If you’re a runner, you must have heard about how creatine enhances performance in the athletic community. 

Indeed, many scientific studies and first-hand accounts vouch for its effectiveness. As a result, it has become a popular supplement among many athletes and bodybuilders looking to gain muscle, power, and explosiveness.

Yet, its efficacy among endurance athletes isn’t entirely proven. So, one might wonder: Does creatine help with running? And if so, how can runners harness its potential effectively?

In this article, we’ll delve into what you need to know about creatine and its potential benefits and drawbacks for runners. 

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a nitrogen-containing organic compound that can be found in small amounts in certain foods like red meat and fish. 

In the body, it is synthesized from amino acids, primarily in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. Once produced, creatine is transported to your muscles, where it is stored as creatine phosphate.

Creatine and its Role in Running

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound in the body that plays a crucial role in energy production during intense exercise. About 95% of the creatine in our bodies is stored in skeletal muscle tissue. 

When we engage in high-intensity anaerobic activity, like sprinting or heavy-weight training, our muscles utilize creatine to help quickly regenerate ATP energy. 

So, how does creatine affect running? For runners, creatine has the most potential to aid performance in events relying on anaerobic power like the 100m, 200m, and 400m dashes. 

It may also benefit speed work like interval training, tempo runs, and kicking at the end of races. By boosting power and delaying fatigue in type II fast-twitch muscle fibers, creatine can help runners sprint faster and maintain speed longer.

Impact of Creatine on Endurance Activities

runners running

Creatine is typically associated with short bursts of energy, but it can also have positive effects on endurance activities like running. Here’s how it impacts endurance:

1. Enhancing Glycogen Storage

Glycogen is crucial for sustained energy during moderate- to high-intensity exercise. However, it gets depleted after a certain duration, leading to a shift to less efficient energy sources like fat and protein. 

A 2003 study in the Journal of Athletic Training showed that creatine supplementation increased muscle glycogen content in runners during intense training. Creatine enhances glycogen storage by:

2. Enhanced Recovery

Creatine also contributes to post-workout recovery by improving recovery after training. This cumulative effect of faster recovery can lead to the ability to sustain intensive training.

Benefits of Using Creatine

In addition to directly enhancing high-intensity running performance, here are some other creatine supplementation benefits for runners.

1. Reduced Muscle Inflammation and Faster Recovery

Multiple studies show that creatine supplementation can help reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and inflammation. 

A 2021 review noted that it could help with recovery after intense exercise and provide extra benefits when recovering from an injury. For runners, this can translate to quicker bounce-back between hard sessions.

2. Increased Glycogen and Hydration

Creatine can increase glycogen synthesis and storage in muscles. It provides the carbohydrate fuel source for sustained endurance exercise. 

It also pulls water into muscle cells, improving hydration status. Both glycogen loading and hydration are critical factors in maintaining running performance.

3. Enhanced Resistance Training Adaptations

Runners who supplement with creatine during weight training may experience increased muscle strength compared to training alone. Improved strength translates well to improved running economy and injury resilience.

Creatine Dosage and Timing

If you want to use creatine supplementation, you may wonder how much and when to take it. The recommended creatine dosage for athletes varies depending on your goals, body weight, and individual response. However, a general guideline is to follow a loading phase followed by a maintenance phase.

How Much Creatine Should You Take?

When to Take Creatine

Potential Side Effects of Creatine

Creatine for runners is generally considered to be safe and well-tolerated by most people. However, some individuals may be vulnerable to the risks of creatine supplementation. These include:

1. Weight gain

Creatine can cause water retention in the muscles, increasing your body weight by 1-2 kg in the first week of supplementation. This is not a sign of fat gain but rather an increase in muscle volume. 

This effect may benefit some runners, especially sprinters, who want to increase their muscle mass and power. However, it may be undesirable for others, especially long-distance runners, who want to minimize their body weight and optimize their running efficiency.

2. Gastrointestinal Discomfort 

Creatine can cause some digestive issues, such as bloating, cramping, nausea, or diarrhea, in some people. This is usually due to taking too much creatine at once or not dissolving it properly in water. 

To avoid this, you should start with a low dose and gradually increase it over time. You should also mix creatine with plenty of water or juice and drink it slowly.

3. Dehydration

Creatine can draw water into muscle cells, leading to fluid loss elsewhere. This raises concerns about dehydration or cramping, especially in endurance athletes. Proper hydration is key to counteract any fluid shifts.

4. Kidney Stress 

While current research indicates creatine is safe long-term in healthy individuals, those with kidney disorders should use caution or avoid creatine due to the potential risk of further kidney dysfunction. High doses may put added strain on the kidneys to filter out creatine.

5. False Positive Drug Test 

Creatine use can potentially cause a false positive test for excess creatinine levels, similar to banned substances. Athletes who are drug tested should keep this in mind.

Personalized Creatine Usage for Different Runners

Creatine supplementation may not be suitable for every runner. Depending on your running goals and training intensity, you may need to adjust your creatine usage accordingly. Here are some general recommendations for different types of runners:

1. Sprinters

When it comes to creatine and sprinting, 100m-400m sprinters can benefit from creatine supplementation as it can increase their power output and speed during short-distance races or interval training. 

