Electrolytes – How to Save a Stack of Money Including Your Health

Without going into a long story here, suffice it to say that cancer has forced me to take a long and hard look at a lot of what I’ve done in the past, and institute many changes in my approach to nutrition and sport supplementation.

In a nutshell, most important amongst these are the dietry exclusion of all processed and added sugars (sucrose, dextrose, fructose, glucose etc), dairy and processed foods (everything in a packet, bottle, box, tablet, capsule or powder), and the almost exclusive inclusion of fresh raw fruit and vegetables, and only cooking fish, meat (no beef unless grass fed, and pork), poultry and eggs – all organic, free range and grass fed!

Back to nature!

This has posed some special sport challenges with regard to event nutrition, and my current solution is to ditch all the energy drinks, bars and gels, and replace them with Liquifruit (It is pure fruit juice with no sugar, preservatives, flavourants or colourants) diluted 1 to 2 with  rainwater or Tsitsikama Crystal bottled water, and organic dates from Woolworths for longer rides.

What remains is to ensure sufficient electrolytes replacement. I am not happy with the commercially available products, as they all contain processed dextrose, and most have flavourants, colourants or preservatives added. Plus they cost a pretty penny!

So here is the solution:-

The following powders can be bought from Natures Own Pharmacy in PE, or ask your local pharmacist/ health shop.

400g Sodium Chloride – Himalayan Salt (best) comes in 1kgs (R45.00)

500g Sodium Bicarbonate – comes in 500g (R29.00)

300g Potassium Chloride – comes in 500g (R50.00)

DO NOT BUY SODIUM BICARBONATE FROM A REGULAR GROCERY STORE AS THESE CONTAIN EXTREMELY HARMFUL ALUMINIUM BASED AGENTS. ONLY USE CERTIFIED PURE PRODUCTS FROM A HEALTH SHOP.

Thorughly mix these powders in the proportions given above, ensuring any lumps are completely broken up.

Put 2.5 to 5.5g (half to one level medicine measure) in your 750ml bottle with diluted Liquifruit (if not fat adapted) or just plain bottled/rain water.

This should give you plenty electrolytes for at least 400 water bottles at a total cost of R125.00, compared to R3600.00 for the equivalent in “Rehidrat” which retails at around R9.00 per sachet (all prices at time of writing)!

Of course you may only need to worry about taking in extra electrolytes during sessions that exceed 1.5hrs, however I think it is always good to  include these in the recovery drink/meal afterwards.

I also intend buying some empty capsules to fill with this elecrolyte mixture for use on long runs…

One important note is to also supplement magnesium. Our food is today grown in such organically depleted soils, that most of us are severly deficient in it. Recommend you take 400mg of elemental magnesium spread out over the day in a slow release form such as magnesium chelate (best).

Merry Xmas everyone, and a have fun filled, healthy year ahead!

Mike

Triathlon Training – Swim Fast to Get Fast Part 2

By Gale Bernhardt
For Active.com

Triathlon Training - Swim FastIn an earlier column, I encouraged you to try some fast 25s to boost your swimming speed. People have been trying the workouts and, lo and behold, they are swimming faster. Excellent!

Now that you’ve mastered some of the shorter workouts, let’s bump the distance up some. Below are new workouts for you to try:

Workout No. 1

Complete a mixed warm-up totaling 500 to 1,000 yards/meters.

After the warm-up, go through the following set two or three times:

  • 2 x 25 — Build speed throughout each 25
  • 2 x 25 — Swim half the distance as fast as you can, it doesn’t matter if it is first half or last half. Swim the “other half” easy.
  • 1 x 50 — All-out fast
  • 1 x 50 — Easy

Make your swim interval something that gives you 5 to 10 seconds rest on the 25s, about 20 seconds of rest on the 50-all-out-fast and about 90 seconds on the 50 easy.

After the speedy set, head into your main set. The main set can include swims in the 100 to 300 range.

