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Should I let my teen use creatine?

February 07, 2017

If your teenager is involved in youth sports, you’ll likely hear about the nutritional supplement creatine. This product, available in powder or capsule form, is very popular among high school athletes. Studies have demonstrated that approximately 35 percent of middle and high school boys use creatine to improve their athletic performance.

We know that kids use these supplements, but the question is, should they?

What is creatine?

Creatine is a nutritional supplement that is heavily marketed to athletes and bodybuilders and can be bought at drugstores, health food stores, gyms or online retailers. There are no legal restrictions on the sale of creatine; kids of any age can purchase it at any time without a parent’s consent or knowledge.

Boy Flexing His MusclesIn fact, a recent study showed that health food stores are routinely recommending these supplements to teens, despite medical recommendations against that practice.

Since it is classified as a nutritional supplement, products containing creatine are not subject to federal regulations that ensure product safety or effectiveness. Manufacturers are not even required to prove prior to sale that the ingredients listed on the packaging are, in fact, what is contained in the product.

Manufactures advertise that the use of creatine helps build muscle mass, and this promise appeals to teens for a variety of reasons, whether it’s increasing athletic performance, strength building or body image concerns.

Does creatine give an athletic advantage?

Scientific studies conducted among adults show that some (not all) creatine users may see a modest 3 to 5 percent increase in performance. Experts consider this a very small amount, especially when compared to the normal growth and development of young athletes.

Remember, though, these studies were conducted in adults. There is virtually no scientific evidence to assess the safety or effectiveness of creatine in adolescents.

If your child is interested in performance-enhancing supplements, have them speak with their physician about the topic.

Should I worry about side effects or health problems associated with creatine?

As stated above, there haven’t been studies conducted in this age group to determine the true risk of side effects or adverse health outcomes associated with creatine use in teens. There have been some reports, however, of liver and kidney problems associated with creatine use as well as dehydration, muscle cramps and compartment syndrome (a problem that prevents blood flow to muscles).

Teenagers Working Out

A serious concern for any user of workout supplements is that they are often contaminated with prescription medications to boost the product’s effectiveness (this is against federal regulations but often goes undetected until people experience serious problems). This has been known to cause serious medical issues such as stroke, high blood pressure and liver damage.

What do I tell my teen athlete about creatine?

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Sports Medicine are in agreement that teenagers should not use performance-enhancing supplements, including creatine.

Talk to your teenage athlete about it. Be sure to listen and empathize with their feelings; they are likely under intense pressure to keep up with their peers and gain any type of physical advantage they can. The temptation to win at any cost is difficult to ignore, and it is imperative for parents to explain that winning isn’t more important than maintaining good health. 

Understand that most of your teen’s information about creatine supplements has come from their friends and peers or company advertisements, and they are likely grossly misinformed. Help them to think critically about the claims that are made and help them find ways to research the information to determine its reliability.

Here are a few reliable online resources where your teen can find more information:                                          

If your child is interested in performance-enhancing supplements, have them speak with their physician about the topic. The more well-informed your teen is about the risks and the very modest potential for benefit (not to mention the cost of supplements), they may decide all on their own that their efforts would be better spent focusing on diet, exercise and training to achieve their goals.

For more information on how to find reliable health information online, check out these tips from the Orlando Health Library Services team.