Creatine is often overlooked by endurance athletes. But combining the supplement with carbohydrates might just be the winning combination for late-stage breakaway moments during competition.
Because of the heavy physical demands of training and competition, athletes are always on the lookout for nutritional strategies that will increase the pool of energy-giving substrates in their muscles. Carb loading is a popular strategy for endurance athletes seeking to maximize carbohydrate availability through increased muscle glycogen stores. Sprinters and strength athletes generally prefer creatine to increase stores of high-energy phosphate in muscles to drive power and speed.
Now a new study by researchers at Australia Catholic University builds on evidence that creatine loading (20 grams per day) combined with a moderate-carbohydrate diet can lead to substantial increase in muscle glycogen as compared to carbohydrate alone.
These researchers measured a 53 percent greater content of stored carbohydrate as glycogen that could mean potentially huge gains for endurance athletes. Creatine’s effects are thought to be due to an increase in muscle cell size due to water retention. It might also be due to an upregulation of muscle glycogen and muscle protein synthesis.
Study in Cyclists and Triathletes
For these reasons, their new study sought to evaluate whether a combination of creatine with carbohydrates could lead to actual performance gains in endurance athletes. They took 18 male cyclists and triathletes with two years of racing history and loaded them with either creatine (20 grams for five days plus 3 grams for nine days) or a placebo and then had them complete a series of performance trials.
As a part of the crossover design of carbohydrate interventions in the study, the subjects also consumed diets that were either moderately high in carbohydrate (6 grams per kilogram body mass per day) or high in carbohydrate (carb loaded: 12 grams per kilogram body mass).
The performance trials were comprised of 120 kilometers of time-trial cycling bouts. Those bouts were interspersed with alternating 1- and 4-kilometer sprints. There were about six sprints in total, which occurred about every 10 kilometers followed by an inclined ride to fatigue.
While the researchers saw no significant differences in overall time trial times observed in each of the groups, the study did find that creatine did lead to greater power in both the moderate and carb-loaded groups as compared to baseline. The creatine plus carbohydrate loaded group also had greater muscle glycogen stores in comparison to the placebo plus carb-loaded group
Better Performance Despite Glycogen Weight
Regarding the study’s findings, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sport and Exercise, the researchers wrote that theirs was the first reported data showing “significantly greater power output during repeated high intensity efforts” occurring during late-stage sprints in a simulated 120 kilometer time trial “when cyclists combined creatine and carbohydrate loading.”
A commonly raised concern from athletes surrounding creatine and carb-loading is that the extra weight from increased glycogen stores might slow them down. But the researchers report that, while creatine and carbs did lead to some increases in body weight, the athletes had better endurance during sprints and hill climbs.
“As cycling and running events are often won by the athlete who can either stay with the leading pack during breakaways or sprint to the finish line in the latter stages of a race,” the Australian researchers explained, “it is likely that the higher power outputs observed during these late intense sprints would have a major impact on the final outcome of such races.”
Tomcik KA1, Camera DM, Bone JL, Ross ML, Jeacocke NA, Tachtsis B, Senden J, van Loon LJC, Hawley JA, Burke LM. Effects of creatine and carbohydrate loading on cycling time trial performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2017 Aug 11. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001401. [Epub ahead of print]