In the world of sports, athletes are always looking for ways to get an edge up on the competition. This is certainly true in the sport of triathlon. With three sports and a variety of equipment involved, there is no shortage of ways to gain a competitive advantage.
In the cycling stage, there are lighter bikes with better gear ratios, aerodynamic helmets, and compression clothing. For the swim, there are wetsuits with more buoyancy and goggles that help us see better. During the run stage, wearing a pair of lightweight shoes can make a world of difference. There are even tricks many triathletes use to gain an advantage in the transition between each sport.
Then there are the dietary ways to gain strength and/or endurance. Many athletes look to supplements in order to help them get bigger, stronger, and faster. One of the most common products people turn to is creatine. Creatine works by increasing the ability of cells to produce energy. (Source)
Along with extra energy production, athletes who supplement with creatine may also see gains in strength and muscle mass. It is even thought to help athletes recover faster after tough workouts and competitions.
But, do triathletes take Creatine? Supplementing with creatine is usually common with weight lifters and athletes in sports that specifically benefit from pure strength but not triathletes. However, for triathletes, when creatine is used properly it can help drop a few seconds from the finishing time, which could make the difference in a close race for professional triathletes. The same applies to cyclists, runners, and swimmers.
Creatine is readily available and its ease of use makes it a popular choice for athletes who are looking to boost their performances to the next level. Those improvements in strength have tempted endurance athletes including many triathletes to take up the practice as well.
Is Creatine Good or Bad for A Triathlon?
There are many benefits from supplementing with creatine that can benefit triathletes, but there is also a significant downside to consider.
As mentioned above, creatine boosts the ability of the body’s cells to produce energy and increases strength. When taken correctly, these increased levels of strength and energy can translate into faster performances in all three sports of the triathlon.
Creatine is not a magic pill and won’t automatically make someone finish hours faster. If used properly, it can help shave a few seconds here and there, which can make a huge difference in a close race. Creatine by itself does nothing. It is only effective when coupled with increased exercise.
One of the side effects of creatine supplementation is weight gain. This extra weight is caused by the retention of water in the muscles. That means the boosts that can be caused by using creatine could be canceled out by the increased body mass. Athletes in endurance sports need to be especially aware of how creatine will affect them and seek out doses that balance those results.
How Much & When Is Best to Take Creatine?
Creatine is most effective for endurance athletes (triathletes, swimmers, cyclists & runners ) when it is taken in small amounts throughout the day. While there is no defined dose still established by science, athletes, in general, consume 10 to 20 grams a day for a few days and then drop it to 2 to 5 grams a day of creatine (Source A) (Source B)
This measured dosing can minimize the amount of the substance that is lost through waste. Small, regular doses will also help avoid the weight gain that is all too commonly associated with creatine. After all, it does very little good to gain strength and extra energy only to cancel it out by becoming heavier.
Unlike some of the other supplements, creatine is not just taken on the day of competition. Instead, it requires loading up phase which can last for several days or weeks. You would want to do this well in advance of the event for which you wish to peak. Once the body has been preloaded, then one can switch to a maintenance regimen.
Do Triathletes Take Supplements?
While not every triathlete takes supplements, many of them do. Especially when you take into account that even everyday items like caffeine and vitamins could be considered supplements.
According to the FDA, A dietary supplement is a product taken by mouth that contains a “dietary ingredient” intended to supplement the diet. The “dietary ingredients” in these products may include: vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and substances such as enzymes, organ tissues, glandular, and metabolites. (Source)
To me, that means that almost anything that an athlete takes outside of the food they eat at mealtime could be considered a supplement. When you consider that very broad definition, it’s almost guaranteed that a vast majority of triathletes use supplements to enhance their training.
Even carbohydrate gels that are widely consumed during endurance events are technically considered to be supplements since they are taken in addition to a regular diet. For more on this, check out our post How Much To Spend On Triathlon Energy Gel?
Do Triathletes Need Supplements?
No athlete needs supplements. It is completely possible to finish a triathlon of any distance without the addition of any performance enhancements.
If the goal is only to finish the event, it can be accomplished using old-school methods.
First, put in the work and follow an established training plan in the weeks and months before the event. Second, focus on proper nutrition up to and during the race. For the several decades before supplements and their effects on the sport were discovered, triathletes competed successfully without their assistance.
Adding supplements to the regular diet plan can make athletes more efficient as well as help them perform better. The carbohydrate gels mentioned earlier are a commonly used supplement that boosts energy stores to ensure athletes have enough gas left in the tank to complete long-distance events.
What Supplements Work for Triathletes?
There is a wide variety of supplements on the market that are geared towards athletic performance. The most commonly used items include recovery drinks, caffeine, and carbohydrate gels/blocks. Less common substances include sodium phosphate, nitrates (Beetroot juice), beta-alanine, and L-carnitine.
All of these items are said to have varying degrees of benefits to endurance athletes. However, it should be said that not a single one of these is a substitute for hard work. It is still necessary to complete many hours of training in all three of the triathlon disciplines in order to have a successful race result.
Also, check out our post Four Easy Natural and Cheap Energy Gel DIY Recipes & Six Other Off The Shelf Alternatives
Supplements can only give an edge by slightly increasing strength, speed, or stamina. In addition, some of the substances mentioned above are quite expensive. Because of the cost and the fact that they only offer a fractional performance boost, they are best left to those at the highest echelons of triathlon competition. For those folks, gaining a second or two can make a difference between a podium finish or go home just out of the money.
Personally, I have experience with recovery drinks, caffeine, and gels. I find that these items are useful both in my training sessions and during the events themselves.
Gels and caffeine both give me an extra energy boost to get me through the tough times that come several hours into the effort. I often combine the two by looking for carbohydrate products that include caffeine. After the event or training session is over, a recovery drink can be just what the doctor ordered to help restore my energy and keep me from getting sore.