At our Blue Ridge Running Vacation a few weeks ago we got a question about creatine supplementation. We didn’t have a good answer. But a few days later an article from Alex Hutchinson landed in my inbox and I decided to do some digging. Creatine is an amino acid, a building block of protein, that is used by your muscles and brain for energy. It is an amino acid that can be found in food and is produced naturally by the body. Creatine supplementation has long been dismissed by endurance athletes and coaches. However, researchers are revisiting the efficacy for creatine for runners. In his recent article on Outside Online, Hutchinson parsed through the most recent findings. The results are still a bit murky on the performance side for runners.
Creatine doesn’t show much in the way of a direct performance benefit. As a performance booster for the anaerobic alactic system (an energy source that is good for about 8-10 seconds), creatine is tailor made for power and strength athletes. However, some research has shown overall health benefits associated with creatine supplementation. And some of those benefits may confer performance gains for certain runners.
Benefits of Creatine for Runners
One of the biggest running specific highlights was regarding muscle glycogen storage. Research showed creatine increased muscle glycogen storage when taken with carbohydrates. I see it having the greatest potential impact for runners looking to increase their lean muscle mass and overall strength. As we get older, particularly beyond 60 years old, we tend to lose strength and muscle mass. This age-related loss can have a direct impact on running performance. But it also has a massive impact on general health, longevity, and the ability to lead and active lifestyle into our golden years.
For athletes that fit this profile and are committed to doing strength training, it creatine supplementation may be beneficial. This is an important point: creatine isn’t a magic muscle builder. You do need to pair supplementation with strength training to harness the muscle building benefits.
Creatine for Runners Protocol
Taken in small doses (2-5g/day) has been shown to be safe and may even confer some other health benefits. And the best form of creatine is the also the simplest and cheapest (yay!), creatine monohydrate powder. One of the most common side effects is an initial gain of roughly 1% of body weight. This is primarily from increased water retention. Creatine forces fluid into the muscle cells, causing small weight gain and making proper hydration even more important. This small increase may be enough to negate some of the performance impacts in elite level athletes (like the ZAP team), but for athletes fitting the proper profile it shouldn’t be cause for concern.
Creatine for runners looking to increase overall strength and maintain / increase muscle mass does appear to be worth considering. It is important to note, creatine is not recommended for children or teens and if you have any medical conditions be sure to consult with your doctor before any supplementation. For a more thorough look at any potential side effects and conditions to be aware of you can read the Cleveland Clinic’s information page here.
This article is for educational and information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.