Creatine safety in kids is a question I often get asked by parents of children who want to take this supplement to improve their sports performance. If you're a parent and have not heard of creatine, it's a compound that has been shown to improve certain types of exercise such as weight lifting and sprinting. While we make small amounts, it's also widely available as a supplement. In this review, I'll discuss the research and safety of creatine in kids younger than 18 years of age.
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is a compound made naturally in our bodies. It is also found in meat, fish, and poultry. We usually make about 1-2 grams naturally everyday day and get about 1-2 grams a day from the food they eat.
Creatine is also one of the most popular nutritional supplements in the world. In supplements, it's often called creatine monohydrate.
Hundreds of well-done scientific studies conducted over the last 40 or more years have found creatine supplements can help people become more powerful when combined with a strength training program. As such, these supplements are very popular with people who workout.
When it comes to taking supplements, people often break the amounts into 2 different dosing protocols:
- The loading phase (20-25 grams per day)
- The maintenance phase (3-5 grams per day)
So do you need to do the loading phase? The loading phase is the first week of taking the supplement. The idea is to load up on creatine before tapering off to the lesser amount (maintenance phase). I don't believe the loading phase is needed -and some research shows its not necessary too.
Creatine And Kids: Research
While there are many hundreds of studies on creatine supplementation, I was curious if anyone actually gave it to kids to see what happened. So, I searched the National Library of Medicine (Pubmed.gov) for the following search terms
- Creatine supplementation kids
and located this study where the supplement – or placebo was given to 12 kids, age 15-20 each for 12 weeks. The dosage used was 0.11 gram per kilogram of body weight per day. How much is that? well, if a child weighing 100 pounds, this would be 6.8 grams. It sounds like they were using the maintenance phase dosage.
Interestingly, even though no side effects were seen (that's good) the supplement did not raise muscle creatine levels or make the kids stronger. One drawback to this study was the kids all had lupus. This may have impacted the results of the investigation.
There are not many research studies that have looked at supplementation in kids. What little is known suggests the side effects might be minimal but whether it makes kids stronger needs more study.
So why so little kid-specific research? Remember, research is often conducted on adults who are of legal age. Because kids are not miniature adults, few want to take on the ethical responsibilities of giving a supplement to someone who doesn't might fully understand what they are doing.
Can Creatine Cause Injuries?
Studies in adults have not shown injuries from supplementation. While this may be true, I can tell you I have received emails from people who swore it has happened to them. When it comes to creatine and injuries, my best guess is it's due to the fact ligaments and tendons don't have a good blood supply as muscles do.
As such, ligaments and tendons take longer than muscles do to get stronger. Something like creatine might stress tendons and ligaments more than they should be, leading to injury. If we consider kids and teenagers are still growing, this may be a recipe for trouble. Again, I am speculating here.
See the creatine and injuries review.
Boys vs. Girls?
Most of the research on this supplement involves college-aged men. While there is some research involving women, it's not as much as I'd like. While my hunch is women might react similar to men, when it comes to young girls (say 14 years old for example), I don't know what it does. I have not seen any clinical studies of younger teenagers.
Do Kids Need To Cycle Creatine?
Cycling is the practice of taking something for a period of time and then halting its use. Cycling a drug or supplement is often cited as a way to reduce overdosing or preventing the substance to build up to toxic levels in the body. The concept of cycling is a reference to steroids, where athletes, wanting to avoid side effects, would periodically stop taking them for a period of time
All that said, while I believe the answer is no – creatine doesn't need to be cycled – I technically don't feel someone has to keep taking it either. I say this because unless someone is lifting heavy, they don't need this supplement.
See the post Do You Need To Cycle Creatine.
What About Hair Loss?
Go figure some people ask if creatine can lead to hair loss? The short answer is no, I don't believe it but if you want to know why I did a deep dive into the research which you can read here:
What's The Best Type?
Creatine has been on the US market since at least the 1990s. In that time, several companies have tried to improve on it to make it work better. But, many of these products lack proof that they really are better. This is important because creatine is relatively inexpensive. I'm not convinced more expensive brands are better.
One version which does have some research is called creatine nitrate. It's supposed to combine the effects of creatine with an ingredient that expands blood vessels. I have a review on this and what my thoughts on it:
So, Do Kids Need To Take Creatine?
Based on the evidence to date, I don't see much reason for kids or teenagers to take creatine supplements. While the research so far finds it might not make kids stronger, I think kids -and their parents – need to remember kids already have the one thing no supplement in the world can give them: youth. Kids and teenagers are still growing. their metabolic rates are much faster than adults. There is no supplement that can give kids the advantages of youth. Hence, I don't think they need to take this supplement.