The reality of the bodybuilding-supplement world in the 1980s and early '90s ran from D-bol, the breakfast of champions, to egg protein. Steroids became illegal and were replaced by bad protein products, bogus glandulars and subpar amino acids. What were you supposed to do if you wanted to improve your strength or physique naturally? Eat an orange.
Everything changed in 1993, when it started to become apparent that some things other than the latest meal-replacement supplements actually worked. Creatine monohydrate legitimized the natural-supplement industry by delivering size and strength within weeks, and to top it off, there was research behind it.
The Story of Creatine
Creatine is a substance found in the body that's used as explosive energy by the muscles. The first several seconds of any strength movement uses creatine phosphate as an energy source to set the muscle in motion, the way a stick of dynamite can start an avalanche. At that point adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, becomes the main source of energy for anaerobic movements. Increasing the amount of available creatine in the muscle generally results in an increase in the dynamite charge; that is, the explosive energy. How does that translate to gains in the gym? Let's use the bench press as an example. If the maximum amount you can lift three times is 300 pounds, creatine may enable you to do five to six reps with that weight. That's a tremendous gain from any natural supplement!
The most publicized and probably the second most popular effect of creatine is actually a side effect, cell volumization. Volumization means that the muscle cell actually pulls water into it, which causes it to swell, or increase its volume. The swollen muscle looks fuller and more rounded, so you look bigger and more muscular, all due to creatine supplementation. It's a one-two punch of strength and size.
As good as it sounds, there have been problems with this miracle supplement, mainly in maintaining hydration, meaning a healthy water level in the blood. When creatine monohydrate first hit the market, many people in college and professional athletic programs embraced it without having a working knowledge of how to use it for best results. Many have since banned creatine due to hydration problems, which cause muscle and stomach cramps and diarrhea. The positive effects of the creatine monohydrate weren't enough to persuade the coaches to risk their players' health. The reason for the cramping was initially thought to be due to the hypervolumization of the muscle cells. Athletes were told to drink one to two gallons of water a day to combat the effect; however, as many have learned the hard way, that doesn't solve the problem.
The Evolution of Creatine Products
The early method of creatine supplementation was, at best, a shotgun approach. Athletes would dump a spoonful into water or right into their mouths and swig it down before and after workouts. Research came out showing that effective doses of five grams resulted in measurable performance increases, but that was still pretty imprecise. Soon supplement makers were palming off creatine pills, candy bars and gums that had little or no positive effect on unsuspecting athletes. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Greenhoff, one of the original researchers of creatine monohydrate, announced, 'Creatine is much more effective in an aqueous delivery than in a dry delivery.' So thousands of bodybuilders began mixing the white sandlike substance with water, choking it down before and after workouts.
Since very little was known about effective doses per day and creatine cycling at that time, many athletes were taking five to 35 grams a day, depending on which training magazine they were reading. Many found themselves cramping and doubled over as they hurried to the gym, making detours to the bathroom before and after their workouts. Everyone accepted it as the price he or she had to pay to use a natural supplement that worked. Many trainees realized strength and bodyweight increases when using creatine, but the side effects still kept many but the hardcore athletes away.
Scientists continued to study creatine monohydrate, and they found that adding a simple carbohydrate like the dextrose found in grape juice could improve the muscles' uptake of creatine over what occurred with regular creatine taken on its own. That's due to the increase in insulin in the bloodstream created by the simple sugar. Still, the new development did little about the hydration problems.
The first attempt to improve creatine's delivery system came in the form of a liquid, or suspended, delivery. Because creatine has a very short life of just an hour or so, when it was combined with water, it was impossible to store or sell it in that state. The creatine monohydrate converted to creatinine within minutes, and creatinine is actually a by-product of creatine that not only doesn't increase performance but can also harm the kidneys and muscles. To alleviate the problem, companies attempted to suspend creatine monohydrate in other liquids. Enter the creatine suspension era. Creatine monohydrate was easily suspended in liquids such as aloe or glycerine, and new creatine suspension products carried claims of several hundred percent increases of creatine absorbed into the bloodstream. They fueled research and controversy, but mostly they fueled sales. Slimy texture and bad taste tarnished the reputation of such products, but what really did them in was the developers' claims.
It turned out that more creatine in the bloodstream does not equal more useful creatine getting into the muscle to improve performance. In fact, the liquids that bound with creatine to protect it from converting to creatinine failed to separate from the creatine after passing through the stomach. The results users got from such products rarely improved performance over creatine and water, let alone creatine with dextrose in water. Aloe helped to alleviate the stomach discomfort but did nothing to aid the all-important hydration issue. Many people still ended up in the bathroom after taking five to 10 grams at a time'and that in itself contributed to the hydration problem.
