Creatine for Endurance: The Scientific Research on Performance Benefits

Written by: Brilliant Staff

Fact checked by: SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD

Creatine for Endurance: The Scientific Research on Performance Benefits

If your primary fitness goals center around endurance activities like running, swimming, and cycling, you may wonder if supplementing with creatine could provide additional performance benefits. Or is creatine primarily limited to strength sports?

Emerging research suggests creatine may enhance aspects of endurance capacity, too. Let's analyze the science to see if it is a fit for you.

How Creatine Works

First, what exactly is creatine? 

Creatine is an amino acid compound made in the body to help supply energy via adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production. You can get creatine not only from supplements but also from food. Such food sources include meat and fish. Many athletes choose to use creatine powder supplements to increase the natural stores held mainly in muscle tissue further.

By boosting available energy reserves, creatine can directly enhance high-intensity exercise capacity in cases where ATP is burned through quickly — like weight lifting. However, applications for endurance seem less clear-cut.

Direct Endurance Research

While less robust than the strength research, initial evidence suggests creatine may benefit specific markers of endurance capacity:

  • Enhancing the lactate threshold allows more prolonged bouts of exercise before lactic acid builds up to fatigue muscles.
  • It can potentially stimulate endurance adaptations via pathways like mitochondrial biogenesis.

However, effects seem most pronounced for intermittent, variable-intensity activities that leverage aerobic and anaerobic pathways over purely steady-state endurance pursuits.

Additional Aid for Endurance Athletes

Beyond direct endurance impacts, creatine has the potential to provide help with other critical athletic factors:

  • Muscle Recovery: It can help reduce cell inflammation and soreness due to exercise.
  • Injury Prevention and Recovery: It may support strength and resilience in tendons and ligaments.
  • Cognitive Performance: This may help optimize mood and cognition.
  • Weight Management: When combined with exercise and a healthy diet, creatine can increase lean mass and reduce fat mass percentage.

While creatine seems less effective for exclusively low-intensity or ultra-endurance endeavors, many active individuals may benefit from these peripheral effects. 

Potential Downsides

Numerous studies indicate that creatine may not be helpful for endurance sports. There is some evidence that creatine supplementation may negatively impact VO2 max — the maximum rate of oxygen consumption during cardiovascular exercises like running or cycling.

Creatine also increases water retention and muscle cramping risk if hydration and electrolytes are not adequately maintained around training sessions.

Creatine for endurance sports likely depends on your specific goals and event demands. Further individual trial and error is warranted. A registered dietitian who is also a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) can provide personalized advice about optimizing endurance sports performance using nutrition and dietary supplements.

Optimizing Use and Safety

You can follow a standard creatine loading protocol. This involves taking around 20 grams daily for five to seven days to saturate cells and then three to five grams daily as a maintenance dose. Be vigilant with hydration and watch for potential side effects.

Keep in mind that optimizing your endurance still comes down to balanced training focused on progressively building work capacity. In some sports, creatine may provide that extra push at critical intensities. However, you should consult a sports dietitian to see if it’s right for you.


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