creatine for runners

Creatine for Runners: Is it Really Effective?


Time to read 9 min

In the competitive world of running, athletes are always looking for supplements that can improve their performance. Creatine is usually linked with weightlifters and bodybuilders, but what about creatine for runners? This article delves into the science and practical application of creatine for runners. We'll unpack its myriad benefits, guide you through optimal usage, and provide expert insights, making this piece an essential read for runners curious about harnessing the power of creatine to achieve their peak performance.

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in muscle cells. It plays a crucial role in producing Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), the body's primary energy currency. Creatine supplements, often in the form of creatine monohydrate, are popular for enhancing strength, increasing lean muscle mass, and helping muscles recover more quickly during exercise.

Is Creatine Good for Runners?

It's a popular supplement among athletes, offering a multitude of benefits tailored specifically for runners, enhancing various aspects of their training and performance. Creatine for runners can help impact energy production, muscle recovery, performance, and even hydration and thermoregulation.

  • Energy Boost: For runners, one of the primary benefits of creatine is its ability to enhance energy production. This is particularly useful in high-intensity, short-duration activities like sprints, where quick bursts of speed are essential. Creatine facilitates the rapid regeneration of ATP, the body's energy currency, crucial for these activities.
  • Muscle Recovery: Another significant benefit of creatine for runners is its role in muscle recovery. It can reduce muscle cell damage and inflammation following exhaustive exercise. This is crucial for runners who engage in rigorous training regimes, allowing for quicker recovery and reduced downtime.
  • Improved Performance: A study by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition highlights creatine's impact on performance. It found that creatine supplementation improved maximal power and strength by 5-15%. This translates to enhanced performance in activities requiring bursts of speed, thus contributing to increased muscle mass and strength. This provides runners with a stronger base for running efficiency and potentially improving running economy.
  • Hydration and Thermoregulation: Lastly, creatine aids in maintaining hydration and supporting thermoregulation during prolonged exercise. This is a vital aspect for endurance runners, helping to maintain water balance and body temperature during long runs.

Overall, creatine for runners can be a versatile and invaluable supplement, enhancing energy, recovery, performance, and physiological regulation during training and competitive events.

How Should Runners Take Creatine?

In general, the best way to take creatine for runners is through customization to fit individual needs and training schedules. Its supplementation can significantly enhance a runner's performance, but understanding the right dosage, timing, and combination with other supplements is key.

  • Dosage and Timing: A common creatine supplementation protocol begins with a loading phase. This involves taking 20 grams per day, split into four 5-gram servings, for 5-7 days. This helps quickly saturate the muscles with creatine, leading to faster results. After this phase, a maintenance dose of 2-5 grams daily is recommended. Alternatively, some runners may choose a 'no-loading' approach, taking 3-5 grams daily, to achieve the same muscle saturation but over a longer period. While the timing of creatine intake isn't critical, some athletes prefer taking it close to their workouts for perceived acute benefits.
  • Cycling Creatine: There's no definitive research indicating the need to cycle on and off creatine. This makes it suitable for continuous use, particularly for regular runners. However, while not necessary, some athletes still opt to cycle creatine during their off-seasons, based on personal preference or training schedules.
  • Combining with Other Supplements: Creatine can be effectively paired with other supplements like whey protein, carbohydrates, and beta-alanine, enhancing its uptake and efficacy. No adverse interactions have been reported with such combinations, making it a versatile addition to a runner's supplement regimen. Moreover, it's crucial to stay hydrated when supplementing with creatine due to its effects on water retention.

When tailored to individual preferences and training needs, creatine supplementation can be a valuable tool for runners, enhancing performance, recovery, and overall training outcomes.

Is Creatine Good for Distance Runners?

The impact of creatine on endurance running has been a subject of debate. While creatine is known for its benefits in high-intensity, short-duration activities, its role in endurance sports like long-distance running is less clear-cut. Some studies suggest that while creatine may not directly enhance endurance, it can aid in repeated short bursts of high-intensity activity within an endurance event, such as hill climbs or final sprints. 

