Running is just as physically demanding as any other high-intensity sport. Sprinters, power athletes, and endurance runners require incredible fitness levels to succeed. To do this, many still turn to supplements and other consumable aids to keep them performing at their best.
Over the years, various supplements, such as caffeine, vitamin D, and protein powders, have become a mainstay in the sporting world. Combined, they can treat almost every aspect of your physical health – as long as they’re taken in moderation.
Creatine is a supplement that has only just begun to become popular within the running world. In days gone by, creatine was primarily targeted toward power runners and sprinters looking to build stronger muscle. Nowadays, even endurance runners have begun to turn to creatine as their go-to ergogenic aid.
But the question remains: is creatine good for runners?
Combining science and marketing often creates confusion, and the world has been fooled by “science-based” nutritional supplements before. Is the current creatine craze just one more example of this, or is there some legitimacy to its use as a running supplement?
We’ll look at everything you need to know about creatine so you can make a decision that’s best for your body and needs.
What Is Creatine?
When you expose your body to any dietary, nutritional, or performance-enhancing supplement, it is crucial you know exactly what it is, and this is the case with creatine too. Technically, creatine is a substance that occurs naturally in our bodies. It’s a combination of two amino acids: L-arginine and L-glycine.
These acids are found in our bodies, with creatine primarily affecting the brain and muscles. It helps to deliver a responsive release of energy in times of great intensity (think weight-lifting, HIIT, and running).
Creatine is stored almost completely in the muscles, mostly working to generate vital quick-acting energy. Research has shown that about 95% of all the body’s creatine is stored in the muscles and the remaining 5% is reserved for the brain.
Naturally, our bodies can only produce so many chemicals at any given time. Only a gram of creatine is produced every 24 hours. High-intensity activities eat up creatine quicker than your body can generate it. This is where creatine supplements come in.
How Does Creatine Work?
As mentioned, creatine is a naturally-occurring chemical. In addition to being produced by the liver, creatine can also be found in protein-rich foods like meat and fish.
One thing to consider is that while the supplements you find are labeled as “creatine,” this chemical doesn’t work alone. Creatine turns into creatine phosphate within the body, which helps produce the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecule that the muscles use to produce energy.
During physically-demanding activities, your body quickly expends all of its ATP, which is why creatine supplements may be crucial to your success as an athlete. The more creatine you have in your body, the greater the ability of the cells to produce energy during high-intensity situations, improving your athletic performance.
Why Do Runners Use Creatine?
Creatine is useful for building muscle and energy resistance during high-intensity workouts. This is due to creatine’s innate ability to provide the substrate (the substance upon which enzymes react) for the pathway in the body that can most rapidly produce energy.
Here’s a scientific breakdown: By ensuring an abundant supply of creatine in the muscles, ATP can be created more rapidly through the phosphocreatine pathway by stopping any delay for creatine to be produced or moved to the muscles.
In short, creatine increases the rate and quantity of all the energy your body produces. This enables athletes to push themselves further than before, leading to more gains and longer workout sessions. It’s a useful supplement for building your stamina levels over time.
How Much Creatine Should You Use?
At this point, you’re probably thinking creatine supplements seem like a good investment for runners. As we all know, supplements should be used in moderation and according to your needs. Unfortunately, unlike other nutrients like calcium and protein, there’s no recommended daily intake for creatine, so determining how much you should use is a matter of trial and error.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), larger athletes may need 5 to 10 grams of creatine daily to maintain vigorous training regimens. Smaller runners may need less than half that amount to maintain their energy levels.
For every rule, there is an exception. For example, people with muscular disorders, like muscular dystrophy, may need more creatine to maintain a solid workout routine. Additionally, vegetarians and vegans may need to use creatine supplements since creatine is most often found in animal proteins.
The ISSN also states that consuming 0.3 grams of creatine monohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day is the most effective method of maintaining your muscles’ creatine stores. Additionally, eating adequate foods containing methionine, arginine, and glycine will help your body produce creatine.
