Does Creatine Help With Cardio & Running? 8 Studies Analyzed

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Creatine is arguably the most popular supplement for improving high-intensity exercise performance (such as weight training), but is it beneficial for runners and endurance athletes? I dug into the current research to find out.

Key Takeaways

  • Research suggests that creatine supplementation (often done as a loading phase of 20 grams daily for up to a week) improves high-intensity cardiovascular performance (typically sprints in the 10-30-second range) in runners, swimmers, and cyclists.
  • More research on creatine for low-intensity cardio performance is needed; however, creatine serves as a buffer for hydrogen ions and can limit the ‘burning’ muscle sensation, which can help delay fatigue.
  • Creatine may boost the final sprint performance following a long endurance-based race, giving competitors a slight edge at the end of a long run or cycling race, thanks to its ability to speed up energy production during high-intensity physical activity.

What Does Creatine Do?

Creatine is a natural substance produced in the body to support energy production. The primary benefit of creatine is that it increases the available adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

ATP is a molecule that serves as the primary energy source for all cells in the body.

When your body burns through the available ATP, your muscles no longer have the energy to contract, forcing you to fatigue to the point where you must take a break to replenish your energy.

Your body produces a limited amount of creatine, so supplementation is required to saturate creatine stores in your muscles to maximize performance benefits.

By boosting ATP availability through creatine supplementation, you can train at higher intensities for longer and recover more quickly between bouts of exercise and individual workouts.

Creatine supplementation has proven beneficial for fueling high-intensity activities like weight training and sprinting that require energy more quickly; however, its effects on carry-over lower-intensity activities like running are up for debate.

Do Runners Use Creatine?

While writing this article, I contacted endurance athletes and consulted Reddit forums to see if runners use creatine for endurance performance. 

Some runners supplement with creatine, whereas others are strictly against using creatine due to the fear of weight gain from water retention.

Here is what Taren Gesell, a triathlon athlete, had to say when I interviewed him:

“Research on creatine supplementation for endurance athletes has been very limited.

Dr. Scott Forbes has done research showing that creatine can help performance in short burst endurance performance, which we can speculate may then transfer to improved performance at longer distances. Unfortunately, creatine’s effect on long-distance endurance has yet to be studied. 

The flip side of creatine’s effect on endurance performance is that creatine supplementation causes weight gain, which has a direct negative effect on endurance performance. 

Something athletes may want to test to see how it works for themselves is supplementing with creatine during the offseason and base-building season when weight gain is not a concern.

During this time athletes may experience higher peak effort performances, which theoretically may transfer to improved performances in the race season even after the athlete has cycled off the creatine and lost the additional weight. 

However, all of this is speculation and has yet to be proven in large, well-designed studies.”

Studies on Creatine & Cardio Performance

As you can see, opinions on creatine and cardio are mixed, so let’s break down the research to get the facts straight.

Fukuda et al., 2010

Study: The effects of creatine loading and gender on anaerobic running capacity

The study aimed to determine the impact of gender and creatine loading for five days on running capacity. It included 50 moderately trained men and women who completed a cardio test before and after supplementation to see if there was a difference in their performance.

All participants did a three-day cardio test. The first day was a VO2 max test on a treadmill to measure their cardio capacity. Days two and three were treadmill tests at various percentages of the established VO2 max.

The subjects were split into two groups and received 20 grams of creatine daily (four packets with five grams of creatine citrate) or a placebo. 

Following a five-day loading phase, all participants completed the same three-day test.

Findings: According to their findings, the men loading creatine saw a 23% increase in cardio running capacity compared to the placebo. The women didn’t see any improvements in their aerobic capacity.

The paper’s authors noted that creatine loading may be an effective tactic for athletes to see an almost immediate boost in performance, such as before a competition.

Birch et al., 1994

Study: The influence of dietary creatine supplementation on performance during repeated bouts of maximal isokinetic cycling in man

This study examined the impact of creatine supplementation on performance during three 30-second cycling intervals at maximum intensity. The subjects took 20 grams of creatine daily for five days, split into four doses of five grams or a placebo.