Workout No. 2

Complete a mixed warm-up totaling 500 to 1,000.

After the warm-up, go through the following set two to four times:

  • 4 x 25 — Build speed throughout each 25 (Make the swim interval something that gives you about 10 seconds of rest.)
  • 1 x 50 — All-out fast (Make the swim interval something that gives you about 20 seconds of rest.)
  • 1 x 25 — Easy (Make the swim interval something that gives you 15 to 20 seconds of rest.)
  • 1 x 25 — All-out fast (Make the swim interval something that gives you about 10 seconds of rest.)

After the speedy set, head into your main set. The main set can include swims in the 100 to 300 range.

Optional Main Set

An optional main set to include after Workout No. 1 or 2 follows:

  • 3 x 100 on a swim interval that gives you 10 to 15 seconds of rest. Swim all of these at a steady pace.
  • 3 x 100 on a swim interval that gives you 15 to 20 seconds rest. Negative-split each 100.
  • 3 x 100 on a swim interval that gives you 20 to 30 seconds rest. Swim these so that each 100 is faster than the previous one. The last one is a fast one.

If you have the time and fitness, go through the set of 100s twice.

Workout No. 3

Complete a mixed warm-up totaling 500 to 1,000.

After the warm-up, do 4 x 25 building speed throughout each 25 (Make the swim interval something that gives you about 10 seconds of rest.)

Take one minute of rest, then do:

  • 6 x 50 — All-out fast. No holding back. Expect the fastest one to be the second or third one. It’s okay if speed fades some, just swim fast. Make the swim interval something that gives you 80 to 100 seconds of rest between each 50 swim.

After the speedy set, head into your main set. Keep it primarily aerobic. If you swim really, really fast (like the instructions tell you to do) you won’t have much high-end speed for the rest of the workout.

The biggest mistake you can make in the workouts above is to try to be a Sammie Save-up. Of course there are times when you should be holding some speed in reserve so you can negative-split a swim; but not in these workouts. Cut loose and see how fast you can go.

How much did you improve? If you’ve tried these workouts, head to USAT’s Facebook page and tell us about it!

Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men’s and women’s teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale’s pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, click here. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

This article originally appeared on Active.com—your source for event information, training plans, expert advice, and everything you need to connect with the sport you love.

Triathlon Training – Swim Fast to Get Fast

By Gale Bernhardt
For Active.com

Triathlon Training - Swim FastI completely agree that doing form drills to practice good swimming technique is critical to the process of becoming a faster swimmer. That written, you cannot expect that slow and purposeful drills will increase your sustained swimming speed if you never swim fast.

Certainly, a beginning swimmer can make significant gains in speed because they are starting with a baseline limited to no fitness and skills; but after a few weeks, they will reach a speed plateau. They cannot improve their average speed for long swims. Even intermediate and advanced distance swimmers can hit a speed ceiling.

These more advanced swimmers can often be found churning out set after set of repeat 100s to 500s with very short rest intervals. These swimmers also like long and steady open water swims. Managing a certain level of discomfort for a long period makes them feel like they accomplished something in the workout.

But, what if you are stuck at your current speed and can’t seem to get faster?

One answer seems obvious: You need to swim faster in order to get faster. Swimming fast and experiencing a load of lactate is not a feeling long-distance swimmers or triathletes enjoy. They would rather swim 1,000 or 2,000 steady than swim six all-out, fast 50s—even if there is generous rest between each 50.

Speed It Up

Let’s save the fast 50 workouts for another column. For this column, I’ll have you sneak up on some speed with shorter efforts. These workouts come from Masters swim coach Scott Allen. He is a former USA Swimming staff member and helped Susan Von der Lippe qualify for the Olympic trials this year. As well as Olympians, he has coached many triathletes and age-group swimmers of all ages.

He believes, and I agree with him, that you need to swim fast early in the workout, before you have any accumulated fatigue. You need to begin with short distances and then build the distance of fast swimming over time, in a progression.

