Use fenugreek or alpha lipoic acid (ALA) instead of carbohydrates to stay hydrated and load the muscles with nutrients like creatine and carnitine. The benefit of substituting ALA or fenugreek for carbs is that you will still get recovery nutrients into your cells without the added caloric intake and insulin response. The result is you’ll lose fat, gain strength, stay more hydrated in hot weather, and recover better!
Here’s how it all works: In order to get nutrients such as creatine or carnitine to “load” into the muscle so that your body can use them, you need to raise insulin or in some way “tell” the cell receptors to accept these nutrients into the cell. Taking creatine or carnitine with carbs is a simple way to do this because the carbs raise insulin, which “opens” the door of the cell to let in the nutrients. But carbs also provide extra energy that you may not need or want if you are trying to lose fat. The alternative is to substitute fenugreek or ALA for the carbs and you’ll get equal if not better results.
For example, a recent study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that it’s possible to replace carbs with ALA in a hydrating workout drink containing creatine. When combined with creatine, ALA can help load water into your cells, making it a “hyper hydrating” agent.
In this study, researchers found that substituting 1000 mg a day of ALA for almost half of the carbs in a workout drink that contained creatine was just as effective as using all carbs (150 grams) for hydration and creatine loading. Endurance trained subjects performed an exhausting 45- minute time trial in humid 86° heat. Results showed that body weight was equally maintained from both workout drinks, indicating that the ALA helped load both creatine into cells and maintain hydration.
Fenugreek is another supplement that can help load creatine. Last year, a study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that combining 900 mg of fenugreek with 3,500 mg of creatine effectively loaded the muscles and increased maximal strength and lean body mass when combined with resistance training. In fact, researchers found that the creatine-fenugreek combo increased upper body strength and lean mass more than a creatine-carb supplement, which produced no short-term gains.
Be aware that in addition to loading creatine, ALA is a great antioxidant that can protect you from inflammation. One catch when choosing to supplement with ALA is you need to get R-form ALA and not S-form because the R-form naturally occurs in the body and is bound to protein. In studies, it has been shown to bind with and enter cells to support mitochondria. The S-form is a synthetic ALA and is not very biologically active. Fenugreek does not come with these concerns because it is an herb and not synthetically produced.
Burke, D., Chilibeck, P., et al. Effect of ALA Combined with Creatine Monohydrate on Human Skeletal Muscle Creatine and Phosphagen Concentration. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2003. 13(3), 294-302.
Polyviou, T., Pitsiladis, Y., et al. Thermoregulatory and Cardiovascular Responses to Creatine, Glycerol, and ALA in Trained Cyclists. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2012. 9(29).
Taylor, L., Poole, C., Pena, E., Lewing, M., Kreider, R., Wilborn, C. Effects of Combined Creatine Plus Fenugreek Extract Vs. Creatine Plus Carbohydrate Supplementation on Resistance Training Adaptations. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 2011. 10, 254-260.