The Creatine Experiment
Back in November, I wrote an article that looked at how HIIT training coupled with creatine phosphate supplementation can improve overall endurance. You can find that article here Coach Talk with Shawn and Alex – Trail Tales – A Running Podcast (trailtalesarp.com)
At the end of November, I set off to put the theory to the test. The training block consisted of six HIIT sessions over two weeks without using a creatine supplement. A recovery week of low intensity runs and rest followed with creatine loading. The final phase was another two week block of six HIIT sessions while supplementing with creatine daily.
The HIIT training consisted of three sessions of 10 x 200m repeats and three sessions of 5 x 400m repeats culminating in a 5k time trial after each block of HIIT training.
In order to measure my progress throughout the training I looked at my fastest single time for the 200m and 400m effort as well as the best average time for an entire session of both the 200m and 400m.
I also looked at my overall 5k time trial times. Last, I measured the improvement of my predicted V02Max provided by my Apple watch during each training block.
The biggest challenge I faced during the month was the weather. During the first round of HIIT I ran three sessions on the treadmill which was not ideal as I found the treadmill data inconsistent with the outdoor track data. Although the treadmill sessions offered good training the times were not an accurate reflection of my progress. With that in mind, I did not include treadmill sessions when recording my best times.
The other challenge I came up against were the road conditions during the 5k time trials. The first time trial was done on clear dry roads and the second time trial was run on snow covered roads that were slippery. I did run the same circuit for the time trial, but the conditions were so different that the trials did not provide a good representation of the improvements to my running.
All in all, it would have been ideal to do every session at an indoor track where the weather would not play a factor in order to get a better comparison of improvements. Although running outside in inconsistent conditions was not an ideal situation for this type of experiment, it did offer for great training that simulated running races outdoors. The 5k time trial offered a few uphill sections as well which simulated running a road race. Despite the lack of control in conditions, I still benefited greatly in the training.
Over the course of training, I noticed a few things that I did not account for. First, DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness was more noticeable at the beginning of training, and by the end of the first phase, it was barely noticeable. This can be attributed to the fact that the high intensity of my running recruited more muscle fibres than I was used to. My muscles seemed to adapt quickly, and the DOMS wasn’t a factor in the second phase. I also noticed that with the hard efforts, my deltoids would hurt as the sessions carried on, especially in the 200m efforts. Running at such high intensity certainly impacts the entire body.
As training continued, I found that my recovery between track sessions and in between intervals improved greatly. I felt fresher after 3-4 minutes recovery time in between intervals and my body was ready to go after my rest days. I did make sure to rest properly on the scheduled rest days (although I took Piper for some runs during the loading phase in my recovery week).
A sure sign of improvement was demonstrated by my interval times and the overall average times per session. The effort I put in remained constant throughout the experiment with noticeable improvements in time.
As the experiment carried on, I noticed some mental fatigue setting in. This usually presented itself on my way to the track and at times during the intervals themselves. Sometimes the thought of running 10 intervals seemed daunting, it was toughest for me as I ran through the 4-7th intervals. When the little voice inside my head told me to quit which it often did when I needed to kick, I simply started pumping my arms harder and tried to make my legs move quicker. It was certainly an interesting aspect of my training, my curiosity was a big driving factor in not quitting, I could not wait to enter my data into the spreadsheet and compare the new numbers to the previous sessions.
In the first phase of the experiment in and around the second or third session, I began to feel some tightness in my left quadriceps. It was something to note and monitor but did not require any professional treatment. I employed self care with gentle stretching, Epsom salt baths and a few soaks in the hot tub. The tightness did not linger beyond a few days.
Phase 1 Distance Best Lap Mean Time
200m 41 seconds 43.4 seconds
400m 1:28 1:33.8
5k 4:40/km 23:19 – dry roads
Vo2Max start of phase 1 – 45.7 end of phase 1 – 46 an improvement of .3
Phase 2 200m 40 seconds 42.3 seconds
400m 1:23 1:28.4
5k 4:49/km 24:05 – snow/slippery road conditions
Vo2Max start of phase 2 – 46 end of phase 2 – 47.1 an improvement of 1.1
I draw the conclusion that the creatine phosphate supplementation helped improve my performance beyond what HIIT training alone could provide. There are two pieces of data that lead me to this conclusion. My best lap in the 200m during phase one was 41 seconds and 40 seconds in phase two, however I was able to hit 40 seconds three times in a row during phase two which is something that did not happen in phase one.
