Creatine and Aerobic Performance

Creatine is one of the most popular supplements available. When thinking of its possible benefits, we typically imagine gaining muscle, strength, and overall size. Rarely do we think creatine has the potential to increase cardiovascular or aerobic performance.

Basic Creatine Explanation

After you eat fats, carbs, and proteins, the body must convert these macronutrients into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the body’s energy currency and powers all muscle contractions. During a contraction, the muscle tissue converts ATP into adensoine diphosphate (ADP); one phosphate molecule is removed. The body recycles ADP back into ATP to power further contractions.

Creatine is taken in the form of creatine phosphate. It gives the body a greater supply of phosphate molecules, speeding up ADP to ATP conversion. During short, but intense workouts such as weight lifting or sprints, the body produces small amounts of ATP very quickly. The extra phosphate supply allows the muscle to do more work.

During longer exercise sessions, the body produces much more ATP, but in a much slower process. During long aerobic sessions, the body has ample amounts of ATP, making creatine, at least hypothetically, less beneficial. There is an increasing amount of research on creatine and aerobic performance.

What does the research say on creatine and aerobic performance?

Study 1: Creatine supplementation in endurance sports1

The first study looked at the creatine’s effect on endurance sports performance.  Researchers created a special fitness test to evaluate how triathletes performed with and without creatine. The test examined both endurance and interval performance. The athletes either took six grams of creatine per day or a placebo. Participants took the fitness test before beginning the supplement and again six days later.

Results showed a significant improvement in interval performance (short bouts of exercise) in the group taking the creatine. The results did not show any improvement in endurance performance. Researchers concluded creatine could improve performance of short exercises included in a longer endurance workout, however, creatine was ineffective in improving longer, endurance performance.

Study 2: The effects of creatine supplementation on the performance of military fitness tests2

This study examined creatine’s effects on military fitness test performance. These fitness tests are mandatory for military members. They are typically given on an annual or semiannual basis. Though the tests differ between the military branches, they consist of strength (examples: pushups, situps, pullups) and endurance (running 1.5-3 miles) components.

This study included 18 participants. They were split into creatine and placebo groups. The creatine group took 20 grams per day. After eight days of use, subjects tested on muscular strength (maximal lift), muscular endurance (carrying cans of water for a certain distance), 15 kilogram weighted 30 meter sprints, and running. The creatine group performed better on the muscular strength component, however, both groups performed similarly on the endurance, sprint, and running portion. The study concluded creatine improved strength, but not endurance or aerobic fitness.

Study 3: Creatine supplementation nullifies the adverse effect of endurance exercise on the subsequent strength performance3

The final study looked at whether or not creatine neutralized the negative effects aerobic exercise has on strength training. Sixteen females were split into creatine and placebo groups. The creatine group took 20 grams of creatine for five days followed by three grams for seven days. Before beginning the creatine supplement, both groups took a strength test. After 12 days of supplementation, both groups took a running test followed by another strength test.

The results showed no differences on aerobic performance between the two groups, however, the creatine group performed better on the last strength test (following the running test). The results indicate creatine may preserve strength during times of increased aerobic exercise.

The Bottom Line

Of the three studies, none found any direct link between creatine supplementation and increased aerobic performance. While the research on creatine and strength is clear, there does not appear to be much evidence linking creatine and aerobic performance. The last study did find evidence creatine preserved strength after aerobic exercise. There are many benefits in taking creatine including: increased muscle mass, improved strength, and decreased body fat. At this time however, the research does not support taking creatine to improve aerobic performance.

References

  1. Engelhardt, M., & Neumann, G. (1998). Creatine supplementation in endurance sportsMedicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 30(7), 1123-1129.
  2. Williams, S. (2016). The effects of creatine supplementation on the performance of military fitness tests.
  3. Aoki, M. S., & Gomes, R. V. (2004). Creatine Supplementation Attenuates the Adverse Effect of Endurance Exercise on Subsequent Resistance Exercise PerformanceMedicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 36(Supplement).
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