To get you started on the path to faster swimming, try to do one of the sets outlined in this column after your warm-up swim, but prior to the main set.

For all the sets, the 25s are on a swim interval that gives you around 15 seconds rest. The 50s and 100s are done on an interval that gives you 20 to 30 seconds rest. If you swim in a long course pool, get creative about modifying the workout to achieve the goals in the set.

Option 1
Repeat the following set two to three times:
2 x 25  Build speed throughout the 25
2 x 25  Swim half the distance as fast as you can, it doesn’t matter if it is first half or last half. Swim the other half easy.
1 x 25 All-out fast
1 x 50 Very relaxed and easy

Option 2
Repeat the following set two or three times:
1 x 25  Steady swimming
1 x 25  Build speed throughout the 25
1 x 25  Swim half the distance fast
1 x 25  Easy

Option 3
Repeat the following set two times. Wear fins for the entire set:
2 x 100  Do 25 kick, 25 swim, 25 kick, 25 swim
2 x 25  Kick fast
2 x 25 Swim fast—really fast
1 x 50 easy

Include one of these fast swimming segments between your warm-up and main set at least once, and preferably twice, per week for the next six to eight weeks. On your other swim days you can include form drills between the warm-up and the main set.

At the end of your experiment, answer this: did it gradually get easier to swim fast on the short sets? Were you able to swim faster in some of your longer sets too? Did you bump your overall speed? Think about your experience, and how it can impact your swim in future events.

Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men’s and women’s teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale’s pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, click here. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

This article originally appeared on Active.com—your source for event information, training plans, expert advice, and everything you need to connect with the sport you love.

Triathlon Training – Strength training for distance runners

Distance Runners

Can lifting weights help middle distance runners run faster or further with no corresponding improvements in aerobic fitness?

James Marshall looks at the evidence.

ataglance - Triathlon Training - Strength training for distance runners

Resistance training (RT) takes many forms, including strength training, power training, plyometric training, muscular endurance and hypertrophy (increasing muscle size) work. Most of these forms, except hypertrophy (see below) can aid middle distance running in some way:

  • Strength training – enables runners to maintain form when running and be more efficient. Certain exercises are useful in helping prevent injuries;
  • Power training – helps with change of speed and acceleration during races, and with changes in incline during cross-country courses;
  • Plyometric training – helps improve running mechanics (if performed correctly) by improving the reactivity of ankle, foot and pelvic joints whilst running. This can lead to an overall increase in running efficiency and therefore less energy expenditure whilst running;
  • Muscular endurance – where increased local muscular endurance can help with overall endurance by increasing the number and density of mitochondria in the muscles.

The tricky part, of course, is knowing how to balance all the different aspects, without detriment to running training and mechanics.
In terms of muscular coordination, running is an extremely complex activity so care has to be taken to enhance, rather than inhibit it. For example, just using large bounding activities will help use the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, but will inhibit the smaller foot and ankle muscles that are used to land and react when running. Conversely, wobble board exercises will use the smaller muscle groups, but don’t require enough strength in the main muscles to create real improvements in running economy. Specific exercises that enhance the running economy need to be introduced, but research studies have not always used such exercises.

How can you build strength?

Strength improvements and adaptations occur in three ways and generally in the following order(1):

1. Intra-muscular coordination – The motor units within each muscle group may not previously have been stimulated adequately. By training the movement patterns you want to optimise with adequate resistance, these motor units can be effectively recruited. By recruiting more motor units within each muscle, more work can be done. Frequent training also enhances the motor units’ ability to work in concert with each other and to be recruited simultaneously, rather than one after another.

2. Inter-muscular coordination – Frequent RT training will allow more efficient movement patterns because it will decrease the co-contraction of antagonists (opposing muscle groups) when the targeted muscle is required to work. It also develops greater coordination between the targeted and opposing muscles as they become more accustomed to working a certain movement pattern.

