Ask the Scientist
Should You Take Creatine with Sugar?
Adding dextrose to your creatine may cause an insulin spike, but what about the unintended consequences?
Not long after I introduced creatine monohydrate to the market, the idea of taking creatine with sugar arose. Interestingly, this concept actually became quite a phenomenon within the industry as brands rushed to improve their existing creatine products with sugar to “spike” insulin. The idea behind it was that sugar (dextrose) encouraged insulin release, acting as a creatine “pump” for better uptake that helped amplify absorption. And all this created a better creatine product. To better understand why, let’s take a few steps back in time to see exactly why.
The first creatine monohydrate product sold for about $99 a bottle, and that was for only 100 grams—very expensive, even by today’s standards. Regardless, athletes looking for that extra performance edge just couldn’t get enough of it. Moreover, while research did exist encouraging a loading phase, some clever marketers used it as a ploy to encourage people to use even more of it. It wasn’t uncommon to hear of loading phases of 15 to 20 grams for the first seven to 10 days for “best results.” Even though this practice was successful and very profitable, it became apparent there were more ways to improve margins. Because pre-workout and post-workout strategies often recommend “fast” sugar consumption, adding sugar to creatine became an obvious way to increase product volume with minimal cost. The result was a product that was about half creatine content and half sugar. Keep in mind, sugar was a fraction of the cost of creatine monohydrate at the time. But remember, pure dextrose (sugar) is about 4 calories per gram. So if you follow the “sugar with creatine” plan, you’ll have to take in about 35 to 50 grams per dose of creatine. (Remember the very large serving size.) I don’t know about you, but if you take creatine more than once per day this way, I guarantee you’ll put on body fat using this much sugar.
But in the mid ‘90s, a clinical study came out suggesting athletes didn’t need to take creatine with added sugar, as it provided too many total calories. Instead, it recommended using grape juice. In fact, experts suggested using 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of juice per 5 grams of creatine, an amount that contains about 16 grams of sugar. What’s more, the larger amount of sugar has the unintended consequence of the sugar crash about 15 minutes later, which makes you tired and lethargic. No matter when you take your creatine, that wasn’t a good trade-off. We also now know that mixing creatine in an acidic environment, such as with grape juice, increases its rate of conversion to creatinine, which is an unstable form of creatine. So what do you do?
If you’re looking to drive creatine into muscle ASAP without using sugar, try Karbolyn® instead. It’s a complex carbohydrate that’s absorbed as quickly as a sugar, but it’s a starch, not a sugar. This means you get all the insulin-spiking benefits without the sugar crash. Ultimately, you should experiment to see what works best on you. There’s no real way to know if using sugar is really helping with uptake, so I suggest you first take creatine by itself and make a self-evaluation. Because your goals and daily macronutrient intake also come into play (you don’t want to overdo your carb macros or your ratio of simple to complex carbs), as well as the type of creatine you’re using, avoid adjusting too many variables at once so you can better determine whether the extra sugar is a worthwhile addition.