The other remarkable thing was the improvement in VO2Max. During phase one there was an improvement of 0.3 and an improvement of 1.1 in phase two, that is a large jump in VO2Max. I would like to note that my VO2Max was at a personal high when I began the experiment and to see it surpass that during both phases was not only some solid empirical data to support how this type of training can bring improvements but also, it was great to see!
One thing that I was not able to prove was that this training helped me improve my endurance. The 5k time trials were subject to uncontrollable weather conditions and the slippery conditions on the second time trial had an impact on my running by making it more difficult for me as my feet would slip on the snow. With that being said, I have since been on several longer runs and I feel much stronger than I previously did, especially since it had been several months since I last had any runs longer than 5k.
I would also like to note that I achieved my second fastest 5k time in phase one, my PR is 22:16 which was run on a very flat course while the 5k TT in this experiment had approximately 1/3 of the loop on an incline. I believe that had I run this 5k TT on the same course as my PR I would have beaten that time.
Thank you so much for following along on this fun experiment. I encourage everyone reading this to get out there and experiment themselves. Whether it is HIIT training or trying a new supplement or diet, take the time and get out of your comfort zone, you just never know how it might change and improve your running!
Creatine Phosphate Supplementation
By Shawn Sobon
Getting the most out of our training is important. It has been said that how we train is how we perform. It has also been said that the more we sweat in training, the less we bleed in battle. I am not quite sure how that fits with running but I think it’s badass.
This article aims to look at how Creatine Phosphate supplementation can enhance explosive muscular contraction to aid in HIIT training, which has been shown to cause similar adaptations as seen with traditional endurance effort training. HIIT training is characterized by short periods of intense exercise followed by subsequent rest periods including low intensity effort. This form of training offers the same benefits as less intensive endurance effort training but at a fraction of the time. In untrained and recreationally active individuals, short-term HIIT is a potent stimulus to induce physiological remodeling similar to traditional endurance training, despite a markedly lower total exercise volume and training time commitment. As little as six sessions of ‘all-out’ HIIT over 14 days, totaling ∼15 min of intense cycle exercise within total training time commitment of ∼2.5 h, is sufficient to enhance exercise capacity and improve skeletal muscle oxidative capacity.[i]
The Role of Phosphate in Muscular Contraction
Fig.1 The myosin and actin proteins are responsible for muscle contraction. This process is powered by ATP. The myosin head has a binding site for ATP, a phosphate (Pi) is removed to form ADP and Pi. These two components are tightly bound to the myosin and stored until the power stroke is initiated. (muscle contraction) During the power stroke Pi is released from the binding site and after the stroke is complete, ADP is released, this allows a new ATP to bind to the site for splitting into ADP and Pi once again to repeat the process. Without ATP and specifically the phosphate molecule the basis of muscle contraction is not possible.
Phosphagen Energy System
We have three energy systems to aid in muscular contraction. The purpose of these three systems remains the same for each one, to produce ATP. The phosphagen systems utilizes intracellular creatine phosphate (CP). CP is split by an enzyme and the Pi will bind with the available ADP to become ATP. Intracellular CP continues to provide the supply of phosphate to the cell for ATP production. Once it is depleted, the body will switch to another system to produce ATP. HIIT training is a type of training that will utilize this phosphagen energy system.
Supplementing with Creatine Phosphate
Creatine phosphate supplementation has been well studied and has been shown to aid in regenerating ATP at a high rate. It is generally accepted that supplementing with a loading does of creatine phosphate at 20G a day for 5 days and then followed by a maintenance dose of 2-10mg daily will keep phosphocreatine stores maximized to aid in enhanced performance. In one study it was concluded that “One week of creatine supplementation to patients with chronic heart failure did not increase ejection fraction but increased skeletal muscle energy-rich phosphagens and performance as regards both strength and endurance. This new therapeutic approach merits further attention.”
Practice the Theory
Now that we know HIIT training can yield significant improvements to endurance performance and that supplementing with creatine phosphate will markedly improve muscular performance during HIIT training, we can conclude that creatine phosphate supplementation will improve your overall endurance performance. I would recommend following a loading dose of creatine phosphate for 5-7 days at 20G per day (divided into four 5mg doses/day) followed by a maintenance dose of 2-10mg/day) It is important to note that creatine phosphate will not benefit you in long endurance runs during training, rather, it will benefit you during your speed work days such as intervals, fartleks, or hill repeats. This type of training is proven to cause the same physiological adaptations as seen with slow and long endurance runs. It should also be noted that vegans who do not have a dietary creatine intake are shown to have the greatest improvements.