Findings: The placebo group didn’t see any improvements in peak power output or total work done during the three trials. 

However, creatine supplementation significantly increased power and total work in the first two trials, with no difference during the third interval, indicating that creatine benefits more intense cardio activities, but its effects appear to diminish.

Interestingly, the researchers noted that, following the creatine loading phase, the subjects saw less plasma ammonia accumulation (a metabolic waste product) despite doing more work during the first two intervals.

These results led the authors to speculate that creatine may improve the efficiency with which the body produces and breaks down ATP during intense training, leading to less ammonia. Lower ammonia levels could delay muscle fatigue and contribute to better performance.

Barber et al., 2013

Study: Effects of combined creatine and sodium bicarbonate supplementation on repeated sprint performance in trained men

This study examined the impact of creatine monohydrate and sodium bicarbonate on high-intensity exercise performance. The subjects were 13 healthy and trained men in their early twenties.

Each participant completed three conditions:

  • Placebo: 20 grams + 0.5 grams/kg maltodextrin (a fast-digesting carb)
  • Creatine: 20 grams creatine + 0.5 grams/kg maltodextrin
  • Creatine + Sodium Bicarbonate: 20 grams of creatine + 0.5 grams/kg sodium bicarbonate

Each condition included two days of supplementation followed by a three-week pause. 

The researchers measured power and bicarbonate concentrations during six 10-second cycling sprints, with a minute of recovery between bouts.

Findings: Sodium bicarbonate levels were higher in the third condition. Peak power was higher in the creatine and creatine + sodium bicarbonate conditions compared to placebo by 4 and 7%, respectively.

There was a noticeable performance decline in the last three sprints in the placebo and creatine groups. In comparison, performance declined in the final sprint (6/6) in the creatine + bicarbonate condition.

In other words, creatine had a modest positive impact on power and work output during 10-second sprints. However, the subjects’ performance dropped in the second half of the test.

Combining creatine and sodium bicarbonate had the most substantial positive impact, and subjects only saw a decrease in performance during the last 10-second interval.

Grindstaff et al., 1997

Study: Effects of creatine supplementation on repetitive sprint performance and body composition in competitive swimmers

This paper studied the impact of creatine supplementation on swimmers’ sprint performance and body composition. The subjects were 18 junior competitive swimmers given 21 grams of creatine or a placebo daily for nine days during their training. 

Before and after supplementation, the participants completed three freestyle 100-meter sprint swims with a minute recovery between the bouts.

Findings: Those taking creatine swam significantly faster during the first and second 100-meter swim sprints. These findings about creatine’s potentially diminishing effects are similar to those observed in the previous study.

The authors also observed that the swimmers taking creatine completed all three sprints quicker than the placebo group, noting that supplementation may benefit sprint performance.

Glaister et al., 2006

Study: Creatine supplementation and multiple sprint running performance

This experiment studied the impact of creatine monohydrate supplementation on running performance (sprints) during multiple intervals. The subjects, 42 physically active men, completed three sprint trials, each consisting of 15 30-meter sprints done every 35 seconds. 

Following the first two trials, the subjects were assigned to one of two groups:

  • Creatine: 20 grams of creatine and one gram of maltodextrin for five days
  • Placebo: 24 grams of maltodextrin for five days

Findings: Compared to placebo, the creatine loading phase resulted in an average increase in body weight of 0.7%. Interestingly, the same subjects also lost 0.4% body fat.

The weight increase is expected because creatine pulls extra water into the muscle cells, especially with a loading phase (20g/day). 

Note: Weight gain due to water retention would be much lower with a standard dose (5g/day) than with a loading phase. 

As for performance, researchers didn’t find significant differences in the fastest sprint times, fatigue, or blood lactate concentration (an indicator of muscle fatigue) between the creatine and placebo groups.

