Welcome to our guide on creatine for runners!
Running is a physically demanding sport. Many runners thus turn to various sports supplements to ensure they have the nutrients needed to support their training, improve performance, and aid recovery.
From iron to vitamin D, caffeine to protein powders, there are supplements targeted for nearly all aspects of nutrition, health, and performance for runners.
Creatine is climbing the ranks of popular ergonomic aids and performance supplements for everyday runners – somewhat surprising as creatine has traditionally been marketed towards sprinters and power athletes rather than endurance athletes.
So, is creatine good for runners?
Are there benefits of creatine for runners and other endurance athletes? Or is this an example of distance runners misunderstanding the science behind creatine, or falling prey to convincing marketing strategies?
In this guide, we’ll discuss creatine for runners, looking specifically at how creatine works, its potential performance benefits, and three of the best creatine for runners products.
- What Is Creatine?
- Why Do Athletes Use Creatine As a Performance-Enhancing Supplement?
- How Much Creatine Do You Need?
- Dietary Sources of Creatine
- Safety of Creatine Supplements for Runners
- Should Runners Take a Creatine Supplement?
- Best Creatine Supplements for Runners
Let’s dive in!
What Is Creatine?
Put simply, creatine is a naturally occurring substance formed by two amino acids: L-arginine and L-glycine. It is stored in our muscles and brain, and helps to deliver responsive energy release in high-intensity situations (like running, weightlifting, etc.).
Creatine is used primarily by our muscle cells to generate quick-acting energy. Research shows that 95% of the creatine in the body is stored in skeletal muscles, with the remaining 5% in the brain.
The human body produces just one gram a day on average. A balanced diet without creatine supplements then provides another gram per day.
High-intensity activity, such as running, depletes our creatine stores at a faster rate than we can replace it – which is where creatine supplements come in.
Why Do Athletes Use Creatine As a Performance-Enhancing Supplement?
As an athletic supplement, creatine is primarily used to help build muscle and fuel resistance training workouts or high-intensity exercise.
This is because creatine provides the substrate (the substance on which enzymes act) for the most rapid energy-production pathway in the body.
The scientific reasoning is as follows:
By ensuring an ample supply of readily-available creatine in the muscles, ATP (cellular energy) can be generated more rapidly via the phosphocreatine pathway by preventing any delay for more creatine to be synthesized or shuttled to the muscles for use.
This increases the rate and quantity of energy production, enabling athletes to work harder and perform better during strength or power exercises – ultimately leading to faster gains and improvements.
How Much Creatine Do You Need?
Unlike nutrients such as calcium and potassium, there isn’t a specific Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for creatine.
Your creatine needs depend on your activity level.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) reports that larger athletes who train vigorously and intensely may need 5-10 grams of creatine per day, while smaller people and sedentary individuals will need considerably less.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition’s position on the use of creatine supplementation for exercise performance states the following:
“Consuming approximately 0.3 grams/kg/day of creatine monohydrate for at least 3 days and then following this with 3–5 g/day thereafter is the quickest method of increasing and maintaining muscle creatine stores.“
Power athletes have the highest demand, as they are more likely to use up their stores of creatine daily. Additionally, individuals with certain muscular disorders, such as muscular dystrophy, may have even higher needs.
It can also be difficult for vegetarians and vegans to consume enough creatine directly in the diet since it is mainly found in animal protein.
However, consuming an adequate amount of foods containing methionine, arginine, and glycine can supply the body with the building blocks to synthesize creatine.
Dietary Sources of Creatine
Creatine can be obtained in the diet through certain foods that contain creatine, such as red meat, poultry, pork, and fish. Since creatine is found predominantly in muscle fibers, nearly every dietary source of creatine is some form of animal protein.
However, creatine can also be synthesized in the liver from its constituent amino acids: methionine, arginine, and glycine, and there are many vegan and vegetarian sources of these amino acids.
Vegetarian sources of methionine include eggs, milk, and ricotta cheese, while vegan sources include tofu, brazil nuts, white beans, and quinoa.
Arginine can be obtained from dairy products, or plant-based foods like pumpkin seeds, sesame, walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, beans, peas, and seaweed.
Finally, vegetarian sources of glycine include milk, cheese, and other dairy products, while vegan sources include sesame seeds, pumpkin, pistachio, spirulina, seaweed, watercress, and spinach.
Alternatively, creatine can be ingested as a supplement. Studies indicate that non-meat eaters tend to have less creatine stored in their muscles. Research thus proposes that creatine supplementation may be of particular use for vegan athletes.