**It would be prudent to discuss supplementation changes with your health provider prior to implementing changes to your diet**
Meixner, M (2018) Is the Creatine Loading Phase Necessary? Retrieved Nov 10, 2020 https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/creatine-loading-phase
Gordan A., et. Al. (1995). European Society of Cardiology. Creatine supplementation in chronic heart failure increases skeletal muscle creatine phosphate and muscle performance. Retrieved Oct 21, 2020 https://academic.oup.com/cardiovascres/article-abstract/30/3/413/266218
Maughan, R. (2012). Creatine Supplementation and Exercise Performance. Human Kinetics Journals. Retriteved Oct 21, 2020 https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijsnem/5/2/article-p94.xml
[i] Gibala M, Jones A. (2013). PubMed.gov. Physiological and performance adaptations to high-intensity interval training. Retrieved Nov 3, 2020 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23899754/#:~:text=Physiological%20and%20performance%20adaptations%20to%20high-intensity%20interval%20training.,HIIT%20is%20a%20potent%20stimulus%20to%20induce%20%E2%80%A6.
Beetroot Juice Supplementation
By Alex Maycock
Will this dietary supplement make you run faster?
The consumption of a well-balanced diet is undoubtedly an important factor of general health, recovery, and optimal performance (2). In recent years however, many athletes have used dietary supplements with the hopes of improving competition performance. Some of the most commonly used dietary supplements include caffeine, sodium bicarbonate, beta alanine, and most recently inorganic nitrates (NO–3) (2).
Recent studies indicate that dietary NO–3 supplementation, most commonly consumed through the form of beetroot juice, can optimize skeletal muscle efficiency by reducing the O2 cost of submaximal exercise and thereby improve muscular endurance exercise performance (2). This increased exercise economy may allow you to run faster at the same Rate of Perceived Exertion and Heart Rate.
Figure 1: The pathways of nitric oxide (NO) production. The NOS-dependent pathway (left) converts L-arginine, an amino acid, into NO. The Dietary Nitrate Pathway (right) converts NO–3 from nitrate rich vegetables like spinach and beets into NO through oral bacteria reduction.
Nitric Oxide Production Pathways
It is very important to note that the dietary pathway may be enhanced in environments of low oxygen availability (altitude venues) and type II muscle fibers, which are more fatigable and use the glycolysis anaerobic pathway (2). Therefore, consumption of nitrates at races <1000m above sea level may be less effective. Additionally, in long duration events like marathon running or ultramarathon running, where the athlete relies predominantly on type I muscle fibers and oxidative cellular respiration, dietary nitrate supplementation may again be less effective.
The end product of the NO–3 reduction pathways, NO, is a gaseous signaling molecule which is important for many physiological processes including vasodilation, cellular respiration, and skeletal muscle contractility. All of these important physiological functions explain why greater NO bioavailability may be very important within the athletic population.
Figure 2, a meta-analysis on much of the performance nitrate research available, shows how recreational or moderately trained individuals, the top 7 studies, seem to respond well to Nitrate supplementation. 5 of the 7 recreational or moderately trained participant studies reached statistical significance. Conversely, only 2 of the 18 studies looking at highly trained and elite athletes, the bottom 18 studies, seem to have a statistically positive result, both of which occurred in rowing studies. However, 9 of the 17 elite participant studies still saw a positive effect, just not quite reaching statistical significance.
Notice in figure 2 how some studies have red printing and red bars. These studies utilized a chronic nitrate supplementation design with participants consuming a chronic dose of nitrate; daily consumption in the week preceding testing. Comparatively, an acute dose of nitrate was used in the studies with blue bars; these participants consumed NO–3 in the 2-3 hours before testing.
Figure 2: Meta-analysis data comparing recreational or moderately trained individuals with highly trained and elite athletes, some using chronic NO3 supplementation (red) and others using acute supplementation (blue).
Dose amount also plays a role with >8.5mmol (>527mg) being most effective. It is important to note that this quantity is not an enormous amount of NO–3, but can in fact be achieved through the normal diet, for example 200g (about 1 cup) of beetroot (1). However, the greater the dose >8.5mmol, the greater the effect that seems to be seen. The maximal dose used in some studies is 19.5mmol.
Why do less trained athletes seem to respond better to nitrate supplementation than well train athletes?