Barnett et al., 1996

Study: Effects of oral creatine supplementation on multiple sprint cycle performance

The study examined the impact of creatine monohydrate supplementation on 10-second cycling sprint performance (stationary bike) in 17 active men in their late teens and early twenties. 

Participants completed a VO2 peak test to determine their highest value of oxygen consumption during intense exercise. Researchers likely opted for the VO2 peak test instead of a VO2 max because it’s easier to attain, especially in people not accustomed to that much training stress.

Subjects then completed a series of seven 10-second sprints and were divided into placebo and creatine groups, both supplement conditions lasting for four days. 

The placebo group received ten grams of glucose four times per day, and the creatine group was given the equivalent of a standard loading dose (approximately 20 grams for a 70-kilogram person).

All participants did the sprints and VO2peak test again, taking 30 seconds of rest between sprints, except for the fifth and sixth sprints, which were separated by five minutes of rest.

Findings: Researchers didn’t find significant performance differences between the two groups. Measures of excess post-sprint oxygen consumption, blood lactate, and blood pH (acidity) also remained similar between the groups.

The conclusion was that the creatine loading protocol was ineffective or the creatine itself could not boost sprint performance.

Okudan and Gokbel, 2005

Study: The effects of creatine supplementation on performance during repeated bouts of supramaximal exercise

The study examined the impact of creatine supplementation on high-intensity cardio performance in 23 untrained young men. Subjects were split into a creatine and placebo group and had to complete a Wingate test five times.

For the Wingate test, subjects hopped on a stationary bike and cycled as hard as possible for 30 seconds. The resistance was 90 grams per kilogram, and subjects took two-minute breaks between intervals.

Subjects then took 20 grams of creatine daily or a flavored drink (placebo) for six days before repeating the Wingate tests on the seventh day.

Researchers measured peak power, fatigue, and lactate levels from capillary blood samples right after the tests.

Results showed that peak power increased significantly for the creatine group in the third and fourth Wingate tests. Additionally, perceived fatigue was higher during the first two tests in the placebo group.

This study suggests that less than a week of creatine loading (20g per day) can favor high-intensity performance.

Nemezio et al., 2015

Study: Effect of Creatine Loading on Oxygen Uptake during a 1-km Cycling Time Trial

Researchers examined the effects of creatine supplementation on oxygen consumption during a one-kilometer cycle timed trial. The subjects were 19 amateur cyclists put in a creatine or placebo group.

All the subjects did a one-kilometer timed trial before supplementation and were given creatine (20 grams for the first five days, then five grams for another five days) or a placebo.

Findings: Participants in the creatine group gained body weight, as expected. However, what’s more interesting is that creatine loading led to a decrease in VO2 max and a shift toward anaerobic energy production (which occurs without oxygen).

This shift led to a decrease in total oxygen uptake and an increase in oxygen deficiency for the creatine group but not for the placebo.

The time it took all participants to complete the one-kilometer trial was the same before and after the supplementation protocol. These results suggest that while creatine may have impacted VO2 max, it made up for that by boosting the body’s production of ATP molecules without oxygen.

Creatine Benefits Beyond Energy Supply

creatine benefits beyond energy supply

Creatine’s ability to support quick ATP production is the primary reason it’s been shown to be beneficial for high-intensity activities, including sprinting and weight training. However, it may offer additional benefits for endurance training:

Hydrogen Buffering

As we work out and the body breaks down ATP molecules (up to 1,000 times faster than at rest), it generates hydrogen ions.

When these ions accumulate in the working muscles, acidity increases, leading to the familiar burning sensation that leads to fatigue and muscle weakness.

Interestingly, as phosphocreatine (the primary form of creatine found in the body) donates its phosphate to generate new ATP molecules, a hydrogen ion gets consumed.

This means the body can generate energy for exercise, limit hydrogen ion build-up, and delay muscle fatigue thanks to creatine. 

Hydrogen ion accumulation is likely responsible for the higher perceived fatigue during Wingate tests (max-effort cycling test) in the placebo group compared to the creatine group in the Okudan and Gokbel (2005) study we reviewed above.

