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Are Creatine Supplements Beneficial for Runners?

The Scientific Studies Got it Wrong for Running Performance

© 2010 ; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission. Author’s Google profile

Creatine fitness supplement

Creatine supplementd and running are not often used together; this supplement is most commonly associated with weight training. That said, the use of creatine supplements as a performance enhancer has been around for years. Body builders and speed-oriented athletes have been indulging in it for years in an effort to boost muscle strength, size, speed and power.

There’s undeniably a good reason for that. Many scientific studies have been made that show the ability of creatine supplements to boost muscule strength and power. But our question is this — does creatine supplementation improve endurance or distance running performance to any degree? As it turns out, it depends on who you ask. A consise review of how creatine works in the human body may clarify how creatine supplements may help distance runners or endurance athletes.

Exactly what is Creatine and How Does It Work?

At the most basic level it is important to understand that every movement you make burns energy. Whether you are sprinting on the track or operating the TV remote, each and every motion uses energy. The human body makes that energy available via the use of a substance known as ATP (adenosine triphosphate). The usable energy is released when the ATP is split into P (phosphate) and ADP (adenosine diphosphate).

The problem is that the body stores a very small supply of ATP. There is only has sufficient ATP stored to fuel about 3 - 5 seconds of activity effort. The good news is that there are several means that the body employs to make ATP. The quickest and most basic method for your body to make extra ATP available is by taking advantage of a phosphate group from a different substance known as PCr (phosphocreatine). It then combines it with the ADP. ADP + P = ATP.

Your body has the ablity to produce enough energy with the phosphocreatine system for approximately 15 - 20 seconds of intense activity such as running intervals or pumping iron. However after about 20 seconds the supply of PCr has been used up.

Your body has the ability to rebuild the stores of PCr by using available creatine but this process takes an average recovery duration of 45 - 60 seconds. And that’s why the body has to recover for a brief time after an all-out sprint.

Energy for Endurance Running

The phosphocreatine system employs a mixture of ADP, creatine and PCr to make a small bit of ATP, enough to feed about 20 seconds of high intensity runing. Let’s look at the energy required for distance running.

Endurance running is fueled by a mixture of carbs, fats and oxygen to supply the necessary energy. When you are running at your particular sprint pace of, say, the 800 meter or the mile, the bulk of energy is produced anaerobically (not employing oxygen). When the distance of your run goes up and your pace goes down you start to make more and more energy aerobically (employing oxygen).

The production of ATP aerobically is made possible with a combination of fats, glycogen and oxygen. The production of aerobic energy needs the assistance of oxygen and fats, but it yields an impressive quantity of energy. On the other hand, although anaerobic ATP production doesn’t require oxygen to work it doesn’t produce nearly as much energy as the aerobic system. Note that neither the aerobic system or anaerobic glycolysis needs any assistance from creatine or PCr.

The Role of Creatine in Training

Training at different paces is the key to improving both speed and performance. These paces are generally accepted as your targeted race pace, lactic threshold pace, and faster than race pace. They are all part of the equation if you’re going to achieve your running potential. If you focus on the quality of these high intensity workouts, the more efficient and faster you will become.

How does creatine fit into all this? Supplementing with creatine has been shown to improve the quality of running at a high level of intensity. It’s also been shown to reduce recovery time and to increase the quantity of interval repetitions that can realistically be performed.

It is the increases in running economy, speed, speed endurance, and power that you gain through training that maximizes your performance when you race. You’re able to run faster using less effort because you had the ability to increase the quality of your speed work, hill training, fartlek, etc. Gaining the strength and power also translates into improved long distance running.

How the Studies Got it Wrong

Scientific studies for the most part have concluded that creatine loading is not effective in improving your running performance during endurance events. That’s obvious since you don’t use it in the production of energy during distance running. But as we explained above, it benefits distance runners when training. Supplementation before an event will not give you an edge. Supplementation routinely while training will.

Rather, taking before a race results in gaining weight because of water retention which in turn slows you down. So that is how the studies got it wrong. They arrived at the correct answer but they were looking at the wrong hypothesis, as far a runners are concerned.

Do you supplement with creatine and find that it helps your performance? Or not? Share your opinion with our readers in the comment section below.

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