Additionally, its benefits in muscle recovery can indirectly support endurance training by enabling more effective training sessions and quicker recovery times. However, it's important to note that creatine can lead to water retention, which some endurance athletes might find counterproductive. Ultimately, whether creatine benefits endurance running can depend on the specific nature of the training and the individual runner's response to the supplement.

Do Marathon Runners Use Creatine?

Marathon runners traditionally focus on endurance and aerobic capacity, areas where creatine's direct benefits are less pronounced. However, an increasing number of marathon runners are incorporating creatine into their supplement regimen. The rationale is not for direct improvement in long-distance running performance but for the ancillary benefits creatine offers. These include enhanced muscle recovery, increased strength for uphill segments and late-race sprints, and improved resistance to fatigue. It's also used during off-season or training periods to build muscle and aid in recovery from high-intensity interval training. While not a staple in every marathon runner's toolkit, creatine is gaining acceptance for its broad range of benefits that can indirectly contribute to improved marathon performance.

Best Creatine for Runners

Selecting the best creatine supplement for runners involves considering various factors, including effectiveness, absorption rate, and individual tolerance. Creatine monohydrate, the most researched form, stands out as the top choice for its proven efficacy and safety. It's known for its purity, and lack of unnecessary additives, making it a popular choice among athletes of all levels.

However, some runners might prefer alternative forms due to specific needs or preferences. Micronized creatine, a more finely processed form of creatine monohydrate, offers better solubility and potentially easier digestion, which can be beneficial for those with sensitive stomachs.

Another form, creatine hydrochloride (HCL), is claimed to have superior solubility and absorption, requiring a smaller dosage to achieve similar effects as monohydrate. This can reduce the potential for stomach issues and water retention, though it's generally more expensive.

Creatine ethyl ester, another variant, is marketed for its enhanced absorption and effectiveness, but scientific support for these claims is less robust compared to monohydrate.

Ultimately, the best creatine for runners is one that aligns with their dietary preferences and how well they tolerate the supplement. Given its extensive research and track record, creatine monohydrate is often the recommended starting point for most runners. However, exploring other forms may be beneficial for those seeking specific benefits or who experience side effects with monohydrate.

What Other Supplements Should Runners Take with Creatine?

Runners seeking to enhance their performance have various options when it comes to supplement combinations. Creatine, a well-known supplement for boosting energy and aiding recovery, can be paired with other supplements to further improve its effectiveness. These combinations, tailored to the needs of runners, can provide additional benefits, ranging from muscle repair to delayed fatigue.

Creatine and Whey Protein:

  • Purpose: Whey protein assists in muscle repair and growth.

  • Benefits: Enhances creatine’s energy-boosting and recovery properties.

  • Ideal Usage:Particularly beneficial post-workout for muscle recovery and growth.

Creatine and Beta-Alanine:

  • Purpose: Beta-alanine helps buffer lactic acid in muscles, delaying fatigue.

  • Benefits: Improves performance during high-intensity intervals and sprints.

  • Ideal for: Runners engaged in mixed training sessions.

Creatine and Carbohydrates:

  • Purpose: Carbohydrates replenish glycogen stores post-workout.

  • Benefits: Creatine aids in rapid recovery and energy replenishment.

  • Effective When: Used post-workout to enhance overall recovery and prepare for subsequent training sessions.

Potential Side Effects and Considerations

While creatine is widely regarded as safe, it's not without potential side effects. The most common is water retention, leading to temporary weight gain and bloating. This effect is more pronounced during the initial loading phase. Some users also report gastrointestinal discomfort, such as cramps or diarrhea, especially when high doses are consumed without sufficient water. Rarely, creatine has been linked to kidney stress in individuals with pre-existing renal conditions. It’s important to note that these side effects are not universal and often depend on the individual's health status and hydration levels.

