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Raising the Threshold | Muscle & Body Magazine

Creatine monohydrate just may be a magic bullet for endurance athletes.

I often recommend creatine in this publication for its ability to help increase and sustain muscle energy levels during high-intensity training, and for its ability to accelerate the recovery process between workouts. But I have not suggested creatine to be used by endurance athletes, as there has not been a lot of research supporting it. That is, until now.

Recently, The International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism published a study in which researchers gave orally administered doses of creatine monohydrate to 13 endurance athletes in an attempt to determine its effects on blood lactate (lactic acid found in the blood) during incremental cycling. The findings suggest that, “creatine supplementation decreases lactate during [endurance activity] and tends to raise lactate threshold.”

This is great news for any endurance athlete. Here’s why.

Understanding The Burn

High-intensity exercise such as resistance training requires a tremendous amount of energy to complete an activity—so much energy, in fact, that the body cannot deliver enough oxygen to the muscles, because it simply cannot keep up. In order to compensate for depleting oxygen levels, the body undergoes a process called glycolysis, in which carbohydrates (glucose) are broken down to produce energy.

The body produces lactic acid when it exerts itself to a point of certain stress determined by one’s level of endurance. Lactic acid is responsible for glucose and glycogen production in the liver, but too much of it can slow down the body’s ability to recover quickly in between sets, and can place stress on the liver, because it cannot metabolize the amount of lactate being produced—a condition known as lactic acidosis.

Lactic acid is not fully to blame for the muscular “burn” you experience on that last rep; it’s actually a hydrogen ion causing the trouble. Lactic acid splits into two forms: hydrogen ion and lactate. The hydrogen ion is not only responsible for muscle burn, but it also disrupts electrical signals in both the body’s nerve and muscle tissue.

During exercise, lactic acid releases lactate into the bloodstream, acting as a buffering agent to neutralize acid (hydrogen ions) built up during high-intensity exercise. If the body experiences too much exertion, more acid rapidly produces, and its ability to neutralize this acid becomes overwhelmed. An athlete’s lactic threshold is determined by how long he/she can sustain high-endurance activity before succumbing to muscle fatigue—the “burn.” The faster the body can buffer lactic acid, the greater the lactate threshold will be, meaning an athlete can potentially elevate his/her athletic ability—which brings us back to the study.

A Powerful Combo

Thirteen male subjects were used to determine if creatine could raise lactic threshold. Each subject was asked to perform a “maximal, incremental cycling test to exhaustion before and after six doses of creatine supplementation (four doses of 5 g of creatine plus 15 g of glucose).” At the end of each exercise stage, blood lactate was measured to determine the lactate threshold.

The findings were quite remarkable: The researchers found that creatine did, in fact, allow these cyclists to endure more stress from exertion, thus raising their lactate threshold, thereby enhancing their athletic performance.

According to the study, the traditional loading of creatine monohydrate is by oral ingestion of 20–30 g per day for five to seven days. This has been known to “increase muscle stores of creatine and phosphocreatine, and decrease recovery time of phosphocreatine resynthesis [sic].”

However, it now appears that four doses of 5 g of creatine plus 15 g of glucose for six days is appropriate, according to the published report. The results “demonstrated that the buffering of cellular energy needs by increasing the availability of phosphocreatine through creatine supplementation is a possible mechanism that might allow for decreased reliance on glycolysis and subsequent decrease in lactate production at each stage of incremental exercise observed.” (You will remember that phosphocreatine is responsible for saving energy and using it during muscular contraction.) The researchers also report that creatine supplementation could have application to all endurance athletes, not just “those racing in more tactical-style events with surges and accelerations (like cycling).” However, more “research is needed to determine if these mechanisms differ and how they may best benefit the individual athlete.”

Smart Supplementation

To recap, creatine monohydrate has proven itself again, as it has already been shown to strengthen bones and alleviate symptoms of osteoporosis (as I’ve discussed previously), while increasing and sustaining muscle energy levels during high-intensity training, as well as accelerating recovery between workouts. Despite its benefits to athletes, I do not recommend creatine to anyone under the age of 18 without parental consent, or to anyone who has not been screened for healthy kidney and liver function.

If you are considering using creatine monohydrate, make sure to find a pharmaceutical-grade product, as all substantial studies on the supplement have been tested on a pharmaceutical level. If you’re interested, read my book “Lean & Hard: The Body You’ve Always Wanted In Just 24 Workouts.” In it, I discuss creatine supplementation in depth, as well as give advice on diet and exercise.

via Raising the Threshold | Muscle & Body Magazine.