3. Hypertrophy – After an initial training period of around 12 weeks, the muscles may become bigger. This can happen in two ways: hyperplasia (an increase in the number of muscle fibres themselves) and myofibrillar hypertrophy (where the fibre size increases).

For runners, the first two adaptations are important because the correct exercises can enhance running economy and efficiency by allowing better inter-muscular and intra-muscular coordination. Too much hypertrophy on the other hand can be detrimental for two main reasons: firstly, an increase in limb mass will make the levers harder to ‘swing’ and will either slow the runner down, or will require more energy to maintain the same speed. Second, an increase in muscle mass is associated with a decrease in mitochondrial density, which will decrease aerobic efficiency at the cellular level.

What do experienced runners do?

Research on what experienced runners actually do  in terms of resistance training is actually quite limited. Anecdotally, it’s widely accepted that some form of RT will improve running performance in middle-distance running. But finding studies on experienced runners who have performed RT and then actually looking at what they have done in their RT programmes as well as their running training is problematic.

A review of such studies was conducted last year and the authors of this review found only five studies that met the necessary criteria deemed to be important for validity(2):

  • Longer than six weeks in duration;
  • Performance distance of 3km to marathon;
  • Well trained runners who ran more than five days a week or covered more than 30 miles a week;

Studies that excluded pre-pubertal children or the elderly.

It’s difficult to compare studies with different methods of design, subject numbers and backgrounds and the varying programmes that were implemented. However, in these studies, the average improvement of running economy was 4.6%, and the two studies that measured running performance showed an average 2.9% improvement at both 3km and 5km distance.

There appeared to be no one particular method of RT favoured and some of the programme designs used training methods more appropriate to bodybuilders than runners! For example, one of the studies used heavy weight training in the gym with the following exercises: hamstring curls, leg press, seated press, parallel squat, leg extensions and heel raises. Of these, only two of the exercises were weight bearing, and only one was a single leg exercise – the hamstring curl. Even then, the hamstring doesn’t function in the same manner when running (see below), so it’s hard to see how this type of training transfers effectively to runners.

Two of the other studies used circuit training as well as plyometric exercises. Here the plyometric exercises used single- and double-leg jumps, bounds and hops, which would have a transfer effect to running patterns. The circuit training may have improved running by increasing local muscular endurance, but circuit training has also recently been shown to improve sprint agility and anaerobic performance in non-runners, although it depends on the exercises that are done in the circuit(3).

The authors of the review concluded that RT does appear to be effective in influencing running economy and performance; however the actual methods used were very varied, so drawing conclusions from them would be very tenuous.

The importance of biarticular muscles

Biarticular muscles pass over more than one joint. These biarticular muscles have more complicated movement patterns than monoarticular muscles (that pass over only one joint) such as the gluteal muscles of the buttocks. They also use elastic strength rather than pure contractile strength in a great deal of the movement(4,5).

There are three main biarticular muscles in the lower limbs which are useful for running: the rectus femoris (frontal thigh), which passes over the front of the knee and hip; the hamstrings, which pass over the back of the knee and hip; and the gastrocnemius (calf), which passes over the ankle and knee. Biarticular muscles use energy efficiently because the counteractive force from one joint is released and used by the other joint. For example, when the hamstring contracts, knee flexion occurs, energy transfer is possible from the knee to the hip, which then helps extend the hip. This occurs very quickly and is difficult to measure – its importance has only recently started to be understood(1).

This combination of joint movements and energy transfer is important to understand when designing exercises to improve efficiency. If a gluteal muscle is contracted concentrically, the hip will extend. Training a gluteal muscle through strength training in almost any form will have a strong transfer to its use within sport, because it is a simple movement. However, the hamstrings are more difficult to train because of their biarticluar nature. The length of the muscle can be changed by either tilting the pelvis forward or back or by extending or flexing the knee. The nature of the contraction also changes depending on whether the hip or knee is fixed and which part of the running stance is being considered. So, the type of exercise to improve the hamstring function needs to be carefully considered. Simple hamstring curls should be avoided because that’s not how this muscle works during running.

