Athletes absorb creatine better when they combine it with 50-100 g fast carbohydrates. But not all strength athletes want the carbs: even if you take them close to a training session, fast carbs are still just empty calories. American sports scientists at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor have come up with an alternative: fenugreek with creatine works just as well as glucose and creatine.
It was back in 1996 that researchers discovered that a good dose of glucose boosts creatine uptake in muscle cells by sixty percent. [Am J Physiol. 1996 Nov; 271(5 Pt 1): E821-6.] This is probably because glucose boosts the insulin level and insulin in turn activates the transport protein GLUT4 in the muscle cells. As a result, the muscle cells not only absorb more glucose but also more creatine.
In 2000 British scientists discovered that a mix of 50 g protein and 50 g fast carbohydrates stimulated the creatine uptake in muscles as effectively as 100 g carbs. [J Appl Physiol. 2000 Sep; 89(3): 1165-71.] This solution is already an improvement, but not enough to convince strength athletes who want to avoid carbohydrates.
Supplements manufacturers are constantly on the lookout for creatine combinations that work better than creatine alone. So far there are few creatine-plus products that come out well in tests. One exception is the combination of and creatine. [Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2003 Sep; 13(3): 294-302.] But most of the improved creatine combinations land up in what supplements expert Will Brink has called The Creatine Graveyard.
The Americans were also out to improve creatine's effectiveness. They did an experiment with 47 male strength athletes, aged between 19 and 21. For the eight-week study the researchers divided their subjects into three groups.
The placebo group were given 70 g glucose dissolved in water to drink. [PL] A second group got the same but with 5 g creatine added [CRD]. A third group was given 3.5 g creatine in capsules and 900 mg fenugreek extract also in capsule form. [CRF]
T1 = before the experiment started; T2 = after four weeks; T3 = after eight weeks. BP = bench press; LP = leg press.
The CRF group achieved the same amount of progression as the CRD group. The asterisks in the table above indicate where there is statistically significant effect.
"This alternative creatine supplementation strategy may prove beneficial to certain populations concerned with the negative implications of consuming large quantities of simple carbohydrates", the researchers conclude.
It seems that fenugreek takes over the role of fast carbohydrates. How this works the researchers don't know, and they don't speculate either. Unfettered by too much knowledge, we are willing to take a gamble. Fenugreek slows down the rate at which food moves through the digestive tract. As a result the small intestine absorbs more creatine. Fenugreek also ensures that the body's glucose level remains constant and that the muscles’ sensitivity to insulin increases. And therefore the muscle cells absorb more creatine.
Oh yes. The study was funded by Indus Biotech, a manufacturer of fenugreek extracts. Also worth mentioning.
JSSM (2011) 10, 254-260.