The benefits of creatine for the improvement of strength and muscle mass have been widely evidenced, and that is why it is along with protein one of the most consumed supplements in gyms and in sports in which strength and explosiveness prevail. The main mechanism by which creatine improves performance is by increasing the availability of energy for short-term exercises. However, despite its less popular use in this population, this supplement can be very interesting for endurance athletes.
Glycogen is the main energy substrate in moderate and high intensity exercises. Thus, the depletion of glycogen stores (ie, running out of glycogen) will be a performance limiting factor, something that can easily be exemplified by the feared pájara or marathon wall. In efforts of resistance the creatine will not contribute great benefits at the energetic level as if it makes in short efforts, but it does seem to help to reduce the expense of glycogen during the exercise and to facilitate its recovery once finished.
As an example, a study1 showed in athletes who ran for 60 minutes at moderate intensity (60-75% VO2max) that supplementation with creatine monohydrate (12 g daily for 15 days) reduced protein degradation and glycogen expenditure (evidenced for a lower level of post-effort lactate). In addition, other authors2 found that this supplement (3 g per day for 28 days) increased glycogen levels at rest and post-exertion and reduced oxygen consumption by 10% during a two-hour moderate intensity cycling test. what supposes a greater energetic efficiency.
|Figure 1. Recovery of glycogen levels after an intense session. The graph shows that the recovery was significantly greater when consuming creatine along with carbohydrates than when consuming only carbohydrates.|
Therefore, supplementation with creatine could reduce glycogen expenditure during exercise, thus delaying the onset of fatigue. In addition, this supplement seems to facilitate the recovery of glycogen after exercise, which is essential to be able to perform in later sessions. In fact, in a recent study3 they saw that, after performing an exercise session in which glycogen stores decreased (cycling to 70% VO2max exhaustion), supplementation with creatine (20 g daily for 6 days) together with a high-carbohydrate diet allowed recovery of glycogen stores much faster than with carbohydrate intake alone. Although the use of this supplement in endurance athletes is less widespread than among those who want to hypertrophy or improve their strength, more and more evidence supports the benefits it can offer. Creatine could be especially interesting in periods of high load in which we want to perform optimally in several sessions with short breaks between them, such as when doubling workouts or when we accumulate several sessions of intensity on consecutive days. In these cases, take 20 grams per day (divided into 4 doses of 5 grams) of creatine along with a high-carbohydrate diet will be effective to increase creatine deposits and promote glycogen recovery, allowing greater performance.
- Tang FC, Chan CC, Kuo PL. Contribution of creatine to protein homeostasis in athletes after endurance and sprint running. Eur J Nutr. 2014;53(1):61-71. doi:10.1007/s00394-013-0498-6.
2. Hickner RC, Dyck DJ, Sklar J, Hatley H, Byrd P. Effect of 28 days of creatine ingestion on muscle metabolism and performance of a simulated cycling road race. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010;7:26. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-7-26.
3. Roberts PA, Fox J, Peirce N, Jones SW, Casey A, Greenhaff PL. Creatine ingestion augments dietary carbohydrate mediated muscle glycogen supercompensation during the initial 24 h of recovery following prolonged exhaustive exercise in humans. Amino Acids. 2016;48(8):1831-1842. doi:10.1007/s00726-016-2252-x.