Many youth athletes take creatine, believing that it can help them build muscle mass and improve their athletic performance.
This product is increasingly popular among middle and high school boys, but the question is, should they even use it?
We spent the last few weeks investigating medical journals and articles to see what the science says about this hotly-debated topic.
Here’s what you should know about the safety of creatine supplementation in teens.
Benefits Of Creatine Monohydrate
The efficacy of creatine supplementation in athletes has long been proven by numerous studies.
Researchers found that this sports nutrition supplement has the ability to increase muscle strength and lean body mass.
It’s also known to improve running speed, exercise capacity, and training adaptations.
Creatine also plays a key role in energy production, particularly for short-burst activity lasting less than 10 seconds.
It replenishes the body’s levels of ATP, an energy-transporting molecule that muscles use for movement.
By increasing stores of creatine (aka phosphocreatine) within the muscle, it may improve performance by increasing the stamina, energy, and muscle power of its users during exercise.
For these reasons, creatine remains one of the biggest players in the nutritional supplement market.
But is there any risk to taking it? Let's find out.
Side Effects in Teen Athletes
Although there's a lot of research establishing the benefits of taking a creatine supplement, the majority of these studies were conducted among adult populations.
There's a very little study done on the safety and efficacy of creatine intake and its long-term impact on young athletes.
However, there have been a few reports of liver and kidney problems associated with creatine use, as well as muscle cramps, stomach pains, and dehydration.
Another possible side effect of creatine is weight gain. This increase in body weight is due to water retention in the muscles.
Many workout supplements have also been found to contain experimental stimulants and even banned substances to boost their effectiveness.
These components can cause serious health problems, including high blood pressure and liver damage.
Should Youth Athletes Take It?
Considering the lack of research on creatine use among adolescents and its potential side effects, it's clear that high school athletes should avoid taking creatine or any performance-enhancing supplement.
Instead of relying on creatine and other supplements, teen athletes should shift their focus on nailing down their exercise and training regime.
"Training, nutrition, and sleep need to come first. Unless you can say yes to all of those things, supplements should be off the table."
- Disa Hatfield, Associate Professor at the University of Rhode Island
However, one of the biggest concerns is that teens can easily purchase creatine from physical shops and online retailers.
In fact, a recent study showed that health food stores are recommending creatine to youngsters, despite medical recommendations against that practice.
There are also no legal restrictions on their sale, which means children can buy them without an adult's knowledge or consent.
That's why parents need to talk to their youth athletes about the risks associated with the use of creatine.
If they really want to up their creatine stores, they can get it naturally from food sources and animal products like red meat, milk, and fish.
However, if the athletes aren't consuming meat, they should look for some proven vegan-friendly creatine supplements.
What Teen Athletes Know About Creatine?
Studies conducted among adults have shown that some creatine users may see a 3-5% increase in their performance.
Experts say this is a minimal amount compared to the normal growth and development that young athletes naturally go through.
Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Sports Medicine both agree that teen athletes shouldn't use any performance-enhancing supplements, including creatine.
Your youth athlete is probably under a lot of pressure to keep up with their peers, so they might resort to taking creatine to gain a competitive edge in sports.
You also have to understand that what they know about these products may have come from their friends or brand marketing campaigns, so they're likely misinformed.
In these cases, parents need to intervene and explain to their kids that they don't need to take something to be the best in their game.
To help them think critically about the claims that these companies make, you may point them to some reliable health information on sports nutrition that discusses the effect of creatine supplementation in active adolescents and youth.
- Why Is Creatine Bad for Minors?
The use of creatine among teens hasn’t been widely studied, so there’s not enough evidence supporting the idea that creatine is bad for minors.
However, creatine supplementation carries several health risks in adults, which means teens should steer clear of them until there are enough studies to prove that it’s safe for young people.
- At What Age Can You Start Taking Creatine?
You can start taking creatine at the age of 18 .
Since there’s not enough data on the long-term health effects of creatine use in growing children, adolescents younger than 18 shouldn’t be taking them.
Also, most product labels contain a recommendation stating that individuals under 18 years old shouldn’t use creatine.
- Can Creatine Stunt Growth?
There's no evidence proving that creatine can stunt growth. On the contrary, some studies indicate that creatine decreases myostatin levels, a protein responsible for inhibiting muscle cells growth .
Creatine Supplementation For High School Athletes: Final Thoughts
If your child is interested in using performance-enhancing supplements, have them speak with a doctor or a registered sports nutritionist first.
Once they learn about the potential dangers of taking creatine supplements and the very modest benefit they could get from it in terms of body composition, they might decide on their own that they're better off taking the natural route to achieve muscle growth and optimum performance.
Should they decide to use these to support their daily activities, there are safe and high-quality creatine supplements that they can incorporate in their diet, on top of regular training sessions, and good sleep.
Have you talked to your teen athlete about creatine supplementation? How did you start the conversation?