Children's Hospital Colorado

Creatine, Creatine Supplements and Adolescent Athletes

As your child gets older and more advanced and specialized in their athletic activities, they may become interested in dietary supplements. Many professional athletes and bodybuilders promote supplements to help them gain muscle and enhance their athletic performance. While that can sound appealing to young athletes, the truth is that young athletes are already at their peak for gaining muscle mass naturally. They don’t need additional supplements to achieve that. In this article, we’ll talk specifically about creatine. It’s a popular supplement, but it’s also something that our body makes on its own.

What is creatine?

Creatine is an amino acid that helps our body build muscle and other tissues. Our body naturally makes it, and athletes who eat meat also get it as part of their diet. In addition to helping build muscle, our body stores creatine, which helps fuel short-burst, high-intensity exercise that lasts for less than 10 seconds. Exercises like maximal output weightlifting and sprinting use creatine as a fast energy source to allow you to continue that intense activity for a little bit longer. Creatine isn’t a main fuel source for longer duration activity, such as long-distance running.

Is supplementing safe?

Supplements in the United States are not regulated by any governing body. When tested, some supplements have shown significant differences in the tested amount in the product compared to what is listed on the label. The supplement manufacturer is solely responsible for ensuring the safety of these products. Concerns about a product’s safety aren’t usually raised until after athletes start experiencing negative symptoms. Supplements can also be contaminated with illegal substances, which can create negative health outcomes and affect drug testing if required for competition.

Creatine, in particular, has been tested in a controlled environment, and the available research indicates it does not cause harm. However, athletes should always consult with a sports dietitian or their primary doctor prior to starting any new supplements to make sure the product is necessary and safe.

Should young athletes use a creatine supplement?

In short, it’s not necessary in most situations. Here’s why:

  • Young athletes gain muscle mass naturally. They do not need additional supplements to achieve that.
  • Most young athletes can improve their performance through enhanced nutrition. Many young athletes are not meeting basic nutrition guidelines that will help improve their performance and health more than adding a supplement. Before supplement use, young athletes should be doing the following: eating three balanced meals daily, packing a pre- and post-workout snack, and meeting all energy and micronutrient needs.
  • Supplements aren’t regulated. You can often find creatine in muscle gainer or pre-workout supplements, which have a higher risk of being contaminated by harmful substances.
  • Supplements aren’t shortcuts. The key to improving athletic performance and building muscle is nutrition, the right training, recovery and sleep. These are the necessary components to maximize athletic potential, not supplements.

In situations where creatine may be appropriate, young athletes should only use it under the direction of a sports dietitian or physician. If your athlete is taking creatine or other supplements, scheduling a visit with our sports dietitian can help you determine what nutritional adaptions your child can make to replace these products. In the long run, this will improve your child’s knowledge of nutrition for performance, enhance their overall health, save money from continued supplement use, and reduce any risk of consuming banned substances from unregulated supplements.