As a mom of a 13- and 12-year-old participating in sports, I can understand the concern of parents when their teen comes home with supplements or asks to get them. You may be concerned about their safety, whether teens need them, and how to guide them to a safe supplement.
Here is the information you need to know to help your teen make an informed choice.
Lately, creatine has made its way through many sports, especially soccer due to fairly recent research in elite soccer athletes. Ask almost any high school athlete if they have heard of creatine and likely they have. It isn’t uncommon for coaches to suggest the supplement.
WHAT IS CREATINE?
The first two terms that you will find when you google creatine are “amino acid” and “muscles”. The second thing you might read about is “building muscle” and “enhancing performance”.
Let’s start with, or review the basics first.
Creatine is a small molecule that helps supply energy to your muscles. We can get half of our needs from our diet (foods such as dairy, red meat, poultry, legumes and seafood), and the other half of our needs, our body can produce. Creatine is synthesized in the kidney, liver and pancreas from the amino acids L-arginine, glycine and L-methionine. Once creatine is synthesized it is stored as phosphocreatine in the skeletal muscle, heart, brain and other tissues. The human body can make 1g of creatine per day.
Amino acids are the building blocks in the human body. Creatine is a derivative of amino acids. We need them for critical roles like regulating our immune function and building muscle. Twenty amino acids are needed but only 9 are classified as essential – our body cannot make them, we must get them from our diet.
Creatine the Supplement
Creatine is a dietary supplement that can be found in most health food stores and online. Creatine is relatively safe for healthy people. However, people with chronic renal disease or using potentially nephrotoxic medications should not use creatine.
Creatine increases the intramuscular creatine stores and can improve exercise capacity and training adaptations – meaning better training, and better performance by delivering improvements in strength and power output.
Recently, creatine has also been established as a legitimate supplement related to rehabilitation and neuromuscular disorders with growing evidence for some therapeutic efficacy in thermoregulation, concussions, head trauma, autism, and neuroprotection.
The most commonly used form of creatine is creatine monohydrate. This form of creatine is the cheapest, most effective, and dissolves most easily in water.
HOW IS IT TAKEN – ADULTS:
Loading phase: a loading protocol is often followed of 0.3 grams per kilogram of bodyweight for 5-7 days and then with 0.03 g/kg/day for 3 weeks for cycling. Cycling creatine isn’t necessary.
For a 135-lb person, that equates to 18g per day in a loading phase and 1.8 grams per day thereafter.
The typical recommended dose on the label is 5 grams.
Are there side effects?
Stomach cramps can occur if the person is not drinking enough water. If diarrhea and/or nausea occurs, the dose can be spread out throughout the day. Taking it with meals may also help.
Creatine is not a steroid
Creatine is not a steroid nor does it act like one, as it has a completely different molecular structure and physiological mechanism of action. I have heard parents and their concerns that it is similar to a steroid but rest assured, it is not.
If your teen has their sight on college athletics, know that creatine is not banned by any major athletic governing body or organization. However, you should always ensure that the brand of supplements is Certified for Sport®. Products that carry the NSF label certify that “what is on the label is in the bottle and that the product does not contain unsafe levels of contaminants, prohibited substances or masking agents.”
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TEENS
Research in the adolescent population is limited to only a few controlled investigations examining the ability of creatine supplementation to impact measures of exercise performance. “All available studies to date have been completed in only two types of athletes: swimming (n = 5) and soccer (n = 4).” (Jagim AR, Kerksick CM. 2021).
The International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand on creatine states that:
“If proper precautions and supervision are provided, creatine monohydrate supplementation in children and adolescent athletes is acceptable and may provide a nutritional alternative with a favorable safety profile to potentially dangerous anabolic androgenic drugs.
However, we recommend that creatine supplementation only be considered for use by younger athletes who:
(a) are involved in serious/competitive supervised training;
(b) are consuming a well-balanced and performance-enhancing diet;
(c) are knowledgeable about the appropriate use of creatine; and
(d) do not exceed recommended dosages.”
Supplements in adolescents should be supervised and considered in the entire training picture and remember:
- A supplement is not a magic pill and will not give the desired effect without other factors such as diet, training, and sleep.
- Supplements aren’t intended to replace wholesome food. They cannot replicate the complex nature of a wide variety of nutrients found in foods.
Advice from a Registered Dietitian
My professional opinion and my “mom opinion” say, “don’t go down the supplement road so quickly.” Consider your teens’ age, commitment to the sport, and maturity level. Identify the reasons why they are so interested and have a conversation.
If your teen is in a competitive sport and heading for NCAA sports, it may be something to discuss for a competitive advantage. If your teen wants to use it recreationally, I would think twice. Until the age of 21, children are still growing physically and mentally. There is ALWAYS room to clean up your diet first and to focus on training. Nothing beats a solid foundation.
- Creatine is extensively researched and is well-supported as one of the most effective dietary supplements available. However, “while the authors of this article agree, and would like to publicly state that an absence of self-reported adverse events by study subjects is not a confirmation of safety, it does support the hypothesis that creatine is likely safe for this population (adolescents).”
- Nonetheless, safety studies in youth and adolescent populations using randomized controlled trial designs are desperately needed to help continue building the safety profile for creatine supplementation among these younger age groups.” (Jagim & Kerksick, 2021)
- As the name suggests, supplements are designed to “supplement” one’s diet. They’re not meant to replace an athlete’s food intake or become the primary source of nutrients. Make sure your child first gets the majority of their energy and nutrient needs through food. There are NO QUICK FIXES.
- Always ask a trusted source FIRST before trying supplements.
Jagim AR, Kerksick CM. Creatine Supplementation in Children and Adolescents. Nutrients. 2021 Feb 18;13(2):664. doi: 10.3390/nu13020664. PMID: 33670822; PMCID: PMC7922146.