Creatine is a popular supplement in the world of sports, known for its potential to enhance physical performance. This article explores how creatine specifically benefits cyclists, focusing on its impact on speed and endurance. We’ll discuss the science behind creatine, how it works in the body, and its effects on muscle energy during cycling. Whether you’re a competitive cyclist looking to improve your race times or a recreational rider interested in boosting your cycling performance, understanding how creatine can help you cycle faster is valuable information for anyone looking to enhance their riding capabilities through supplementation.
1. What is creatine and how does it work?
Creatine is a natural substance that turns into creatine phosphate in the body. Creatine phosphate helps make a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP provides the energy for muscle contractions. The body produces some of the creatine it uses. It also comes from protein-rich foods such as meat or fish.
Taking creatine as a supplement is very popular among athletes and bodybuilders in order to gain muscle, enhance strength and improve exercise performance. Chemically speaking, it shares many similarities with amino acids. Your body can produce it from the amino acids glycine and arginine. Several factors affect your body’s creatine stores, including meat intake, exercise, amount of muscle mass and levels of hormones like testosterone and insulin.
Creatine is a substance that is found naturally in muscle cells. It helps your muscles produce energy during heavy lifting or high-intensity exercise. Taking creatine as a supplement is very popular among athletes and bodybuilders in order to gain muscle, enhance strength and improve exercise performance.
2. How does creatine improve cycling performance?
Creatine supplementation works by increasing the availability of creatine and phosphocreatine (PCr) within the muscle, helping to maintain energy during high-intensity exercise such as cycling. Increasing the availability of PCr may help speed up recovery between sprints, effectively reducing fatigue and enhancing performance.
Creatine supplements increase your muscles’ phosphocreatine stores. Phosphocreatine aids the formation of new ATP, the key molecule your cells use for energy and all basic life functions. During exercise, ATP is broken down to produce energy. The rate of ATP resynthesis limits your ability to continually perform at maximum intensity, as you use ATP faster than you reproduce it. Creatine supplements increase your phosphocreatine stores, allowing you to produce more ATP energy to fuel your muscles during high-intensity exercise.
This is a crucial factor in the world of exercise performance. Supplements can increase phosphocreatine stores in your brain to help it produce more ATP. ATP is a key molecule in cellular function and communication.
3. What is the recommended dosage of creatine for cyclists?
The standard method for taking creatine is to load it for 5–7 days. During this phase, you consume a relatively large amount of creatine in a short period to rapidly saturate your muscles. For example, a common approach is to take 20 grams of creatine daily for 5–7 days. This is often split into 4 doses throughout the day.
After the loading phase, you move on to the maintenance phase, where you consume 3–5 grams per day to maintain high levels within your muscles. As there is a ceiling effect — your muscles can only store so much creatine — there’s no benefit to taking more than your body can use.
The rapid loading method is not the only way to take creatine. You can also do it more gradually. For example, if you choose not to do the loading phase, you can simply consume 3–5 grams per day. However, it may take 3–4 weeks to maximize your stores.
4. Can creatine cause dehydration and cramps in cyclists?
One common concern about creatine supplementation is that it can cause dehydration, especially during long cycling rides. However, research does not support this. In fact, studies suggest that creatine may reduce cramping and dehydration during endurance exercise in high heat.
Creatine pulls water into your muscle cells, which increases protein synthesis. While it’s true that creatine can cause water retention, this appears to be a local effect within the muscle cell itself. There is no evidence that creatine causes water retention in any other areas of the body.
The belief that creatine leads to dehydration and cramps was based on the theory that creatine might cause water retention and lead to dehydration, particularly if you’re exercising in the heat. However, these ideas have not been supported by scientific research.
5. Does creatine supplementation have any side effects?
Creatine is one of the most thoroughly researched supplements available, and studies lasting up to four years reveal no negative effects. One of the most comprehensive studies measured 52 blood markers and observed no adverse effects following 21 months of supplementing.
In terms of kidney damage, one study followed people who had been taking creatine for 5–10 years and found no evidence of kidney damage. Furthermore, a thorough review of the scientific literature revealed several cases of people with pre-existing kidney disease who experienced kidney failure after taking creatine. However, there is no evidence that the creatine caused the kidney damage.
While creatine is well tolerated by most people, it may cause stomach pain, nausea, diarrhoea, and muscle cramping. Some people also report experiencing anxiety, breathing difficulty, rash, fatigue and headache.
6. How long does it take for creatine to improve cycling performance?
The effects of creatine supplementation on exercise performance are highly individual and can depend on a number of factors, including the individual’s diet, fitness level, age, and the type of exercise performed. However, research suggests that benefits may be seen within a week of starting supplementation.
One study found that creatine supplementation improved cycling performance after just five days. Another study found that creatine improved performance in high-intensity cycling sprints after just two days. However, it’s important to note that these improvements were seen in conjunction with a loading phase, where higher doses of creatine were consumed for a short period.
7. Can vegetarians and vegans benefit from creatine supplementation?
Vegetarians and vegans can benefit greatly from supplementing with creatine. This is because creatine is not found in any plant foods, so vegetarians and vegans can only get it from supplements.
In one study, vegetarians who were supplemented with creatine saw an improvement of 50% in a memory test and 20% in intelligence test scores. Creatine can also benefit vegetarians and vegans by increasing their levels of phosphocreatine, potentially improving their health and exercise performance.
8. Does creatine supplementation benefit older cyclists?
Creatine supplementation can benefit older cyclists. As we age, our muscles lose strength and size, a condition known as sarcopenia. This can affect our ability to perform daily tasks and can lead to increased risk of falls and fractures. Creatine supplementation, combined with resistance training, can help counteract these effects. And there are clear links between ageing and the effect on a cyclist’s FTP too.
In one study, older adults who were supplemented with creatine while following a resistance-training programme showed greater increases in muscle mass and strength compared to those who just followed the training programme. Another study found that creatine improved upper body strength and lower body strength in older adults.
Creatine supplementation can also improve bone density in older adults, reducing the risk of fractures. In a study of postmenopausal women, those who took creatine while following a resistance training programme had greater increases in bone density compared to those who just followed the training programme.