Dietary Sources Of Creatine
Supplements are often treated with caution and wariness by runners. While they aren’t physically addictive, many athletes may rely on supplements to a detriment. Fortunately, creatine can be found in various foods that may already form a natural part of your diet, so you may not need to supplement at all.
Red meat, fish, poultry, and pork contain high amounts of creatine, which is mostly found in muscle fibers. This is why it’s so abundant in meat products. Creatine is also produced naturally in the liver by amino acids, which can fortunately also be found in various vegan and vegetarian products.
As a vegetarian, your options for foods containing creatine-specific amino acids include eggs, milk, and ricotta cheese. Vegans can look at Brazil nuts, tofu, quinoa, and white beans.
The amino acid arginine can also be obtained from dairy products and plant-based foods like pumpkin seeds, walnuts, beans, peas, and seaweed.
Sources of glycine can also be found in many dairy products, but pumpkin seeds, pistachios, and spirulina are most highly recommended for vegans.
Of course, some of these foods may be inconvenient to implement into your diet, and you may even have allergies to consider. Using creatine supplements is perfectly fine as long as you monitor how much you ingest.
Top Creatine Benefits For Runners
Creatine can provide plenty of benefits, particularly if you’re a runner. Here are some of the main benefits you can expect from using creatine:
- Creatine provides your muscles with an energy boost, alleviating fatigue during intense workouts.
- It increases your endurance and stamina, allowing runners and sprinters to keep going over longer distances before getting tired.
- Over time, creatine also helps build muscle mass, translating to more efficient oxygen usage. This helps runners perform much better.
- Given the boost it provides, creatine can enhance your workouts, including how long you train for and how much you do in that time.
- Creatine also aids you post-workout by improving your body’s ability to recover, allowing you to bounce back quickly.
Other benefits include hydration support, preventing muscle cramps, and reducing the risk of injury to your ligaments, tendons, and nerves.
All these benefits make creatine the perfect endurance workout supplement. Additionally, creatine may also be useful for increasing your body’s aerobic capacity by sending more ATP from the mitochondria to the muscles, guaranteeing a constant energy supply.
What About The Safety Concerns?
While some concerns result from a lack of understanding, there are definitely a few things to keep in mind when consuming creatine.
The first thing that will immediately jump out at you is that creatine has yet to be cleared by the FDA. The majority of the athletic and sporting community agree that it’s safe to use, and creatine supplements are also approved for use by the International Olympic Committee and National Collegiate Athletic Association. Still, it’s understandable that you may remain on the fence until these supplements are approved.
Regarding actual health risks, creatine supplements have proven safe for most athletes in moderation. Too much creatine, however, can adversely affect your liver, kidney, and heart. Other overuse issues can include stomach pain, nausea, and muscle cramping.
Creatine supplements are unsafe for pregnant runners and those with diabetes, kidney disease, and hypertension. If you have any doubt whether creatine supplements will be safe for you to consume, consult your doctor.
Choosing Suitable Creatine Supplements
As with any supplementary product, creatine supplements come in two distinct categories: good and bad. The good ones will provide all the benefits of creatine while mitigating the downsides. The bad ones won’t do anything besides make you feel terrible.
Runners should look for creatine products that are as pure as possible, i.e., those with minimal additives such as caffeine, ephedra, and other dangerous substances. Start with a small dose of creatine and gradually work your way up while observing its effects on your body. If you notice an improvement, stick with it, but don’t overdo it.
According to the ISSN, creatine monohydrate is the best supplementation source of creatine. They also state that creatine absorption is enhanced when consumed with carbohydrates and protein.
Use in Moderation and Monitor The Effects
Like most popular supplements, a fair amount of research still needs to be conducted before creatine can be fully accepted as a healthy and effective energy and performance-enhancing solution. As we’ve seen, however, creatine can provide plenty of benefits to improve your workouts and performance.
Still, keep everything we’ve said in mind regarding the potential drawbacks and safety concerns to ensure you remain as healthy as possible.