Is creatine good for endurance athletes? Should you supplement with creatine for endurance running? Does creatine help you build lean muscle?
These are common questions asked by all types of athletes, not just endurance athletes. Creatine is one of the most popular ergogenic aids used by both competitive and recreational athletes. It is even taken widely by those who do not participate in sports.
Hi! My name is Jena Brown, dietitian for endurance athletes. Specializing in individualized nutrition planning for endurance athletes, we can evaluate if you would benefit from creatine supplementation to improve your health and endurance performance.
We will cover a lot of distance in this blog learning about creatine for endurance athletes.
- What is creatine?
- Food Sources of Creatine
- Athletes at Risk for Low Creatine Stores
- Why do I need creatine?
- How to Take Creatine
- Supplement Safety
First, let’s establish a strong base and learn what creatine is.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a compound made in your liver, kidneys, and pancreas. Your body stores creatine mostly in your muscle tissue as phosphocreatine, but you also store small amounts in your brain. (1) Creatine is an important source of energy for your brain and muscles during quick, explosive movements.
The total ‘pool’ of creatine stored in your body is about 120 grams. However, your body is capable of storing up to about 160 grams of creatine–with supplementation. (1)
Every day, your body breaks down about 1-2% of your creatine stores (~1-2 grams) into creatinine and excretes it in your urine (aka pee). You replenish lost stores by:
- eating foods with creatine or
- making creatine in your body with three building block amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine
As a sports dietitian, optimizing and prioritizing your nutrition from food first is important.
Next, let’s discuss what kinds of foods help you replenish your creatine stores that are broken down each day.
Food Sources of Creatine
Creatine is available in animal-based foods such as chicken, fish, red meat, and pork. There are only trace amounts of creatine in fruits and vegetables. Creatine is available in higher amounts through supplementation.
Creatine Content in Foods (2)
|Source||Serving Size||Creatine Content (g)|
|Creatine Monohydrate Supplement||1 scoop (5 g)||~5.0|
Eating enough creatine-containing foods (protein) is the best way for you to maximize your body creatine stores with whole foods.
Because the only food sources of creatine are animal-based, some athletes may be at risk for low creatine stores and may especially benefit from supplementation. Keep reading to find out if you may be at risk for low creatine stores.
Athletes at Risk for Low Creatine Stores
There are a few groups of athletes who may be at risk for low creatine stores and who may especially benefit from creatine supplementation.
- Vegetarian and vegan athletes
- Aging or masters athletes
- Athletes not consuming enough creatine-containing foods (protein)
- Athletes intentionally reducing meat consumption (3)
Vegetarian and vegan athletes may be at risk for low creatine stores because animal-based foods eaten are limited or eliminated. The same food sources are also quality sources of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is needed for your body to make the amino acid methionine. Methionine is one of the three amino acids required to make creatine in your body. (4)
Aging and masters athletes may have increased protein needs to support training with reduced ability to absorb vitamin B12. This may lead to loss of lean muscle and low creatine stores. You may be at risk for low creatine stores if you are not eating enough protein or vitamin B12 or have a reduced ability to absorb vitamin B12.
Your body requires a lot of energy as an endurance athlete. It can be challenging for you to consume enough calories and protein to support your training. Eat enough calories and include creatine-containing foods so that your body can make and store creatine.
Reduced meat consumption and a shift towards plant-based eating have become more popular. Plant-based or plant-focused diets can support your endurance performance if they are well-planned to meet your nutritional needs and maximize your muscle creatine stores. (6)
Individualize your nutrition planning with a sports dietitian if you are at risk for low creatine stores to support your endurance training.
Next, let’s discuss why you need creatine as an endurance athlete.
Why do I need creatine?