What works for runners?

Trying to draw conclusions from research apart from ‘elite middle distance runners can benefit from RT’ is difficult. So perhaps we should look at how the body works best, and then create an exercise programme around that, rather than just doing gym exercises. This may include the following:

  • Some form of plyometric activity to work ankle reactivity;
  • Single leg strengthening exercises to improve balance and control in the gluteal area and the knee joint;
  • Hamstring exercises that develop eccentric strength;

Some exercises that help develop the core complex around the pelvis that assists in minimising upper body rotation during running.

That exact choice will depend on the individual runner; for example, if a runner has had an injury, or is severely deconditioned then there is a place for general strengthening work in the form of circuit training to establish a sound platform. Jumping too quickly into specific work without an underlying strength base could lead to injury. If a runner has suffered a lower limb injury, the level of coordination will be decreased, so exercises need to be included that re-establish previous motor patterns. Examples of exercises that may be useful can be found below:

Ankle reactivity exercises

All the drills below can improve the foot and ankle’s reactivity to changing ground surfaces.

Ankle bounces: The concept behind this exercise to use your calves to propel you off the floor, with as little knee movement as possible. On two feet and keeping the legs almost straight, quickly pull up the toes and jump up off the floor. As you land quickly pull up your toes again and repeat.

Hopping on one leg: In this exercise, you should aim to cover a distance of 15m. The raised foot is used to touch the floor at every hop but with tension held in the foot. Variations on this exercise include:

  • Making the raised leg perform a high knee action so it has to move rapidly up and down in between hops;
  • Moving the raised leg up and down, but not allowing it to quite touch the floor;
  • The raised leg alternately performs a high knee action with the foot touching the floor, followed by a high knee action where the foot doesn’t touch the floor.

NB: In all these exercises it is important to keep some tension in the foot – that means keeping it in a neutral position, not pointed up or down. It is also important to minimise the amount of contact time between the foot and the ground.

Leg and core exercises

Single leg strengthening exercises

Split squat: Carrying any weighted implement (barbell, dumbbells, sandbag), stand with one foot in front of the other, feet about shoulder width apart. Keep the weight and your shoulders above the hips and bend both knees, to lower the hips. Return to the start position.

splitsquat - Triathlon Training - Strength training for distance runners

One leg hip hitch: Stand with weight on shoulders, one foot on floor, the other resting on a small bench. Lift the foot off the bench and bring the knee up by lifting the hip, the stance leg should be fully extended through hip, knee and ankle and weight should be through the ball of the foot. Hold this position for one second and then return to the start.

A variation to the above is as follows: when the foot comes off the bench,  use it to tap the floor by the stance leg then as it returns to the bench, make the stance leg drive forcefully and quickly up until it is fully extended.

Step-ups: With weight on shoulders, stand in front of a small bench or platform that is lower than knee height. As you step up on to the bench with the right leg, drive up quickly with the left leg so it is fully extended. As you transfer weight onto the right leg, bring the left knee quickly forward and up until it is bent at 90 degrees. You are now stood on the bench on your right foot with the left leg bent and raised in front of your body. By varying the weight used, you can vary the speed of movement and change the emphasis of the exercise. Ensure that your head is upright and your back extended throughout.

Hamstring emphasis exercise

Split squat with forward bend: Start as above, but this time, when the thighs are nearly parallel to the ground, bend forward until the weight and shoulders are over the front knee. The weight shouldn’t be so heavy that you are unable to move the shoulders to the front.

Variation: stand with your back to a wall, feet about 50cm away from of the wall, holding a light weight on shoulders. Place one foot on wall behind you and bend forward, keeping your chest out and back extended. Do small bouncing movements under control. Keep the back muscles tense and the back straight throughout.