Expert Opinions and Research

The efficacy of creatine supplementation in enhancing athletic performance is well-supported by scientific research. Numerous studies have demonstrated its benefits in increasing strength, power output, and muscle recovery. Experts in sports nutrition often recommend creatine not only for its performance-enhancing effects but also for its safety profile. It's one of the most researched supplements in sports nutrition, with a consensus on its effectiveness in short-duration, high-intensity activities. 

Experts also emphasize the importance of individualized supplementation strategies, considering factors like diet, training regimen, and personal health. Research continually evolves, and keeping abreast of the latest studies is crucial for optimizing its use in athletic performance, especially in sports like running where endurance and speed are key.

The Bottom Line

Creatine, while more commonly associated with strength sports, offers considerable benefits for runners, including improved energy production, quicker muscle recovery, and enhanced overall performance. With minimal side effects and easy incorporation into daily routines, creatine stands as a beneficial supplement for runners looking to optimize their training and performance.

FAQs on Creatine For Runners

Is creatine or BCAA better for runners?

Creatine and BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids) serve different purposes for runners. Creatine is primarily used for enhancing high-intensity performance and aiding in muscle recovery, making it ideal for sprinters and those engaging in high-intensity interval training. BCAAs, on the other hand, help reduce muscle fatigue, accelerate recovery, and can be more beneficial for endurance runners. The choice depends on the runner's specific training goals and dietary needs.

Should you take creatine before or after running?

Creatine can be taken either before or after running, as its benefits are not heavily dependent on timing. Taking it pre-run can provide an energy boost for high-intensity runs, while post-run consumption may aid in recovery. Consistent daily intake is more crucial than specific timing, ensuring a steady supply of creatine to the muscles.

Should endurance athletes use creatine?

Endurance athletes can use creatine, but its benefits are more nuanced compared to high-intensity sports. While it doesn't directly enhance endurance, it can aid in muscle recovery, improve performance in short bursts of intense activity within an endurance event, and enhance overall training capacity. Each endurance athlete's response to creatine can vary, so it's worth experimenting to see if it positively impacts their training and performance.

Can a middle distance runner take creatine?

Yes, a middle-distance runner can benefit from taking creatine. It can enhance performance in training sessions that involve high-intensity efforts, such as interval training. Additionally, creatine's role in muscle recovery can be advantageous for runners who frequently engage in strenuous workouts, aiding in quicker recovery and preparation for subsequent training sessions.

How much water should I drink with creatine?

When supplementing with creatine, increasing water intake is essential to help mitigate the risk of dehydration due to creatine's tendency to draw water into the muscles. A general recommendation is to drink an additional 1-2 liters of water per day, on top of the standard hydration guidelines. This helps in maintaining hydration and reducing potential side effects like cramps or digestive issues.

Should I take creatine before a 5k?

Taking creatine before a 5k can be beneficial, particularly if the race includes high-intensity efforts like hills or sprints. Creatine can provide a short-term energy boost for these segments. However, for a steady-state, moderate-intensity 5k, the benefits might be less noticeable. Consistent daily supplementation is generally more effective than single pre-race doses.

Will creatine slow my running?

Creatine is unlikely to slow down your running. While it may cause some initial water weight gain, this does not equate to a decrease in running speed or endurance. In fact, the enhanced muscle recovery and energy production benefits of creatine can potentially improve running performance, especially in short, high-intensity runs.

Do Olympic sprinters take creatine?

Many Olympic sprinters incorporate creatine into their training regimen. Creatine is well-known for its ability to enhance short bursts of intense physical activity, which is fundamental in sprinting. It aids in increasing power output and reducing recovery time between training sessions, making it a valuable supplement for sprinters at the highest levels of competition.

Does water retention from creatine go away?

The water retention caused by creatine typically diminishes once the body adjusts to the supplement, usually after the initial loading phase. It's also common for water retention to decrease when creatine use is stopped. The key is consistent and long-term use, as the body eventually adapts to the increased creatine levels, leading to a balance in water retention.