Benefits of Creatine for Runners and Athletes
Is creatine good for runners? According to research studies, the following are the reported performance benefits of creatine for athletes of different sports:
- Boosting high-intensity exercise performance, particularly in HIIT workouts
- Increasing muscular strength and power
- Increasing muscle mass
- Decreasing muscle soreness after workouts
- Expediting muscle recovery
- Augmenting the effects of resistance training on strength and muscle mass
- Reducing muscle cramping
- Reducing fatigue
- Speeding recovery from injury
- Increasing training tolerance
Overall, creatine is primarily used to enhance high-intensity exercise performance (sprinting, jumping, lifting) and build muscle mass.
With that said, there is some evidence that creatine supplements can increase aerobic capacity by shuttling more ATP from the mitochondria to the muscles to ensure continued energy supply and a resultant reduction in fatigue.
Safety of Creatine Supplements for Runners
Although creatine supplements have yet to be cleared by the FDA, they are widely used and generally considered safe.
Creatine supplements are also approved for use by athletes competing under the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
However, at high doses, there is potential for adverse effects to the liver, kidney, or heart, along with side effects such as stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and muscle cramping.
Pregnant runners, and those with kidney disease, hypertension, or diabetes are advised not to take creatine supplements. If you have concerns, it’s a good idea to discuss your situation with your doctor to decide if creatine supplements are a good idea for you.
Should Runners Take Creatine Supplements?
Onto the main question at hand: is creatine good for runners?
Most distance runners and endurance athletes likely don’t need to take a creatine supplement regularly, as creatine is more tailored to rapid, max-effort workouts.
However, if you’re a sprinter, looking to put on mass, or striving for big strength gains in the gym, a creatine supplement has the potential to be beneficial. Creatine may also be beneficial before interval workouts or hill-sprints.
If you eat a lot of red meat or fish, you may be getting enough creatine in your diet; however, vegan and vegetarian runners may have more to gain by taking a creatine supplement.
Studies show that creatine supplementation increased total creatine and phosphocreatine concentrations in muscles, plasma, and red blood cells in vegetarian participants to a greater degree than it did for omnivores.
The same study demonstrated that creatine supplementation increased lean tissue mass, type II fiber area, insulin-like growth factor-1, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and power output on the Wingate test.
These results were particularly significant in vegetarian participants, and to a less significant degree with omnivores.
This isn’t to say that creatine supplementation didn’t improve exercise performance in omnivores. Creatine supplementation improved performance in participants regardless of dietary practices, though it increased body stores more significantly in vegetarians.
The Best Creatine Supplements for Runners
Not all creatine supplements are created equal because they are not well regulated. Some are much higher quality and more effective than others.
When choosing the best supplement of creatine for runners, it’s paramount to look for something as pure as possible – not blended with caffeine, ephedra, or other potentially dangerous substances.
We recommend that you start with just a little creatine and slowly work up to the full dose to see if you find it helpful and compatible with your body.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition Position on the use of creatine supplementation for exercise performance states that creatine monohydrate is the preferred supplementation source of creatine and that the absorption of creatine is enhanced when it is consumed alongside carbohydrates or carbohydrate and protein together.
Here are a few specific creatine supplements we recommend:
#1: Thorne Research Creatine
This creatine supplement is ideal for runners because it is NSF Certified For Sport, which means that it’s gone through rigorous testing with athletes to ensure its safety and efficacy for athletic performance.
Each scoop contains 5 grams of creatine monohydrate, the oft-cited ideal dosage, and is dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free, and best of all, filler-free.
#2: Myprotein Creatine Monohydrate
Myprotein is a leading sports nutrition brand – and for good reason.
This is an ultra-clean, ultra-pure creatine monohydrate powder that is nearly tasteless and dissolves easily in water or your post-run protein shake or smoothie.
Offering over 200 servings per pot, it’s also vegan, gluten-free, and properly regulated. A perfect source of creatine for runners!
#3: Optimum Nutrition Micronized Creatine Monohydrate Powder
Optimum Nutrition is known for its high-quality sports supplements, and this Optimum Nutrition Micronized Creatine Monohydrate Powder is no exception.
The pure creatine monohydrate powder is micronized, which means the particles are made smaller to enhance absorption. It also means the powder dissolves easily, so you don’t have to deal with a chalky taste or texture. A win-win.
What other Supplements Should Runners Take?
Now you know all about creatine for runners – what’s next?