Core complex exercises

Slow sit up: Lie on the floor with hands behind head, knees bent and feet on floor. Sit up to about 45 degrees and then extend your back by sticking your chest out and pull elbows backwards. As you return to the floor, the back flexes and your elbows return to the front.
Variations on the these core exercises include the following:

  • After sitting up, extend and raise both arms backwards  above and behind your head;
  • After sitting up and extending your chest, rotate your upper body and point one elbow in front and the other behind.

Medicine ball slams: Hold a medicine ball above your head and reach up as high as you can. Slam it into the ground, catch it and repeat as rapidly as possible.

With all of the above exercises, ensure that you have no existing injuries before starting them. If in doubt on the weight to use, try a very light weight and progress from there. Aim to do five high quality repetitions of each, then rest, then repeat for up to four more sets. The exception is the medicine ball slams where a large number (up to 100) can be performed as a conditioning tool.

Conclusion

Research and anecdotal evidence shows that some form of resistance training is likely to improve your performance as a middle distance runner. However, the quality of the programmes within the research studies and the lack of suitable studies mean that conclusions are difficult to draw as to exactly what works best. However, once an initial strength base has been established, working on specific exercises twice a week for 20-30 minutes may well help improve running economy. During the off-season, this could be increased to three times a week for 45 minutes.

James Marshall MSc, CSCS, ACSM/HFI, runs Excelsior, a sports training company

References

1. F. Bosch & R. Klomp, Running: Biomechanics
and Exercise Physiology Applied in Practice.
Netherlands: Elsevier.
(2007)
2. JSCR, 22(6) p 2036-
2044, (2008)
3. JSCR, 23 (6) 1803-
1810, (2009)
4. Brain Research 751 p 239-246 (1997)
5. Journal of Biomechanics
27 (1) p25-34 (1994)

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Sports Supplements – Creatine For Endurance Athletes

Creatine supplements can boost your endurance training without encouraging weight gain

Swimming Endurance Athlete

The correct dose of creatine will improve endurance athletes performance without making them gain weight!

Creatine (methylguanidine-acetic acid) was discovered in 1832, but athletes have been taking it – in hopes of improving their performances – for only the last 10 years. Over that time period, a scientific consensus has emerged that creatine supplementation can indeed increase muscular strength and power and improve performances in relatively short-duration, high-intensity activities. The potential benefits of creatine supplementation for longer-duration, lower-intensity exertion (i. e., for endurance-type athletes) have, however, been hotly debated.

[MAM]

To get a better insight into this debate, you should understand that muscle cells use creatine to form creatine phosphate, a high-energy compound which can be used to rapidly synthesize ATP, the ‘energy currency’ utilized by all cells in the human body. Whenever a nerve cell fires, a muscle fibre contracts, or a kidney cell actively filters some urine, ATP ‘pays the bills’ (i. e., furnishes the energy needed to carry out the activity).

Creatine phosphate is also a ‘buffer’ which tempers the increase in intramuscular acidity associated with intense exercise; in this role, creatine might help allay the fatigue which can be caused by a drop in muscular pH. Because of these two key actions of creatine (ATP creator and buffer), athletes have become extremely interested in supplementing their diets with this unique compound.

There is no question that creatine supplementation increases the amount of creatine phosphate within muscle cells, sometimes by up to 50 per cent. Research support for creatine has been strong, and PP readers will be aware of a lot of it. Studies going as far back as 1986 have shown that when creatine phosphate concentrations drop within muscle cells, those fibres are unable to exhibit normal force production. In addition, a variety of different scientific investigations have linked creatine supplementation with greater muscular force production and power, as well as higher sprinting speeds, faster cycling velocities, and quicker swimming movements during very high-intensity efforts. As a result, there are few elite power athletes in the world who have not given creatine supplementation a try.

But what about endurance athletes?
In contrast, there’s no question that creatine is less popular with the endurance crowd, compared to the power people (one of creatine’s side effects – weight gain – has helped to minimize its popularity among endurance competitors). Somewhat surprisingly, little creatine research has been carried out with endurance athletes, and the few investigations which have been completed have yielded inconsistent results.