However, they must follow the standard loading and maintenance protocol and take creatine before or after their workouts. They should also monitor their body weight and hydration status, as creatine can cause water retention and dehydration.

2. Long-distance runners

Long-distance runners may not benefit from creatine supplementation as much as sprinters, as they rely more on aerobic than anaerobic systems. But it can enhance glycogen storage. As a result, it delays fatigue and improves recovery.

Long-distance runners may take a lower dose of creatine (3 grams per day) and take it after their workouts.

3. Middle-distance runners 

Middle-distance runners are somewhere between sprinters and long-distance runners regarding their energy system demands. They may benefit from creatine supplementation by increasing their power output and endurance during moderate- to high-intensity runs or tempo training. 

So, they should take a moderate dose of creatine (5 grams per day) and take it before or after their workouts. They should also monitor their body weight and hydration status, as creatine can cause water retention and dehydration.

4. Injury Recovery

Creatine’s anti-inflammatory effects may help accelerate the return to running after injuries. Consult a physical therapist before using creatine to aid rehab.

Ultimately, the optimal use of creatine depends on the runner and their specific goals. Working with a coach can help determine if creatine matches your running performance and training needs. This is because customized loading and maintenance protocols minimize side effects.

How to Incorporate Creatine into Your Running Routine

If you decide to use creatine supplementation to enhance your running performance, you should follow these steps:

1. Consult Professionals and Coaches 

Before starting any supplement regimen, you should consult your doctor, nutritionist, or coach to ensure it is safe and appropriate for you. They can help you determine your optimal dosage, timing, and creatine supplementation duration based on your needs and goals.

2. Start Low and Slow

When first using creatine, begin with lower “maintenance” doses of 2-5 grams per day. Slowly increase over time and monitor side effects. This allows your body to adapt and reduces the risk of issues like dehydration. 

3. Time It Right

Take most of your daily creatine after key running sessions when your muscles are primed to absorb it. Avoid high doses right before races and stay well hydrated to counter fluid shifts.

4. Cycle On and Off

Consider cycling creatine for 4-8 weeks during intense training, then taking a break to rest your body. This can help maximize benefits while minimizing any risks long term.

5. Monitoring and Evaluating Performance 

You should track your performance and progress while using creatine supplementation. You can use various metrics, such as running speed, distance, time, heart rate, perceived exertion, recovery rate, muscle soreness, body weight, and hydration status.

So, you can compare your performance with and without creatine supplementation to see if there are any noticeable differences or improvements.

6. Adjusting Creatine Usage 

You may need to adjust your creatine usage accordingly based on your performance and progress. Depending on your results and feedback, you may need to increase or decrease your dosage, change your timing, or cycle on and off creatine supplementation. 

You should also experiment with different types of creatine products (such as powder, capsules, and liquid) and flavors (such as unflavored and fruit-flavored) to find what works best for you.

Final Thoughts

Creatine is a natural substance that can help runners improve their performance by increasing their energy supply, glycogen storage, endurance capacity, recovery rate, and muscle mass. However, creatine supplementation is not a magic bullet that can make you run faster or longer without effort or training. It can only complement your running routine and enhance your results.

If you want to try it, you should consult your doctor, nutritionist, or coach first to ensure it is safe and appropriate. Then ensure you follow the recommended dosage and timing guidelines and monitor your performance and progress while using it. You may need to adjust your creatine usage depending on your needs and goals.

Above all, Creatine supplementation may not be suitable for every runner. Depending on your running type and intensity, you may benefit more or less from using creatine.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do runners take creatine?

While less common than in strength sports, some runners do take creatine, especially sprinters and middle-distance athletes. Creatine can enhance high-intensity anaerobic performance

2. Is it beneficial to take creatine before running?

Taking creatine shortly before short-distance running can help maximize its uptake into muscles for enhanced anaerobic energy production. But you should avoid taking it shortly before long races (like marathons) as it can increase the risk of dehydration or cramping.

3. Does creatine provide energy to run?

Creatine does not provide direct energy but aids in regenerating ATP energy stores during explosive efforts like sprints. It does not enhance endurance energy.

4. Can creatine enhance running stamina and endurance?

Creatine may help delay fatigue in sprints and intermittent speed sessions. However, it does not directly increase endurance or stamina for long distances.

5. What are the potential side effects of creatine supplementation?

Gastrointestinal distress, muscle cramps or strains, water retention, and dehydration are among the potential side effects. High doses over prolonged periods may negatively impact kidney function.

6. How does creatine differ for sprinters and long-distance runners?

Creatine offers direct performance benefits for sprinters but negligible benefits for endurance runners. Middle-distance athletes may see moderate advantages.

7. Should elite runners consider creatine for performance improvement?

Elite middle-distance and sprint runners can likely gain a real competitive edge with proper creatine supplementation. The benefits are less significant for elite marathoners and ultramarathoners.

8. How does creatine affect recovery after intense training?

By reducing muscle inflammation and increasing protein synthesis, creatine supplementation supports faster recovery after strenuous running sessions. This allows higher training loads and adaptations.