Wondering if creatine for runners can help improvement and performance? This post will break down what creatine is, what the research says and how you can implement it.
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If you have questions about creatine and running—what it is, reasons to take it, and how to incorporate it—this post is for you.
Most of the research and information about creatine is geared towards weightlifters and other power athletes, but we’re translating it to the endurance world.
In This Article
What is Creatine?
To understand the pros and cons of creatine for runners, we first have to understand what creatine truly is.
Creatine is a buzz word in the fitness industry right now. Similar to BCAAs (check out our breakdown of BCAAs for runners). Maybe you’ve heard health influencers recommend it, while others claim that it isn’t worth the money. But, neither give you clear reasons why either way.
Confused? Here’s a great differentiation about BCAAs vs creatine for runners.
So, creatine for running. Let’s dive in.
Creatine is a molecule naturally found in the body that is composed of amino acids, namely glycine, methionine, and arginine.
The liver, kidneys, and pancreas work together to produce 1-2 grams of creatine per day, and 95% of creatine in the body is stored in skeletal muscle, with the remaining 5% in the brain.
How Does Creatine Work?
Let’s dive into the exercise physiology for a second to understand creatine and running, and how it impacts our bodies.
The body has three different metabolic processes that it uses to produce energy: the phosphagen system, anaerobic glycolysis, and the oxidative system.
At any given time, all energy systems are working, but the intensity and duration of exercise determine which metabolic process is dominant for the activity at hand.
- The phosphagen system is responsible for extremely quick bursts of high-intensity exercise, like the 40-yard dash
- Anaerobic glycolysis dominates high-intensity exercise that lasts slightly longer, like 30 seconds to two minutes.
- Aerobic glycolysis kicks in more heavily for low-to-moderate-intensity exercise that lasts longer than two to three minutes.
Now, let’s zoom in on the phosphagen system, as this is where creatine monohydrate for runners comes into play.
In the phosphagen system, creatine phosphate donates the phosphate to ADP to create ATP, the molecule that the body uses for energy.
This process leaves creatine on its own, ready to be paired up with another phosphate and repeat the process.
When you supplement with creatine, you increase the amount of creatine in the body that can bind with phosphate and turn ADP into ATP, meaning your body has a greater potential for quick energy.
Sounds good, right?
Should Runners Take Creatine for Long Distance Running?
A variety of athletes take creatine, but the body’s demand for creatine depends on the type of exercise the athlete is engaging in.
Because power athletes engage in very short bouts of high-intensity exercise, they have higher creatine demands than endurance athletes.
For this reason, creatine supplementation is more common amongst weightlifters and strength and power athletes, like football players, than distance runners or cyclists.
That’s not to say runners shouldn’t take it – but let’s break down when it may or may not be helpful.
The strongest arguments in favor of creatine for runners are to improve the results of cross-training and interval training as well as to improve the ability to push oneself during critical points of a race.
Distance running relies primarily on the aerobic energy system, as we discussed above, but increasing the capacity of the phosphagen system allows the athlete to increase the intensity of their exercise for a short duration beyond what the aerobic system can offer.
General exercise guidelines recommend participating in resistance-based exercise at least twice per week (try this upper body workout for runners), and runners who follow this suggestion may see greater increases in strength and muscle mass when using creatine.
Further, they will likely experience less soreness and quicker recovery following resistance exercise than they would without creatine.
So when deciding is creatine good for runners in the long run, these benefits may lead to increased training tolerance.
A couple of special populations may also benefit from creatine supplementation: injured athletes and plant-based athletes.
Because creatine increases muscle mass and expedites recovery, it will help preserve muscle mass in an injured athlete and speed up their healing.
Regarding plant-based athletes or those following a vegan diet for runners, the best sources of dietary creatine are meat, poultry, and fish, so vegans and vegetarians are consuming less creatine than the general population.
By consuming animal-based products, you’ll also be getting ample leucine to help with recovery and strength.
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By supplementing with creatine, they can boost their creatine stores to similar baseline levels to their omnivorous counterparts.
However, creatine for distance runners may not be necessary for everyone.
If a runner does struggle with recovery, maintaining muscle mass, or pushing intensity during a race, creatine might be helpful, but for the average runner, creatine supplementation isn’t and shouldn’t be the first move.
Additionally, some runners avoid creatine supplementation because it may increase water retention.
This side effect isn’t dangerous—it may actually prevent dehydration—but it may be undesirable by some looking to maintain or lose weight.
How to Supplement with Creatine
As you start your supplementation, you might choose to start with a loading phase, which would include taking 20 g/day, split into four separate 5 g doses, for 5-7 days.
After a loading phase, transition to supplementing with 3-5 g/day. The loading phase is not necessary, but it increases cellular creatine stores more abruptly, so many athletes choose to do it.
If you would rather not, you can start with 3-5 g/day—your cellular creatine stores will just increase more gradually.
Optimal creatine absorption requires proper hydration, so dehydration or diuretics may inhibit absorption.
Also, remember hydration also includes proper electrolyte status. Electrolytes for runners cannot be minimized!
Should I Take Creatine Before Running?
It doesn’t necessarily matter if you take creatine before running or after running.
You can take it at any time of day, although some research suggests taking it at the same time each day and away from caffeine in order to be the most effective.
Further, take your creatine alongside carbohydrates and protein to maximize absorption.
The Best Creatine for Runners
While supplements for runners shouldn’t be the first ‘answer’ to any solution, there are some instances when they may be helpful.
When purchasing your creatine supplement, make sure you choose creatine monohydrate that is third-party certified by an organization like NSF.