Thus, more work has been needed, and in a relatively new study, researchers at Kingston University in Surrey and the University of Tasmania in Australia looked at the effects of creatine on 16 endurance kayakers who possessed a high level of fitness (VO2max = 67.1 ml/kg.min). All 16 subjects took part in an initial workout which consisted of three work intervals which were completed on a kayak ergometer and which lasted for a duration of 90, 150, and 300 seconds. The athletes completed each interval at the highest-possible intensity and recovered completely (heart rate back to resting level) between intervals (‘The Effects of Creatine Supplementation on High-Intensity Exercise Performance in Elite Performers,’ European Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 78, pp. 236-240, 1998).

The subjects were then randomly assigned to either a ‘creatine group’ or a placebo group. Creatine-group members took four five-gram doses of creatine monohydrate per day for a total of five days, while placebo-group athletes ingested four five-gram supplements of glucose daily. After five days, both the creatine and glucose athletes repeated the three-interval, max-intensity workout.

There followed a four-week ‘washout period’, during which the subjects took neither the creatine nor the glucose supplements. Research has shown that four weeks is long enough to bring an elevated muscle creatine-phosphate concentration back to ‘normal’. Following the four-week washout, all subjects participated in the three-interval workout yet again. Following this re-test, the previous placebo subjects ingested creatine for five days (4 x 5 grams per day) while the former creatine athletes took the glucose placebo (this is what’s called a ‘crossover’ design). After five days, the athletes tried the three-interval session one last time.

Fatter – but stronger
In just five-days time, the creatine supplements made the athletes gain weight. Creatine supplementers gained on average two kilograms (4.4 pounds), or almost one pound per day during creatine supplementation. Meanwhile, the placebo-subjects’ weights held steady.

Bike Endurance AthleteCreatine also increased the quality of the athletes’ efforts during the three-interval workouts. During the 90-second interval, the kayakers completed about 16 per cent more work when they had supplemented with creatine, compared to taking the placebo or being in the control condition (at the beginning of the study and after the washout period). During the 150-second interval, the athletes completed 14 per cent more work with creatine, and for the five-minute (300-second) interval the creatine subjects hit 7 per cent more work. Blood-lactate levels were also higher for creatine athletes after the 150- and 300-second intervals, compared to control and placebo subjects. However, this was not a bad thing; it merely reflects the fact that the creatine-supplemented athletes were able to work at a higher intensity (and thus ‘cough up’ a bit more lactate).

[MAM]

Note that the advantage associated with creatine supplementation became smaller as the duration of the work interval increased. This is not terribly surprising. As work-interval duration increases, the relative amount of the energy which is needed to complete the interval which is actually coming from creatine phosphate decreases, as the creation of ATP from the breakdown of carbohydrate (rather than from the transfer of a phosphate group from creatine phosphate) becomes much more important. As work-interval duration increases, exercise intensity also declines, which means that creatine phosphate’s role as a buffer becomes less important.

That doesn’t mean that the value of creatine supplements becomes negligible for the endurance athlete carrying out relatively long work intervals, however, because creatine supplementation did produce significant improvements in work output during the longest (five-minute) intervals utilized in this study. Thus, it is tempting to say that creatine supplementation would be very beneficial to endurance athletes during their training (150-second to five-minute intervals are commonly employed by endurance competitors).

Will it also be true for runners?
However, remember that the gains in this study associated with creatine supplementation were obtained by endurance kayakers, not runners. Endurance kayakers, of course, are seated during exercise, and therefore the gains in weight associated with taking creatine are not so troubling to them (the kayak and water – not the athletes’ working muscles – support most of the extra weight, and the only real drawback linked with weight gain is a slight uptick in drag, i. e., friction between the kayak and the water). The same is true for cyclists, but even one-pound gains can hurt the efficiency of runners; four-pound upswings will almost certainly slow them down.

