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Should Triathletes Take Creatine?



Creatine is generating quite the buzz on social media these days, and it happens to be one of the few supplements I recommend to athletes. While its effects on performance aren't as miraculous as some claim, creatine does have solid research backing, making it a worthy consideration for athletes striving to optimize their training and performance.


So, what exactly is creatine? It's a natural compound synthesized from three amino acids within the body, also found in select foods like red meat and fish. However, the creatine content in these foods is relatively small; you'd need 3.5 lbs of cod to get 5 grams of creatine.


Creatine exists in our muscles as 'free' creatine or as phosphocreatine, playing a crucial role in facilitating exercise and movement. Phosphocreatine replenishes ATP levels in muscles, often termed the cellular 'energy currency'. While ATP depletion occurs during muscle contractions in physical activity, the body's ability to generate ATP from fuel sources like carbohydrates and fats is relatively slow. Phosphocreatine acts as a rapid energy reservoir, enabling the swift restoration of ATP and sustaining high-intensity exercise. Despite being present in limited quantities in the body, creatine can fuel roughly 10 seconds of high-intensity activity.


Supplementing with creatine can elevate the body's creatine levels by up to 30%. Amidst various forms flooding the market, the simplest and most extensively studied variant is creatine monohydrate, also the most cost-effective, as other forms like creatine ethyl ester or creatine hydrochloride haven't proven superior in efficacy.


The recommended creatine dosage typically ranges from 3 to 5 grams per day. While early studies often employed 'loading phases' of 20 to 30 grams per day to rapidly saturate stores, smaller doses are equally effective, albeit requiring more time to accumulate in the body and manifest their effects.


It's crucial to be aware of potential side effects. The most common is weight gain due to water retention in muscles, typically ranging from 1 to 3 kilograms (2-7 pounds). While some may experience mild stomach discomfort with large doses, serious side effects like increased injury risk, dehydration, kidney dysfunction, or severe stomach upset aren't supported by research.


In a recent webinar by My Sport Science Academy, Scott Forbes, PhD, summarized potential ways creatine can enhance performance, including increasing phosphocreatine in muscles, boosting glycogen storage, enhancing anaerobic threshold, and preserving fast-twitch muscle fibers.




Creatine's benefits extend to intermittent high-intensity sports like soccer, football, or basketball, improving measures such as repeated sprint speed and jump height. When combined with resistance training, creatine can further enhance muscle strength and mass.


Not every study on creatine and endurance performance has shown benefits, indicating a need for more research. However, in situations requiring higher power output or speed, such as a sprint finish or climb during a race, increased creatine stores may prove beneficial.



Creatine can be particularly advantageous for masters athletes, countering age-related muscle loss known as sarcopenia. Research suggests creatine can increase lean body mass and enhance overall muscle function, especially when combined with consistent strength training. Dr. Darren Candow showed the following slide in his summary of creatine supplementation and aging in the creatine webinar by My Sports Science Academy:




In conclusion, creatine may offer advantages in certain aspects of triathlon performance, particularly in strength and high-intensity workouts, potentially leading to increased speed in a sprint for the finish line. While concerns about weight gain may arise, trying creatine for a few months is the best way to determine its impact on individual performance.


Need help with nutrition? Cindy Dallow, PhD, RD, can get you on the right track! Schedule a Discovery Call with her today!

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