Creatine & the Endurance Athlete

For many endurance athletes, just hearing the word ‘creatine’ can trigger thoughts of power lifting and large muscles. While it’s true that creatine can promote better power output to strength in power related sports, endurance athletes may too be able to benefit from its use.  

 

It’s important to know what exactly creatine is in order to understand how it may be beneficial for endurance athletes. Creatine itself is a non-protein amino acid compound found mainly in meat products and seafood. When consumed, it is maintained in the body intramuscularly as phosphocreatine, as well as free creatine. About half of the creatine needed in the body is ingested from food and supplementation, while the other half is made by the liver and kidneys from arginine, methionine and glycine. 

Roles and Possible Benefits of Creatine for Endurance Athletes:

Creatine plays a number of roles in the body and during exercise, though it’s most well known purpose is to maintain energy availability during power sports and quick-burst exercises.

 

In particular, creatine is utilized in something called the phosphagen creatine system and works with a combination of a phosphoryl group to resynthesize ATP, producing energy that allows for muscles to keep performing. 

Photo: Tim Behuniak of Gnarly athlete Alvin Garcia

So how does this help endurance athletes?

Research has suggested that creatine could play a number of other roles that may be beneficial for endurance athletes including:

Enhanced Recovery:

In a study performed by Santos et.al, marathon runners were given a creatine loading protocol before a 30k race. Levels of inflammation markers post race were decreased significantly, allowing for decreased risk of excessive oxidative stress, which could lead to increased injury risk (1). It could also allow for an endurance athlete to recover quicker and resume normal training activities.

Increased Heat Tolerance:

While not all endurance athletes live in hot climates, having a weapon to help tolerate heat when training or racing could be beneficial to prevent waning performance. A number of studies have demonstrated that creatine supplementation allows for a better thermoregulatory response (heart rate, sweat rate) to occur in prolonged endurance exercise in the heat (2). 

Increased Glycogen Storage Rates:

Glycogen, or stored carbohydrate in the muscle and liver is a key powerhouse for endurance exercise. Your body typically has about 90 min to 2 hours worth of carbohydrate stored to power endurance exercise before it turns to other sources like fat and protein for energy production, as well as a reliance on intake of outside sources of carbohydrate. While it has been shown that creatine supplementation by itself does not increase glycogen storage rates, when creatine is combined with carbohydrate intake, glycogen storage rates are increased when compared to carbohydrate intake alone (3). Increased glycogen storage rates could allow for an endurance athlete to power back to back training sessions better without having as much of a performance impact. 

try gnarly creatine

Increased Exercise Capacity:

Several studies have demonstrated that creatine loading can increase time to exhaustion during supramaximal workloads.  This mechanism can be attributed to a buffering capacity of creatine in muscles to delay anaerobic glycolysis and decreased accumulation of hydrogen ions and ammonia in the muscle and blood (4).

Creatine Replenishment and Supplementation Protocol:

The body degrades 1-2% of it’s stored creatine each day, which means that about 1-3 grams of creatine needs to be restored in order to maintain sufficient levels of creatine in the body (60-80% full intramuscularly). About half of this should be consumed through the diet or supplementation and the other half will be restored via the liver and kidneys. 

 

For reference, one pound of meat on average contains about 1-2 grams of creatine. Therefore, to top off intramuscular creatine stores, supplementation can help make up that difference. Because of their lack of consumption of animal products, vegetarian and vegan athletes may benefit more from creatine supplementation. 

If considering supplementation, there are a few things to note:

1) Form of the supplement:

There are many forms of creatine that can be taken, but the most researched and bioavailable is creatine monohydrate (found in Gnarly Creatine. Peak absorption of creatine monohydrate occurs at about 60 minutes after taking the supplement and drops after that time period. 

2) Dosage and Loading:

Creatine loading is not necessary in order for benefits to be gained.  Daily supplementation of 3-5g/day will produce benefits, however, it will take longer to recognize an effect.  If quicker results are desired, an initial loading period of (0.3/kg bodyweight) for 5-7 days can be helpful to increase creatine stores and top them off. Once stores have been topped off, supplementing with about 3-5 grams of creatine per day can help maintain levels. 

3) Consider Carbs:

Consuming a creatine supplement with high amounts of carbohydrate may improve absorption and storage of both creatine and glycogen in the muscle. Therefore, it may be beneficial to take your creatine supplement with a carbohydrate source like fruit, whole grains, or sweetened nut milk. 

4) Health Concerns from Supplementation:

Unsubstantiated claims have been made about creatine supplementation causing renal dysfunction, muscle cramping and GI distress. None of these claims have been backed up in studies and in fact, many of these conditions have actually been improved with the use of creatine supplementation (2).

Sources:

  1. Santos RV, Bassit RA, Caperuto EC, Costa Rosa LF. The effect of creatine supplementation on inflammatory and muscle soreness markers after a 30km race. Life Sci. 2004;75:1917–24.
  2. Kreider, R.B., Kalman, D.S., Antonio, J. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 18 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z
  3. Nelson AG, et al. Muscle glycogen supercompensation is enhanced by prior creatine supplementation. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001;33(7):1096–100.

     4. Stout, J., Eckerson, J., Ebersole, K., Moore, G., Perry, S., Housh, T., Bull, A., Cramer, J., & Batheja, A. (2000). Effect of creatine loading on neuromuscular fatigue threshold. Journal of Applied Physiology, 88(1), 109-112. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.2000.88.1.109

Kylee Van Horn

Kylee Van Horn

Kylee Van Horn, RDN is an endurance sports dietitian, who takes a balanced, sustainable approach to fueling for performance. A competitive trail runner herself, she is on a mission to change the message in the endurance community to separate facts from fads and change the message from skinnier is better to one that celebrates performance no matter the body size. Today, Kylee is the founder and owner of her sports nutrition business Flynutrition, which helps runners, triathletes, and skiers to learn not only the ‘why’ but the ‘how’ behind fueling for performance. She is a freelance writing for Trail Runner Magazine and has contributed to Outside Online. Beyond her work in endurance sports nutrition, Kylee can be found running peaks near Aspen, CO with her two australian shepherds and ultra endurance husband, Sean.

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