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CREATINE – IS IT WORTH THE WEIGHT WHEN YOU RUN?

CREATINE – IS IT WORTH THE WEIGHT WHEN YOU RUN?

Text by Rod Cedaro (M. App. Sc.)

Consultant Exercise Physiologist ACC Accredited Level III Triathlon Coach

Pieta Cedaro (APD) Consultant Dietitian

It never fails to surprise me just how much misinformation still exists around the athletic training circles. My wife works on a consultancy basis as a dietician with many of the athletes we coach. One of the services she provides is a complete dietary review whereby the athletes provide her with a comprehensive 3-day diet review of everything that goes into their mouths. She then provides them with feedback as to how to optimally modify their diets to optimise their recovery, performance, etc. Time and time again what comes across is the incredible amounts of money triathletes are spending seemingly adhoc on nutritional supplementation and one of the most exploited myths is that of creatine. With this in mind I thought it timely to consider just what you are potentially doing to your performance – running in particular because of its weight bearing nature – if you are creatine supplementing on a daily basis.

So let’s look at the physiology behind creatine. When athletes consume creatine be it from meat and fish or in supplementary form, some of the creatine will be absorbed from the blood into the muscles. Once there, creatine can be combined with phosphate to form phosphocreatine, a vital—but very limited—source of energy for brief, high-power activities such as sprinting and resistance training. It follows that creatine users should have more phosphocreatine energy available to perform these kinds of activities, leading to improved performance – at least in sprint and power events – already distance running off the bike associated with triathlon isn’t looking to benefit too much from this form of supplementation now is it!?

This rationale sounds great, and a whole industry has been built upon it with many millions of dollars worth of creatine supplements sold every year. But even after the completion of several hundred scientific investigations, many questions remain about the value of creatine supplementation for performance of various sports and about how much and when to use creatine—if it should be used at all. Here is some of what we now know from the current research:

* Supplementing the diet with 20 grams of creatine daily (four X 5-gram doses) for 4-5 days (i.e., “creatine loading”) will increase muscle levels of creatine in some, but not all, individuals. When consumed in amounts greater than 20 grams per day the balance is excreted via the urine.

 

*2 grams of creatine ingested daily for 30 days is just as effective as the aforementioned loading regimen in regards to the concentrations found in muscle at the end of the loading phase.

* Consuming carbohydrate with creatine increases creatine uptake by muscles marginally.

* Creatine ingestion generally results in weight gain by a couple of kilograms, some of which will be extra muscle and the rest extra water. This additional weight is likely to be detrimental to your running performance.

* Most lab studies of high-power tests lasting 30 seconds and/or repeated high power tests show slight (but signficant) improvements in performance in creatine users.

* Lab testing between 30 and 90 seconds duration suggest some positive performance with creatine supplementation. As test durations exceed 90 seconds, creatine users show little or no change in performance compared to non-users.

 

TABLE 1. Evidence for and against the use of creatine in different events. Type of Testing Ergogenic (Performance Enhancing) Effect or not?
Intense Brief Exercise (e.g. Laboratory tests; <30 seconds e.g. Sprint cycling – the shorter the better) Established performance benefits.
Intense exercise in lab setting for exercise bouts of 30-90 seconds to 3 minutes duration (e.g. Rowing ergo). Established performance benefits.
Intermittent style intense exercise bouts in the lab of 30 seconds to 3 minutes duration (e.g. Laboratory tests simulating mountain biking – stop-go-stop-go style intermittent efforts.) Supported by “some” research.
Intense exercise of longer than 3 minutes duration (Lab and field studies – e.g. Endurance based activities such as distance running.) No supportive evidence available for the use of creatine.

 

IN SUMMARY FOR THE TRIATHLETE:

* When consumed in moderate doses, there doesn’t appear to be any adverse health effects with the supplementation of creatine in healthy adults.

* There have been no studies reviewing the effects of creatine supplementation on growing children so it would be prudent NOT TO use this supplement with athletes under the age of 18.

* Since the manufacture of supplements isn’t tightly regulated there is no guarantee that what is stated on the bottle is what is actually in the product. As was the case with the Bek Keat issue there have been incidents where supplements are “spiked” with stimulants or prohormones that are banned by sport governing bodies – so ensure that the product you are using is from a reliable source.

* Endurance athletes such as triathletes have little if anything to gain (and particularly during the run leg, much to lose) using creatine because of the associated weight gain due to increased muscle mass and fluid retention.

* Dietary supplements won’t make you a champion! The key to great performances is dedicated intelligent training over time coupled with a genetic predisposition to endurance sports, recovery and sensible dietary habits. Get all of these ingredients in place and them search for the 1%ers to give you that edge – creatine for the triathlete doesn’t fall into this category.