Creatine and HIIT
As we learned in a previous post (Creatine and Cardio), there are various ways the body produces energy based on what type of activity we’re engaged in. We know creatine has the most potential to help when coupled with short bouts of exercise where energy needs are high: weight lifting or some sprints. We also know creatine does not help much with lower intensity but longer duration activities such as long runs. High intensity exercise is characterized by, “brief, intermittent bouts of vigorous exercise interspersed by periods of rest or low intensity activity.”1 If the limiting factor of this activity is slow ATP synthesis, supplementing may show some improvement.
Research on Creatine and High Intensity Exercise
Study 1: High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great way to improve cardio, reduce body fat, increase muscle mass, and improve overall health. Even without supplementation, HIIT does great things. The question is: does creatine improve results beyond what HIIT is capable of on its own? One study looked into this question. Subjects complete 3 HIIT sessions per week for 4 weeks.
- HIIT session 1: repeated 30 second Windgates
- session 2: repeated sprints – 6 seconds of sprinting/24 seconds of rest
- session 3: cycling sprints 60 seconds on/60 seconds off
Subjects in this study either took a placebo or creatine monohydrate (loading phase for 1 week: 0.13 grams per pound of body weight followed by 0.045 grams per pound of body weight thereafter – for a 150 pound person 19.5 grams loading phase, 6.75 grams after first week). Subjects completed a before and after 2000 meter self paced ergometer test to check performance changes.
The results showed there were no differences between the placebo and creatine groups for peak and mean power, body fat, lean mass, VO2 max, or fasting glucose. Both groups did see significant improvements in these areas; creatine did not provide additional benefits1.
Study 2: In a similar study, researchers looked into whether supplementing provided additional benefits to HIIT. Subjects in this study took 10 grams of creatine citrate daily, split into two 5 gram doses. This study lasted 9 weeks with pre and post tests to determine fitness changes. The HIIT routine in this study was:
- 5 minute warm up
- 5 sets of: (2 minute exercise bouts/one minute rest between)
There were no significant changes in body weight between the groups. Improvements in VO2 max was seen in both groups, however only the creatine group significantly increased their ventilatory threshold2.
The Bottom Line – Does creatine improve HIIT?
The evidence is somewhat negative on whether creatine helps with high intensity exercise. In the first study, both groups saw equal improvements in all of the variables tested. Creatine supplementation did not provide additional benefits. In the second study, creatine didn’t do much either. The supplement group did however, see an increased ventilatory threshold.
What is ventilatory threshold?
The ventilatory threshold is a point in exercising when the body is unable to provide enough oxygen to the muscles. Exercising beyond this point leads to fatigue and decreased performance. An increased ventilatory threshold increases the time to exhaustion2. This could be seen as a key benefit to using creatine when performing high intensity exercise.
Recommendations for Creatine Use with HIIT
If you decide on using creatine with HIIT, use the following guidelines:
- Many studies dose creatine with a loading phase of 20 grams per day (split into 4 doses) for 1 week, followed by a maintenance phase of 3-5 grams daily.
- Creatine monohydrate is still the best choice. Though the study showing improvements did use creatine citrate, the improvement was likely caused by other variables and not the type of creatine.
- Avoid taking creatine right before exercising as it may cause some gastrointestinal discomfort in some individuals.
- Creatine monohydrate will cause weight gain. Avoid use if this will be an issue in the activity or sport you’re participating in.
- In study #2, the creatine citrate group did not see any weight gain. If you’re worried about weight gain impeding performance, try using creatine citrate instead of creatine monohydrate.
- Forbes, S. C., Sletten, N., Durrer, C., & Myette-Côté, É. (2017). Creatine Monohydrate Supplementation Does Not Augment Fitness, Performance, or Body Composition Adaptations in Response to Four Weeks of High-Intensity Interval Training in Young Females. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 27(3), 285-292. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.2016-0129
- Graef, J. L., Smith, A. E., Kendall, K. L., Fukuda, D. H., & Moon, J. R. (2009). The effects of four weeks of creatine supplementation and high-intensity interval training on cardiorespiratory fitness: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 6(1), 18. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-6-18