What causes the gain in weight? Research indicates that most of the short-term weight gain associated with creatine supplementation is probably due to water retention. Eric Hultman and his outstanding team of researchers were able to show recently that as creatine storage by muscles increases, urinary volume tends to decline (‘Muscle Creatine Loading in Men,’ Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 81, pp. 232-237, 1996). Over the long term, much of the weight gain associated with creatine could be produced by an actual increase in muscular mass, as the higher-quality workouts linked to creatine supplementation could lead to advances in muscle size, at least among athletes who are strength training with rather heavy resistances.

The answer is yes – but
Should endurance runners take creatine supplements? There is little doubt that creatine supplementation can improve the quality of endurance-runners’ workouts. Several years ago, scientists from England and Estonia asked five endurance runners at Tartu University in Estonia to supplement their diets with 30 grams (six five-gram doses per day) of creatine monohydrate per day for six consecutive days. During this six-day period, five other Estonian runners of comparable ability consumed a glucose placebo instead of creatine. All runners were unaware of the true compositions of their supplements (‘Creatine Propels British Athletes to Olympic Gold Medals: Is Creatine the One True Ergogenic Aid?’ Running Research News, vol. 9(1), pp. 1-5, 1993).

Running Endurance AthletePrior to and following the six days of supplementation, the athletes ran four 300-metre and (on a separate day) four 1000-metre intervals, with three minutes of rest between the 300-metre work intervals and four minutes of recovery after the 1000-metre reps. Creatine dramatically improved the runners’ efforts. Compared to the placebo group, improvement in the final 300-metre interval (from pre- to post-supplementation) was more than twice as great for creatine users, and improvement was more than three times as great for creatine supplementers in the final 1000-metre interval. Total time required to run all four 1000-metre intervals improved from 770 to 757 seconds after creatine supplementation, a statistically significant change. Meanwhile, placebo-group members’ performances remained the same (about 775 seconds for the four intervals). Creatine supplementation improved the average quality of the 1000-metre intervals by a little over three seconds.

Of course, improvements in workout quality generally lead to improvements in competitive performances. Amazingly enough, workout-quality upgrades can occur after just five to six days of creatine supplementation. This all makes creatine sound wonderful, but there’s still that nagging problem of weight gain.

Will you always gain weight?
However, bear in mind that the water-retention-related gain in weight is primarily a function of the high creatine-loading doses (20 to 30 grams per day) used both in many research studies and by many athletes. In a very recent study, a lower loading dose (6g of creatine per day) produced only a one-pound gain in weight (‘Why Your Creatine Consumption Is Costing You Too Much,’ Running Research News, vol. 14(7), pp. 1-4, 1998).

And in fact researchers are finding that lower loading doses can be as effective as the big, 20-gram per day intakes at building up muscle creatine-phosphate concentrations, provided that the lower doses are taken over a little bit more time. Basically, the new research is revealing that six one-half gram doses of creatine per day (for a total of three grams daily) over the course of about 30 days will build muscle-creatine concentrations to a level comparable to that achieved with the whopping 20-gram ingestions. Very importantly, these three-gram per day intakes appear to be associated with very little water retention and weight gain.

Thus, it appears that creatine monohydrate can be a performance-boosting (and legal) supplement for endurance runners. The best way to take it is to simply sprinkle about a half-gram of the stuff on some food (and then of course eat the creatine and comestible) six times per day. Little creatine will be lost in the urine and faeces, creating a very economical intake pattern, little weight will be gained, and the resulting heightened intramuscular creatine-phosphate concentration should have a direct, positive impact on the quality of your high-intensity training sessions. Since intensity is the most potent producer of running fitness, your creatine-boosted sessions should eventually lead to some very nice PBs.

Bear in mind that there’s no need for you to buy ‘special’ creatine. ‘Micronized’ creatine and any commercial creatine product which supposedly can be absorbed more readily offers no special advantages; in fact, as the rate of creatine absorption increases, the urinary losses of creatine become greater.

Jim Bledsoe

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