So, in addition to helping generate energy to fuel performance, creatine acts as a buffer, slowing down the drop in muscle pH and allowing us to train harder and for longer.

It’s worth noting that such effects would typically be more beneficial for endurance performance, given that muscle fatigue and burning sensations can limit power output or cause you to stop for a break.

Final Sprint Performance

Some research on triathletes suggests that creatine improves anaerobic performance (sprints) by 18% without impairing endurance performance or affecting oxygen uptake (which is different from what Nemezio et al. found).

These findings would be highly beneficial during races, allowing athletes to perform better during the final stretch. Even if it doesn’t have a noticeable positive impact on endurance performance, the extra push near the end could make a massive difference in your timing and placement.

Unfortunately, we don’t have much research on creatine’s impact on final sprint performance, which means this is more of a hypothesis.

Exercise in the Heat

A well-executed study compared creatine supplementation and placebo on exercise performance, peak power, blood pressure, core body temperature, and perceived level of exertion during and after 35 minutes of exercise in the heat (37°C or 98.6°F and 80% relative humidity).

The participants took 0.3 grams of creatine per kilogram of body weight daily for a week or a placebo. Testing involved 30 minutes of cycling at 60-70% of their VO2 and three 10-second sprints immediately afterward. 

Peak power during the sprints was significantly higher in the creatine group, with all other measures being identical.

Research from Wright et al., Weiss and Powers, and Lopez et al. suggests that creatine supplementation doesn’t impair thermoregulation and could improve sprint performance in the heat.

These findings led researchers to consider creatine “a highly effective hyper-hydrating strategy to help athletes better tolerate exercise in the heat.”

Dosage and Timing for Cardio Athletes

Creatine supplementation can occur at any time of day, as research has shown that timing doesn’t make a difference. However, consistency is important to ensure that muscle creatine stores are saturated. 

For this reason, you should take creatine daily. You can take a standard dose of three to five grams daily and boost muscle creatine levels within four weeks

Alternatively, you can do a loading phase as shown in some of the above studies (typically 20 grams daily for five days), then move on to a maintenance dose of three to five grams. 

A loading phase would lead to quicker muscle saturation and help bring on the benefits sooner. It is also more likely to increase water retention, leading to temporary weight gain.

Creatine and Hydration

Creatine is an osmotic substance, meaning that as creatine levels in the body rise, water retention also increases, leading to temporary weight gain.

It’s crucial to note that approximately 95% of the creatine in the body is stored in our muscles, which means that creatine pulls circulating water into your muscles and increases water retention.

Because of that, drinking more water when supplementing with creatine is recommended to avoid dehydration. The exact amount of water to drink is unclear, but you can follow the general recommendations of 3.7 liters for men and 2.7 liters for women.

How this may impact fluid balance during cardio sessions (especially longer sessions) is unclear, as there aren’t many scientific findings on that aspect of workout performance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will creatine cause water retention that could affect cardio performance?

Creatine can lead to water retention inside muscle cells, meaning that water is pulled from circulation to the muscles, so it’s essential to stay hydrated by drinking enough water (3.7 liters for men and 2.7 liters for women) to reduce dehydration risk.

Can creatine lead to cramping during long-distance events?

There’s no solid evidence to suggest that creatine leads to cramping, though we need more research examining its overall impact during long-distance events. In any case, any cramps that do occur could be due to dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance.


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About The Author

Philip Stefanov

Philip Stefanov is a certified conditioning coach, personal trainer, and fitness instructor. With more than nine years of experience in the industry, he’s helped hundreds of clients improve their nutritional habits, become more consistent with exercise, lose weight in a sustainable way, and build muscle through strength training. He is passionate about writing and has published more than 500 articles on various topics related to healthy nutrition, dieting, calorie and macronutrient tracking, meal planning, fitness and health supplementation, best training practices, and muscle recovery.

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