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Ask the Scientist
Jeff Golini is the owner of All American Pharmaceuticals and EFX Sports. He is a former competitive bodybuilder based in Venice Beach, but he’s also been in the supplement industry as a formulator, patent creator and manufacturer since the 80s. He has a PhD, and lives in Montana where he owns and runs a supplement factory. Jeff’s most famous for coming up with the idea of adding acid buffering ingredients to creatine monohydrate to help ease the damage the stomach acids have on the creatine you consume. This novel idea has created a massive following of buffered creatine users all over the world! Facebook. Instagram, YouTube
Creatine with Sugar, Revisited
Do carbs boost creatine uptake, or is that just bro-science?
To this day, I get asked the following question more than any other when it comes to creatine: “Do I need to take it with sugar to make it work more effectively?” So let’s set the record straight.
Not long after I first introduced creatine monohydrate to the marketplace back in the early ‘90s, the notion of taking it with sugar arose. Keep in mind, in those days the first creatine monohydrate product had only 100 grams and sold for $99! Crazy as that sounds, bodybuilders and athletes couldn’t get enough of it.
To further increase sales and encourage more extensive usage, some astute marketers developed the idea of having athletes use two bottles in their first month. They were told to load with 20 grams a day for the first 10 days. As you can imagine, 100 grams wouldn’t go very far at this rate.
This marketing ploy lasted for a short while. That is, until athletes started to catch on, realizing they did not need to “load” creatine as the popular magazines were suggesting. In fact, athletes started using smaller doses and still got impressive results. So, it was time for the industry to come up with a better approach.
One of the leading sports-nutrition companies at that time, EAS, led the way with a product it marketed as Phosphagen HP. In short, it was creatine monohydrate combined with dextrose (a sugar) and the amino acid taurine. From a marketing standpoint, it was pure genius. It allowed EAS to sell lower amounts of creatine but in a larger bottle with premium pricing.
Soon after, a study came out in the mid-‘90s saying athletes should not take creatine with large amounts of sugar because it contained too many calories. Instead, it suggested they use grape juice with a ratio of 3.5 ounces per 5 grams of creatine. Unfortunately, mixing creatine in an acidic environment increases its rate of conversion to creatinine. That being the case, what was one to do?
While some studies have suggested taking creatine with sugar (dextrose) will encourage insulin release and act as a creatine pump to help uptake, other studies say this simply isn’t needed. Ultimately, it comes down to the type of creatine you’re using, your goals and your daily macro intake. That’s why I’ve always said that if you use Kre-Alkalyn® creatine monohydrate, you won’t need to take it with any sugar at all.
All of this now said, is there any actual benefit to taking creatine with carbohydrates? Yes, absolutely! Carbohydrates provide fuel for your muscles to burn, especially in anaerobic activities such as bodybuilding training. While carbs have little to do with creatine absorption, they do play a critical role in athletic performance. Furthermore, carbs are almost exclusively the main source of energy for your brain. A high-carb diet gives you a brain boost—though it’s short-lived unless you replenish it every few hours.
As with the brain, glucose is the major fuel for your muscles, which is what carbs are broken down to in your body. Glucose is stored in your muscles as glycogen, which the tissue critically needs to function. Without glycogen, there’s nothing that can be rapidly converted into glucose 6-phosphate for bursts of high-intensity activity.
So while carbohydrates are important to athletic performance because they give muscles their primary source of fuel, they’re not directly critical to the effectiveness of creatine uptake. In this day and age, too many athletes are also losing out on the synergistic benefits to be gained from using both creatine and carbohydrates by adhering to low-carb or keto diets, which may unnecessarily be holding you back.