If you have a sporty teenage son you may well have heard them talking about a nutritional supplement called creatine. It is hugely popular amongst those teens involved in sports who are looking for improvements in their performance and to increase lean body mass.
As many of you know I deliver workshops on sports nutrition to lots of clubs and groups of athletes, many of whom are teenagers. I am well aware of the power of advertising and how influential this can be alongside peer pressure and the desire to compete on a level playing field in a chosen sport. To this end, many teenage athletes, in particular male athletes, have turned to creatine monohydrate supplementation, alongside protein powders.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid i.e. a building block of protein, that is produced by your body and is also found in dietary sources such as meat and fish, though at levels far below those found in synthetically made creatine supplements. The body’s liver, pancreas and kidneys can also make about 1g of creatine per day. The human body converts creatine into creatine phosphate or phosphocreatine and stores it in its muscles, where it’s used for energy. As a result, athletes take creatine orally to improve athletic performance and increase muscle mass. Medically, it is also used to treat certain brain disorders, neuro muscular conditions, congestive heart failure and other conditions. As an aside, topical creatine can be used to treat ageing skin.
Should I be concerned?
As a parent of a teenage boy I can understand the concerns that arise when your child wants to start using something that you are perhaps unfamiliar with. You are not alone. There is not a huge amount of information relating specifically to teenage athletes regarding the use of creatine. Most of the scientific studies conducted to date are amongst adults. Those studies show that some creatine users will see a 3 to 5% increase in performance. Also, bear in mind that creatine is not a steroid but is synthesised through other amino acids and therefore seems a safer option than your teenage son may otherwise choose.
What are the side effects?
Problems associated with creatine supplementation are dehydration and muscle cramps. If you suspect or know that your child is using creatine and any of these things present themselves regularly it would be worth having a chat with your GP. Another possible side effect is weight gain. The reason for this is that intake of creatine draws water into the muscles and that reflects in an increase in weight. This temporary effect wears off with continuous exercise.
What if they want to keep using creatine?
Creatine monohydrate is an effective ergogenic supplement and although the scientific studies have predominantly been carried out on adults the results are clear. As a nutritionist and mother, however, my precautionary advice would be that your child’s sports coach should also be aware of the fact that your child is supplementing creatine, alongside ensuring that your child is using the supplementation within recommended dosages and also alongside a well balanced diet. Supplementation must never be used to make up for a poor diet. It is worth noting, for example, that creatine monohydrate is best used in conjunction with complex carbohydrates where it can help raise blood glucose levels for energy. It helps by increasing levels of adenosine triphosphate known as ATP, an energy transporting molecule which dips during physical workouts. By increasing phosphocreatine reserves in the body to maintain ATP levels, creatine helps with increased stamina and energy during workouts resulting in better performance.
In summary, creatine supplementation should only be considered by those who:
Are involved in serious, competitive, supervised training
Are consuming a well balanced and performance-enhancing diet
Are knowledgeable about the appropriate use of creatine
Do not exceed recommended dosages
Choosing a suitable product
Aside from concerns about your teenager using a product that you are unfamiliar with there is also a consideration of a product that is not against anti-doping rules within their sport. It is worth checking what the rules are with their chosen sports governing body. However it is also worth going to the informed Sport website at the following URL https://sport.wettestyoutrust.com to check out the tested and acceptably safe supplements according to UK anti-doping agency.
In conclusion, I would recommend doing your research, and if there are any pre-existing health conditions have a chat with your GP before your child goes ahead and uses creatine.