ALLOne Problem Down
The big break in creatine supplementation came in 1998, when researchers finally turned up the real cause of the hydration and stomach problems. Not to anyone's surprise, creatine was found to be very insoluble in water: Stir five to 10 grams into water and maybe two grams actually dissolve. The breakthrough was the finding that the undissolved creatine does little, if anything, to improve performance. The human body has no way to dissolve the insoluble creatine, so if you mix any more than two grams of creatine monohydrate into water, it will most likely sit in your stomach and intestines the way it sits at the bottom of the glass. The particles are too large to enter the bloodstream from the small intestine and can't get into the lymphatic system either. Water is drawn into the small intestine in a largely vain attempt to dissolve the creatine. Where does the water come from? The bloodstream. That sets off the hydration problem.
Where does the water go when it accumulates in the intestines? Where gravity must take it, down and out. Hence, the common problem of diarrhea. When you have diarrhea, it's difficult to keep up your fluid intake, electrolytes are lost, and your heart rate can also be affected, along with a host of other serious health problems that could crop up. Since many athletes, whether they're on the field or in the gym, are already losing water through perspiration, it's a double whammy.
Once the hydration problem was identified as the culprit, the search was on to find the solution. Boiling creatine was one bright idea, but it turned out that by the time the water was cool enough to drink, the small percentage of creatine that had dissolved fell back out of solution. Then, in 1998, developers discovered a delivery system that chemically altered creatine, dramatically increasing its solubility: effervescent delivery. The correct execution of effervescent delivery for creatine'which only one manufacturer actually achieved'tremendously improved the solubility of creatine to close to 100 percent. That created a windfall of advantages for athletes in terms of both safety and performance. No longer would undissolved creatine cause havoc in the body's digestive system. Many people who had sworn off the substance could now experience the creatine 'miracle' for themselves.
Having close to 100 percent solubility meant that taking a regular five-gram dose delivered as much creatine as you'd effectively get from taking two to three servings (10 to 15 grams) of regular, noneffervescent creatine monohydrate throughout the day. That was a major improvement in convenience.
Obviously, having more soluble unbound creatine available in the bloodstream helped to improve performance tremendously, significantly more than straight creatine, creatine-and-dextrose combinations or, especially, suspended liquid creatine.
Enter the Titrate Era
The major problem with effervescent delivery'aside from a metalic aftertaste'wasn't a flaw in its delivery but, rather, something much more fundamental: its cost. When 100 grams of a creatine product suddenly cost the same as 1,000 grams of regular creatine monohydrate, cost and availability became major issues. Large numbers of athletes turned away from effervescent delivery, choosing to take three to four times as much regular creatine and accept the side effects. Since true effervescent creatine wasn't always easy to find, many people had bad experiences with inferior products that fizzed but didn't dissolve creatine. They saw neither an increase in performance nor a lessening of side effects. They did see a major reduction in their bank accounts though.
Titrated creatine, such as Creatine Titrate from IDS and CreaSol from Muscle-Link, eliminates those problems. It achieves the same chemical reaction as effervescent creatine; the result is free-ionized, soluble creatine. Technology has made it possible to dissolve creatine without the expense of an effervescent reaction and the manufacturing costs associated with it.Titrated creatine achieves that goal by titrating, or changing the pH of the water, when it's stirred in. The altered pH enables more than 95 percent of the creatine to go into solution, so you get dissolved creatine. Why is titrated creatine considered an advancement over effervescent delivery? I can give you three reasons: cost, cost and cost. Effervescent creatine requires special manufacturing facilities to be made correctly. Humidity must be controlled completely. Any liquid, even the moisture in the air, will start the effervescent reaction. Once that happens, it cannot be stopped. Whether you have one teaspoon of effervescent creatine or one pound, it will be one solid block of unusable material in hours if it comes into contact with just a droplet of water. That translates to high manufacturing costs.
Another factor that makes effervescent creatine expensive is the packaging. Special packets were designed to keep moisture out, multilayered combinations of plastic, foil and paper. High manufacturing costs plus high packaging costs equals a big expense for the consumer. Titrated creatine doesn't react with water vapor any more than creatine monohydrate does. Therefore, it can be manufactured and packaged the same way as plain creatine. That cuts the cost by almost half.
Here's a summary of the advantages of titrated creatine over effervescent creatine:
'You get 40 servings per unit instead of 20.
'It has a much better taste.
'It contains less dextrose, so you take in fewer calories.
'There are no expanding'or exploding'packets. It has a better shelf life.
'You don't have to worry about taking it on an empty stomach, as it doesn't cause gastric upset.
Remember, it isn't the fizz that increases your strength or eliminates the side effects, it's the dissolved creatine. And that's what you get with titrated creatine. IM