Highly trained athletes often have greater skeletal muscle capillarization, and lower type II fibers (depending on the sport demands). Many of the best athletes are also be very diet conscious, so may already have elevated NO levels through a well-balanced diet already. The physiological adaptations within elite athletes creates less room for improvement compared to low or moderately trained individuals who may be more responsive.
Sports such as rowing and kayaking, which rely predominantly on type II muscle fibers in the upper body, have observed improved exercise economy and time trial performance even in elite athletes (3). As an elite cross-country ski racer myself, this has me curious about the effects of dietary nitrate supplementation on cross country ski racing, as we too rely heavily on our upper body musculature.
Continue to ensure that you consume a well-balanced diet rich in beets! Consider consuming beetroot or beetroot juice in the days preceding your next race or 2-3 hours prior, especially if at altitude or in events relying on type II fibers.
1. Hord NG, Tang Y, Bryan NS. 2009. Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiological context for potential health benefits. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 90;1-10.
2. Jones A, Thompson C, Wylie L, Vanhatalo A. 2018. Dietary Nitrate and Performance. Annual Review of Nutrition. 38:303-28.
3. Peeling P, Cox GR, Bullock N, Burke LM. 2015. Beetroot juice improves on-water 500 M time-trial performance, and laboratory-based paddling economy in national and international-level kayak athletes.
Alex Maycock, an NCCP Learn to Train coach, has a Bachelor of Physical and Health Education from Nipissing University with interests in Coaching and Exercise Physiology. He has an elite International Cross Country Ski Racing background representing Canada at the 2019 FISU World Student Games. Alex has over a decade of middle distance running experience as a 16 minute 5km runner and 34 minute 10km runner. A dual sport Collegiate athlete, in Cross Country Running and Nordic Skiing, Alex looks forward to sharing his coaching and physiology passions with you. Alex has a YouTube series sharing his training regimes and physiology interests! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1SxtA_21JuBVI0qySl_a8w
Re-Imagine How You Run
By Shawn Sobon
“Think of how much better your running could be…”
My high school football coach Peter Turano once said, “Theory without practice is empty and practice without theory is blind.” These words have stuck with me. In my work as a paramedic, I must know the pathophysiological processes behind many disease processes. When I go into someone’s home, or to a medical clinic, or respond to someone lying unconscious in a park, it is a very different thing compared to reading about it in a textbook. In these practical, real life situations, I must put my theoretical knowledge into practice. Trust me this is THE number one struggle paramedic students and new paramedics have. To blend these two components together takes years of practice. And the same can be said for our running.
Have you ever wondered why training plans are made the way they are? Why are there rest days? Why do we do long slow runs and then do shorter, higher intensity runs the same week? Why there are so many different types of training plans out there?
Think of how much better your running could be if you understood the concepts of not only why running plans or training programs are designed the way they are, but if you understood the SCIENCE behind the design. Our bodies are made up of cells which join to form tissues. Tissues make up organs, organs make up organ systems, and it all comes together to make an organism namely you and me!
It is my hope that with our Coach Talk feature here at Trail Tales ARP we can help you gain a more intimate understanding of what is happening to your body as a result of all the hard work that you put into your running and training.
I want you to reimagine how you approach your running. How can we expect to reach our full potential by doing the same thing day in and day out? It has been said that knowledge is power, however knowledge is only just knowledge, unless it is applied, and that is where the power lies.
I have almost ten years experience with running. I have brought myself back from the path of a sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle into one of balance. As I evolve as runner and an individual, I find that I have reignited my passion to learn and to grow. With 17 years as a paramedic, I have invaluable experience with the human condition. Along with my passion for physiology, running and current schooling (I’m working towards my degree in Health Sciences) this is certainly set up to be a very exciting venture.
To add to the excitement and expertise, we are lucky enough to have Alex Maycock join us for Coach Talk. Alex, an NCCP Learn to Train coach, has a Bachelor of Physical and Health Education from Nipissing University with interests in Coaching and Exercise Physiology. He has an elite International Cross-Country Ski Racing background representing Canada at the 2019 FISU World Student Games. Alex has over a decade of middle-distance running experience as a 16-minute 5km runner and 34-minute 10km runner. A dual sport Collegiate athlete, in Cross Country Running and Nordic Skiing, Alex looks forward to sharing his coaching and physiology passions with you. Alex was a previous guest on the podcast and has a YouTube series sharing his training regimes and physiology interests!