Creatine has long been associated with strength training, but could endurance athletes benefit from this supplement too? Creatine offers both benefits and disadvantages for cyclists.
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What is Creatine?
Creatine is an organic compound derived from three amino acids and stored in your muscles as creatine phosphate. The phosphate part is essential because it plays a role in regenerating adenosine triphosphate (ATP). As a cyclist, you can think of ATP as the source of your endurance.
ATP is the molecule that fuels your cells by breaking one of its three phosphate bonds, which is then converted to adenosine diphosphate (ADP). You have a limited supply of ATP, but the good news is that your body recharges it with the neuromuscular energy system. One of the ways it does this is by transferring phosphate from creatine phosphate to ADP. So creatine effectively enhances your ability to use ATP for a slightly longer time.
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Ways to Get Creatine
Your body naturally makes creatine on its own. In general, most people carry about 120g of it in their bodies. In addition to what you usually create, you can ingest small amounts of creatine by eating meat. Red meat, pork, poultry, and fish are the most abundant natural sources. Of course, another way is through supplements.
Supplementing with Creatine
Another way to increase creatine is through supplementation. Most supplements come in the form of creatine monohydrate powder and provide a convenient way to up your intake. Most brands recommend a loading of up to 20g per day, then reducing that amount after a week.
It is important to remember that people react to supplementation differently. Creatine supplementation for one cyclist, may not work for you. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your diet is healthy and balanced before adding supplementation. In addition to this, if you compete in events, you’ll want to find a supplement that has been certified by the NSF International or Informed Sport.
Creatine for Cyclists Research
Creatine is one of, if not the most, studied sports supplements. With one quick internet search and you’ll find hundreds of peer-reviewed articles covering creatine supplementation for various sports, activities, and diseases. Listed below are several creatine studies, some of which are directly related to cycling.
- Creatine Supplementation and Exercise Performance: A Brief Review
- Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations
- Creatine ingestion favorably affects performance and muscle metabolism during maximal exercise in humans
- Creatine supplementation and exercise performance: recent findings
- Effect of 28 days of creatine ingestion on muscle metabolism and performance of a simulated cycling road race
- Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance
- Effects of Creatine and Carbohydrate Loading on Cycling Time Trial Performance
Benefits of Creatine for Cyclists
What are the benefits of creatine for cyclists? Creatine’s effects are measurable, but they occur in an extremely rapid timeframe. That means it can work well for some things and not so well for others.
Several studies have concluded that creatine supplementation is effective at increasing muscle mass and strength through resistance training. Specifically, when strength training with 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps. So if you are focusing on weightlifting during the offseason, creatine might be the right choice for you.
Another way it can help is by improving a single maximal sprint effort. This means that cyclists that put in one short and massive effort could benefit. These groups would include track sprinters and gravity riders. Additionally, creatine helps increase muscle glycogen, so carb-loading with creatine, which may help you at the end of a long ride. In spite of the short power and glycogen benefit, there are some downsides that you should consider as well.
Downsides of Creatine for Cyclists
Generally considered a safe supplement, creatine for cyclists offers some upsides and a noteworthy drawback. The biggest downside to creatine supplementation is weight gain. Most studies observed weight increases ranging from 1-6 pounds compared to the placebo group. But weight gain with creatine supplements can be highly individual. The increased weight usually cancels out the gains in sprint power. This is especially true when the efforts are longer or head uphill.
Additionally, creatine does not improve sprint performance at the end of endurance cycling exercise. In that case, the supplement wouldn’t help a sprint finish at the end of a road race or crit. A 2018 study found that loading creatine and carbohydrates had no significant effect on time trial performance. Lastly, there is little benefit in taking creatine to reduce muscle damage or soreness.
Should Cyclists Take Creatine?
Since it helps recharge your ATP stores, is there a benefit in supplementing creatine for cyclists? It depends on your goals and events. If it’s the offseason and you are strength training to increase muscle mass and strength, creatine may be right for you. Additionally, if the associated weight gain will not affect event performance, it may be worth trying out.
For most, creatine for cyclists offers a few rewards with a significant downside. The good news is that creatine supplementation is well-studied and relatively safe. However, as with many supplements, the effects of creatine can vary greatly from person to person.
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