There's a new creatine in town and everyone's talking about it. This innovative version, effervescent creatine (EC), is said to be more effective in adding muscle and increasing strength and power. We all want to get bigger and stronger, but we don't want to be taken for a ride either. So, does this stuff really work?
In case you just came back from outer space, creatine monohydrate (CM) is one of the best supplements commercially available. Numerous studies have shown that CM can increase muscular strength and performance and help you put on muscle. It works by increasing the body's ability to regenerate adenosine triphosphate (ATP, the immediate form of energy); buffering against the effects of fatigue resulting from exercise; and increasing intracellular water content. This chain reaction may lead to additional protein synthesis.
Clearly, an even better version of creatine should intrigue anyone who wants to become bigger and stronger. Enter effervescent creatine.
NEW VERSION OF AN OLD PRODUCT
Effervescent creatine and creatine monohydrate are different chemical states of the same molecule. EC is a zwitterion, meaning it has both a positive and negative charge on it. Researchers claim that this form is absorbed faster into the bloodstream. Following that logic, manufacturers of EC claim that CM is not as well absorbed; therefore, EC is better than CM.
However, scientific studies done on CM show increased urine concentrations of creatine after ingestion. This means that CM is being absorbed into the blood, otherwise the kidneys couldn't filter it out of the blood and into the urine. Yet, absorption into the blood is not the point. To be better than its competition, EC has to get into the muscle at a faster rate or be able to reach a higher intramuscular concentration than CM.
Supplement makers claim that EC increases blood concentration levels greater than CM. After doing an extensive search through Medline and reviewing the scientific literature on creatine, my partner and I could find nothing to support the claim that EC is absorbed better than CM. We also researched the angle that, in general, effervescent products are absorbed better than noneffervescent products. Studies done on various substances from painkillers to vitamins reveal that their effervescent forms are absorbed anywhere from two to six times faster. As of January 1999, no published studies existed proving what is thus far a theoretical possibility that EC increases blood concentrations of creatine better than CM.
Now we come to the acid test, so to speak, of creatine effectiveness. The amount of creatine in muscle, not the amount in blood, is the important factor associated with the supplement's effects (increased size and strength). If EC produces greater muscle concentrations of creatine than CM, then EC should improve performance even more than its counterpart. If EC doesn't lead to greater concentrations, then it won't matter which form you take. To date, no studies have compared EC and CM for their effects on intramuscular creatine concentrations.
SOME PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
Let me share my EC experience with you. I loaded up according to the label directions (four packs a day for five days). After three days, my incline barbell press increased from 305 pounds for one rep to 315 pounds for three reps. Other lifts improved as well. This was the only supplement I took at the time, so others were not a factor.
I also did a simple pilot study by removing muscle fibers from a mouse and mounting them in a device designed to measure muscle force. The fibers were stimulated until they were heavily fatigued. Then I added 10 milligrams (mg) of EC to the solution. I noted an almost immediate 25% increase in the force that the fibers produced, meaning that those muscle cells readily took up the EC. We still don't know whether that compares favorably to CM, but we plan to complete that study in the near future.
Does EC offer a cost advantage? Creatine monohydrate is pretty cheap as far as supplements go, as low as pennies per gram. Effervescent creatine sells for 40 cents per gram. There's no way EC is that much better than CM!
Cost-effectiveness might or might not be an issue for you, but also consider that EC alters the pH of your stomach. It does this so the stomach will dump its contents into the small intestine faster, thereby getting creatine into the blood sooner. To get the effect, you must avoid eating for about 30 minutes before and after ingesting EC; otherwise, any food you consume will interfere with it. The timing can make it difficult to incorporate EC into your day if you follow a strict meal schedule.
I've spoken to many people who have tried EC. About half of those who have taken it reported some improvements over regular creatine, while the others reported no enhanced effects.
THE FINAL WORD
Is this a supplement with potential? Consider these points: EC tastes pretty good, and anecdotal reports indicate some people taking it get better pumps while lifting. However, the science behind it is, at the least, incomplete.
If you want to try EC, start with two boxes (a box usually contains about 20 packets). Load for five days (I loaded up on four packs a day for five days); after that, take one package per day until you've used up your supply. By that point (about 25 days), you'll know for sure if it works for you. Just remember: Don't bother trying it if you're not going to be consistent. Lots of people screw up a good supplement program by taking things when they "feel like it." As with everything in life, inconsistency will lead you down the path to failure.
Further Thoughts on EC
Many studies document the efficacy of effervescence in facilitating the transport of various substances from the gut into the bloodstream. In fact, this form is so effective that quite a few manufactures' patents have been issued based on the use of effervescence to increase absorption of materials, although this is not the case with creatine.
Does chemically altered effervescent creatine get into not just the bloodstream but also the muscles themselves any faster or to a greater extent than regular creatine? Although there are no studies as of yet that shed light on this question specifically, it's not unreasonable to believe that effervescent creatine may work more efficiently, and that effervescence facilitates the transport of creatine across the lining of the gut.
The purpose of effervescence is to increase solubility, how easily and how much of a substance dissolves in a solution. Increase solubility and you increase absorption. It's as simple as that. Solubility is enhanced by the basic buffering effects of the effervescence, which establishes the zwittenon (chemically neutral) state of the creatine. Apparently, this neutral state greatly facilitates passage of creatine through the intestinal wall. In acidic conditions in the stomach, creatine takes on a positive/acidic charge and is not as well absorbed. The higher pH established by the effervescence (more basic than acidic) expedites movement from the stomach into the intestines, where the creatine is absorbed.
A number of athletes who have tried the effervescent form tell me that their experiences with it were positive. It may well be worth a try, if you can fit it into your supplement budget. It is 10 times more expensive than the cheapest high-quality straight CM on the market. However, if it's more effectively absorbed, you should need less of it.
Effervescent creatine does appear to be the most effective creatine delivery system yet developed. Straight CM, despite its well-known benefits and effectiveness, can and does lead to stomach upset and even cramping in some people. The effervescence helps stabilize the gastric environment. Preliminary research supports the contention that effervescent creatine can help anaerobic performance more than straight CM.
The manufacturers create effervescence in their products by mixing a bufferlike sodium bicarbonate with citric acid or something similar. When you drop the supplement into a liquid solution, you get a nice effervescent fizz. Although this new tweak may enhance creatine uptake and its corresponding results somewhat more efficiently than non-effervescent products, straight CM or CM-sugar combos are a less-expensive effective alternative. I often suggest putting regular CM into a glass filled with one-third apple, grape or other juice, and two-thirds sparkling water. That seems to work well for quite a few bodybuilders. Another colleague recommends adding CM to juice in combination with Alka-Seltzer.
Bottom line: If straight CM causes you any stomach trouble, or if you haven't yet experienced the amazing benefits of creatine, then perhaps it would be worth your while to give effervescent creatine a try.