay as much for 300 grams of regular creatine as I do now for 1000 grams of micronized creatine. If that trend is picked up in the manufacturing of Ribose it may be the next big thing.
The thing with Ribose is that is a simple sugar, it easily provides glycogen for energy storage and at the same time starts the chain of command to make new ATP. It would be great to take in workout hyperhydration drinks, but also as a recovery supplement or a preworkout booster. It could easily rival the popularity of creatine. Simple sugars if you remember, raise the insulin level in the blood and therefore facilitate the absorption of protein and creatine. Currently the products that mix the two are not up to par. This is mainly due to the high cost of quality Ribose.
This is as good a place as any to discuss ways to better the use of insulin. No product relies on the effect of this hormone as much as creatine. A lot of companies have come out with creatine products that stack several nutrients that supposedly improve insulin. They really hit on something there too, were it not that we now learned that we need to time the effect of the insulin to match it with the point where the most creatine becomes available in the blood. So here are some products that stack well with creatine.
I haven't made up my mind as to whether or not this is worth your hard-earned buck. It's a fact that not everybody responds to ALA as well as some would have you believe. Tests have indicated that it has enormous potential in mimicking the effect of insulin (for example in the uptake of nutrients into the cells) in people with insulin deficiencies. It does this to a lesser extent in healthy people as well. ALA is one of those mechanisms for making up for some of nature's mistakes (diabetes and such). If you believe that every little bit helps, then ALA is for you. But if that one extra pound isn't worth the money for you, I don't suggest you take it. When taking it aim for 200-400 mg a day immediately after, but not with the creatine. If you are one of those people who likes to keep levels constant throughout the day, try taking 3 doses of 300mg spread out over the day.
This is my personal favorite. It seems cruel doesn't it that after years of warning people that they should take their vitamins and minerals, some company comes out and attribute something anabolic to one of them, and suddenly everyone is taking it? Sometimes the people who know best are left talking to the walls, preaching to an empty church. But I guess as long as it gets people to take what they should have been taking from the get-go, we are getting somewhere. Chromium has the incredible benefit, not of raising or mimicking the insulin, but upgrading insulin receptors, heightening their sensitivity. The body does its best to minimize the effects of insulin because of the obvious discomfort major insulin rises would bring with them. Chromium counteracts that a little bit, making better use of the insulin that is available instead of fighting a losing battle to create more insulin. Ingesting 75 grams of dextrose may work to asses insulin-levels in diabetes patients, but a healthy person consuming that on a daily basis will find that his insulin receptors will blunt and have less effect with time. This not only sets you back a lot of money, it also becomes harder to absorb other nutrients like protein without equal amounts of insulin present. But I digress, to make a long story short, chromium picolinate may improve insulin sensitivity in cells, and by doing so contribute to better absorption of nutrients and simultaneously avoid fat storage. So a good deal for the bodybuilder looking to get big and not fat. Taking 400 mcg of chromium with the creatine is enough to make both available within a time-span of 20-30 minutes, but those of you looking for better overall absorption should consider using a minimum of 2x500 mcg daily. I would estimate that taking it three times daily at 500 mcg would improve the effect even more, but that's just my guess, not actual science. Besides, I find that most micronutrients, vitamins and minerals alike, do a great job of time-releasing themselves, so taking excess doses is not nescessary.
Why bother getting in to it. If you are eating right, and eating enough, there is no way you need this. Taking more only leads to a decrease in insulin sensitivity, and even people on a diet should fare better supplementing with chromium. This is sand in your eyes, most companies add this for two reasons. The first being that they can show off with another product that supposedly betters creatine absorption, and the second being that it adds at least another couple of study-titles they can add to that list of gibberish they write at the end of ads to make it look like they know what they are doing.
If anyone really came up with a new generation of creatine supplements they would sell straight creatine in one bottle, and an insulin booster in another containing ALA, chromium and Ribose. That, I would buy. But for now, I'll stick with creatine, OJ and chromium tabs. At my current weight, I can't say it doesn't work for me.
I sincerely hope that this mishmash of paragraphs didn't confuse you any more than you already are, but it gives you a good idea of what to look for when you go hunting for this most celebrated of products. Should you for any reason feel you are left with a question yet unanswered, feel free to contact me.
"I hold it true whatever befall, I feel it when I sorrow most: 'Tis better to have lifted and lost, than never to have lifted at all" (Alfred Lord Tennyson)