Running is an activity that boasts many health benefits. Most runners will tell you how vital the sport is to their mental health – who doesn’t love that “runner’s high”?
But running can also take quite a toll on our bodies, which is why many runners look to sports supplements to support their efforts, enhance their performance, and help their muscles recover more quickly.
By far, creatine is the most popular sports supplement. (This is especially true of creatine monohydrate, in particular.) And there’s a good reason for that: It’s highly effective! But people usually associate it with building muscle through high intensity workouts. Can creatine also support the health goals of runners? In this article, we’ll take a look at what the research tells us.
Creatine is an amino acid. It’s made by your liver, pancreas, and kidneys, and then delivered to your brain and muscles. Creatine intake can be boosted by eating more seafood and red meat, as well as by consuming creatine as a supplement.
Here’s how creatine works in the body to support athletic performance. You can think of creatine as basically a source of energy for your cells; it gets stored in your skeletal muscles as something called phosphocreatine. This phosphocreatine gets broken down when you exercise and can serve as energy for your muscle contractions. Phosphocreatine is used by your body to speed up the conversion of ADP and AMP to ATP, which is the main source of energy for exercise.
Creatine supplements can make it so that you have more creatine available to your muscles when you’re working out. As a result, your body can build muscle more effectively. You’re also able to resist fatigue, enjoy improved aerobic endurance, boost your muscular strength, and more. These benefits are attested to by the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Actually, yes! Creatine can absolutely boost running speed. One study – a single-blind test with 18 participants – showed increases in velocity and decreases in time for sprinters who were supplemented with 20 g of creatine and 20 g of glucose when compared with the participants who were only supplemented with glucose.
The improved sprint performance of the creatine group suggests that the increased available energy from skeletal muscle creatine can benefit runners. Another study reports that creatine supplementation at 20 g daily for 5 days boosted endurance by improving the time of intensive running that leads to exhaustion by 13%.
However, the research is not consistent as this study reported that highly trained athletes (supplemented with creatine for a 7 day period) did not notice any significant boost in their performance or running speed. Ultimately creatine can help boost energy and performance. It is also important to note that there are several other factors that can contribute to overall performance: training, practicing, getting adequate rest, hydration, stretching, adequate nutrition, stress management, and maintaining healthy body weight.
Most people who know about creatine know that it’s particularly useful for quick, high intensity workouts. Sprints surely qualify! Sprinting is all about quick, short bursts of speed. This study had participants load on creatine – 5 g, 4 times per day – for five days prior to sprinting events. The findings were clear: Creatine supplementation can support both single and repeated short sprint performance.
Mid-distance running is typically defined as being between half-a-mile and 2 miles. Creatine can help mid-distance runners with muscle recovery and enhancing energy levels, though the main benefits of creatine have to do with short, intense workouts.
You’re typically considered a long distance runner if you’re going 1.9 miles or more, maintaining a certain pace throughout – think half- or full marathon runners. Endurance runners can benefit from taking glycerol and creatine to manage thermal and cardiovascular strain during exercise, without negatively affecting their running.
Your creatine dose depends on your particular needs. Some researchers recommend a loading phase, which is when you begin taking creatine by consuming fairly large amounts in a short span of time, thereby saturating your muscles and maxing out your muscle stores. You can read our Care/of explainer of the creatine loading phase here.
Others will suggest starting small and working up, since starting with too much can lead to certain side effects. (More on these below.)
Creatine, like any supplement, can produce side effects. When taken in high doses, it can lead to some possible digestive problems, including nausea and loose stools; that’s why it’s important to gradually build your levels, as opposed to taking a high dose right away.
Another possible side effect is temporary weight gain due to the water retention that occurs during loading phases.
If you’re a runner looking to supplement your workouts with creatine, you should first talk to a medical professional about an approach that’s right for you. Then, when determining which creatine supplement to take, you’ll want to look at ingredients, dose, cost, quality, and sourcing – some creatine comes from animal-derived sources, while other creatine does not. Creatine monohydrate is the most effective and well-researched form.
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Creatine is one of the most popular supplements around, and it’s widely associated with gym and weight training. It works in your body to boost your energy levels during intense exercise, while also helping with muscle soreness and recovery. It turns out that creatine can also support runners – especially sprinters, but other runners, as well. If you’re a runner looking to boost speed or endurance, creatine might be right for you. When selecting a creatine supplement, be sure to look at ingredients, dose, cost, quality and sourcing. As always, you should talk to your doctor before commencing with any new supplement.