As an endurance athlete, there are many reasons why your body needs creatine from food and may benefit from additional creatine stores through supplementation.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) released a position stand in 2017 stating that creatine monohydrate is the most effective ergogenic aid available for increasing capacity of high-intensity exercise and lean muscle mass during training. (1)
Endurance sports and activities that may benefit from creatine supplementation:
- Cross-country skiing
- Mountain biking
- Track sprints
- Swim sprints
- Strength training
As an endurance athlete, you may benefit from the ability to perform more frequent high-intensity intervals during training for race performance as well as through other potential benefits of creatine supplementation.
- Increased lean muscle
- Supports training adaptations
- Enhanced recovery
- Injury prevention or reduced severity of injury
- Improved heat tolerance during exercise
- Increased muscle glycogen storage
- Improved exercise and sport performance
- Supports brain health and cognitive function
Creatine supplementation with carbohydrates helps increase muscle glycogen which is an important source of energy for endurance athletes. (8)
Increasing muscle creatine stores may help improve your endurance even if you do not perform in high-intensity intervals during racing or competition. Supplementing with creatine may promote training adaptations by helping you sustain more high-intense intervals resulting in improved race performance.
Creatine supports brain health and may also be neuroprotective following traumatic brain injury (TBI). (9) You may benefit from creatine supplementation if you are at risk for brain injury in your sport (e.g. cycling, mountain biking).
If you are eating enough creatine-containing foods through your diet and think that you may benefit from creatine supplementation, be sure to take the proper dose and consider supplement safety.
Next, let’s discuss the most effective form of creatine and recommended dosing protocols for taking creatine based on current research.
How to Take Creatine
- Loading Dose
Creatine loading is the quickest way to increase muscle creatine stores. This method is not necessary unless you have little time before a race or competition.
0.3 g/kg/day* (~20 g/day) of creatine monohydrate taken in four doses throughout the day for 5-7 days followed by a maintenance dose of 0.03 g/kg/day (~3-5 g per day)
*Divide your body weight in pounds by 2.2 to convert your body weight to kilograms. (e.g. 140 lbs ÷ 2.2 = 63.6 kg)
- Maintenance Dose
Supplementing creatine monohydrate in smaller amounts of 0.03 g/kg/day (~3-5 g) per day will increase muscle creatine over a 3 to 4-week period.
Timing of creatine supplementation is unclear but research suggests taking creatine close to a strength training exercise with carbohydrate; this appears to result in greater muscle creatine stores. (10) Strength training should be a part of your endurance training, but more research is needed around repeated sprints and endurance training related to creatine timing.
The benefits of creatine supplementation are supported by research and may offer you health and performance benefits. Keep in mind that every athlete responds differently and it is important to always check supplement testing and safety.
Finally, let’s discuss what to look for when choosing a safe creatine supplement.
Creatine is widely available as a dietary supplement. Dietary supplements are not regulated before the product is sold to the consumer. For this reason, there is always risk when taking dietary supplements. Check for third-party testing and purchase supplements from a trusted source.
Supplements: (1) may not contain what is listed on the label, (2) may not contain the amount listed on the label, and (3) may contain other substances not listed on the label. (11)
Your health may be at risk if you are taking a substance that you are unaware of or in amounts not listed on the label. False labeling may also result in positive drug testing if the product you are taking contains a banned substance.
Currently, creatine is not a banned substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) but the supplement may be combined with other banned substances intentionally or by accident.
IRONMAN advises that you check every single substance, medication, or supplement and seek guidance from a sports nutrition professional to minimize your risk.
Schedule a consultation and download your free Supplement Decision Guide to assess your supplement risk.
Download your free Supplement Decision Guide!
Maximizing your creatine stores with supplementation offers many potential health and performance benefits as an endurance athlete, but your plan should be individualized and specific to you.
Include food sources of creatine in your diet and make sure that you are eating enough food to support your training, especially if you are at risk for low creatine stores.
Follow proper creatine dosing and supplement safety guidelines to protect your health and minimize your risk of positive drug testing.
Most importantly, sprint across the finish line with an individualized nutrition plan to get the most performance benefit.