Although creatine is seen as the ultimate bodybuilding supplement, it also has its benefits to track and road cyclists.
Creatine rise to prominence was in 1992 during the Barcelona Olympics when several top track athletes used the supplement and some went ahead to win the gold medals.
Creatine became a hit and everybody wanted to try the supplement. In 1993, creatine hit the market and has become the most researched supplement. Today, almost every body builder, weight lifter and footballer is using creatine supplements.
How does creatine work?
Our bodies contain a limited amount of creatine in the muscles. It’s part of a molecule known as creatine phosphate, which facilitates for the quick production of energy in the muscles. And since there is only a limited supply of creatine phosphate, it can easily run out especially for pro athletes such as bodybuilders and weight lifters. This is where creatine supplementation comes into play.
Creatine supplementation is said to increase creatine phosphate in the muscles by about 20%. The extra creatine phosphate comes in handy especially for athletes who are trying to increase muscle strength and size. Which is one of the reasons why creatine supplements are popular among bodybuilders, cross fitters, power lifters.
In addition to muscle growth, creatine allows for water retention inside the muscle cells making it possible for the muscles to tolerate heat produced during high-intensity workouts. This makes it ideal for track sprinters as they often combine weight training and other high-intensity exercises.
Should cyclists use creatine?
Creatine is widely associated with high-intensity training such as weightlifting and sprinting. Over the last decade there have been several studies on the benefits of creatine to cyclists. It’s however not clear whether creatine has any effect on endurance training.
In 2017, the Australian Institute of Sport together with Australian Catholics University embarked on a quest to understand the interaction between creatine supplementation and carbohydrate loading. The study comprised of 18 riders with an average age of 31. The riders were by no means elite cyclists but could ride more than 250 km a week.
They were divided into two groups where one was required to use placebo and the other creatine supplement. Each group was then required to complete two performance trials. The end result showed no difference in performance in the first time trial event (120 km time trial). Both groups average time was 3 hours 10 minutes.
The results for the second time trial event were also similar. Both groups had almost similar time averages, however, it was noted that the creatine group had a higher power output in the last 1 km. The results from this study were inconclusive and the researchers couldn’t agree or disagree as to whether creatine had any effect on shorter sprints.
In 1998, a study was carried out with a group of triathletes on the effects of creatine on interval performance and endurance. Each athlete was required to consume 6 grams of creatine every day for 5 days. After 5 days, tests were conducted and the results indicated that the use of creatine had no influence on blood lactate concentration, oxygen uptake or the cardiovascular system. This meant that creatine supplementation has no effect on endurance performance. However, there was significant increase in interval power performance by about 18%.
Why do cyclists use creatine?
Although the benefits of using creatine to cyclists are not clear, pro-cyclists all over the world continue to use it. Is there something they know that we don’t?
As an endurance athlete, you will often require multi-pace training to build your endurance performance and speed. From experience, I have learnt that training at lactic threshold pace, faster-than-race-pace and goal race pace are key to improving my race day performance. The more I train in these high-intensity exercises, the more efficient I become.
With the help of creatine supplementation, you can improve the quality of your high-intensity activities and decrease the recovery time. The more you train, the more likely you are to improve speed endurance and power output which translates to better performance on race day.
What is the recommended creatine intake?
There are two ways through which you can increase your creatine reserves. In the first method, you can choose to consume 15-20 grams of creatine every day for 7 days. This is followed by 3-5 grams of creatine for 28 days. The second dosage serves as a maintenance dose. This combination allows for fast accumulation of creatine in your muscles which could be the competitive edge you need when prepping for a race.
Alternatively, you can settle for a daily intake of 3-5 grams for 28 days. You can also combine creatine intake with carbohydrates such as sugar to help normalize skeletal-muscle uptake. It’s for this reason that creatine sports drinks have become very popular.
Most creatine supplements come in powder form which means they have to be mixed either with a meal or a drink. Preferably, mix your creatine serving with a high-carbohydrate meal or drink as it increases the absorption rate of creatine.
Are there side effects of taking creatine supplements?
Like earlier mentioned, creatine causes water retention in the muscles which is not a big deal unless you have been diagnosed with hypertension that requires diuretics as a treatment option. If not, water retention at cellular level should not be a cause for concern.
It is recommended that you observe the amount of creatine you ingest in a single serving. Too much creatine could lead to stomach distress or gastro-type symptoms. To avoid this, try to increase your food and water intake or lower your creatine intake in a single serving. For example instead of consuming 28 grams of creatine in a single serving, opt for 4 servings of 7 grams each.
Smaller doses of creatine are easily digested and absorbed. Higher doses take longer to absorb which results to distress especially in the intestines.
The idea is to understand your body’s creatine requirements and consume just enough to satisfy these requirements. It could be the key to you winning a race by giving you an extra boost of energy to get you to the finish line.