This week, we explore whether endurance athletes should supplement with creatine to improve performance and increase their chances of winning!
Many endurance athletes avoid the use of creatine due to the fear of gaining weight, which may have performance implications during ‘weight sensitive’ parts of a race – i.e. when they are going against gravity (hill climbs).
With many endurance athletes, power-weight ratio is a frequent topic of conversation.
From experience, endurance athletes focus on the weight aspect of the equation, and often overlook the power output (PO) component….and more times than not, compromise PO at the expense of being lighter.
Creatine supplementation promotes an increase in intracellular water storage and the ability to promote muscle glycogen levels – In return, causing body mass to increase.
Endurance athletes will acknowledge the benefits of creatine during higher intensity phases of a race, but raise the question whether this improved PO outweighs the associated gains in body mass.
To answer this question, Tomcik et al (2018) recruited highly trained to complete performance test (PT) under 3 different conditioning.
The performance test involved a 120km indoor ride with 1km and 4km intervals interspersed, followed by a ride to exhaustion at 90% VO2max on an incline treadmill (the weight-sensitive bit).
In PT1, they followed a moderate carb diet (6g/kg) with no supplementation to establish baseline results.
In PT2, they supplemented with creatine (20g x 5 days + 3g maintenance) or placebo, and followed either a moderate carb diet (6g/kg) or carb-load diet (12/kg) 2-days prior.
In PT3, they repeated the same performance test but changed the amount of carbohydrate being consumed. Therefore, they could detect whether performance gains were derived from creatine or carb content of the diet.
Upon completion of the 3 tested conditions, they found that PO was significantly higher with creatine during the high intensity phases and during the simulated hill climb, which was independent of the amount of carbohydrate consumed.
Most likely because high intensity phases have a greater reliance on creatine to rephosphorylate ATP and support work capacity. Creatine supplementation can also reduced lactate levels, which could suggest a reduction in muscle glycogen breakdown and offer ‘glycogen-sparing’ properties.
Even with the increased bodymass from supplementation, there was no disadvantage during the lower intensity TT, but a significant advantage during sprinting conditions.
This has important ‘real-world’ implications as it mimics a sprint finish or being able to stay with the lead pack during breakways.
The bottom-line is that it’s not always about weight, it’s about performance (and winning).
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