A four-week course of creatine and beta-alanine may enhance athletes' endurance capacity, according to a sponsored study done by sports scientists at Florida Atlantic University. It was published a few years ago in Amino Acids, but whether it'll be of any use to you… That depends.
The researchers divulge no information about their test subjects, except that they were male and in their mid-twenties. Were they trained? Probably not. They were on the heavy side [average height: 1.72 metres, average weight: 82 kg].
Another minus point: during the 28 days that the men took the supplements they didn't train either.
Quit whinging. Back to the study.
The researchers gave a group of 13 men a daily placebo containing 34 g glucose [Placebo]. A group of 12 men were given 34 g glucose plus 5.25 g creatine [Cr] daily; another group of 14 men were given 34 g glucose plus 1.6 g beta-alanine [B-Ala] and a final group of 16 men were given 34 g glucose, 5.25 g creatine plus 1.6 g beta-alanine [CrBA].
And that brings us to yet another methodological problem. The men in the CrBA group got their glucose, creatine and beta-alanine in the form of the EAS supplement Phosphagen Elite. EAS stopped producing Phosphagen Elite in 2010. The supplement also contained more than just glucose, creatine and beta-alanine. The other components were not particularly spectacular, but methodologically this is not very clever, especially as the researchers don't mention them in their article.
[There. We're whinging again…]
The researchers got their subjects to cycle at an increasing intensity before and after the supplementation period, so they could determine the men's lactate threshold [LT] and the ventilator threshold [VT]. The LT is the point at which the lactic acid level in the blood starts to rise as physical exertion increases [because the conversion of glucose into energy starts to go less smoothly]. The VT is the point at which, as exertion increases, the subjects not only breathe more, but also breathe more deeply [because the body's oxygen requirements increase exponentially].
For the VT and LT the researchers measured the men's oxygen uptake and the number of Watts they generated. Apart from that the researchers also measured the subjects' maximal oxygen uptake – still the most important predictor of endurance capacity – and the amount of time the men were able to continue cycling as the intensity increased [TTE].
The asterisks indicate whether the changes measured were statistically significant.
"Four weeks of supplementation with CrBA demonstrated significant improvements in five of eight indices of cardiorespiratory endurance measured during incremental cycle ergometry", the researchers conclude. "Supplementation with Cr and b-Ala resulted in improvements in two and one of the indices, respectively."
That sounds positive, but we have to add that the supplementation had no effect on maximal oxygen uptake. In addition, the number of seconds that the men were able to keep cycling only increased in the placebo and creatine groups. So for two of the most important variables, supplementation with the creatine-beta-alanine combo had no effect.
That's why – apart from the methodological ambiguities – we are not prepared to conclude from this study that athletes are likely to benefit from a supplement with the combination in question. It depends entirely on what kind of exertion is required of them. Are they supposed to be performing to lactate threshold and ventilator threshold? In that case, perhaps. Are they supposed to be performing at a higher level of intensity? In that case, perhaps not.
Amino Acids. 2007 Sep;33(3):505-10.